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Australian Shepherds and border collies are two medium-sized dog breeds that conquered the hearts of many globally. These two distinct dog breeds share many traits with similar origins. It’s only natural for upcoming dog parents to compare the two to find the best match.
Our article will compare the Australian shepherd (Aussies) and border collie (collies), weighing up everything from their physical features to temperament to intelligence. Read on to know their differences and find out which breed is more suited for your life circumstances.
Australian Shepherd Breed Characteristics
- The Australian shepherd is a medium-sized dog breed. Males typically stand 20 to 23 inches tall and weigh between 50 and 65 pounds. Females are slightly smaller, weighing 40 to 55 pounds and are 18 to 21 inches tall.
- The Australian shepherd is a working dog breed belonging to the herding group. They are highly trainable dogs with a strong desire to please their owners.
- Many Australian shepherds have heterochromia, a condition that gives each eye a different color. Most Australian shepherds with heterochromia have blue and brown eyes.
- It’s common to come across Australian shepherds with a bobtail or no tail at all. Although not a common practice today, the tail of the Australian shepherd was often docked historically.
- The Australian shepherd is most notably known for its merle coat pattern. However, not all Aussies have this type of coat. Some feature other patterns, and there are solid-colored Australian shepherds.
Border Collie Breed Characteristics
- The border collie is a medium-sized dog breed – slightly smaller than the Australian shepherd. Typically, Males weigh between 30 and 55 pounds and are 19 to 22 inches tall. Females stand 18 to 21 inches tall and weigh 27 to 42 pounds.
- The border collie is a natural at herding. They don’t need much training for herding. A border collie may even nudge or nip at their owner or children in the family in an attempt to “herd” from the get-go.
- The border collie comes in a rainbow of colors. While most border collies are solid-colored, many feature single or multiple colors with white markings and tan points.
- The border collie is ranked consistently as the world’s smartest dog breed. Considering the countless duties the breed upholds other than herding in today’s world, it’s a proven fact to many.
- Border collies are known for their boundless energy and impressive stamina. These add to the breed’s high intelligence and work ethic, making them an unmatched competitor for dog sports like agility and flyball.
Comparing Australian Shepherds and Border Collies
Now that we’ve gone over some of the characteristics of each breed, here’s how Australian shepherds and border collies compare. You’ll find everything from each breed’s general appearance to popularity below.
Origins and Modern Uses
Despite the name, the Australian shepherd descends from sheepherding dogs taken to Australia by European herders.
However, it was in the United States that much of the modern Australian shepherd came to life. Carea Leonés, Basque shepherd dog, Pyrenean sheepdog, and various collies (including border collie) were used in developing the modern Australian shepherd.
In today’s world, Australian shepherds mostly uphold the duties of a companion dog. The number of Aussies herding sheep on farms is far and few between, but many are working as service dogs. It’s common to see them as guide dogs, hearing alert dogs, and observe for medical needs.
The border collie, on the other hand, descends from similarly appearing sheepherding dogs native to the British Isles. Although the exact origins are unknown, it is thought the border collie comes from these dogs that were bred for work drive and intelligence. The breed gets its name from the area where these dogs originated, the border between England and Scotland.
Border collies nowadays uphold various duties, including what they were bred for. Many collies are employed as detection and search and rescue dogs. They are also popular service dogs, particularly for autism assistance. Nevertheless, like Australian shepherds, it’s more common to see collies as companions.
The Australian shepherd and border collie are both medium-sized dog breeds. Australian shepherds tend to be slightly bigger than border collies. They usually stand between 18 and 23 inches, whereas collies are between 18 and 22 inches – just one inch difference.
While the height of both breeds is pretty much identical, the weight difference between the two can be as much as 10 pounds. Nonetheless, this is a minor difference and often isn’t noticeable to the eye.
Both the Australian shepherd and border collie have a robust build. Aussies have a straight back with a moderately deep chest that enables the breed to be incredibly agile when herding livestock. They are strong and capable of handling various physical tasks, whether herding sheep or dog sports.
Collies also have a strong, athletic body under all that fur. Although there isn’t a big difference at first glance, border collies have deeper, longer chests compared to Aussies. This minor difference in body shape gives collies unmatched endurance, which is essential for any herding dog.
Coat Type and Grooming
The coat texture of the Aussies and collies are similar. Both breeds have a medium-length straight or slightly wavy outer coat with a dense undercoat that insulates them from cold temperatures.
As you can expect, the Australian shepherd and border collie aren’t hypoallergenic dogs. However, Aussies tend to shed more than collies, especially in spring and fall. Still, collies also shed heavily during seasonal changes.
The grooming needs of both breeds are similar. They require frequent brushing to keep shedding manageable and prevent matting. Besides this, Aussies and collies don’t require haircuts, but you can trim certain parts of the coat with grooming shears to tidy them up.
Aussies are known for their blue or red merle coats. However, these dogs can also have solid-colored coats. Solid black and red colors are just as ordinary. Some Australian shepherds also have white markings and tan points on the coat.
Border collies, on the other hand, have much more color variations. Like the Aussie, the border collie may have blue or red merle coats in addition to white, blue, sable, or red merle-colored coats. However, the most common coat color is solid black and white.
Additionally, a border collie might have a black, blue, sable, red, gold, brindle, or white colored coat. These dogs often have white markings or tan points. Some collies also have a ticking pattern on the coat, similar to Dalmatian.
Like the other points mentioned, Aussies and collies have a similar temperament. However, even these few differences may make one breed much more ideal for you and your family than the other.
Both the Australian shepherd and border collie are highly intelligent breeds with a strong work ethic. They are eager to please and absorb training like a sponge using appropriate training techniques. Aussies and collies are often top contestants in dog sports, from agility to obedience.
These dog breeds are equally affectionate towards their family, but Aussies tend to be more on the reserved side around strangers. They may take some time to open up to new people. If you have guests coming over often, this should be a consideration, as it can stress an Aussie.
As a family dog, both breeds get along well with children. However, Aussies tend to be more gentle playmates for children. It isn’t uncommon for collies to try to “herd” small children and play rough. Border collies are more suited for families with older children. Nonetheless, supervision is required when both breeds play with kids.
Aussies and collies are moderate barkers. They may bark to alert incoming threats, such as a predator. At home in a suburban area, this can be a stranger approaching the house or a squirrel hanging out in the backyard. By nature, both breeds make good watchdogs.
Intelligence and Trainability
Australian shepherds and border collies are among the most intelligent dog breeds. According to the 1994 book The Intelligence of Dogs, the border collie is the smartest dog breed. Although Aussies rank at the 42nd spot in this book, it’s an underestimation, as many Australian shepherds dominate dog sports, including obedience.
You can expect a similar experience when training an Aussie or collie. Both breeds take pride in pleasing their owners and learn new things quickly. From basic obedience training to advanced training types, you can expect Australian shepherds and border collies to progress at an impressive pace.
The intelligence of both breeds is undoubtedly high, but note that these dogs require an immense amount of mental stimulation. While herding livestock provides this perfectly, Aussie and collie owners often need to find a job for their dogs to live a fulfilling life.
Otherwise, destructive acts may arise quickly due to boredom. So it isn’t only physical exercise Aussies and collies need. Dog sports are a perfect way to provide them with much-needed mental stimulation and keep them engaged.
Aussies and collies have boundless energy. They are undoubtedly high-energy breeds that require plenty of daily exercise to stay healthy and happy. If overlooked, they can get destructive and create problems around the house.
Whether you intend to get a border collie or an Australian shepherd, know that these dogs need at least one to two hours of physical exercise a day. The exercise needs of these dogs can be demanding, especially if you have a busy schedule. Luckily, there are ways to provide quality exercise to Aussies and collies than just daily walking.
Since both breeds are extremely intelligent, any activity that makes them use their heads is excellent to tire them out. You can train Aussies and collies for agility, scent work, obedience, and other dog sports to keep them fit.
Health and Lifespan
Both the Australian shepherd and the border collie are generally healthy dog breeds. On average, both have a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years. However, these breeds are prone to developing certain canine diseases.
The common health problems shared by Aussies and collies are hip dysplasia and progressive retinal atrophy. Also, Australian shepherds may develop collie eye anomaly – an inherited eye disease in border collies.
Specific to border collies – they are susceptible to developing elbow dysplasia and Addison’s disease. Epilepsy is also a common health problem that affects border collies. Although the severity varies, most collies that develop epilepsy show signs between one and four years of age.
On the other hand, Aussies are prone to developing more health problems. These include autoimmune disorders, allergies, and hearing problems.
Additionally, severe hearing and eye problems are expected in Australian shepherd puppies of two merle-coated parents. Also known as homozygous merle, approximately one in every four Aussie puppies inherit these health issues.
The Australian shepherd and border collie are popular dog breeds, but Aussies are by far more favored, especially in the United States. In fact, the miniature American shepherd is a direct descendant of the Australian shepherd.
On American Kennel Club’s 2022 list of most popular dog breeds, Australian shepherds ranked at the 12th place, whereas border collies are at the 30th spot. Therefore, it’s more common to come across Aussies than collies during walks.
While popularity may not be a direct factor in determining which dog breed is for you, note that there’s typically more information available about popular dog breeds. Additionally, you’ll find a wider community sport and a better chance of finding a reputable breeder in your area.
Summarizing the Differences Between Aussies and Collies
The chart below summarizes the differences between Australian shepherds and border collies we’ve discussed in this article.
|18 to 23 inches, 40 to 65 pounds
|18 to 22 inches, 27 to 55 pounds
|Straight or slightly wavy medium coat with a dense undercoat
|Straight or slightly wavy medium coat with a dense undercoat
|Blue merle or red merle – black or red solid-colored coat
|White, blue, sable, or red merle – or black, blue, sable, red, gold, brindle, or white solid-colored coat
|Playful, reserved, hardworking, alert,
|Affectionate, playful, eager to please, alert
|Easy to train
|Easy to train
|12 to 15 years
|12 to 15 years
|12th in AKC’s 2022 list
|30th in AKC’s 2022 list
Australian Shepherd vs. Border Collie: Which Breed Is for You?
Finding the right dog breed for your life circumstances can be daunting. When deciding which dog breed to get, make sure to understand each breed’s lifestyle and needs. We’ve compared some important points that can help you choose between the Australian shepherd and the border collie.
Australian shepherds and border collies are similar with their high energy and mental stimulation needs. Furthermore, they are pretty much identical in size, though Aussies are typically a bit larger. If you’re a single individual looking for a furry friend, you won’t find many differences between the breeds.
However, the Australian shepherd might be a more suitable dog breed if you have a family with young children. Border collies can get too rambunctious around small children, and their strong herding instincts may make them bump into them.
Besides this, there aren’t a whole lot of differences. Choosing between the Australian shepherd and border collie mostly comes down to individual preferences. As long as the exercise needs of both breeds are met, they will make an equally great addition to your life.
Considering their exercise needs, Aussies and collies aren’t a good fit for those with a busy life. If the needs of these dogs concern you, read about other dog breeds to find the perfect furry friend for your life circumstances.