So you want an
Aussie or a Border Collie???? Are you nuts???
No really, are you sure??? Living with both, Neither breed is for
the faint of heart. As two breeds go, they are similar, yet
different. In both breeds, the working versus show lines, may appear
to the inexperienced eye as two different breeds-they can look like
two different creatures all together. Whether from working, show or
versatility lines, Aussies and BC’s all share common traits, based
on their original purpose to work stock. They are quirky,
intelligent, intense, loving, loyal fanatics. They can also be wild,
vocal and destructive, compulsive, pattern behaviors quickly-both
good and bad and are extremely good problem solvers...as in they
figure things out quickly and get into trouble when not properly
supervised, exercised or given a job.
The following is for information purposes, not meant to be the
definitive voice, but may help in the decision-making process. The
most important part of considering a specific breed of dog, is to
ask yourself how and if they will fit into your life. Do you have
the time needed for daily socialization, training and exercise!? Do
you expect a dog to love everyone, or do you understand what
reserved means? Do you have a plan? BC’s and Aussies do not do well,
raised as afterthoughts.
Reactive is their middle name...if that word means
nothing to you..well then Read On!
An Aussie or Border Collie’s style of herding and the manner in
which they had been utilized for many generations, dictates who they
are. Aussies work closer to stock and are considered a “loose-eye”
breed-meaning they use their bodies and bark and grip when
necessary, to move stock. They can work in big fields, but are great
in tight spaces and generally work much closer to stock. In play,
they can be very physical and not careful of their bodies.
Border Collies use “eye” to varying degrees to control or initiate
motion. The typical head-lowered, slinky movement when in working
mode, is an inhibited version of low stalk/hunting/crouch posture.
Eye or position applies pressure on a balance point to you, or at
the edge of the flight zone=invisible bubble around stock, that if
you push on one edge, moves them to another spot. The invisible
force field most BC’s have, is instinctually ingrained from years of
breeding for working ability and an outrun. Some have a harder time
moving into you=appears “stubborn” but actually means they are
physically feeling pressure from you and find it difficult to pass
that invisible threshold of what would be the flight zone on stock.
In sports like agility this can manifest as going around jumps, etc.
as the “pressure” the dog feels from the equipment pushes them out.
In BC’s there is a definite trend towards breeding for a “sport”
dog, that can run straighter lines as opposed to running on the
natural curve dictated by herding instinct.
Some considering a herding breed do so because they have started a
dog sport with another breed and want faster or more driven. Or love
watching BC’s but think an Aussie will be “easier”. I think the BC's
are actually "easier" in many ways, but still not suited to just
being an average family pet, without thought and much involvement on
the people's part. What comes with
the versatility in the two breeds, can also be much stronger visual
awareness of environment, sensitivity, and quirky behavior. What is
normal within the context of a herding dog’s instinct, may seem
foreign to an inexperienced person. A dog’s instinctually driven
behaviors can become extreme or inappropriate, if handled
In any breed there is a difference between the look and some
characteristics of show and working lines-look at field Labs. Show
lines are bred for visual appearance and movement, as it is
interpreted to fit a “breed standard”. A dog who is bred to show,
is bred to a different criteria than one bred for work or
performance-that is just a fact, evidenced if you attend different
venues. As show ring trends dictate what wins, the look of a dog
bred for appearance as opposed to ability, means by the nature of
what work requires, there will be a visual difference. A dog in the
field with short little legs or a lot of excess coat, is
inefficient. Real working dogs don’t get groomed and chalked, after
they are done for the day. If you think of a Labrador Retriever,
doesn’t their retrieving instinct partially define who they are?
Similarly for the Aussie or BC, their capacity to be versatile and
work to varying degrees, defines who they are. When you stop
breeding for trim or head type, amazing how quickly Aussies revert to their roots
of "ugly little working dogs " :).
There is reverse snobbery on both sides of the fence, as to what is
deemed “better”. Hopefully, there is enough room and tolerance for
all types of people to enjoy their particular flavor of Aussie or
Border Collie. Working or performance ability just is, it is not a
subjective evaluation of the dog. Shows dogs are beautiful, hard not
to admire the coat and the look. While “Pretty is as Pretty does” is
what you hear from working people…..there are many dogs of show
lineage that can also work, but maybe not to the degree as their
counterparts who were bred specifically for that purpose. In Aussies
the crossover is less obvious as the foundation dogs are back in the
pedigree of almost every dog out there today. Aussies were a breed
involved in the show ring as well as the stock ring early on, as
ASCA’s variety of venues and standard stresses the importance of
their versatility. With AKC recognition, the change in Aussies
became more evident. In BC’s the gene pool is wider in the world,
with a noticeable difference in the various types and lineage, with
many BC folks rabid about the idea of breeding just for appearance.
Some working lines in either breed, are too tough or too intense to
be considered by someone new to the breeds. The myth of the working
dog being higher energy, is actually the reverse in my experience.
Yes, they have stamina and need daily exercise and something to do,
but a good working dog has an off switch and settles when there is
nothing going on. Some of the show lines are buzzier in energy
level, than the working lines. Working lines tend to have more body
sensitivity as that affects their “feel” for their environment and
stock. In the Aussies, some have lost some of the body sensitivity
and reserve as breeders selected for those that allowed
approach/touch by a stranger (show ring).
