The great Border Collie vs. Australian Shepherd debate rages on, and for good reason. Everything from their looks to their temperament differs.
Border Collies vs. Australian Shepherds: both are herding dogs and look similar. They have high biddability traits, and both are medium-sized dogs. Border Collies win over Aussie Shepherds for intelligence and energy levels.
To find the right breed, it is vital to pick the one that will fit into your family’s lifestyle best. To help you choose, we’re going to compare each breeds’ characteristics in this article. By the end of the article, you should be informed enough to know which breed is the right choice for your family.
Why Listen To Me? Who Am I?
When searching for a dog, we compared Border Collies vs. Australian Shepherds. Both were initially in the running. But, Border Collies won out for our family. Their small stature and exceptional biddability made them the better choice for us.
I own two Border Collies, (Nyx and Bandit) and a Red Heeler (Ruby).
You have to weigh all the factors for yourself to see which breed will work best in your household. Only then can you pick out your pup or older dog and start your lifelong adoration of the selected breed.
At first glance, both breeds seem to look the same. It is only under further inspection that the differences come to light.
Australian Shepherds, are a bit stockier than Border Collies, and have thicker coats. They also have docked tails, where permitted, giving them a rounded rump, much like a corgi. Why do some herding dogs have their tails docked?
Color separates them even further with Border Collies coming in a rainbow of tones. Black and white, red and white, and tri-color are the most common, though they also feature sable, lilac, and blue hues.
Australian Shepherds only have four recognized colors:
- Red merle
- Blue merle.
Beyond color, the coats differ in density and texture.
Border Collies come in both short and rough (or long) coats.
Australian Shepherds just have long coats that are quite dense and wavy.
While most of the Collies have straight fur, there are a few, like my Bandit, that have tousled waves or even curls.
These dogs are similar in how they hold their ears. Many have upright, or pricked ears, when alert and let them fold down otherwise.
Some Border Collies always have upright ears, though it is rather rare for Aussies and does not meet their breed standards.
Although both breeds are considered medium dogs, their size does vary considerably. On average, adult Border Collies are just over 50 pounds, putting my dog Bandit firmly in the average category.
There are many much smaller than that, however, like my dog Nyxie who comes in at 27 pounds! A lot of size variation exists, with many dogs ending up firmly between Nyx and Bandit’s weight. Despite the weight variations, Border Collies stand about 18 to 22 inches tall at the withers.
Australian Shepherds stand a little taller at 20 to 23 inches at the withers. They are much stockier than their Collie counterparts, and are also about 10 to 20 pounds heavier. Most top out at around 60 to 65 pounds, though there are many smaller pups in the bunch.
Some Aussie breeders try to sell mini, toy, and even teacup variants, which are not officially recognized by kennel clubs. The breeders selected the parents for size, making the dogs in their lines smaller and smaller over time.
The Border Collie holds onto the number one spot for intelligence. Aussies, on the other hand, land at number 66, surrounded by good company, including the Saluki and Irish Wolfhound.
What makes Border Collies stand out is their innate ability to think out a problem and come up with a solution on their own. This is also what makes these crafty Collies so much trouble when they are not given a job. They will become self-employed in an instant and you will surely not like it.
Australian Shepherds are plenty smart for households of all kinds. They quickly pick up their training tasks in a couple sessions. They can learn how to do specialized jobs with ease and are less likely to go off-script when bored.
Across both breeds, drive varies between lines. Low drive Border Collies flunk out of herding school from time to time. These dogs are better suited for high energy households than herding livestock.
High drive Australian Shepherds are easily found, but there are just as many happy to laze around with their families.
By talking with breeders and researching the lines, it is possible to find the right amount of drive in a dog. And even then, it takes learning more about the pup in question to see if they are well-suited for the intended task.
Biddability refers to the breed’s overall obedience and willingness to work on the task at hand. Both breeds exhibit high biddability, though that is where the similarities end.
