Border Collie Breed Information

Official American Kennel Club Border Collie Breed Standard

Preamble: The Border Collie originated in the Border country between Scotland and England where the shepherds’ breeding selection was based on biddable stock sense and the ability to work long days on rugged terrain. As a result of this selective breeding, the Border Collie developed the unique working style of gathering and fetching the stock with wide sweeping outruns. The stock is then controlled with an intense gaze known as “eye”, coupled with a stalking style of movement. This selective breeding over time developed the Border Collie’s intensity, energy and trainability which are features so important that they are equal to physical size and appearance. The Border Collie has extraordinary instinct and an uncanny ability to reason. One of its greatest assets is the ability to work out of sight of its master without commands. Breeding based on this working ability has made this breed the world’s premier sheep herding dog, a job the Border Collie is still used for worldwide. 

General Appearance: The Border Collie is a well balanced, medium-sized dog of athletic appearance, displaying gracefulness, power and agility in equal measure. Its hard, muscular body conveys the impression of effortless movement and endless endurance. The Border Collie is extremely intelligent, with its keen, alert expression being a very important characteristic of the breed. Those aspects of structure, movement or temperament that enhance the dog’s ability to function as a herding dog are virtues that should be strongly rewarded. The Border Collie is, and should remain, a natural and unspoiled true working sheep dog whose conformation is described herein. Honorable scars and broken teeth incurred in the line of duty are acceptable.

Size, Proportion, Substance: The height at the withers varies from 19 to 22 inches for males, 18 to 21 inches for females. When viewed from the side, the body from the point of shoulder to point of buttocks is slightly longer than the height at the withers. The length to height ratio is approximately 10:9. Correct bone must be moderate, strong and oval. Overall balance between height, length, weight and bone is crucial and is more important than any absolute measurement. Dogs must be presented in hard working condition. Excess body weight is not to be mistaken for muscle or substance.

Head: Expression is intelligent, alert, eager, and full of interest. Eyes are set well apart, of moderate size, oval in shape. Any eye color is acceptable, but blue eyes in dogs other than merle are not preferred. Eye rims should be fully pigmented. Ears are of medium size, set well apart, one or both carried erect and/or semi-erect (varying from one-quarter to three-quarters of the ear erect). When semi-erect, the tips may fall forward or outward to the side. Ears are sensitive and mobile. Skull is relatively flat and moderate in width. The skull and muzzle are approximately equal in length. In profile the top of the skull is parallel with the top of the muzzle. Stop moderate, but distinct. The muzzle is strong, tapering slightly to the nose. The sides of the head should taper smoothly into the muzzle. The underjaw is strong and well developed. Nose should be fully pigmented. Nostrils are well developed. A full complement of strong healthy teeth should meet in a scissors bite.

Neck, Topline, Body: Neck is of proportional length to the body, strong and muscular, slightly arched and blending smoothly into the shoulders. Topline – Back is level with a slight muscular rise over the loin, falling to a gently sloping croup. Body is athletic in appearance with a deep, moderately broad chest reaching no further than the point of the elbow. The rib cage is moderately long with well sprung ribs. Loin is moderately deep and short. Underline should have a slight but distinct tuck up. The tail is set on low and is moderately long with the bone reaching Page 2 of 3 at least to the hock. The ideal tail carriage is low when the dog is concentrating on a given task and may have a slight upward swirl at the end like a shepherd’s crook. In excitement it may be raised, but the base of the tail should not curve forward over the back.

Forequarters: Forelegs should be parallel when viewed from front, pasterns slightly sloping when viewed from side. Because sufficient length of leg is crucial for the type of work the breed is required to do, the distance from the wither to the elbow is slightly less than from the elbow to the ground. The shoulder blades are long and well laid back. Shoulder blades and upper arms are equal in length and meet in a right angle as nearly as possible. The prosternum is easily felt but not pronounced. There is sufficient width between the tops of the shoulder blades to allow for the characteristic crouch when approaching and moving stock. The elbows are neither in nor out. Feet are compact, oval in shape; pads deep and strong, toes moderately arched and close together with strong nails of moderate length. Dewclaws may be removed.

Hindquarters: Broad and muscular, in profile sloping gracefully to the low set tail. The thighs are long, broad, deep and muscular. Stifles are well turned with strong well let down hocks. Proper length of hock is approximately one-quarter to one-third the height of the dog. When standing with the hocks perpendicular to the ground the toes of the rear feet should be in line with the point of buttock. Rear feet should be parallel, but may toe out slightly when freestanding. Feet are compact, oval in shape; pads deep and strong, toes moderately arched and close together with strong nails of moderate length. Dewclaws should be removed.

Coat: Two varieties are permissible, both having close-fitting, dense, weather resistant double coats with the top coat either straight or slightly wavy and coarser in texture than the undercoat which is soft, short and dense. The rough variety coat may vary in length without being excessive. Proper texture is more important than length. Forelegs, haunches, chest and underside are feathered and the coat on face, ears, feet, fronts of legs is short and smooth. The smooth variety is short over entire body, is usually coarser in texture than the rough variety and may have slight feathering on forelegs, haunches, chest and ruff. Neither coat type is preferred over the other. Seasonal shedding is normal and must not be penalized. Excess hair on the feet, hock and pastern areas may be neatened for the show ring. Whiskers are untrimmed. Dogs should be presented naturally, without excessive trimming or sculpting.

Color: The Border Collie appears in all colors or combination of colors and/or markings. All colors are to be judged equally with no one color or pattern preferred over another. White markings may be clear white or ticked to any degree. Random white patches on the body are permissible but should not predominate. The predominant ear color should match the primary body color. Color and markings are always secondary to physical evaluation and gait.

