Battle of the Breeds: Australian Sheepdog vs Border Collie

With similar appearances, herding abilities and strong personalities, it would be easy to confuse the Australian Sheepdog with the English Border Collie. Cousins from different sides of the world, right? Well, that is not strictly true.

Although they are likely to share some ancestry a few millennia ago, it is more likely that these breeds were simply developed simultaneously in different regions for the same purpose of herding and the result was strikingly similar dogs. 

Australian Shepherd vs Border Collie: Origins

Despite its name, the Australian Sheepdog was developed in Westen America in the late 19th century to herd livestock. Australian Sheepdog’s herd in close proximity to their livestock.

Not to be confused with the Australian Cattle dog, which actually is from Australia, Australian Sheepdogs are hard-working, high-energy, independent dogs. The American Kennel Club (AKC) describes the Australian Sheepdog as “a European breed perfected in California by way of Australia”.

Their naturally sprightly demeanour and hungry brains make them highly-trainable. Not only can they herd any animal presented to them, including sheep, cattle, geese, and even kids, they are top performers in agility, obedience and cue execution.

The Border Collie originated from Northumberland, an English country that borders Scotland also for herding livestock. However, the Collie differs from the Aussie in that they herd from a distance.

They became a recognised dog breed in 1915 when registered by the then Secretary of The International Sheep Dog Society, James Reid. They were so-named because of the location they were developed on the Anglo-Scottish borders. 

Unlike the somewhat unknown heritage of the Australian Sheepdog, all Border Collie’s are famously known to be descended from one tri-colour dog called Old Hemp owned by Adam Telfer. Old Hemp was used by many of the shepherds in the area at the time as he was known to be the best herding dog around.

Old Hemp won the coveted trophy for numerous years at the Official Sheep Dog Trials in Bala, Wales advancing the popularity of this breed. He is often attributed with single-handedly producing and promoting this well-liked breed to the desirable status it still holds today. 

Appearance

It is probably the striking resemblance in physical appearance that has many of us assuming that these two breeds are closely related. At first glance, both are medium-sized dogs, with a medium to long smooth coat and floppy ears.

However, on closer inspection, these dogs differ in several areas. 

Body Type

Although both classed as medium-sized dogs, the Australian Sheepdog tends to be heavier set and broader than the Border Collie. Border Collie’s carry a slender frame with an average adult weight of 20-23kgs. Whereas the Australian Sheepdog fills out a little more with an average adult weight of 25-30kgs. 

The Australian Sheepdog will typically stand taller than the Border Collie by a few inches. Whilst these averages might not seem like much, when stood together you can easily see the Aussies larger frame. 

Coats

When it comes to coats, Australian Sheepdogs and Border Collies come in many different colour combinations. With the typically mottled coat of the Australian Sheepdog, you would be forgiven for thinking they win when it comes to coat variation. However, it is the Border Collie that comes out on top in terms of the number of recognised coat colours approved by the The Kennel Club.

Australian Sheepdog

  • Black
  • Black Tricolour
  • Black With Copper Trim
  • Black With White Trim
  • Blue Merle
  • Blue Merle White & Copper Trim
  • Blue Merle With Copper Trim
  • Blue Merle With White

Border Collie

  • Black & White
  • Black Tricolour
  • Black White & Tan
  • Blue & White
  • Blue Merle
  • Blue Merle & Tan
  • Blue Merle & White
  • Blue Sable
  • Blue Sable & White
  • Blue Tricolour
  • Blue Tricolour Merle
  • Blue White & Tan
  • Brown & White
  • Brown Merle
  • Brown Merle & White
  • Brown Sable
  • Brown Sable & White
  • Brown Tricolour
  • Brown Tricolour Merle
  • Brown White & Tan
  • Chocolate & White

The coat of the Border Collie tends to feel courser and more dense than the Australian Sheepdog’s fluffier fine hairs. A Border Collie’s coat is more likely to follow along the sleek contour of its body whereas the Australian Sheepdog’s coat stands out from their body.

This difference in coat adds to the overall larger appearance of the Australian Sheepdog. 

Eye Colour

And of course, there is no getting away from the unique eye colour that one of these breeds holds. The Australian Sheepdog is often recognised by its different eye colours, referred to as Heterochromia, or piercing, almost translucent blue eyes.

This remarkably beautiful feature is sometimes seen in Merle Border Collies but it is not as common. 

Personalities

These two breeds are extremely hard-working, intelligent and charismatic. Whilst all dogs have their own unique personalities that have been shaped by puppyhood and experiences, there are some typical characteristics we can associate with each. 

The Australian Sheepdog tends to be more confident and potentially unruly than the English Border. They can certainly be a handful if not given boundaries early on.

These dogs are super playful, sometimes demandingly so and need an outlet for both their abundance of energy and their sharp minds. I would not recommend this breed to first-time dog owners without any prior experience of dogs and how to handle them.

However, once some basic training has been established this breed is a wonderfully loyal and spirited family member. Both breeds are not suited to a sedentary homelife.

They need vast open spaces to run around in and activities that will make use of their superior intelligence. If left alone for long periods or not exercised enough they could become destructive (Aussie) or depressed (Collie). 

The English Border Collie is shyer and more reserved. Whilst still extremely social and vibrant they are likely to be better mannered than the Australian Sheepdog.

Border Collies are energetic, fun-loving and active. They are fabulous family dogs that are devoted to their pack and enjoy larking around as much as they enjoy hard-work.

Often ranked highest for their intelligence amongst breeds, they are extremely trainable and eager to learn. This breed is a great option for first-time dog owners who have the time and energy to match that of the Border Collie. 

Trainability

When it comes to training, both of these dogs shine. However, one of them excels and is considered the most intelligent breed of dogs. 

The Australian Sheepdog is highly-motivated and will learn how to corral cattle or run an agility course with a knowledgeable and dedicated trainer. They would certainly make the top 25 when it came to most trainable dog breeds. 

But it is the Border Collie that tops the list year after year from reputable dog organisations and dog trainers: 

Most Border Collies need only a few repetitions to form an association or recognise a cue. This makes them the most trainable dog breed on the planet. One famous Border Collie described as “the world’s smartest dog” was able to learn and identify over 1,000 objects. 

Her owner, Dr John Pilley, started to train the dog, named Chaser, four to five hours a day from early puppyhood. His method was to show her an object, say its name up to 40 times, then hide it and ask her to find it.

Needless to say that she quickly understood each noun and was able to find and fetch it. An astonishing accomplishment that shows an incredible level of intelligence from a dog. It is the equivalent of a 3-4-year-old’s vocabulary. s

Summary

Whether you prefer the Australian Sheepdog or the English Border Collie, there is no denying that both of these breeds are utterly amazing creatures that are loyal, loving and fast learners. They are both delightful canine companions and can provide hours of entertainment and enjoyment. 

However, because they are highly intelligent and have extremely high energy levels, they would not suit all households and this is worth bearing in mind when selecting a dog. They need to be exercised A LOT! 

And they need to have mental stimulation daily. If these needs are not met, it can result in frustration for both the dog and owners.

If you are looking to get either an Australian Sheepdog or an English Border Collie, think carefully whether you have the type of lifestyle to ensure that both you and your hound are happy together.  

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