Australian Shepherd vs Border Collie | A Working Dog Comparison

Are you considering buying or rescuing a new dog and want to find out whether the Border Collie or Australian Shepherd, also known as an Aussie, is right for you?

In fact, both breeds share some common ancestry, as both are distantly related to the collies and Shetland Sheepdogs used to heard livestock in various regions throughout Europe. Their shared herding heritage means that theses breeds have a lot in common. However, there are some key differences, particularly when it comes to build and personality. Read on to learn more!


Differences Between Border Collie and Australian Shepherd: At a Glance 

Border Collie

Australian Shepherd

Affection

Affection

Child Friendly

Child Friendly

Dog Friendly

Dog Friendly

Exercise Needs

Exercise Needs

Intelligence

Intelligence

Trainability

Trainability

Grooming

Grooming

Health Issues

Health Issues

Apartment Friendly

Apartment Friendly


Aussie Vs Border Collie: Similarities

Let’s start by looking at some characteristics that both Border Collies and Aussies tend to have in spades. These common characteristics make both dogs a good fit for active families, ranchers, or people looking to participate in competitive dog sports.


Hard Working:

Both of these breeds are extremely hard working dogs when put to the test. They have excellent endurance and a willingness to work that makes them both an outstanding choice for assistance on farms and homesteads. They will both adjust well to helping to herd livestock from ducks to goats. For cattle, the Aussie is a better bet as they have the aggressiveness needed to push these larger and more willful animals.

Many Aussie owners swear that despite the fact that their Aussie is intense when working, they have an “off” switch that makes them a bit easier to manage during down time. On the other hand, BCs are somewhat notorious for being “on” most of the time, offering intense stares when bored, and being a bit more on the OCD side of the spectrum.

While this may be true as a general comment about the breeds, much of these characteristics can come down to the breeding program the dog comes from, as well as simply individual differences within each of the breeds.

Note that any dog bred from “working stock” is likely to be extremely high drive. On the other hand, both breeds include some dogs that have been bred for generations to be more suitable for family life.

So, be sure to talk carefully with perspective breeders before making a choice. And, one advantage of rescuing a dog of either breed is you can learn about their individual personality before you take them home!


Athletic:

Both breeds are fast and turn on a dime. They can jump, twist, and almost fly in the air when trained on a frisbee. For competitive dog sports such as Flyball and Agility, both of these breeds represent the “favorites” at the highest levels of competition.

That being said, they also both have extremely high exercise needs. If you live in an apartment, and don’t have the space or opportunity for a daily 2 hour romp off leash, neither of these breeds is a good choice.


Coat and Grooming:

Both the Aussie and the Border Collie are double coated breeds. This means they have a downy undercoat that builds up over the winter, shedding all at once in the Spring. In fact, most will need a good “blow out” grooming daily for a few weeks in the spring or you will find the shedding fur gathering in fur babies all over the house.

However, outside of the annual shed (with another less intense shed in the fall), grooming is fairly straight forward with a weekly outdoor brushing and the occasional bath being sufficient for both. Plus, both dogs love the water, so a regular dip in the creek or swimming pool may be all the grooming they need.


High Mental Stimulation Needs:

Some people think that a large yard or regular exercise is enough to keep our canine companions balanced and happy. However, BCs and Aussies are extremely intelligent dogs that need to be mentally stimulated as well. Both can become destructive if their “thinking cap” needs are not met.

If you are not experienced with dogs, plan on taking a few classes to learn the basics of clicker training, an incredibly powerful training technique that both of these breeds respond to extremely well. In no time they will have basic commands, manners, and a few fun tricks down pat!


Differences Between Australian Shepherd and Border Collie

Now that we know the outstanding characteristics of these breeds have in common, let’s dig in a little into the differences between Aussies and Border Collies. Before we do, just remember that breeding stock and individual personalities vary even within each breed.


Border Collie vs Australian Shepherd Personality Differences:

As mentioned above, one of the biggest differences that many owners of both breeds mention is that Border Collies tend to be a little bit more neurotic than Australian Shepherds. On the other hand, Aussies tend to be a little bit more willful and pushier. Aussies do a little more decision making, Border Collies tend to be very careful to “do it just right.”  

When it comes to kids, many people seem to prefer Aussies who seem to take more interest in children, sometimes treating them as livestock under their special care (and they can actually be a little nippy in the process!).