Gait: The Border Collie is an agile dog, able to suddenly change speed and direction while maintaining balance and grace. Endurance is its trademark. The head is carried level with or slightly below the withers. When shown, Border Collies should move on a loose lead and at moderate speed, never raced around the ring with the head held high. When viewed from the side the trot covers the ground effortlessly with minimum lift of feet. The topline is firm with no roll or bounce. Front reach and rear drive are symmetrical, with the front foot meeting the ground directly under the nose and the rear foot pushing back without kicking up. When the rear foot is coming forward, it should reach to the spot just vacated by the front foot. Viewed from the front, action is forward and true without wasted motion. Viewed from the rear, hindquarters drive with thrust and flexibility with hocks turning neither in nor out, moving close together but never Page 3 of 3 touching. The legs, both front and rear, tend to converge toward the center line as speed increases. Exaggerated movement is not efficient, and therefore is not useful to the Border Collie.

Temperament: The Border Collie is energetic, intelligent, keen, alert, and responsive. An intense worker of great tractability, it is affectionate towards friends but may be sensibly reserved towards strangers. When approached, the Border Collie should stand its ground. It should be alert and interested, never showing shyness, fear, dullness or resentment. Faults: Any deviation from the foregoing should be considered a fault, the seriousness of the fault depending upon the extent of the deviation, and the degree to which working ability would be impacted.

American Kennel Club

Approved: April 21, 2015 Effective: July 1, 2015

Border Collies originated in the border area between Scotland and England.  Often called the world’s premiere sheep herding dogs, Border Collies are renowned for their ability to move sheep in a silent and controlled manner, all at the will of their masters.  Border Collies control stock by using their eye, which has been described as the ability to control stock by staring at them in a fixed and steady manner.  Although their history is unrecorded, it is commonly accepted that they developed from crosses between the Roman drover dogs and the progenitors of the Finnish Spitz.  As time went on, the dogs were also crossed with other working and sporting breeds, including beardies, setters, pointers and sight hounds.

Sporting breed records indicate that certain lines of pointers worked differently in the days when birds such as grouse and partridge were hunted on foot with nets, rather than with guns.  Like modern-day dogs, these particular lines were able to point to where a covey of birds was hiding in the underbrush.  But instead of flushing the prey, the dogs would circle around the perimeter of the covey, indicating to the hunters exactly where to lay their net to capture the birds.  It seems likely that Border Collies inherited not only their eye, but also the uncanny ability to know how far off the perimeter they need to stay in order to not disturb their flock from these early hunting dogs.

Border Collies have traditionally been bred solely for working ability.  Because of the difference in terrain between the English lowlands and the Scottish highlands, farmers raised different breeds of sheep based upon their locality.  The type of stock and the surrounding topography led to different physical attributes being required for the dogs to be efficient workers.  For example, to survive in the rough hills and rocky crags of the highlands, sheep had to be light and fast. Thus, the good working dogs in the highlands tended to have long legs and lean bodies.  In contrast, the lowlands could support slower, heavier sheep.  To work these large, heavy sheep on gentler land, the dogs did not need as much speed and agility.  Instead, they needed a lower center of gravity and enough size to be able to withstand a charge from big, angry ewes defending their lambs.  Therefore, the dogs in the lowlands had shorter legs and heavier bodies.

So, even though the dogs were bred for working ability (as opposed to being bred for looks), recognizable physical types evolved.  In her classic treatise, Key Dogs from the Border Collie Family, Sheila Grew identified four individual types within the Border Collie breed.  The types are divided by physical looks, but general working style and temperament also seem related to type.  She called them:  1) Northumbrian type; 2) Wiston Cap type; 3) Nap type; and 4) Herdman’s Tommy type.

Thank you for your expertise Kelly Whiteman of Bonnidune!

Northumbrian Type

Almost all present-day Border Collies can trace their pedigrees back to a dog known as Old Hemp.  Hemp was born in 1894, bred and owned by Adam Telfer, who lived in the Northumbrian region of England.  Hemp was a cross between a very strong-eyed, black bitch with a reticent temperament and a black and white tri-colored dog with loose eye and a good natured, outgoing temperament.  Hemp was a powerful, keen worker who sired over 200 puppies.  Physically, Hemp was the epitome of the Northumbrian type:  medium-sized with a rough coat and very little white trim.

Wiston Cap Type

This type developed from J.M. Wilson’s dog, Cap, through Jock Richardson’s outstanding trial and stud dog, Wiston Cap.  Also rough coated, these dogs tend to be larger, with big, blocky heads and much more white trim’ collars, chests, forelegs, etc.  They typically have tremendous natural outruns and biddable natures.

Nap Type

Of the four types of Border Collies, the Nap Type is the only smooth coated one.  The name comes from a dog called Whitehope Nap.  These dogs are strong, fast and powerful.  Their coat is short, but has an undercoat to act as insulation from cold or heat. Many have longer legs and shorter bodies, making their outline more square than the other types.  Because of their short coats, speed, and power, many Americans used them to work cattle on large ranches in the Southwest.

Herdman’s Tommy Type

The last type is named after a Hemp grandson, Herdman’s Tommy.  Three of the four main breeding lines to Hemp go back through Tommy.  Physically, Tommy was a medium-sized dog with a lot of bone.  His rough coat was black and white with tan markings.  This type is known for their good nature, power and strong-headedness.

Thank you for your expertise Kelly Whiteman of Bonnidune!