passim border collies

Everything a dog should be.

The Breed standard, - My interpretation. 

We are asked when judging to assess the dog giving consideration to its potential ability to do the job it was originally intended to do. In this case work sheep and other livestock. All of the points in the breed standard relate to the dogs ability to do this work and to be fit for function. Obviously when judging in the show ring it is not possible to assess whether or not the dog would have the necessary mental attitude to do the job, but we can assess whether or not it would be likely to have the physical attributes that would be necessary. In border collies we should be looking for a dog that would be a great help to a farmer in controlling his stock, and the dog should have the conformation to allow it to do a good days work.

The normal text is as it appears in the breed standard. The text in italics is my interpretation of the standard.

General Appearance

Well proportioned, smooth outline showing quality, gracefulness and perfect balance, combined with sufficient substance to give impression of endurance. Any tendency to coarseness or weediness undesirable.

A sturdy well-muscled dog that looks like it has the build and stamina to spend hours out of doors and run many miles if necessary gathering sheep over all different kinds of terrain. Too fine in bone (whippet like) could make it liable to injury, a stumble could easily result in a broken leg, too heavy in bone (like a Bernese) could cause it to tire easily and reduce its agility which would be detrimental in working dog.  If you compare it to a horse you are looking for a cross country or hunter type – not a race horse or a cart horse.


Tenacious (not readily relinquishing a position, principle, or course of action; determined.), hard-working sheep dog, of great tractability (easily managed or controlled; docile; yielding) .

A dog that is fairly easy to train and is eager to learn, once trained it should be determined in its task, when herding difficult sheep it is no good having a dog that will become over exited and frustrated and resort to biting the sheep or barking at them uncontrollably. The dog needs to listen to the commands it is given and do as it is told, a timid dog would probably just give up and head for home while an over excitable dog could start barking and grabbing at the sheep causing them to scatter and be no use at all to the person it is meant to be working for.


Keen, alert, responsive and intelligent. Neither nervous nor aggressive.

As covered in the previous paragraph the dog should be attentive to its handler, and should be comfortable with the judge handling it, although in a different environment to working stock a dog that is scared to let a judge put their hands on it – or even worse attempt to bite the judge or fight with other exhibits, is not likely to have the required temperament to work sheep.

Head and Skull

Skull fairly broad, occiput not pronounced. Cheeks not full or rounded. Muzzle, tapering to nose, moderately short and strong. Skull and foreface approximately equal in length. Stop very distinct. Nose black, except in brown or chocolate colour when it may be brown. In blues nose should be slate colour. Nostrils well developed.

The skull – top of the head – is almost square in shape when looked down upon, not long or narrow, the occiput is where the two halves of the skull meet at the back, this can be felt at the back of the head but should not be pronounced or sharp, cheeks should be smooth and not be full giving the face a fat look to it, muzzle should taper slightly to the nose, the stop is where the skull drops down to the muzzle between the eyes, this should be a definite drop and not flattish as you see in breeds like rough collies, if the skull is measured from front to back it should be approximately the same length as if you measure from the stop to the end of the nose.  Not shorter and stubby like a Samoyed and not long and fine like a whippet and not dished or tipped up as in a pointer.


Set wide apart, oval-shaped, of moderate size, brown in colour except in merles where one or both or part of one or both may be blue. Expression mild, keen, alert and intelligent.

Eyes should be oval – not round as in a spitz breed, eyes that are small and narrow or too round and pronounced can all be more liable to unpleasant eye conditions – often these are hereditary, eye colour should be mid brown, if the eye is too dark, almost black in colour it could be considered ‘soft’ this gives a pleasant gentle expression but could be problematic in a working environment as the dog uses his stare to fix on the sheep and persuade a difficult animal to move where he wants it to, if the eyes are too light this could have the opposite effect on the sheep, scaring them or almost hypnotising them. 


Medium size and texture, set well apart. Carried erect or semi-erect and sensitive in use.

Ear carriage is not a major issue in a working dog – hence ears can be erect or semi erect, heavy ears similar to spaniel ears however are not likely to be very mobile, and could make it more difficult for a dog to hear a whistle or command sent from a distance, possibly even out of sight of its handler.


Teeth and jaws strong with a perfect, regular and complete scissor bite, i.e. upper teeth closely overlapping lower teeth and set square to the jaws.

While not of great importance to working ability in a herding dog an incorrect bite could cause health issues as misaligned teeth can cut in and cause damage to the dogs gums, as well as problems eating, a dogs bite can also be an indication of whether its head and muzzle proportions are correct. If the dog is overshot – the top jaw being noticeably longer than the lower jaw, the muzzle could be too long compared to skull proportions and if the jaw is undershot, - the lower jaw is longer than the upper jaw as in flat faced breeds like boxers, the muzzle could be too short – a level bite, where the front teeth are on top of each other rather than overlapping, is an indication that the muzzle is too short –and is moving towards an undershot bite.


Of good length, strong and muscular, slightly arched and broadening to shoulders.

If you watch a border collie working stock you will see it carries its head forward and fairly low when moving, and when it drops into the crouch position, it also needs to turn quickly and weave back and fro behind the sheep, none of this would be possible if the dog had a short stuffy neck, so a good strong neck of good length is vital in a herding dog.


Front legs parallel when viewed from front, pasterns slightly sloping when viewed from side. Bone strong but not heavy. Shoulders well laid back, elbows close to body.

