Border Collie Breed Information

 by Kelly Whiteman

            Border Collies originated in the border area between Scotland and England.  Often called the world’s premiere sheepherding 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.

Keep scrolling down for pictures and descriptions of the four types and for additional information...









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.











Sheepdog Trials

    The first sheepdog trial was held in Bala, Wales on October 9, 1873.  Trials were designed to showcase the working ability of the dogs by having the dogs move sheep through a series of obstacles, penning the sheep and shedding one or more sheep away from the rest of the flock.  The International Sheepdog Society (ISDS) was formed in 1906.  The ISDS developed the first Border Collie stud books, and still registers working Border Collies today.  The ISDS holds annual competitions to determine National Champions and, the ultimate goal, the International Supreme Champion sheepdog.

    To become an International Supreme Champion, a dog must first compete to become a member of its National team.  The four teams, representing England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland then go through a series of qualifying rounds.  Only the top 15 dogs make it to the grueling final round, where the dog must perform two separate 800 yard blind outruns.  A blind outrun is where the dog cannot see the sheep until he is in the proper position to begin his lift.  After collecting twenty sheep (ten each outrun), the dog must guide them through obstacles, separate five marked sheep away from the group and then pen the five - all within 30 minutes.

    The first sheepdog trial to be held in America was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1880.  The first U.S. National Championship sheepdog trial was in Staunton, Virginia in 1941.  Today, the United States Border Collie Handlers Association (USBCHA), the American Herding Breeds Association (AHBA), the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) and the American Kennel Club (AKC) hold herding trials all over America.  The trials have various courses and formats, and also have choices of sheep, cattle, ducks or goats as stock.

Herding Terms

Outrun - The purpose of the outrun is to get the dog to the opposite side of the stock from the handler without disturbing the flock.  The correct outrun is pear-shaped or a semi-circular arc to the "balance point".

Lift - This is the moment between the outrun and the fetch.  The lift is the dog's first contact with the stock and a lot of information is conveyed between dog and stock at that moment.

Fetch - The dog is now bringing the stock to the handler.  In a trial, any variance from a straight line from the stock's position at the lift and the handler would mean lost points.

Drive - Technically, anytime the stock are not pointing towards the handler, it is a drive.  Taking stock directly away from the handler is a "drive away".  Driving from side to side is termed a "cross drive".

Pen - Putting the stock in a specified holding area.

Shed - In the shed, the dog separates a specified group of the stock and holds them apart from the rest of the flock.

Flanking - Circling the stock clockwise or counter-clockwise to keep them in a group or change their direction.

Wearing - A back and forth motion by the dog behind the stock to keep them grouped and moving forward.  The larger the flock, the more apparent the wearing.

Balance - This is the location taken by the dog, usually opposite the stock from the handler in which the dog has the most influence on the stock to control their behavior and move them in the desired direction.

Flight Zone - The area around the stock that the dog cannot enter without the sheep feeling threatened and attempting to move away from the dog.


Herding Commands

Go Bye/Come Bye - Asks the dog to move around the stock in a clockwise direction.

Away To Me - Asks the dog to move around the stock in a counter-clockwise direction.

Lie Down/Stand/Stop - Depending on the tone of voice, means to lie down or just stop in place.

Walk Up/Walk On - Generally used to ask the dog to move directly toward the stock.

Take Time/Steady/Easy - Used to slow the dog down when he is moving the stock too fast.

Get Back/Get Out - Used to move the dog out away from the stock.

There - Generally used to tell the dog he is in the correct location.

#$@%%#*#!!! - Occasionally heard, but not a generally accepted command at a herding trial! ;-)

Duncan (who is a typical Northumbrian type) driving sheep in a figure-eight pattern.

Duncan driving

The Border Collie and the Show Ring

            Many trials, including the very first one in 1873, also had a "type" competition after the dogs ran the course.  The "type" competition was, essentially, what we call today a dog show.  There the dogs were evaluated on physical structure to determine which was best suited to perform the job of sheepherding.  The farmers and shepherds who participated in the first trials and type competitions were, above all else, stockmen.  (Women did not get involved in sheepdog trialing until much later.)  As stockmen, they were comfortable with the idea of evaluating an animal's physical structure against a standard based upon the animal's purpose: whether that purpose was wool production, meat for marketing or working stock.

            Working collies were shown in the conformation ring in New Zealand as early as 1886 and Australia in 1907.  See below for more information about the history of Border Collies in Australasia.  They were finally recognized in Great Britain in 1976 and the United States in 1995.

"Show" versus "Working" Types

           A Breed-Specialist Judge from Great Britain says that the Australasian "show" lines are more similar to the old-fashioned Border Collies she remembers from her youth than many present-day "working" dogs.  In the past it was quite common to see working dogs that were fairly substantial, with bone to match their size, and heavy, rough coats.  Today, ISDS dogs tend to have less coat and less substance.  These changes occurred gradually, and may, in part, be related to the post-World War II popularity of sheepdog trials.  Lighter, faster dogs were more competitive.  Shorter coats picked up less dirt and mud, keeping the car cleaner on the way home from the trials.  Whatever the reason for the changes, historical pictures show that the older dogs did tend to be larger and heavier than the working dogs one sees now.

            Following is a picture of my own Great-Grandparents and their Border Collie.  As best as I can tell, this picture was taken sometime in the 1930's.  This dog worked on our family farm in Indiana.  He is much larger, and has more bone, than many "working" dogs today.

My Great-Grandparents with their Border Collie
Circa 1930's


The History of the Great Britain (UK) Breed Standard

            Attempts to gain Kennel Club recognition for Border Collies began as early as 1960, but the breed was not fully recognized until 1976.  Mr. Harry Glover was instrumental in achieving that recognition.  Mr. Glover had seen "show" Border Collies while visiting Australia, and was impressed by the quality of the dogs.  After the FCI recognized the breed, there were threats that people would start importing Border Collies from the Continent and showing them as a "rare breed" in Great Britain.  This situation would have been quite absurd - imported Border Collies a "rare breed" in the country where the breed was not rare at all.   Therefore, when Mr. Glover returned home, he put together a group of knowledgeable Border Collie people to draft a breed standard and work to establish the Border Collie as a bench dog, as well as being a renowned working dog.

Originally the ISDS was against recognition of the breed by the Kennel Club.  The ISDS had actually managed to stop a group who tried to obtain recognition in the 1960’s.  As noted in Marion Hopkinson’s article on the BCCofGB’s website, the ISDS started out opposing the group that eventually achieved Kennel Club recognition.  The website also contains partial minutes from the BCCofGB's 1975 Annual General Meeting.  Here is a direct quote:

The opening speech was give by the President Mr. W. Dixon (who is an hon. life member and judged our breed for a number of years) who then informed the members that the I.S.D.S. had elected to disassociate themselves from any form of club who have applied for registration of the Border Collie for show purposes. However, the then Secretary (Mr. Anderson) for the I.S.D.S. had been urging his members to support the move.

Mr. Anderson, the ISDS Secretary, eventually convinced the ISDS to help support the KC recognition.  Here is a portion of an article written by Mr. Glover and published in the 1980 BCCofGB Yearbook.

There had been attempts to have the breed recognized as a show dog many years ago, but the suggestion met with no favour at all with the ISDS, the governing body of the breed in its working role. The idea was squashed at birth, and never got beyond the initial stages.  It was decided therefore by one or two interested people, that not only should the idea be resurrected, but that this time the effort should be much more determined than it had been in the past, supported as it was by the international situation.  It was realized there would still probably be considerable opposition from certain factions within the breed, and possibly from within the ISDS as previously, and to counter this, from the beginning it was decided that interested parties, and particularly the ISDS should be brought into consultation at an early stage. (emphasis added)

            Thus, Mr. Glover's committee included representatives from the ISDS.  The ISDS not only had input into the breed standard, it agreed to begin allowing transfer of registration from its records to the Kennel Club and developed a reference back to the ISDS stud books for pedigrees. 

