border Collies like to work – or more specifically, they like to herd. A Border collie's intense stare is said by some to actually hypnotize their charges. Those eyes see everything – every movement, every reaction, every nuance – and the dogs react instinctively to counteract or take advantage of the herds' movement. It's almost like a grand ballroom dance with the border collie and the livestock moving in the same rhythm and cadence. It's no wonder these dogs are known as the premier livestock-working breed in the world with their athleticism, intelligence, and work ethic.
Border Collies are gathering herders, as opposed to heelers (nipping at heels). The dogs instinctively run wide around a herd, gathering the animals into a group, before returning them to their shepherd. The dogs can be trained, though they are not often, to drive the herd away – but this is not their instinctive nature.
Border Collies can be honestly labeled as workaholics. These dogs are happiest when they have a specific job to do. The type of job is not as important as the mere fact that it is a job. They can be happy herding, engaging in obedience training, performing agility trials, or any other kind of athletic dog activity. Border Collies are extremely quick, high-energy, busy dogs, and they require plenty of exercise. The dogs have a lot of endurance – a trained Border Collie is able to run many miles a day over difficult terrain, and then do it again day after day. If you don't have the time to help your Border Collie stay active, then get a different breed, since a bored Border Collie can become neurotic, obsessive, and/or destructive.
Personally, I have discovered that crossing Border Collies with calmer breeds can reduce the energy level somewhat, though not eliminate it. My Border Collie cross, Keiko, looks and acts like a Border Collie in most respects, but her Spaniel half has successfully calmed her down quite a bit. The workaholic personality is still there, but when I am not around she seems perfectly happy with a guard-dog or watchdog occupation.
Border Collies instictively herd livestock – and birds, other dogs, cats, children, squirrels, rabbits, deer, bugs, lawn mowers, vaccuum cleaners, brooms, rakes, cars, bikes, motorcycles – just about anything that moves at more than a snails pace. Although Border Collies do not herd instinctively by nipping heels, it is a behavior that can appear in some members of the breed. If a Border is not taught otherwise, young children can become targets of that behavior. It's not that the dog is mean, he is just doing what comes naturally. On the other hand, Border Collies (and Collies in general) have been known to herd children away from busy streets and other hazardous situations. (Obviously, herding a car can be disastrous, so that behavior must be unlearned quickly).
Border Collies tend to be underfoot. They will watch you intently and be right in front of you if they think “something” is going to happen. If I go outside Keiko is constantly at my feet. For example, the other day I was working on a lawn sprinkler zone and every fews seconds – plop! – she dropped a ball into the sprinkler box. Rather than “helping”, she was hindering my efforts. Not quite the job I had in mind.
Border Collies absolutely thrive on attention, and genuinely love people. Socialize early, and you'll have a very good-natured dog. Border Collies can act somewhat reserved when meeting new adults, but they generally warm up to strangers quickly (especially if the stranger play with them).
Border Collies are highly intelligent and very quick learners, yet they mature slowly. Don't expect a fully mature adult dog until the dog is past 2 or 3 years. As they age the dogs may slow down a bit, but most will retain their “puppiness” well into old age. Even thought Keiko is 10 or 11 years old (we're not sure because she was adopted), she can still run rings around our 4 year old Labrador Retriever cross when playing fetch.
A side note: I'm not sure if this is indicative of Border Collies in general, but Keiko eats far more slowly than any dog I have ever owned. She seems to savor the food and actually chews every bite instead of just wolfing the food down like other dogs. Could any other Border Collie fans or owners out there provide similar experiences?
Border Collie herding: