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Border Collie vs. Australian Shepherd: Similarities & Differences

Potential first-time dog owners pop up every single day. With several hundreds of dog breeds to choose from, it can be overwhelming. However, those looking for a loving yet active working dog usually narrow it down to two popular breeds.

On one hand, a Border Collie is a highly intelligent working breed, brimming with energy and excitement. On the other, Australian Shepherds are loyal and sociable dogs that love nothing more than to play with their family members.

But which dog breed is better for you? Well, it depends. In this article, we’ll examine all the differences and similarities of the Australian Shepherd and Border Collie. They may seem like the same dog, but the two are more different than you think. You can decide for yourself.

RECOMMENDED: The Ultimate Aussie Resource Page

The Australian Shepherd

The Australian Shepherd shares many similar characteristics with the Border Collie.

The Australian Shepherd is consistently in the top 20 most popular dog breeds list – and for good reason! An Aussie is energetic and fun, with a compassionate and affectionate side to them. Not only does the Aussie love to work, but they enjoy a good time.

Bred as extremely skilled herders, Aussies love nothing more than to be physically stimulated. This can mean long walks, jogs, frisbee, catch and even swimming. As long as you’re playing with them, they’ll be ecstatic to participate.

With that said, Australian Shepherds make fantastic work dogs and companion dogs. They’re most ideal for families that live on a farm (or suburbs) and those with an active lifestyle. They will need a lot of run or play, so big yards are ideal.

Aussies are highly trainable because of their eagerness to please and high dog intelligence. In fact, the breed loves obedience training because it helps stimulate their mind. Socialization is a must, as they tend to be aloof with strangers without proper training.

They’re great with children and great with other dogs if trained well. However, there are mixed feelings on Aussies living with cats. For those living with a cat, read these responses from real owners here. The key is socialization if they were to co-live with cats.

The Border Collie

Both Border Collies and Aussies are highly intelligent dogs.

Though not nearly as popular as the Australian Shepherd, the Border Collie has been gaining momentum in recent years. But even so, Border Collies are usually within the top 40 most popular dog breeds in the USA. Owners are finally discovering just how great these dogs are.

The most notable characteristic about the Border Collie is their extremely high intelligence and IQ. As a matter of fact, they’ve been ranked the smartest dog breed in the world. According to researcher Stanley Coren, they’re second to none in dog “obedience & working intelligence.”

These dogs are best suited for country-side living. If you thought Aussies needed a lot of exercise, the Border needs just as much – if not more! These collies love to run, and they run a lot. After all, they were also bred to herd livestock.

Without sufficient physical activity, your Border Collie will be unhappy, which could lead to destructive behavior. If you don’t want to come home to a ripped-open couch, I would suggest at least 1 to 2 hours of exercise per day.

Despite their tenacious work ethic, Border Collies are still great family dogs. They’re not working all the time. So, when it’s time to settle down and work is over, expect them to come for a cozy cuddle. They’re affectionate and good-natured dogs that any person would love.

Border Collie vs. Australian Shepherd

Both Border Collies and Australian Shepherds share a lot of similarities and differences. Here’s a basic introduction on the comparison of the two herding dog breed.

Dog Intelligence

Both the Australian Shepherd and Border Collie are intelligent dogs. However, the Border Collie is more intelligent. Aussies are tied for the 42nd smartest dog breeds, while the Border Collie is the king of dog intelligence – sitting at the number 1 spot.

Still, your dog does not need to be that intelligent. Unless you’re training your dog for special police or military work, there’s really no need to tap into their full potential intelligence. Both dogs are way more than sufficient for the average household’s needs.

For the sake of comparison, let’s examine just how smart they are. A Border Collie will be able to learn a new command with just 5 repetitions or less. Amazing, right?

After learning that command, they’re able to obey on the first try with a 95% success rate. This puts them in the same category as German Shepherds or Golden Retrievers.

On the other hand, an Australian Shepherd is tied for the 42nd most intelligent breed. They can learn a new command with just 25 to 40 repetitions. However, they’re only able to obey that command on the first try with a 50% success rate. Still, nothing to scoff at.

Work Ethic

Both Australian Shepherds and Border Collies are part of the working dog group, as categorized by the AKC. In other words, they were bred to work. And, they certainly work hard.

Keep in mind, work ethic can vary greatly depending on the dog and the environment in which they were brought up. For example, a farm dog is going to work harder than a suburban family dog. But regardless, most would say Border Collies are slightly more hardworking on average.

Border Collies have consistently made the top 20 list for hardest working dogs. For example, Factsverse had them ranked number 3 on their list. For this reason, Border Collies tend to need more daily physical exercise than Australian Shepherds.

So it’s probably not a good idea to keep one if you can’t provide this. This doesn’t mean Aussies are lazy by any stretch. They also need a lot of physical exercise for a healthy lifestyle. And in some cases, certain Australian Shepherds can outwork a Border Collie. It really depends.

Physical Size

In most cases, Australian Shepherds are bigger than Border Collies. This is true for height and weight. However, both dog breeds are still considered medium-sized dogs. In addition, the size difference is not significant when comparing standard dogs from both breeds.

For example, Australian Shepherds can grow up to 18 to 23 inches in height. This will vary depending on pedigree and gender. Aussies can also weigh 35 to 70 lbs, which is a pretty big gap. Male Aussies tend to be a lot heavier than their female counterparts.

A full grown Border Collie can reach up to 18 to 22 inches in height. Not a significant difference when compared to the Australian Shepherd. However, Border Collies weigh a lot less. The typical Border Collie will weigh 27 to 45 pounds.

If you’re looking for a slightly bigger dog on the high side of the medium dog category, the Australian Shepherd may be right for you.

