Smooth Border Collies are often of interest as pets and companions thanks to their exceptional intelligence and the relatively light cleanup work they require. Rough Collies, with their long coats, can be notoriously difficult on furniture and clothing during the shedding season. Here is everything you’ll need to know about the better-kempt cousins if you are planning on adopting a smooth, or short-haired, Border Collie anytime in the near future.
The exact origins of the ollie as a whole are unknown, as it is an ancient breed found in multiple regions in Europe. Even the name is something of a mystery, with many possible interpretations having been offered in a variety of languages. Possible origins have included the word for coal, referring to the dark coat some smooth collies exhibit; others include ancient words for ‘useful’ or ‘determined’ and even simply ‘dog’, making it all but impossible to assign a concrete origin to the word.
Pure Collies of both rough and smooth breeds alike can likely be traced back to a storied dog named Old Hemp. Whelped in Northumberland in the late 1800s, Old Hemp displayed a combination of exceptional work ethic and temperament and unusual coloration that made him a preferred sire for numerous broods. One legend about Old Hemp records him as siring more than 200 puppies throughout his lifespan.
As important a figure as Old Hemp was, records exist back to the beginning of the 1800s, showing the same breed of dog working closely with shepherds and farmers across Europe. Smooth collies were favored for this purpose, as their short coats were less likely to become entangled in farmland shrubbery or befouled with mud or dung. At the same time, Rough Collies were seen in show rings and high society, where their longer coats were considered more fashionable. Wealthy individuals would sometimes maintain a few around larger, better kempt estates as watchdogs, keeping the lawns clear of wildlife and alerting any visitors.
Arguably the epitome, or possibly the genesis, of this trend was to be found in Queen Victoria of England, who saw in collies a dog of considerable strength and intelligence as well as one sociable enough to keep in the company of royalty. She is recorded as owning a number of them, popularizing them among English nobility and other monarchs of Europe over the course of her reign.
Collies were and remain excellent sheepdogs, and so were as sought after on the world’s frontiers as they were in the grazing countries of England. Colonists in Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas were known to seek out collies as a reliable companion to help cultivate the land. Some such dogs were considered so important that they were listed on cargo manifests, with the captain of the ship needing to sign surety for the dog should it be lost at sea.
Another dog critical to the history of the breed is known as Winston Cap, considered to be the archetype for the Border Collie canon of the modern kennel world. Whelped in the 1960s, Winston Cap was eventually adopted as an international standard of a sheepdog for his biddable nature and instinctive herding of the livestock of all sizes; even today, his herding pose is the one against which other collies are judged.
With the growth of urbanization and the advent of computerized farming, collies began to see less use in farming; still, low-budget or family-owned farms will often turn to a collie for help herding livestock, if only as a supplemental measure. They continue to be a show dog for both beauty and athletic competitions and are frequent participants in competitive herding in many countries.
As a herding breed, collies are possessed of a strong physical build, with trim, muscled legs, and a body somewhat higher off the ground to allow them to traverse rough terrain without injury. The breed averages between 45 to 55 centimeters tall at the shoulder, and between 12 and 20 kilograms, depending on age, gender, and lifestyle.
Collie’s coloration is of particular interest to many canine enthusiasts, as monochrome collies, and bi-, or tri-colored border collies have discernibly different lineages. In most breeds, the coloration is far more arbitrary, with shades and patching appearing seemingly at random. The family tree of a Border Collie, on the other hand, can be far more closely tracked by its coat. Especially when separated by rough and smooth breeds, a scholar of the pure breeds of border collie could likely narrow any specimen to a few families at a glance.
Of particular note in the collie is an expression known simply as ‘the eye,’ this being a nearly unblinking stare that is exacerbated by the collie’s brightly colored irises. As unnerving as it is to humans, the intended recipients of this look are livestock, who tend to make eye contact with the dog as it moves in to herd them along. A sheep or cow fixed with the eye will feel threatened and shy away, helping drive the rest of the herd in the desired direction.
Collies are considered a highly energetic breed, with all the strength and motivation needed to move herds of livestock across broad stretches of grazing territory and survive the often inclement weather of colder northern climates. For this reason, they are not often recommended as house pets. Left unsupervised, collies will tend to engage in destructive behavior to release their energy, with the very real possibility of damage to people or property along the way.
