One of the things that has long fascinated Border collie owners is the infinite amount of physical (as well as temperamental) variety that can be found in the breed. In everything from size, shape and coat colour and texture to size and carriage of ears. And much of this stems back to these dogs’ far earlier history as a TYPE of (herding, droving) dog, rather than a more deliberately designed BREED.

As a type of dog – rather than a more specifically designed breed – they obviously had a far wider and more diverse genetic base, giving rise to such variations in size, build and coat colour or length in individual dogs. Many of these dogs’ descendants are still around today, be they working in some role, or just living as pets. Frequently they might fit a wider concept in people’s minds of what a Border collie is, or looks like, without ever being registered anywhere as such.

When it comes to more official registration, the Border collie as a more distinct working breed really took off at the beginning of the 1900s, with the establishment of the International Sheep Dog Society, whose mission was – as it still is today – to ever improve the genetic calibre of Border collies as sheepdogs. Some of the most legendary sheepdogs who have ever lived – like Old Hemp (1893-1901) – were the dogs who founded the bloodlines of numerous working Border collies’ today. Border collies registered with the ISDS or similar sheepdog organisations worldwide have a ‘working pedigree’. ISDS dogs also feature back in the bloodlines of many Kennel Club registered Border collies today. Border collies who are registered with a national Kennel Club have what is more often referred to as a ‘show’ pedigree instead. Note: I will be writing far more on the legendary dogs that formed the modern Border collie breed at a later date.

Of the different types of pedigree Border collie around today (working or show), the show ones are those whose breeding has been more intensively refined in past decades, in order to produce a more uniform looking and perhaps ‘flashier’ dog. Whereas with pedigree working dogs the highest priority is less looks but how well they work.

The kaleidoscope of colour variations found in the modern Border collie are really only genetic deviations from the basic, or more dominant, coat colours of all BCs throughout time: i.e. black, brown (or red/tan) and white. We may often think that black is a colour in itself, when it is simply a darker concentration of another hue – like red, or blue – that reflects less light. Which is how you also get lilac or blue Border collies, where the black, genetically, becomes more diluted. Or sometimes the black and blue pigmentation becomes more fragmented throughout a white coat, with shades of grey, leading to a blue merle. Or the redder pigment with the white in a collie can be anything from more chocolate brown to sable or golden red. In all circumstances some genetic mutation has arisen in a dog, leading to a more novel coat colour, which a breeder has then more deliberately selected later, to repeat again. And this is a process that has been going on now for many generations.

Sometimes too much white is not a good thing to have in a collie, as white pigment can be linked to deafness, genetically, and more sensitive skin. And what no breeder should ever do is mate one merle to another, as this can result in not just deafness, and skin sensitivity to light, but also blindness in the ‘double merle’ progeny that result.

As something of a breed purist, my preference still tends to be for black and white or tricolour dogs, if only because I favour dogs, in general, with more dominant than recessive characteristics and traits. But that is not to say that people don’t both love and cherish collies with all other manner of coat colour or texture, as part of the more infinite variety and choice presented by this breed. And as the old saying also goes, “no good dog was ever the wrong colour”.

Meanwhile anyone wanting to know far more about the evolution of the modern Border collie, physically and psychology, and how it came to be the dog it is today, will find it in BOOK ONE (Blue cover) of my BORDER COLLIES: A BREED APART trilogy – SECRETS OF THE WORKING MIND.



All text © Carol Price 2020


All text © Carol Price 2020

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