Border Collies tend to be more aloof with kids, particularly if the children are not involved in training and/or reward based games. “Oh. You are not part of my chain of command and are thus an irrelevant distraction from my job!” is a typical Border Collie response to small children.

In both cases, however, it is important to recognize that children must be supervised around either breed, especially young kids who have not yet learned how to properly interact with dogs and provide leadership.

Also, don’t be surprised if either breed tends to “herd” smaller children around!

As to how well they get along with other dogs, the Border Collie has a slightly better reputation for being pack friendly. Aussies do have a bit of a tendency to be more aggressive with other dogs and seem to have more sensitivity to working out pack hierarchy with more pushy alpha personalities among them which can lead to more inner pack conflict.

That being said, early socialization with other dogs is critical for both breeds (and dogs in general) to pick up the skills they need to communicate well with other dogs and learn how to handle disputes without fights and aggression.


Physical Differences Between Border Collie and Australian shepherd:

Although both breeds are considered of medium build, the BC is a bit taller and lighter in build. Aussies are lower to the ground, a bit squatter, and tend to weigh more per inch of height. Both are prone to obesity if they are allowed to free feed and/or lack adequate exercise.

Both share a wide variety of color variations including solid colors, tricolor, and beautiful merle patterns.


Specific Health Concerns

Both dogs tend to average a 12 year life expectancy. Degenerative hip dysplasia is found in both breeds, not uncommon for dogs of this size. In addition, both can carry a particular genetic mutation of the MDR1 gene that can cause them to be particularly sensitive to common antiparasitic drugs, such as ivermectin. Genetic testing may be recommended by your vet.

For the Australian Shepherd, congenital health problems include several conditions with the eyes, particularly for Merle colored dogs, and most especially when two merle colored dogs are bred together, considered irresponsible breeding by many lovers of the breed. Skin problems can also be a problem with this breed.

Like the Aussie, Border Collies tend to be affected by eye problems such as Collie Eye Anomaly because the same gene that carries the merle color trait in collies seems to be related to this congenital disease. In addition, Border Collies have a slightly higher than normal epilepsy rate.

That being said, both breeds are somewhat protected by the fact that they are bred from a very large pool of stock given the popularity of both. They are overall healthy breeds when bred responsibly. Make sure to get any health records from the parent and grandparent dogs before buying a purebred puppy of either breed.


Australian Shepherd Vs Border Collie: Which Breed is Right for You?

Let’s get to the down and dirty. Which of these hardworking, athletic breeds is the right choice for you?

Neither breed is a good choice for you if:

  • You are looking for a dog to entertain herself at home for 10 hours a day while you are at work.
  • You live in an apartment and have little access to spaces for your dog to run off leash, daily.
  • You are looking for a cuddle bug more than a work-hard/play-hard canine companion.
  • You don’t have 2-3 hours a day to play, train, and/or exercise your dog (and/or don’t have kids to help with this vital aspect of owning a herding breed).

If you have already decided a herding breed is right for you, and you have narrowed it down to either an Australian Shepherd or a Border Collie, this might help you decide:

An Australian Shepherd might be better that a Border Collie for you if:

  • You are looking for a dog who will bond with your children as part of an active, adventurous family unit.
  • You want a working dog with high drive but prefer an “off” switch for some relaxed down time here and there.
  • You are planning a single dog pack or will be making sure your young Aussie gets lots of socialization as a puppy.
  • You want a livestock hand who is capable of moving large and stubborn livestock.
  • You have no problem providing strong leadership to one of the more “willful” herding dog breeds.

A Border Collie might be better than an Australian Shepherd for you if:

  • You plan on entering into highly competitive dog sports, where BCs have an ever so slight edge over their Aussie cousins.
  • You are a type A personality looking for the same in a dog and don’t mind a little OCD in your furry companion.
  • You have small livestock such as ducks, sheep, and goats who can be quickly moved with a hard stare.
  • You have a multidog household or plan to add more dogs to your pack down the road.
  • You have kids who are old enough to participate in dog training activities to build a bond that your Border Collie will respond to.

Sharon Elber (M.S. in Science & Technology) - Professional Dog Trainer

Sharon is a writer and received her M.S. in Science & Technology Studies from Virginia Tech and has worked as a professional dog trainer for over 10 years.

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