Since they are incredibly loyal, Australian Shepherds can be somewhat difficult for others to train. They will happily work alongside their owners all day but refuse to complete tasks for a trainer. Their owners can help overcome that difficulty by actively engaging in the training sessions. As the dogs develop a relationship with the trainer, their biddable nature comes back in full force, allowing them to focus on the task ahead.
Border Collies, however, will work for nearly anybody. They just want to complete the task and earn their accolades, no matter who it comes from. The only exception are the softer dogs who have timid tendencies. As a puppy, Nyxie was not the least bit outgoing. Her shyness made her somewhat challenging to train, hiding her true biddable nature. After she learned a few key tricks and gained confidence, she started to shine during training sessions.
Dogs work best when their personalities match yours. So, while trying to decide, “Should you get a Border Collie or an Australian Shepherd?” think hard about how their personalities could complement yours.
Border Collies have an upbeat, enthusiastic personality. They are highly alert and always ready to go, keeping their owners on their toes. At the slightest sound or hint of movement, Nyxie and Bandit leap into action. Their enthusiasm is infectious, leaving me willing to get up and go even if that was not the original plan.
Since they enjoy being so busy all the time, Border Collies do not take to boredom very well. They will mope around and chuff at every chance, showing their discontent to all who will listen. They can become quite destructive without a way to release their pent up energy and get the wiggles out. When exercised, my pups will relax at the end of the day, curling up on the couch alongside their family members.
If left to their own devices, Border Collies quickly become self-employed, much to their owners’ chagrin. They will make it their job to bark at the squirrels in the yard or deconstruct rolls of toilet paper. Whatever job they come up with ends up punishing those who failed to provide them with other activities to enjoy.
Here’s an example of a bored Collie.
Although not nearly as intense as their Collie counterparts, Aussies are also very busy creatures. They prefer to have something to do with their day rather than lie around watching the world go by. They like to play ball, complete obedience training, or follow you around the house.
If allowed to roam around, they will bark and bark at anything that goes past the house. They like to use their voices to alert everyone around them to the changes in their environment. This may mean minute-by-minute accounts of birds flying by, dogs walking past and even weather changes.
Of course, if they run and play enough throughout the day, Australian Shepherds are happy to lie at their owner’s feet in the evening. Though they will remain ever vigilant about what is going on around them.
Although both breeds are busy, busy, busy, the Border Collies win the prize when it comes to high energy levels. The Collies can run circles around Aussies, seemingly never running out of energy. They keep up the intensity all day long, barely taking a break to lie down or drink water.
During games of fetch, both Bandit and Nyxie will dash by the full bucket, taking a few laps of water without making a complete stop. Only after 30 minutes of running and running will they rest their feet for a moment. The second someone moves the ball, they are off again, ready to get back to work.
Aussies have high energy levels compared to many other breeds. It just pales in comparison to Border Collies. They are not content to lie around the house every day, as they were also bred to work hard in the fields.
When comparing Border Collies vs. Australian Shepherds, keep in mind that both breeds need to spend a good part of the day running and playing. Even with the laziest of the bunch, owners of either breed will need to commit at least an hour to throwing the ball.
Fast-paced activities are not the whole story, however, as these dogs also need to expend mental energy.
To wear them out even faster, fill each and every day with:
- Obedience training
- Trick training
- Puzzle games
- Treat dispensers.
These dogs also respond well to that NILIF lifestyle. Standing for ‘Nothing in Life is Free’ links good behavior with rewards, creating healthy boundaries and structure. Many behavior problems found in these breeds, are resolved by making dogs work for all they get each day.
Despite their name, Australian Shepherds were bred on ranches across the United States to help with livestock. Their name derives from the Basque shepherd dogs used to create the breed.
Since their inception, they gained popularity as a lead herding dog for livestock, including:
They can even help move small cattle across the lands, putting them out to pasture and back in their pens with ease. Beyond their herding capabilities, these dogs make excellent family pets. They excel at keeping everyone well-entertained and comforted through all of life’s trials.
