While the traditional livestock industry dwindles, many of the world’s most prolific herding dogs have found their way into family homes instead of out in the fields. Two of the most popular herding breeds are the Australian Shepherd and the Border Collie.
Herding dogs are popular as pets because of their energetic personalities and high intelligence. For someone with the right lifestyle, the Australian Shepherd or Border Collie would make an excellent companion. On the flip side, these traits can also make these breeds a handful for inexperienced or hands-off owners.
So, what are the key differences between these two herding powerhouses?
Looking at its name, you’d think the Australian Shepherd’s origin is pretty cut and dry. You’d be mistaken.
While Aussie enthusiasts believe that the breed possesses some type of Australian heritage, it was actually developed in the Western United States — California, most likely. Overall, the Australian Shepherd is a young breed, being recognized for the first time in 1957. Still, these dogs have a rich history working alongside American cowboys. Many Aussies still work on ranches and in rodeos across the country.
Because the Australian Shepherd was originally bred for a long day’s work in the Wild West, today’s Aussies are disciplined, full of energy, and rarely tire early.
The Australian Shepherd is a medium-sized breed with plenty of lush, silky fur. Their coat comes in a wide range of colors and patterns, though the most recognizable is probably blue merle. Don’t let their good looks fool you, however, because this breed is one of the toughest in existence.
Aussies are constantly moving and thinking, as evidenced by their lean and muscular body (though the breed’s thick coat tends to disguise its athletic build). Male Australian Shepherds stand about 20 to 23 inches at the shoulder, while females reach between 18 and 21 inches. They tip the scale at 50 to 65 pounds or 40 to 55 pounds, respectively.
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Without a doubt, the largest hurdle in owning an Australian Shepherd is accommodating its seemingly endless energy. After all, these dogs were designed to keep going and going!
Unfortunately for some owners, running around the yard or playing fetch isn’t enough to truly tire out an Aussie. Because of the breed’s intelligence, it also requires a good amount of mental stimulation. Puzzle toys, canine sports, and hiking are all great ways to stave off boredom, which can quickly turn an otherwise well-trained dog into a destructive nightmare.
If the Australian Shepherd’s energy levels are well-managed, the breed is incredibly easy to train. Along with basic obedience training, many owners teach their Aussies performance tricks.
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On average, an Australian Shepherd will live between 12 and 15 years. As far as dog breeds go, the Aussie is fairly healthy, but prospective owners should still reach out to reputable breeders to ensure optimal health.
Common ailments affecting Australian Shepherds include hip and elbow dysplasia, epilepsy, cataracts, and certain cancers.
Despite the breed’s thick fur, it requires minimal grooming. Regular weekly brushing will help keep mats at bay.
The Australian Shepherd’s coat is waterproof and insulated, so owners should avoid cutting their fur in summer. While it might seem like a good idea to trim an Aussie, the breed’s double coat actually protects them from the sun and heat.
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Fans of the classic movie “Babe” will recognize the Border Collie as one of the film’s main characters, Fly. In the real world, though, Border Collies are more well-known as competitors than as family pets. In fact, the breed regularly takes home top honors at national agility and herding competitions.
The breed’s impressive intelligence and work ethic comes from decades of herding livestock in Scotland and Wales. While today’s average Border Collie spends more time training for sport than working in the fields, countless dogs still put in long hours on farms and ranches around the globe.
Like the Australian Shepherd, it’s nearly impossible to tire out a purebred Border Collie.
The Border Collie is easily recognized by its classic black-and-white coloration, but it’s important to remember that not all Border Collies share this look! You’ll often find Border Collies with red, lilac, and sable markings, along with ever-popular coat patterns like blue merle.
It’s also important to note that Border Collies come in two different coat types: rough coat and smooth coat. Rough coat Border Collies have long, feathery fur. Smooth coat ones have shorter, cropped fur.
As far as size and build go, the Border Collie is petite but athletically built. Male Border Collies reach about 19 and 22 inches at the shoulder, while females can range between 18 to 21 inches. The breed’s slender, muscular body typically weighs between 30 and 55 pounds.
The Border Collie is one of the most energetic and intelligent breeds in existence — often rivaling the Australian Shepherd’s physical and mental stimulation needs. If an owner isn’t able to meet these steep requirements, the Border Collie can quickly turn defiant, destructive, and just straight chaotic.
That’s not to say the Border Collie is incapable of becoming a loyal, worthwhile canine companion. Prospective owners with active lifestyles and enough time to dedicate to a Border Collie’s training make perfect counterparts to these bright dogs. Early socialization is also a must, along with closely monitoring the Border Collie’s herding tendencies around other dogs and children.
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The Border Collie is a healthy, long-lived breed, typically living to be between 12 and 15 years old.
Because of the Border Collie’s popularity as a competition and working dog, finding a reliable breeder is fairly easy. However, the breed is still susceptible to ailments like hip dysplasia, deafness, epilepsy, and immune disorders. Border Collies may also develop eye disorders, so regular eye exams should be scheduled with a vet.
Brushing or combing a Border Collie’s coat a couple of times per week is enough to keep it looking its best and eliminate loose fur or debris.
Regardless of whether a Border Collie has a rough or smooth coat, grooming needs for the breed are generally the same. With that said, owners of rough coat Border Collies should keep an eye out for mats.
Australian Shepherd vs. Border Collie: Which Is Right for You?
While the Australian Shepherd and Border Collie come from different backgrounds, these two breeds are remarkably similar. Both breeds excel at herding, are highly intelligent, and share many of the same physical characteristics:
|Australian Shepherd||Border Collie|
|Size||18-21 inches (female), 20-23 inches (male)||18-21 inches (female), 19-22 inches (male)|
|Weight||40-65 pounds||30-55 pounds|
|Lifespan||12-15 years||12-15 years|
|Exercise||At least one hour per day||At least two hours per day|
|Grooming||Once per week||At least twice per week|
|Trainability||Extremely trainable||Extremely trainable|
Because of these similarities, choosing between an Australian Shepherd vs. Border Collie is more about whether either of these breeds will suit your lifestyle than anything else.
It’s also worth mentioning that the cross-breed between the two is very popular. You can read more about the border collie & australian shepherd mix here.
These dogs will both excel in active, training-focused households; neither breed is appropriate for a hands-off or busy owner.
At the end of the day, if you and your family can meet these needs, especially if you plan to participate in farm work or competitive canine sports, an Australian Shepherd or Border Collie would make a perfect companion!
Emily started this blog out of pure passion. She LOVES her 3 dogs; Chew Barka, Cooper & Nelson, and spends countless hours every day playing with them.
When she’s not nerding out on dogs, you’ll find her on a snowboard or in the kitchen baking chocolate brownies.
She’s been featured in PetAware, Dogtime, and ModernDog.