In Both breeds-structure, temperament and health genetics are still
the most important factors! I think that pet/working/performance
people have higher expectations than some breeders may expect-as
they are going to spend countless hours loving or training and
trialing, they do not want the pup who may end up dysplastic or has
a weak front and can’t jump in a few years…they want the best pup in
the litter who shows good structure, drive, body awareness and
resiliency or a temperament they can live with.
As pets or working/sports companions, Aussies and BC’s are the type
of dogs that need active, conscientious and consistent people, who
focus on their primary needs. They are not breeds who can be raised
as an afterthought, or with limited mental and physical exercise.
Most behavior problems in the two breeds are a result of lack of
exercise and/or socialization/training. They need to be a primary
focus and part of your daily life, not left in a backyard or
expected to raise themselves.
There are obvious developmental periods in both breeds- sensitivity
and notice of change in environment, to you, to motion around them,
fear periods as they mature-all part of living with a herding breed.
If your eyes are not on what your dog’s eyes are on…then you are not
aware of what they are aware of. A fear period or behavior does not
mean that is who that pup will be forever, but it is also important
to be who your pup looks to, for feedback.
Both breeds require pro-active training and experiences in life.
They require people who will help modulate and reinforce their
behavior with praise, as they experience the world. If someone waits
for the dog’s response, as opposed to being one step ahead, you are
also not providing good leadership. Being a good leader and
pro-active means giving information for appropriate responses or
being aware of triggers to behavior, like alarm barking-so that at
first sign of alert, you are redirecting the dog’s attention, before
it spins into the full circle of a response. Using games like
“whatcha looking at?” or as formalized by Leslie McDevitt’s “Look at
That” from Control Unleashed, is a pro-active game I start early
with pups-provides the pup info in a moment of indecision, when
presented with something that may trigger barking or indecision.
So, what are the good, the bad and the ugly of both breeds? What are
the similarities and differences? There is a huge range of
temperaments in both breeds. Both are ACTIVE!!!
Aussies were bred not just to herd, but also to be guardians of the
home and flock. Many are more reserved with strangers or protective
of space, you, your car, etc. They may go through periods of alarm
barking when new things are in sight, or if the dynamics in a room
changes-like someone suddenly new walks into an established group,
appears on a path in the woods. The response will depend upon the
dog-more social they will approach and probably want to
greet/investigate. More reserved, they may woof or need an
introduction. Aussies are specific about context and see the details
of everything around them…a bit control freaky, some more so than
others. On the other hand, once loved by an Aussie, they love you
forever. They are an incredibly loyal, loving and intelligent breed
who would probably lay down their lives for you, if need be.
Border Collies were bred to do much of their job on their own-taking
direction, but making a lot of decisions independently. They can
tend to be reserved with strangers or appear so when in drive, as
focusing on activity is what they do. For them to switch off their
instinctual reactions and move into social mode, it can be more
difficult for some. They can be also be guardy but expresses more
often as resourcey behavior, usually more in terms of an item. They
can tend to be very sensitive to sound, changes, visual stimulation.
They also can be extremely sweet and loving creatures and think they
are lap dogs, as much as they can be fast, wild spinning tops.
Most Aussies are born with you as the center of the universe; they
are more naturally looking to you for validation. The activity of
training, etc. with an Aussie is “easier” in that they are often
very biddable and eager to be with you, seeking reinforcement from
you-but activities like agility are for you and about doing it with
you, not just for the activity itself. There is also a greater
responsibility as trainer, as most Aussies are fairly literal and
repeating an exercise more than a few times, they may see as they
got it wrong the first few times. If an Aussie looks slow or careful
in agility for example, they may have a softer personality or higher
body sensitivity to environment, but also may have been trained in a
way that has told them more often when they are wrong, not when they
are right. I think more Aussies will give up or shutdown in that
situation. Some may have harder personalities and so stress
high-wild, crazy barking, jumping at handler, etc. …same thing, just
BC’s are more likely to
find activities and environment reinforcing. Motion is extremely
rewarding to a BC…whether taking a tennis ball to the top of stairs
and watching it bounce down repetitively, or getting the family cat
to “move” even if it was asleep, after being allowed to stare at it
for hours, or being in perpetual motion themselves around other
movement. Validation from you, as opposed to a BC taking
reinforcement from their environment, is something you need to work
on with a BC. They are used to doing their “work” more so on their
own, and this dictates a lot of why we need to makes ourselves
important in their universe, or they do their own thing. Allowing a
BC to assign itself a job is often where their compulsive behavior
shows. The action of repeating a behavior seems to be
self-reinforcing for many BC’s. They are providing their own
reinforcement, in that case…so begins the tuning out of the human.
Making yourself part of their universe is the most important thing
you can do with a BC. Not to the extent that they are confined
extensively unless with you or prevented from just being dogs, but
by making yourself the originator and instigator of fun activities
and in charge.
So, I love both breeds. I love working a dog with eye on stock. I
also love the bouncy aspect of an exuberant Aussie. My Aussies and
BC’s are not tough dogs, maybe a bit too social based on the breed
descriptions, but they are resilient athletes who love the game of
training-the look in their eyes when we work, reminds me of why I
love them! In this day and age, social responsibility for your dog’s
behavior is high. So, I have specifically selected for a less
reserved, more biddable, outgoing dog. Aussies and BC’s are both
sensitive breeds…they keep you honest!! Working with a dog who is
not tough, requires greater awareness as a trainer, but then if
someone prefers a tough dog, they usually prefer harsh training
methods too, which is not me. Training should not take the soul out
of your dog.