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Australian Shepherds V Border Collies

How on earth do you tell an Aussie and a Border apart?! 

Despite being referred to as an Australian Shepherd, the breed was actually developed in the United States. And despite their appearance, the two breeds did evolve separately and are not derived directly from one another although they do share ancestors in the European Collie. The Border collie originated from the Anglo-Scottish border – hence their name, whereas the Aussie is reported to have Spanish or German heritage, which then possibly travelled to America via Australia, which gave birth to their name – although this seems to be just a theory.

The two breeds are a similar height, although the Australian Shepherd is a bit weightier and more robust than the leaner Border Collie. The Border Collies make up for this slight disadvantage by transforming themselves into an rainbow of markings with a much vaster range of coat colours than the Aussie. Despite this, it is not possible to distinguish between the two breeds by coat colour alone, due to a lot of them being the same across both breeds.

Both breeds are “pastoral” which means that they were originally (and still to this day!) used to herd livestock and because of this, the two have a thick double coat for all weathers. However, one main difference between them is their herding style. 

Border Collies are more of a “gatherer” they bring the herd together to form a tight and manageable unit either by instinct or following commands/whistle. Whilst rounding up the flock, they communicate with the group using a “strong-eyed” gaze and crouching to spur them on to move. Border Collies rarely will bark to move the herd which works amazingly with flighty and nervous sheep. 

Australian Shepherds on the other hand are drovers, driving the animals from place to place. They use their body position and proximity to the herd by flanking or pushing the rear of the group towards the desired location. To incite them to move a little faster or more accurately, Aussies are known to use their voice to encourage the group. This works perfectly with the more stubborn and hardheaded cattle that they were designed to work with. This also explains their heavier structure as they needed to be a bit more hardy and intimidating to work alongside cows.

Whilst 1 in 5 Australian Shepherds are born “bob tail” meaning without a tail, this does not mean you’re able to distinguish between the two breeds based on whether they have a tail or not. The breed standard for the Australian Shepherd in countries where docking the tail is legal, allows for this based on what their job originally was. The tail for working dogs is a limb that risks being caught in shrubs, shredded, degloved, injured, or even amputated by a well timed stamp from a cow. So docking occurs close to birth by cattle ranchers to avoid their working dogs getting hurt in the future. Despite most modern Aussies not having a job nowadays, they are sometimes docked for appearance and aesthetics based on the breed standard – however as previously stated, 20% can still be born without a tail. The Border Collie was not known to be docked as the risk within their daily lives was less than that of the Aussie. This is down to firstly, sheep being less of a liability in terms of injuring them, but also their herding style is much further away from the flock, thus reducing the probability of getting hurt.

Another difference is that Border Collies are on the higher end of intelligence compared to Australian Shepherds. They are ranked the highest among all the dog breeds, whereas the Aussies step in at no. 42! And, for training, this does mean that the Border Collies require a lot more mental stimulation – as well as a lot of exercise to keep them busy. Without it, any breed can be known to be obsessive, needy or destructive, but this is exacerbated with the Border Collie. A lot of these amazing dogs do end up in rescues due to this reason. This does however, come hand in hand, with an absolute desire to engage with you. Whether it is agility, obedience, rally, or any kind of competition work, a Border Collie is hands down probably the easiest choice for work ethic and bond. 

Temperament wise, Border Collies have a reputation for being a bit more wary towards strangers, whereas the Australian Shepherd is more outgoing. The Border Collie doesn’t tend to be a very good guard dog, based on the history of the UK and not really having any predators such as wolves, bears, coyotes or big cats – the only predators that would threaten their flock would be either a fox, or another dog. This does mean they are slightly more timid than the Aussie in terms of alerting owners of an intruder, but they would hold their own if need be.

Aussies on the other hand, developing in America would have to handle all of those apex predators and other scavengers – this appears within the breed as a propensity to alarm bark and alert that something is nearby or approaching. Despite this, both breeds make amazing and happy family dogs, who are dedicated, intelligent, hard working and very trainable. They both are protective of their children within the family homes, however due to their high herding instincts, they unfortunately… or fortunately depending on your stance on small children, sometimes do round up the kids when they’re running riot! This also proves to be the same with small animals such as chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys or pigs!