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What is a Border Collie?

What does a Border Collie look like? "Diversity" is the Key Word

Because Border Collies are bred for intelligence and working ability and not for looks, there is a great deal of diversity in appearance.

COAT: Border Collies can have smooth (short) coats, like Teddy, right, or rough (long) coats like the three dogs below, or anything in between. A very long, very heavy coat could be a hazard to a working dog, so that type of coat may be more unusual. However, with the advent of show Border Collies, coats in dogs bred from show stock are becoming heavier. Coats may be straight to curly - this is not a standard, but a fact. The coat is double with a longer, coarser outer coat, and a shorter softer undercoat which sheds out completely in summer. A dog under stress or a female that has recently whelped a litter of pups may have "blown" their coat so that it does not appear to be double.

EARS: Border Collies also have two types of ears, erect, like the two dogs immediately below, and semi-erect (which actually covers a whole spectrum of ear carriage; more on ears, below).

BODY TYPE: Please note that a Border Collie's body shape is very important in identifying the breed. The Border Collie has a long body, with the back slightly sloped toward the shoulders, with legs proportional in length to the body so as to allow a great deal of speed and agility.

TAIL: The Border Collie has a long tail, coming at least to the hock, and it is held down, often in a "J" formation or sometimes held tucked under the belly. Some young Border Collies will hold their tails up or even curled when in a "play" mode. Even in the smooth coated dogs, the tail is somewhat bushy rather than feathered like a setter's, or smooth like a greyhound's.

HEAD: The Border Collie's head is wide, but not coarse, and the muzzle is slightly long in proportion, and pointy but not sharp. In other words, a wide or blunt muzzle is not indicative of the breed.


COLOR: The Border Collie comes in a remarkable variety of colors.

Black (black-and-white) is the most common color and often preferred by shepherds. But even black-and-white dogs come in a variety of patterns, with varying amounts of white, usually in the traditional "collie markings" of a white blaze on the face, a white collar, feet, chest and tail tip. Even mostly black dogs will have some white, usually on the tip of the tail, the chest and belly, and a little on the face, if nowhere else. Completely black dogs are not at all usual in this breed, and should be considered as something other than a Border Collie.

Tri-colored (black, white and tan), like Tess, right, is the next most popular color in the Border Collie. Usually the tan appears in spots on the face over the eyes and on the cheeks, sometimes on the legs, and often among the hair under the tail or behind the back legs. However, tan can appear in varying amounts, as indicated by the group of dogs below who are technically tri-colored but have large amounts of tan on their bodies and a black saddle of varying widths. These dogs are often termed "saddle-patterned tris". The tan color may be any shade from very light "beige" to a deep, dark, reddish-tan.

Red (red-and-white, like Komet, below, and red-tri - red, white and tan - like Flash, right) is not uncommon. Red in a Border Collie (which is called chocolate in Australia), is genetically liver or brown (as in the Springer Spaniel), but the shade varies. It also comes with the white collie markings. Sometimes Border Collies will have one erect ear and one semi-erect, like Komet does. Flash has "perfect" semi-erect ears, with just the tips forward. However, please note that, unlike a "Lassie" collie's ears, Border Collies' ears are placed wider apart, and the tips turn slightly outward. Often Border Collies have ears that are held all the way down, or with most of the ear tipped forward - these latter are sometimes called "tag ears" (see the pup at the bottom with the one blue eye).

Blue (or grey), like Hazy, right at front, is less common a color. Here, Hazy is shown with Whisper, a black-and-white dog, so the contrast is evident.

Often when a blue merle (like Bill, right) or red merle (like Matisse, below) dog comes into a shelter, they are labeled "Australian Shepherd", mainly because most people do not know that Border Collies also come in these two colors. But they do. How, then, can you tell the difference between a Border Collie and an Aussie if you have a red or blue merle dog? Not easily. Just keep in mind that Border Collies always have a tail, whereas, Aussies most often do not (though they can), and Aussies are more often slightly stockier than Border Collies, with a wider head and broader muzzle. Merle dogs also have the white collie markings, and may be tri-colored (with tan markings) as well, as Matisse is.

Four more unusual colors are , sable, tan, black-and-tan, and bindle.

Sable means the hairs are tan at the base, with a black tip. The amount of tan versus black determines how dark (or light) a sable dog will appear. Zip, right, is a very dark sable.

Tan dogs, like Bud, right, are sometimes mistaken for "collie crosses" because this color is most often found in collies, and is called "sable" in collies. Terminology can be confusing because the same colors may be called something entirely different in different breeds, or the same name might be given to one color in one breed and another color in another breed, but need not be worried about. Suffice it to say that Border Collies do come in this tan color. Again, the tan can be any shade from a pale, "pinkish-beige" to a deep, dark "mahogany". Tan is sometimes mistaken for "red", as are the lighter sables, so care at looking at a coat color can often be the difference between identification and misidentification.

Border Collies used to come in black-and-tan (similar to the Rottweiler), but this color has all but disappeared in the breed, and dogs that are referred to as black-and-tan often have a little white on them as well, like Roy, right.

Brindles, like Brenda, right, are very rare, and occur when the hairs are banded, black and tan, which gives a brownish cast to the coat.

Besides the usual white "collie" markings of collar, blaze, feet and tip of tail, Border Collies sometimes come with larger amounts of white, such as half-white faces, like Bizzi and Teddy, below left, which is a very common pattern in the breed. Speckling or ticking can occur on faces and legs, but some dogs are ticked all over, like Funny, right. These dogs are usually born with their white areas completely white and as they grow varying amounts of spots begin to appear in the white areas. Dogs that are born with lots of white and some color in seemingly random patterns, like Bandit, below left, are often referred to as "patterned whites". All these patterns can come in all colors, not just black-and-white.

EYES: One more word, on Border Collie eyes. Most common in black-based dogs are dark brown eyes. But Border Collies of any color can have blue eyes, or one blue eye, like Josie, right. This latter is often referred to as "walleyed". Black-based dogs can also have amber eyes, but eyes of this color are most often found in red dogs. Blue dogs often have green eyes or grey eyes. In other words, eyes can be just about any color, and are not important for identifying the breed of a dog. Since Border Collies come in such a wide variety of colors and patterns, going on body shape, head and muzzle shape, and ear and tail carriage is much more important for identification. And most important of all is behavior.

If you are interested in seeing more examples of Border Collies in the colors and patterns discussed above, please visit Carole Presberg's Border Collie Museum.

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