Mr. Glover’s Yearbook article also discusses the difficulties of devising a breed standard, and said that they ended up “compiling all the reasonable ideas of all interested bodies, knitting them with the breed standard of other countries, and coming up with an answer that appeared to offer the best of all of them.”  Doug Collier confirms that the ISDS was one of the “interested bodies” involved in this process.

The Australian breed standard was used as an “interim standard” by the BCCofGB while this process evolved.  The Interim standard was replaced by the current standard before the first CC’s were ever awarded.  The current UK standard reflects the areas changed by the consultation and collaboration process.  Mr. Collier states that making the standard describe the dogs they knew there in Great Britain was the group’s highest priority.  Mr. Collier went on to emphasize that there were no “show” border collies in Great Britain at the time – the dogs they were describing were all 100% ISDS working stock. 

The Great Britain breed standard is the ONLY standard in the world based upon the ISDS working dogs, and is the ONLY standard in the world that received input and agreement from the ISDS itself.  The standard was purposely developed to be broad enough to encompass the four distinct types of ISDS working dogs:  the "Northumbrian type (rough coated, dark dogs like Old Hemp); the "Wiston Cap" type (rough coated with full white trim); the "Nap" type (smooth coated); and the Herdman's Tommy type (large, rough coated tricolors). 

Border Collies were fully recognized by the AKC effective October 1, 1995.  The first AKC breed standard was based upon, and very similar to, the UK standard.  The Border Collie Society of America proposed an entirely re-written standard in 2004.  A significant number of Border Collie breeders vehemently opposed many of the changes, but the AKC board approved the new standard effective March 2, 2004.


Border Collies In New Zealand & Australia

N.B. This section is still under construction

            Border Collies originally came to Australia via New Zealand. In 1901 Hindhope Jed became the first Border Collie to be imported to Australia. She was born in Hindhope, Scotland in 1895 (only two years after Old Hemp was born).  James Lilico brought her to New Zealand and she was then sold on to Australia. Lilico was instrumental in bringing the very best of the breed to Australasia. In addition to Jed, who was considered to be the “best bitch to cross the equator,” he brought in an Old Hemp daughter and other dogs directly from the Telfers, plus dogs from other great Border Collie breeders. The lines imported by Lilico were the same as the root stock of all currently registered ISDS dogs. In the early 1900’s sheep dog breeders in Australia began establishing their own lines. Some breeders crossed the Border Collies with Kelpies and other local working dogs. But throughout the years many ISDS top trial winners were imported and bred to local stock. 

            New Zealand Kennel Club (NZKC) records indicate that “Collies” were shown as early as 1886 and some of the early show entries were denoted as ‘working collies’.  The first written standard was published in 1927 and was a collaborative effort between the NZKC and the Sheep Dog Trial Association.  

            Border Collies were first shown in conformation in Australia in 1907 and first entered in the Sydney Royal show in 1933. Queensland had a breed standard by the 1940’s and New South Wales had its first standard in the early 1950’s. The Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC) officially recognized Border Collies and adopted a standard in 1963.

Judging Border Collies

           To read my comments regarding judging, click here.




Sheila Grew, Key Dogs from the Border Collie Family, Heritage Farms Publishing Company, Revised Edition 1993.

Bob Vest, Hoschton, Georgia, discussion with Kelly Whiteman, February 2004.

E.B. Carpenter, The Blue Riband of the Heather, Farming Press, Second Edition 1996.

Herding for Conformation Judges, pamphlet compiled by Kelly Whiteman, 2001.

Doug Collier, Border Collie Club of Great Britain Treasurer, telephone interview by Kelly Whiteman, 2000.

Harry Glover article, BCCofGB Yearbook, 1980.

Border Collie Club of Great Britain website, 2004.

Sue Large, England, discussion with Kelly Whiteman, March 2005. 

Piedje Vidler, The Border Collie In Australasia, Fitzgerald Printing, Second Revised Edition 1991.

Duncan after winning a 4 point major toward his herding championship and taking High in Trial.

Duncan HIT and 4 point major

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