The Extraordinary Scottish Herding Dog
The Border Collie is a medium sized working dog classified as a member of the herding dog group. This sassy Scottish dog is said to be the smartest of all the breeds and also one of the most popular of the herding dogs. Herding dogs are bred to control a variety of livestock. They are virtually tireless, and they love to work. There are many dog breeds that are included in the herding group; German Shepherds, Belgian Shepherds, Corgis, Australian Shepherds, Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain Dogs and Briards are just a few. In total there are over 30 different breeds included in this fascinating canine category.
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Herding breeds can range in size from medium-small to medium large and come from all over the world however they all have significant prey drives, and it is this drive that makes them so great at what they do. Over the years, the predatory behaviour of herding dogs has been modified to create the strong herding instinct we see today. Instead of treating livestock such as cattle or sheep as prey to be eaten, their behaviours have been honed to create a strong desire for the dogs to move and steer the livestock to assist their masters, the shepherds. Herding dog breeds are associated with the development of cattle breeding.
The herding dogs each work in a particular way. Some will nip at the heels of the livestock to get them to move. These dogs are called “heelers” and they are best used at the back of the herd to drive them or push them forward. Others will stare down the livestock to move them. These dogs are referred to as “headers” and they are used to keep the livestock in a group, to turn the herd or to stop the herd. Using headers and healers together enables a shepherd to handle large herds of livestock which is something that would be impossible to do alone or even with a group of people. There are even a few breeds that can perform both the heading and healing tasks and they will run from the back up to the front and back again to move the herd. Their energy levels are extreme as they must run tirelessly for long periods of time. Examples that can perform both heading and healing are the Australian Kelpie and the Australian Koolie.
The Border Collie is known as a header with a very strong eye. They stare at the livestock to make them move. They are used most often to herd sheep. Border Collies are extremely intelligent, athletic, playful, and hard working. Border Collies do best when used as a working dog or farm dog. When kept as a pet, these dogs can be quite demanding and crave attention and stimulation therefore they are best suited for homes that can properly meet their needs so that behaviour issues do not develop.
Border Collie History
Border Collies fall within a distinct group of dogs called Collies. The group includes the Rough Collie, the Smooth Collie and the Welsh Sheepdog. Collies originated in Scotland and Northern England, and they all descended from Landrace (Native) Collies which originated in the British Isles.
What is a Landrace?
A Landrace is a species of animal or plant that has developed over time. Landrace animals were developed specifically to serve the needs of humans. They are locally adapted to the climate and landscape within a specific ecological niche. Their development through time was a result of environmental adaptations and influenced mainly by the pressures of natural selection. But also, from human preferences and interference. Landrace dogs are bred without any formal registry however the farmers who bred them often kept informal written records.
Unlike breeds which are homogenous in nature (typically highly inbred), landraces are heterogeneous (genetically diverse). They have enough characteristics in common to be seen as a group but since they are bred more for their working suitability out of necessity, their appearance is often quite different than other members of the same landrace group. Landrace dogs are often referred to as stock dogs because there were many different breeds that arose from a particular stock or foundational group.
Landrace dogs have better stability of their characteristics and can resist or tolerate adverse influences better. They are adapted to their environment, in fact, they were created because of their environment. Their genetic entities are consistent and predictable. A Landrace dog is one which is at the early stages of their breed development, prior to formal breed registry. They are bred for working ability and not bred to breed standards or registries hence there is more variety in their appearance. Both the Rough Collie and Border Collie standardized breeds emerged from the Scotch Collie.
Naming of the Border Collie
Border Collies were developed over hundreds of years by Shepherds around the time of the Border Reivers. The Reivers was an historic feud between England and Scotland that date from the 14th century through into the late 17th century. Stories of cattle rustling, feuding, pillaging, and murder emerged from these long-lasting border wars. The Border Collie likely inherited the name because it originated along the Anglo-Scottish border. Old stories about the Reivers tell of black and white dogs trained to herd stolen livestock away from their owners to discrete hiding places where thieves would then come to collect them and keep as their own. Raiding or plundering livestock was the principal business of Border families during the Reiver feud.
The majority of recorded Border Collies can be traced back to the end of the 1800’s, to one dog called “Old Hemp” bred by Adam Telfer from Woodburn in Northumberland. Old Hemp was believed to have sired over 200 pups in his lifetime.
There is an old Scottish saying that goes something like this: There is no good flock without a good shepherd and there is no good shepherd without a good dog.
Herding dogs have worked side by side with humans since ~9000 BC, when the domestication of animals such as sheep began. Without these incredible canine aids, humans would not have been able to progress the way they did, as it would have simply been impossible to raise and care for the vast amount of livestock, they had without an army of men to work them.
“A single shepherd and his dog will accomplish more in gathering a stock of sheep from a highland farm than twenty shepherds could without dogs, and it is a fact that without this docile animal the pastoral life would be blank. Without the shepherd’s dog, the whole of the mountainous land in Scotland would not be worth sixpence. It would require more hands to manage a stock of sheep and drive them to market than the profits of a whole stock would be capable of maintaining” James Hogg (Scotland sometime between 1780 and 1835).