Just How Smart is a Border Collie?

October 21, 2010

By Linda Cole

Border Collies are considered one of the smartest dog breeds around. They excel at herding sheep and can learn voice commands, follow directions from a whistle or hand signals, and can understand more words than most dogs. Border Collies are smart, but just how smart are they?

The Border Collie sits at the top of the list of most intelligent dog breeds, and some people believe they are the smartest dog in the world. This is a dog who will keep his owner on their toes, especially if they don’t research the breed before getting one. Border Collies require a lot of exercise, and need to do a job to stay out of trouble. A bored Border Collie is capable of almost anything, because he will find something to do to entertain himself.

This is a dog breed that never stops thinking and has the ability to stay one step ahead of his owner. You can practically see the wheels turning in his head as he searches his environment and notices everything going on around him. If you take the time, this dog can learn almost anything you want to teach him and he thrives on learning. A Border Collie needs plenty of mental stimulation and physical exercise to keep his mind and body in good shape. Just be careful what you do teach him, because he won’t easily forget and he may use his intelligence to teach himself things you don’t want him to learn.

Border Collies are medium sized dogs weighing from 25 to 65 lbs. They can think on their own and problem solve when necessary to complete a task before them. And I do mean any task. These dogs have a work ethic that’s unstoppable, and they can stay focused on anything they set their mind on. They’re experts at finding escape routes out of their pen, and some owners swear this dog breed can open locked doors and unlock gates to escape. If he’s working sheep and out of hearing range or sight of his handler, he is capable of making decisions on his own. This hard working dog breed is a quick thinker and lets nothing stand in his way of doing the job he was bred to do.

Border Collies thrive on lots of praise, but they can be stubborn as well and will try to outsmart an unwary owner if given the upper hand. An owner needs to understand and be aware of the intelligence of this dog in order to keep him under control. A bored and untrained dog can have serious behavioral problems and will not be a good family pet, especially with small children. The dog can be sensitive to loud and sudden noises and they will try to herd anything that moves including kids, other dogs or cats, cars, livestock and even their owner.

If you don’t have a herd of sheep available to help your Border Collie run off steam, the next best thing is to train and enter him in agility sports, sheepdog trials, disc dog or Flyball competitions, or dock diving. This dog breed has plenty of stamina to go the long haul, and usually comes out on top when competing in these events. Any of the above activities can give this fast learning dog an appropriate way to keep his mind focused and keep him fit. This dog loves being with his owner, and participating in a sport complements his competitive nature. Long hikes or runs will also satisfy his need for plenty of exercise. This dog is not a couch potato, and needs an active owner.

Border Collies are so smart and observant, they can pick up on the smallest variations in our tone of voice, how a command is given and even how we use our hands during training session. Subtle changes that go unnoticed by an owner can be picked up by the dog. These differences can be confusing to him because he thinks his owner is trying to teach him something new. It’s important to stay as consistent as possible when training a Border Collie.

If you don’t have the time or energy to give your all to a Border Collie, you’ll be happier with a more laid back dog breed with less energy. Border Collies find their way into shelters because their owner didn’t understand the needs of this athletic dog. Families with young children need to train the kids how to interact with their pet to avoid unwanted behavior from the dog and unnecessary punishment when he acts the only way he knows how.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Pet Foods.

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  1. Aronn says:

    Yes, it’s true. A border collie is a very smart dog and quick on the uptake too. A smart dog can sometimes outwit its owner, well you just have to take responsibility for having one and train him consistently. A well-trained dog can surely reward you in the future. Intelligent dogs can follow most of your instructions and routines which can be a very good family pet. Thanks for sharing this. Here’s another article about smart dog breeds I’d like to share with your audience https://drmartypets.com/6-smartest-dog-breeds/

  2. SHERI Walters says:

    I just rescued a three month old Border Collie male from the animal shelter. I got him because I have severe depression. and needed a best friend to get me out of it. He is very funny. I had to teach him how to play with this toys. I do have grandchildren. And we’ll teach them how to be around a dog how to treat a dog. Plus I’m out of shape so I’m hoping him walking with me will help exercise him and me both plus I’m hoping to teach him a bunch of tricks. Some of his hand commands will be sign language. I have a deaf nephew.


    I am getting a border collie in a few weeks from a friend of mine, and I am trying to find out as much as I can about the breed.

  4. Linda Czechowski says:

    We are picking up our 8wk old Border collie Friday and are very excited. We lost Chloe our 14 yr old BC a yr and a half ago. Any advice, books, classes etc would still be greatly appreciated as I think we may have to teach these old dogs (us) new tricks!
    Thank you for anything

    1. steve says:

      be patient and do not lose your temper ,these dogs can be very wilful when they start to grow from puppies..dont shout at him /her even if they drive you crazy and respect them and they will respect you

  5. Paul Wadhams says:

    My border collie has learnt to turn the key in the back door and let its self out into the garden.

    1. Yeet says:

      Smart dog, border collies are smartest dog I’ve ever met.

  6. Joslyne Girardo says:

    Is a border collie attached generally to just that family. Generally obsessed with me. Constantly around me at all times. Never would escape he just went to the front door. Is that normal?

  7. I Agree! My 6 month old Border Collie Amazes me ! So Smart,
    I Nicknamed him

  8. Bonnie Oliphint says:

    Yesterday we had a violent prolonged thunderstorm with a tornado watch for about 5 hours. My BC, Duncan stayed in the bathroom (no windows) for almost 5 hours. I let him out in the backyard near the end of the tornado watch and he relieved himself, then kept looking at the sky, as if to see if anything untoward was going to happen. He is now my chief meteorologist!

  9. Nick says:

    My first Border Collie, Iris, was the smartest dog I’ve ever met. I worked for two years at the Trevor Zoo and none of the South American Monkies nor Japanese Snow Macquacs were as intelligent as she. By 5 weeks old she would turn right or left given my command. Sit stay, come, were mastered by 4 weeks. At 8 years she learnded “shake” after 4 repititions. When she when I was off to Boarding School, my much-more-stubborn-than-a-border collie father kept her in the back yartd. She taught herself to take the lids off garbage cans and go sledding down the snow drifts! She easily knew 200 words. If I threw the ball and the frisbee at once and said get the frisbee she’d go for it and if I said, no, get the ball as she was running after the frisbee, she’d turn on a dime and get the ball instead. A leash was totally unnecessary for her in any situation.

  10. Lois Dye says:

    This article is right on target! I’ve owned Duchess for 8 years and she is so smart, loving, energetic and sociable. She loves attention. Definitely not a dog for couch potatoes!

  11. Jim Compton says:

    We had a border collie that had 1/8
    German Shepherd.
    We never formally trained her, she picked it up by herself. We had to spell bath and she learned that by herself. I gave her steroid shots for grass allergy in the spring. I would tell her to come and get her shot, she would get between my legs
    Fact get out. I would pick up some skin and give her shot.When through, she would get up turn around and wag her tail and “smile”.
    What she could do was amazing!
    Really miss her!

  12. Mike says:

    I need advice regarding our recently adopted 2yr border collie. She is really loving dog. We need activities,fetching etc to burn energy. She has a strong adversity to frisbees,balls,etc. if a ball is on the couch is won’t come near it. She’s missing two teeth, maybe a previous owner was too rough?.

  13. bella says:

    i got a 10 month old border collie for free and taking him on was the best decision i have ever made. He is not very smart but does know the basics and is trained to walk of leash. hes amazing around kids and adults and is one of the most calmsest dogs i have owned. Although he is a bit frighty around belts and certin sudden movements he makes up for what he lacks in love,care and hugs and kisses. Getting opie is honestly the best decision ever.

  14. Ahlecks says:

    I have a 3 year old Border collie named nova, I got him when he was 8 weeks old. When I first got him, the couple who adopted him out to me said that he was a lab/beagle. I had little to no idea what I was in for, he had separation anxiety when he was a puppy, and when we would leave the house to walk to the store he would start destructive behavior, shredding toilet paper, knocking over the garbage bin, eating lipstick. (it ended up everywhere) and eating various clothing.
    It took a lot of consistency and training with him, but his intelligence was outstanding, he was outdoor trained by 10 weeks, learned basic commands like sit, stay, shake a paw, lie down and come by 4 months, and by the time he was 1 year old, he could recognize every room in the house, every toy by name, he could verbally tell me what he wanted. (Licking his lips for water, bringing me his food bowl, bringing me my shoes and his leash, showing me what toys he wanted to play with.) Now he is 3 and he’s the most rewarding dog i’ve ever had, I feel like I can understand him, he’s constantly challenging me, and teaching me new things. It’s definitely an adventure, But I don’t know what I’d do without him.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I adopted a BC/lab mix. The shelter classified her as a Newfoundland mix so I thought I was getting a laid back dog. To my surprise, I figured out that my girl is a BC! The one dog I would’ve never get because they require so much attention. I love how smart and loyal she is. Her major behavior problem is nipping and herding of the family. She loves people and is good with some dogs. She’s good with Frisbee and often tries to outsmart me. Unfortunately, my schedule requires that she stays home alone in a crate for a good part of the day. She’s crated because of her behavior problems. Ideally, I don’t think a BC should be crated. It’s made her very hyper, so I make sure I give her lots of attention & exercise when I come home.
    To my surprise I want another BC (someday when I have more time to dedicate to the baby)! Bring on the challenge!
    If you want a BC, please research them like crazy. They are not the dog for everyone.

    1. lily says:

      my border collie pooped on me and i smell like poop for about a month now and it sucks

  16. Rich says:

    I received a border collie from someone who bought him because he was cute. I have had him since 10 weeks old and is now almost a year old. He has learned so much and loves to play. I have neck injury and can’t move as well as I would like, but he is so smart and learns so fast I just teach him new things and he is the happiest dog. I love them so much I wish I knew about them earlier. Best dog ever, my best buddy.

  17. Matthew Weatherford says:

    The Border Collie is aboslutley the best dof money can buy. Other dogs are great, but the BC will melt your heart and never stop impressing you its entire life. If I were ever lost in the woods or stranded somewere I’d love to have one of these dogs with me. We you have a BC you are truely never alone. My 1st BC died in Aug 2013 she was 18.5 years old. I now have a frisbee playing guru who just turned 2 in may. She is jumping 6.5 feet into the air make the most amazing acrobatic catches. She is a beautiful Bluer Melre BCl. I will never own another breed. As I here almost every new BC owner say.

  18. amanda says:

    I have a border collie/ terrier mix and am thinking Domino was not the right name for him. He’s an escape artist and my family and I have 4 other dogs to help keep him company while we’re all away during the way. Any tips on helping keep this guy out of breaking out of our backyard and not digging holes the size of my three year old daughter???? We’ve had them since they were six weeks and and I would really hate having to send them to a dog kennel so he will wait till somebody else finds him.

  19. Salvatore F Guarino says:

    I’m pushing 80 and I find that I have no problems with my 2 Border collies. You don’t need to run with them because their energy levels are higher then mine at any age. You can have them fetch balls, frisbees, play mental games with them while doing so, talk to them, take them to the beach, they’re great swimmers. All you need to do is have the time to spend with them and there is no dog better. I’ve had border collies for the past 40 years and wouldn’t have any other dog. I inherited these two from my son who didn’t have the time for them because of work related problems. They distroyed half his home because of boredom. I have them now for two and a half years, no problems. Love them to death

  20. Anonymous says:

    I just rescued a Border Collie/Golden Retriever mix from a neglectful owner, and I did not realize I had a Border Collie until I was told by a Vet! You’re so right on all counts. Unfortunately, my body is not capable of giving this doggie the level of exercise he needs. Unless there is an indoor exercise, I don’t know how to keep him busy. I’m trying to keep up with his demands, but it’s wearing me down. I live in the southwestern suburbs of Cleveland, OH. I need help in locating a doggie parent who already has a well-mannered dog, because this kid desperately needs an additional Border Collie or other well-mannered companion, something that I cannot offer. IMy email address is: phs8@cox.net.

  21. I just got a Border Collie from a local shelter, and in less than 24 hours, I can easily see what you mean! I’m going to have my hands full with this dog, but I’m sure I’ll love every minute of it. Miles already knows that bones/chews are outdoors or crate-only treats, and is picking up on commands quickly!

  22. Anonymous says:

    wonderful article with great advice! It sure rings true!

  23. collie is really very intelligent and considered to be the smartest dog breeds .

  24. Anonymous says:

    I love reading this as my husband tries to fix our two border collie/beagles way of escape for the umpteenth time. LOL

  25. Sally Hull says:

    I would very much like to put this on our Border Collie Rescue website with your permission.This is excellent!