What's the Difference Between Collies & Border Collies

Ever alert, the border collie lives to work.
Ever alert, the border collie lives to work. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

While the collie and the border collie are both herding dogs originating in the British Isles, you'd never mistake one for the other. Of course, everyone knows what a collie looks like, thanks to "Lassie." While a border collie sports different hair length and coloring, it's really temperament that sets the breeds apart. While collies are smart and active, border collies are the hyperactive, Type A workaholics of the dog world, "bordering" on canine genius.

Breed Histories

The collie originated in Scotland, used since time immemorial as a sheepdog. It was in the 19th century and in England, however, that a breed standard was developed, under the name "Scotch sheepdog." By the late 19th and early 20th century, the collie was well-established in the United States. The breed was among the earliest dogs recognized by the American Kennel Club, an honor bestowed back in 1885.

The border collie started out along the borders of England and Scotland, bred to herd and tend flocks on their own for long periods. Partly because aficionados wanted to maintain the breed as a working rather than show dog, the border collie did not receive AKC recognition until 1995, 110 years later than the collie.

General Appearance

The collie appears in two forms -- rough and smooth -- with coat length the only difference. At maturity, male collies stand between 24 to 26 inches high at the shoulder, weighing between 60 to 75 pounds. Female collies stand between 22 to 24 inches high, weighing between 50 to 65 pounds. Acceptable colors include sable and white, the sable referring to shades of brown ranging from light to dark; tri-color, mostly black with white and tan markings on the legs and head; blue merle, a blue, black and white combination; and white, which is a predominately rather than pure white dog, with markings of any of the three other colors. The more familiar rough collie sports the full, abundant coat, while the smooth collie's coat is short and flat.

The adult male border collie stands between 19 and 22 inches tall at the shoulder, with females slightly smaller at 18 to 21 inches. The breed standard doesn't specify a weight, but weight should be proportionate to height and the animal should look like a working dog. Border collies also appear in rough and smooth varieties, but they differ from the collie. The rough coat is just medium length, far shorter than the rough-coated collie. The smooth coat is of a somewhat coarse texture. The border collie appears in any color.

The Eyes Have It

The American Kennel Club breed standard describes the collie's eye as having a "clear, bright appearance," making the dog appear intelligent and alert. The AKC border collie standard spends less space on an actual description of the eye than on the breed's "eye," that laser-like focus that compels livestock -- and often people -- to do the dog's bidding. The standard does note that this trait is among "features so important that they are equal to physical size and appearance." The collie's eye is kind and inquisitive. The border collie's eye is intense. He'll use it on you, and you're likely to obey.

Temperament Differences and Health

The collie makes a fine family dog, good with children, other dogs and cats. He might tend to herd kids and other pets around. These dogs love their people, are eager to please and easy to train. While he's a good watchdog, make sure he doesn't become a nuisance barker. While the collie needs a fair amount of exercise, he doesn't require nearly as much of a daily workout as the border collie.

The border collie needs a job. It doesn't have to include herding sheep, but it must include ample physical and mental exercise. If you don't give this whip-smart dog something constructive to occupy his mind and body, you're likely to have a destructive animal on your hands. Channel and train that energy and drive, and you have the best athlete, competitor and partner imaginable.

Collies typically live 10 to 14 years. Border collies tend to be longer-lived, ranging from 12 to 16 years. Border collies and to a lesser extent, collies may suffer from hip dysplasia; and collies can experience eye problems and sensitivity to common drugs, including heartworm medications.

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