Legs should be strong and straight viewed from the front , the pastern is the wrist area, and this is vitally important in a working dog as this is the dogs shock absorber, it should be slightly sloping when viewed from the side, as every time it hits the ground when the dog is moving it has to have some ‘give’ in it, if the pastern is straight it will not be able to cushion the force when the foot hits the ground, jarring the bone up through the leg and shoulder, and this would be seriously detrimental to a dog that needs to do a lot of running and jumping in the course of a working day. Well laid back shoulder. Or good angulation means that the shoulder blade is at a sufficient angle to allow the dog plenty of forward reach when it strides forward but can also ‘close up ‘ allowing the dog to drop easily into the crouching position, if the shoulder is upright or ‘too short’ it would cause the dog to take short steps and make it difficult to drop comfortably to the crouch.


Athletic in appearance, ribs well sprung, chest deep and rather broad, loins deep and muscular, but not tucked up. Body slightly longer than height at shoulder.

Athletic says it all really, you do not see fat heavy athletes, a dog that is going to be required to cover many miles over rough ground has to be athletic. This does not mean skinny, a skinny dog is unlikely to have the necessary stamina, and a dog that is fat or has very heavy bone is going to be tired out in no time at all and useless in a working environment. An athletic dog will have enough meat covering it to maintain stamina, and will have plenty of muscle, not fat, well sprung ribs and a deep chest give plenty of heart and lung room, and a body that is slightly longer than it is high at the shoulder is necessary to give it the mobility necessary to turn quickly, too long in the body results in weakness in the back and too short in the body impairs agility. Everything needs to be in balance – imagine a gymnast, they need to be strong fast and agile, which is why you don’t see any that are tall and skinny or short and fat.


Broad, muscular, in profile sloping gracefully to set on of tail. Thighs long, deep and muscular with well turned stifles and strong well let down hocks. From hock to ground, hind legs well boned and parallel when viewed from rear.

When a dog moves it pushes itself forward using the muscles in its hindquarters. So a strong back end is very important. The back legs need plenty of muscle to drive the dog forward, the stifle – (which is actually the same joint as our knee) needs to have a good ‘curve’ to it as this allows the dog to drop into the typical border collie crouch with ease, and allows the leg to extend out backwards well when moving, if it is to straight it would be like you trying to run or bend with stiff knees, The hock ( same joint as our heel) needs to be strong, not turned in or out as either would make it weaker and impair movement.


Oval, pads deep, strong and sound, toes arched and close together. Nails short and strong.

 It stands to reason that a dog that is going to have to cover a lot of rough ground every day is going to have to have good feet to do the job. The shape of the foot should be oval, this is the optimal shape to allow the dog to get a firm purchase on slippery ground, turn quickly and with ease and move quickly. A round foot shape is better for load bearing, (think of cart horse feet again) but is not so good when it comes to speed and agility, and a long foot, called a hare foot, is seen normally in breeds like whippets or other sight hounds, great for speed but again not good for turning quickly and liable to breaking toes when moving at speed over rough ground.


Moderately long, the bone reaching at least to hock, set on low, well furnished and with an upward swirl towards the end, completing graceful contour and balance of dog. Tail may be raised in excitement, never carried over back.

The tail acts as a rudder, and helps to balance the dog when it turns, if it is short or is set (attached and carried) too high it is not going to work well as a rudder, it is normal for a dog to raise its tail as it corners, this helps to balance it.


Free, smooth and tireless, with minimum lift of feet, conveying impression of ability to move with great stealth and speed.

Again movement is all about conserving energy. It can look very flashy to see a dog moving out like a hackney pony with its head held high, but for a dog that needs to cover a lot of ground, possibly for hours at a time, it is important not to waste energy. A good steady relaxed movement with a long stride and no exaggerated lifting of the feet and head is going to enable the dog to keep moving for a lot longer than if it is taking short rapid steps with its head held high. Which could you keep doing longer, a rapid step with knees coming up under your chin or a steady lope.


Two varieties: 1) Moderately long; 2) Smooth. In both, topcoat dense and medium textured, undercoat soft and dense giving good weather resistance. In moderately long-coated variety, abundant coat forms mane, breeching and brush. On face, ears, forelegs (except for feather), hindlegs from hock to ground, hair should be short and smooth.

Smooth coated borders are not seen very often in the show ring, possibly they are just not glamorous enough for most, but plenty are seen working stock. The short coat dries quickly, does not get thick with mud and does not cause the dog to overheat. The long coat should be MODERATLY long, it is not practical for a working dog to have a profuse overly thick coat. If a dog is going to have to run through mud and streams, possibly through brambles, and snow in winter a profuse coat is going to quickly become matted and filthy, take a very long time to dry when it becomes soaked through and possibly cause over heating in hot weather, definitely not a case of ‘more is better’.


Variety of colours permissible. White should never predominate.

It looks very smart to see a collie with the traditional markings, but these should not be a consideration in the show ring, the standard makes no comments at all regarding markings, and they would certainly make no difference to a dog’s ability to do its job. As the standard clearly states any colour is permissible, so long as it is not predominantly white, this means that so long as it does not have more than 50% of its entire body coloured white, anything goes. White dogs can have more of a predisposition to deafness, though there are plenty of predominantly white dogs seen working stock.


Ideal height: dogs: 53 cms (21 ins); bitches slightly less.

Measurement is taken from the ground up to the top point of the shoulder – or withers – with the dog standing naturally.


Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog and on the dog’s ability to perform its traditional work.

Note Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum