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Differences Between Border Collies and Australian Shepherds

By Janhvi Johorey, Psychologist specialized in animal therapy. Updated: March 31, 2020
Differences Between Border Collies and Australian Shepherds

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Animated, agile and adaptable, the Australian Shepherd is synonymous with herding and working as a farm and ranch dog. They need a lot of activity to be content. With blue merle, red merle, black or red with or without white markings, the Australian Shepherd also has a distinctive coat. These physical and behavioral descriptions could also be applied to the Border Collie. The result is that many are confused about the differences between Border Collies and Australian Shepherds.

AnimalWised compares the Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd, looking specifically at their physical characteristics temperament. We also look at their maintenance as a companion animal.

Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd - origins

Despite the Australian Shepherd's name, we know the breed was properly developed in the United States during the 19th century as a livestock guardian dog. There is dispute about its exact origins. Some believe them to be a cross between Border Collies and other Shepherd-type dogs. What is likely is that the dogs were taken originally from Europe and passed by Australia on their way to America.

The origin of the Border Collie is also not known exactly, although there is some documentation regarding specific dogs which helped establish the breed as we currently know it. Another reason it is difficult to tell the difference between Border Collies and Australian Shepherds is the fact that they share similar ancestry. It is possible they both came from dogs in the Basque region of Spain.

However, it is not true that Australian Shepherds are descended from Border Collies. What is most likely is that the two herding dog breeds were developed concurrently in different areas.

Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd - appearance

Although they are both medium sized dogs, with a medium-longhair and smooth coat, there are more physical traits that can help us distinguish these breeds. Border Collies have more possible color combinations than the Australian Shepherd when it comes to their coat. Let's take a look at the colors each breed can have:

Border Collies

  • Black and white
  • Mottled
  • Blue merle
  • Red merle
  • Sable/white
  • Blue/White
  • Red/white
  • Chocolate/white

Australian Shepherds

  • Merle
  • Black
  • Blue merle
  • Red tricolor
  • Black
  • Red

As you can see, there are some colors which Border Collies have and Australian Shepherds do not. However, it is difficult to tell the difference between the two breeds on color alone. Another trait that you can use to tell Border Collies and Australian Shepherds apart is the type and texture of their coat.

The Border Collie's coat is denser and rougher than that of the Australian Shepherd. Moreover, Australian Shepherds are more prone to heterochromia, which means they have different colored eyes or two different colors in one same eye. However, Border Collies with the merle gene can also have heterochromia.

Differences Between Border Collies and Australian Shepherds - Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd - appearance

Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd - size

although they are both medium-sized dogs, the Australian Shepherd is heavier and bigger in stature than the Border Collie.

Adult Border Collies weigh around 23 kg (50.7 lbs) and are between 46 to 58 cm (18 to 22 inches) in height. On the other hand, an average fully-grown Australian Shepherd will be between 50 to 54 cm (20 to 23 inches) tall and will weigh 25 to 30 kg (55 to 66 lbs).

As you can see, the Australian Shepherd tends to be a little heavier than the Border Collies, even when they are of approximately the same height. This makes it difficult, but a heavier-set dog will imply they are an Australian Shepherd, although both breeds are lithe and sprightly.

Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd - character

The Australian Shepherd is a wonderful guard dog which barks and alerts their owners when intruders arrive. This is perfect for those who need a dog that will protect its human companions, act out against any attacker and protect those they consider family. On the other hand, the Border Collie is a slightly less watchful guard dog, although it is equally alert, as it is known to bark and raise an alarm when attackers invade.

Whether you choose the Australian Shepherd or the Border Collie, they make for loyal, affectionate and caring pets. That is another similarity these two sheepdogs have in common.

While the Border Collie is shyer and a real energetic and good worker, it works separately from the Australian Shepherd. While the Border Collie works from a distance, the Australian Shepherd is great for herding cattle. Both breeds have been developed for different purposes on the ranch and this reflects in their temperaments.

Not suited to apartment life, both breeds need vast, open spaces to roam in. Here's where the similarities end. The Australian Shepherd is more difficult for those who have not handled dogs before. The Border Collie is potentially more suited for those who are first-time owners

Life expectancy of the Australian Shepherd is also slightly higher than that of the collie, as the Aussie breed can live up to 15 years old on average, whereas the Collie's life expectancy is around 12 years of life.

One of the major differences between Australian Shepherds and Border Collies is their intelligence. They are both very clever dogs, but a study by the psychologist Stanley Coren puts the Border Collie in the first position as the most intelligent dog in the world. The Australian Shepherd is at number 42, meaning it is considered a dog of ‘average working and obedience intelligence’[1].

Differences Between Border Collies and Australian Shepherds - Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd - character

Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd - maintenance

While the Australian Shepherd requires grooming on a regular basis to keep their fur in excellent shape, trimming or stripping is not often required. The Border Collie's care requires a little more hard work to keep their fur healthy and vibrant, as it is usually rougher. Routine brushing is suited for both dogs. When it comes to maintenance, both these farm dogs require a medium to high amount of care, though.

For grooming their nails, it will depend on how often they walk on hard surfaces. Since many Border Collies and Australian Shepherds are used in the fields, they both may need nails clipped around once a month. We should also brush their teeth at least once a week to help them stay strong. There is no significant difference between the two breeds in relation to nail clipping and teeth brushing.

Since both breeds are very energetic and need plenty of time outside, we need to be careful to check for parasites and injuries. Ticks, foxtails, wounds and other injuries can occur. Since the male Australian Shepherd's coat is a little more dense around the throat and tail areas, we need to be particularly careful to check them.

Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd - education and training

While training for ranch and farm activities, the Australian Shepherd is considered average. Results will come on a more gradual basis. The Border Collie, on the other hand, has been associated with excellent training results. Few repetitions are needed while training this dog for herding, guarding the farm and other activities. The Border Collie listens to commands and is extremely obedient and caring.

The Australian Shepherd can be quite a pushy dog. If they are not properly socialized and educated, they can become a little overbearing. However, the Border Collie tends to be a little shier. If they are not properly socialized, they can become very timid.

Differences Between Border Collies and Australian Shepherds - Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd - education and training

Main differences between Border Collies and Australian Shepherds

As you can see, it is very difficult to compare the Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd. They are very similar in both appearance and character. The main differences between the to breeds are:

  • The Australian Shepherd is a little heavier and more robust than the Border Collie, despite the fact they are around the same height at the withers.
  • Both dog breeds have similar coat patterns, but the Border Collie has more variety.
  • The Border Collie tends to be a little more timid than the Australian Shepherd, the latter being a little more pushy.
  • Although both very clever, the Border Collie's intelligent is considered to be the best among all dog species.

What we do know is that neither dog is ideal for a first-time owner. These dogs need lots of stimulation and engagement, so they are not good for sedentary families either.

If you want to read similar articles to Differences Between Border Collies and Australian Shepherds, we recommend you visit our Comparisons category.

References

1. Coren, S. (2006). The Intelligence of Dogs: A Guide to the Thoughts, Emotions, and Inner Lives of Our Canine Companions. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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3 comments
Lisa
I have both a female Border Collie named Sheeba and a male Australian Shephard named Buddy (psycho dammitdog). My Border Collie was 13 years old this past Nov. and still going. My Australian Shephard was 3 years old this past March and seems to still have so much puppy left in him. He never slows down. Which is why the extension on the name. They are both very loyal and very protective dogs. While Sheeba is more affectionate dog Buddy is the more protective one. I love them both like I love my children. I will never own any other breed of dog.
Cody
I’ve had many border collies, and many other breeds and the collies where always such a handfull! I fell a lot of bias on the writers part to the Shepard.
Joshua
There was definitely a bias towards the Shepherd.
howard
Very good and informative article. We have an Aussie/Border collie mix, 11 1/2 years young. Great dog, herds us together, good off-leash, friendly, has heterachromia, and can see the love in his eyes. Takes so little to please him, and gives back so very much love to us.

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