This excess energy is tempered by the fact that collies are exceptionally intelligent and very receptive to many forms of training. They are a working breed, after all, and are eager to work hard and please their owners. Collies can be taught to herd livestock or chase down rodents with relative ease, and a modicum of intensive training can make them suitable for home protection, medic alert, or assistance for the disabled.
Apart from working purposes or as companion dogs, collies are a regular sight at many dog shows and competitions, as their eagerness and ability to learn activities and their strong physique put them in good stead against other competitive breeds. Shows based on appearance or conformity to canon tend to focus more on the rough collie, as the smooth collie is considered the less visually appealing of the two varieties; in some kennel clubs, the two are judged separately to give the smooth collie an equal chance.
The cost of owning a dog is often miscalculated. Many owners forget that there are several different kinds of expenses associated with any dog, and are unprepared for the eventual full bill. To begin with, there is the initial cost of buying the puppy. An untrained collie puppy can run between $300 USD to $1500 USD, depending on the puppy’s lineage, health, and what grading, if any, it receives from the kennel club of the seller’s choice.
Once you have taken possession of the collie, there will be a round of one-time fees to pay, including registering it with the relevant veterinary authorities, appropriate vaccinations, and any toys or equipment you might need to make your home a suitable habitat for the dog as well. Much of this actually can and should be done before bringing the dog home, but is left until the dog has changed hands to protect both parties against the other reneging. The total cost involved can easily run as much as $1000 USD beyond the cost of the dog.
Finally, there comes the steady cost of feeding and housing the dog, as well as any regular medications such as deworming or tick prevention pills, which can, all together, total another $1000 USD annually. New owners should be aware of these costs ahead of time and only buy a dog they can commit to supporting. That said, it is often possible to spread out or defer some of these costs, so that the owner will never find themselves paying such a sum all at once.
When totaled up over the average lifespan of the breed, owning a short-haired collie can realistically cost as much as $25,000 USD to properly support. One can try to lessen the financial burden in various ways, such as buying an older dog or keeping to the minimal vaccination schedule recommended by your veterinarian, but ultimately, it will be the responsibility of the owner to ensure that they can adequately provide for the dog at all times.
As a high-energy working dog, short-haired collies need to be exercised regularly and extensively; long walks, treadmill training, or fast-paced games are all recommended to give your collie a chance to blow off steam and build up its muscles and stamina. Take care not to exercise on hard surfaces such as concrete or asphalt, as these have a rough texture similar to sandpaper that can easily lay open the collie’s pads.
Short-haired collies are exceptionally intelligent as well, a trait developed in the breed from the continual challenge of needing to outwit large numbers of livestock and intuit the owner’s commands while herding. One Border Collie was even named the world’s smartest dog, with a recognized vocabulary of above one thousand words. This breed should be given mental challenges as well as physical exercise to keep them alert and satisfied. You can try hiding toys or food, playing hide-and-seek with them, or teaching them discipline and verbal commands to occupy their mental faculties.
As a larger breed, you will want to select food for dogs of the 20 to 40-kilogram weight class and adjust for your collie’s age and lifestyle. Try to find a food optimized for working breeds, as these foods have the starches and carbohydrates required to give your collie the energy it needs for its temperament. Dog foods tend to be sorted and sold by numerous criteria, including, size, weight, age, and even some medical conditions, so you should have no trouble finding an option that perfectly suits your short-haired collie.
Similarly, select medication for working dog breeds of the appropriate weight class. Too strong a medication can harm your dog, and a dose intended for smaller or lighter dogs might not take effect at all. Should your Border Collie become sick or injured, try to keep them on bed rest until your veterinarian clears them to return to a healthy, active lifestyle.
Collies tend to be sociable and are generally amicable to children, visitors, or other pets. An acclimation period may be required if both pets are in their prime or in heat, as this can exacerbate the collie’s territorial drive.
Getting a collie can be a challenging decision for you and your family – the dog will need the standards of care and attention of a strong, active working dog. If you are prepared to meet that challenge, you will find that you have procured for yourself a smart, loyal friend with the energy to do whatever you need it to do, all day long.