Border Collies were developed along the Anglo-Scottish border around the end of the 19th century. All lines trace back to a talented tri-color herding dog by the name of Old Hemp. This dog passed down his innate herding skills to all that came after him.
Since then, his offspring have been strutting their stuff at the ISDS sheepdog trial and farmlands across the globe. At these venues, Border Collies herd anything and everything they can, including:
Border Collies also help clear golf courses and airport runways of geese and wild birds. In fact, Nyxie comes from a long line of talented herding dogs that also clear the local airfields.
These Collies can adapt to any job, keeping them well-employed and active every day. Many have ended up as movie stars, search and rescue heroes, and scientific research partners due to their abilities and endless drive.
Border Collies vs. Australian Shepherd costs vary wildly, depending on several factors.
In general, Border Collie puppies can go for $800 to $4,500, while Aussies cost $500 to $2,000. Started dogs range from $4,000 to $20,000 since they have been taught how to herd and excel on the field.
Across both breeds, the popularity of the line, and all the achievements of the dogs in that family play a significant role.
Other factors may include:
- Breeder reputation
- Sire and dam testing.
Although rare coat colors can increase prices, it is generally frowned upon, as it encourages breeding for the wrong reasons. Instead, breeders are encouraged to produce dogs that meet the breed standards and excel in their intended jobs.
Border Collies are a wash and wear breed that needs very little care beyond basic nail clipping and the like. Rough-coated pups benefit from a brushing here and there, while the others could go without if need be.
Shampoo and conditioner should be saved for after they give themselves an impromptu mud bath. Unless that happens often, however, then a quick rinse will have to do. Otherwise, all the bathing washes away the natural oils on their skin and can lead to rashes.
Other care needs include:
- Daily brushing of their teeth
- Periodic ear cleanings
- Flea and tick checks.
They benefit from two meals a day, morning and night, to keep their bellies full.
Australian Shepherds benefit from the same amount of tooth, ear, and nail care plus twice-daily meals. They need more frequent flea and tick checks and fur brushing sessions, however. Their thick coats tend to mat much more quickly if left to their own devices.
Neither of these breeds require trims at the groomers, though a sanitary groom can keep them neat and tidy.
It is a good idea to bring them in for a bath and blowout during shedding season or risk ending up with piles of fur all over the house. The groomers will blow out the loose fur after a warm bath to restore their coat and end your shedding woes.
Health is another important consideration in comparing Border Collies vs. Australian Shepherds.
Both are hardy breeds that have minimal health problems to worry about. Buying from a reputable breeder reduces the risk of serious health issues even more since they DNA test for conditions common in the breed.
In Border Collies, breeders test for Collie eye anomaly, osteochondritis dissecans, and sensory neuropathy. Epilepsy is another one to watch for in this breed, though there are no tests to aid in that pursuit. Instead, breeders must share the history of the disease in their lines to give buyers the best chance at purchasing a healthy pup.
Australian Shepherds may also have serious health conditions in their lines, such as:
- Elbow dysplasia
They are at risk of developing epilepsy as well, depending on their genetics. This can cut their life short, though some experience great results with daily medication. Australian Shepherds can live up to 15 years of age, while Border Collies have an average lifespan of 12 to 15 years.
Border Collies vs. Australian Shepherds, who wins? That’s up to you.
As you weigh these reasons, the answer to, “Should you get a Border Collie or an Australian Shepherd?” will become quite clear. You can then work toward obtaining the dog of your dreams and training them to be all you had hoped for. Your time spent finding the right breed for your family will help you make the most of the experience.
If you’re leaning towards the Border Collie, here are some other resources you may find interesting and useful:
- How do Border Collies show affection?
- Are Border Collies good companions on the hiking trail?
- Want to crate train your Border Collie? Read our tips.