Border Collie

Border Collie (Black & White)Border Collie (Black & White)

The name 'Border Collie' historically refers to its ancestors in the region of Scotland that borders England. However, the Border Collie we know today was first recognised as a pure breed in Australia and New Zealand. Because of the Border Collie's dexterity in working sheep, Sheep Dog Trials shaped its identity.

History of The Border Collie

Sheepdog of the Border Region c1840Sheepdog of the Border Region c1840

In the late 1800s the Border Collie became famous for its skill of working small numbers of sheep that were confined to cleared hilly countryside that was grassed. The specialised skill of these dogs initiated Sheepdog Trials, the first record of which was in Wales in 1873.

Meanwhile in Australia, Agricultural Societies began to conduct Shows in the  1840s. These gave a platform for informal sheepdog competitions to be held. By 1890 Sheepdog Trials were formalised with a trial being conducted at the 1891 NSW Royal Easter Show. By 1902 the first imported sheepdogs of Border Collie type were not only trialled[2], their skill was becoming so legendary, competition between them became the subject of camp-fire stories and yarns.

Border Collies Victoria c1930Border Collies Victoria c1930

An example of these yarns centres around blowflies are an annoyance especially around camp fires where, for decades many stories were told. Some men boasted about the supposed ability of their Border Collie to herd blowflies into an empty whiskey bottle! With the blowflies first attracted to the area by a rabbit skin, the Border Collie was instructed to herd them into a bottle which was then corked. Bets were taken on whose Border Collie could herd the most number of blowflies into the bottle in a given time[6]! Needless to say, typical of Australian humour such extraordinary yarns cemented the fame of the Border Collie in Australia.

History of the Border Collie in New Zealand

Border Collie NZ StampBorder Collie NZ Stamp

Meanwhile, in New Zealand Sheep Dog Trials held from the early 1900s made the Border Collie famous and 'the best looking dog' was often also judged. Scores of Collies from the Border Region of England and Scotland were imported to compete in Trials at this time. Consequently, in 1927[3] the New Zealand Kennel Club and North Island Sheep Dog Trial Association adopted a 'Standard of the New Zealand Working Collie'.

This was the first Breed Standard which the New Zealanders claimed was the only Breed Standard of a working sheepdog in the world. It was written by the New Zealander Douglas Sinclair, a respected dog person who was also very experienced in sheepdog trials. This Breed Standard allowed the males to reach 26in (66cm) inches in height and weigh up to 60 pounds(27 kilos). It was stated that the coat colour was immaterial but interestingly merle colour of eyes was allowed. Also this 'Working Collie' could be either smooth or rough coated. Regardless of the fine detail, over time this Breed Standard eventually led to the recognition of the Border Collie as a pure breed!

The Border Collie Becomes a Pure Breed

Border Collie (Black & White)Border Collie (Black & White)

In Australia in 1927, a Registry of pedigrees of Border Collies was set up under the banner of the Victorian Working Sheepdog Association. They introduced the ground-breaking concept of 'prefixes'. Today it is generally accepted that every puppy must carry the prefix of the breeder who whelped it[1].

By 1949 Border Collies were permitted to be exhibited in Kennel Club and Agricultural Shows. In 1950 the first Breed Standard was adopted and Border Collies were listed as 'any other variety' at the Sydney Royal Easter Show[4]. In October 1950, the Kennel Control Council (KCC) Gazette announced that 'Challenges in Victoria could be awarded from January 1951'[5]  . The first Challenges were awarded at the Mornington Peninsula Show Society on January 6th that year. Border Collies pedigrees could then be registered with the Kennel Control Council of Victoria provided the dogs were examined and certified by a Panel of Judges of the Kennel Control Council that they were 'true to the breed standard'. New Zealand followed.

Border Collie mother and pupBorder Collie mother and pup

Yet it was not until 1976 that Britain approved the Border Collie for registration. At first they adopted the Australian Breed Standard which they published in 1979. It was not until 1982 when the first Challenge Certificates for Border Collies were offered at Crufts Dog Show UK, they were judged under their own Breed Standard. Because Australia was the first country in the world to offer Challenge Certificates, Australia claims to be the country of development of the Border Collie into a pure breed.

The Border Collie Today

Today the Border Collie stands 46-51 cm (approx. 18-21 ins) at withers and comes in a variety of colours mixed with white which should never predominate. Historically a black body without too much white on its body was preferred because it could be seen more easily by the stockman working it, especially from a distance[7]. It has a graceful, smooth outline and, without being coarse or weedy, has sufficient substance to endure long periods of active duty as a working sheep dog with its characteristic gait of stealth.

Border CollieBorder Collie

The skull should be broad and flat between the ears with a pronounced stop. The muzzle is the same length as the skull and has clean, tight lips. The nose is large with open nostrils and should be a solid colour. The oval wide-set eyes harmonise with the colour of the coat although a darker colour is preferred. The ears should be of medium size and texture, set well apart, carried erect or semi-erect.

The neck is of good length without throatiness and the shoulders are long and well angulated. The forelegs are well boned and straight but the pasterns showing flexibility by having a slight slope when viewed from the side. The feet are oval in shape and the pads deep, strong and sound.

Border CollieBorder Collie

The body is longer than height at withers with well sprung ribs tapering to a fairly deep and moderately broad chest. The loins are broad, deep, muscular and only slightly arched. In profile the broad, muscular hindquarters complete the topline as it slopes gracefully to the set on of tail. The thighs are long and  broad with well turned stifles. The hocks are short, straight and parallel when viewed from the rear.

The tail is moderately long, set on low, well furnished and, when moving has an upward swirl towards the end. This completes the dog's graceful contour. The Border Collie has a weather resisting double coat, with a moderately long or smooth, dense, topcoat and a short undercoat. There is an abundant mane, breeching and brush. On face, ear tips, fore and hind legs the hair is short and smooth.

Movement and 'Stealth' in the Border Collie

Border Collie moving at a trotBorder Collie moving at a trot

Movement is an extremely important characteristic of the Border Collie. It is described as 'free, smooth, tireless, with a minimum lift of feet, conveying the impression of the ability to move with great stealth'. The trot when viewed from the front should be be smooth, straight and true, without weakness at shoulders, elbows or pasterns. Viewed from behind there is great drive with strength and flexibility, with hocks neither close nor too far apart. When the dog comes to rest, it should stand four square.

Working Border Collie (Smooth coat) moving with 'stealth'Working Border Collie (Smooth coat) moving with 'stealth'

But 'stealth' is never seen in the show ring because it requires the dog's focus to be on the animals it is working.

At first the dog 'gives eye' or stares at the livestock, challenging them to move in a given direction. Once the animals begin to move, the dog follows with a slow, crouching movement called 'stealth' which causes the livestock to continue down the desired path.

References and Further Reading

[1] Mary Quinn and Margaret Trevethan - Introduction to the 'Border Collie Stud Register (Victoria) 1951 - 1992 Self Published

[2] Peidje Vidler 'The Border Collie in Australasia' Published by Gotrah Enterprises, Kellyville NSW 2153 Australia IBSN 0 949386 00 6 Chapter 2 Australia Page 21

[3] Stewart Lusk 'Dogs Body', The Story of the New Zealand Kennel Club, published by the New Zealand Kennel Club, Private Bag Porirua Page 28 and Appendix L Page 121

[4] 'The History of Purebred Dogs in Australia' published by OzDog Newspaper 1997, The Border Collie by Mrs Joyce Sullivan, Page 55

[5] KCC Kennel Gazette, published by the Kennel Control Council, Temple Court (9th Floor) 422 Collins St Melbourne C 1

[6] James I Moore, 'The Canine King - the Working Sheepdog' Edited by Frank Russell. Set up and printed by Standard Newspapers Pty Ltd  published 1929. Chapter XVIII Campfire Legends Pages 138 - 139 -140

[7] Peidje Vidler, 'Further comments on Colour in the Border Collie' National Dog Special Supplement' Published by 'National Dog Newspaper' Windsor NSW February 1980 Page 22