Popularity in America

Australian Shepherds are more popular dogs, at the time of writing. And, they have been more popular for a few years. The AKC ranked Aussies as the 17th most popular dog breeds in the United States. Plus, they’ve been top 20 for the last five years.

On the contrary, Border Collies are just the 38th most popular dogs but have been in the top 50 list for at least the last few years. The gap in popularity doesn’t mean that Aussies are better. However, it may be a signal that Aussies are easier to take care of for most people.

According to I heart dogs, the Border Collie is the most widely used herding dogs in the country (and in the world possibly). And because this specialized ability appeals to farmers, it’s not unusual for them to be less popular overall.

4 Similarities of Aussies & Border Collies

Needless to say, the Border Collie and Australian Shepherd have a lot of similarities. It’s no coincidence why these two breeds are always being compared. Here are 4 reasons why the two breeds are so similar in temperament, instinct, price and physical needs.

1. Both Aussies and Border Collies are top herding dogs

It’s no secret, both Aussies and Border Collies are fantastic herding dogs. This is the main similarity they share. But as the most widely used herding dog, the Border Collie is likely a slightly more skilled herding dog than the Australian Shepherd.

But this can vary depending on pedigree, environment, livestock and all sorts of variables. For those that are wondering: what’s a herding dog? These pastoral dogs are canines trained for the specific purpose of bringing livestock (sheep, cattle, etc.) into a group (or herd).

They’re also trained to move the herd around as necessary, such as bringing livestock into an enclosure after a day out in the field. Keep in mind, this “skill” is actually an instinct. They were born with this great ability, and just very little training.

Through selective breeding, dog breeders are able to transform the natural predatory instincts of certain dogs into effective herding abilities.

Here’s a great example of how Border Collies herd sheep:

Still, I wouldn’t discount the Aussie’s herding abilities. If you’ve ever seen an Australian Shepherd herd livestock, you know they’re fully capable dogs.

Check out this dogcumentary on Australian Shepherds and herding:

Personally, I would give them a tie for herding ability. However, both dogs have a different herding role on the farm. Border Collies work from afar and are probably the best sheep herders in the world. On the contrary, Aussies are less timid herders, which makes them great for herding cattle.

If you plan to put your dog to work, you really can’t go wrong with either one. However, it’s a popular belief that Border Collies have better stamina, which means they can probably work for longer durations.

2. Both dogs have similar temperaments and personalities

Australian Shepherds and Border Collies have amazing temperaments for owners with or without herding work. Both dog breeds are intelligent, affectionate and highly energetic. For owners that can provide sufficient exercise, both will be excellent.

Both dogs are great with children that know how to respect and handle these dogs. Small kids are not recommended with both dogs, as they may try to herd them. Aussies and Borders with intense herding instincts may become aggressive with small kids, if not properly trained.

They’re as sociable as any other breed and look forward to playtime with family members. If you have active dogs in the house, they’ll get along great. Many owners have both an Australian Shepherd and Border Collie, and it usually turns out well.

They share similar eagerness to please, combined with high intelligence. And as a result, both breeds are very responsive to training whether it’s obedience or socialization training. In most cases, they will do it for the sake of working.

3. They both need a lot of exercise

Both Australian Shepherds and Border Collies require optimal space for physical stimulation. In other words, they’re not suited for apartment life. Even if you can provide daily exercise, you likely won’t be able to keep them occupied for long enough.

At the very least, having a relatively large backyard for these dogs to run around is ideal. Both breeds are no stranger to “zoomies.” When they run, they’ll run fast. This is necessary and may happen frequently (depending on the dog) to release extra pent up energy.

Both dogs require at least 30 minutes of high-intensity exercise each day. Running, not walking. This doesn’t mean a 30 minute stroll through your neighborhood. Of course not all owners will run with their dogs, so exercise time could take up much longer.

Highly intensive physical activities such as frisbee or catch with a ball are also okay. For these type of activities, these dogs need roughly 60 minutes (or more) of play each day.

Your dog will probably want more play time, but this is sufficient. If you cannot provide this for your dog, I would highly suggest looking at other dog breeds.

4. Aussies and Border Collies cost the same

You’ll need to pay a similar price for both Border Collies and Australian Shepherds. They’ll both set you back $600 to $850 USD on average, depending on factors. Some can cost upwards of one thousand dollars and some below $400.

It’ll depend on pedigree, breeder reputation, color variations and location. For more info on how much an Australian Shepherd costs, check out our guide to buying Australian Shepherds here. You can learn more about why these dogs vary so much in cost.

4 Differences of Border Collies & Australian Shepherds

As similar as the two dog breeds are, they also have some big differences that all new owners should be aware of. Here are the 4 differences of the Border Collie and Australian Shepherd.

1. Australian Shepherds make better watch dogs

Although both dogs share similar temperament characteristics, they are not completely the same. On average, Border Collies are slightly more timid than Australian Shepherds. For this reason, they’re not as great of a guard dog as the Aussie.

Don’t get me wrong, some Border Collies can be excellent watch dogs. However, they typically do not bark as much as Australian Shepherds. And without an eagerness to bark, they may be less willing to bark at the immediate sign of an intruder.

For example, Aussies will bark at anything that comes close to property. It’s a great way of alerting their owners of intruders. Border Collies will bark. However, they usually don’t start barking until the stranger invades or steps onto the property.

Both dog breeds are equally alert and vigilant, however. It’s just that one breed (Australian Shepherd) is more likely to “communicate” the owner sooner.

2. Border Collies require more grooming

Whether you get an Australian Shepherd or a Border Collie, grooming will be necessary. This means all the basics: coat brushing, bathing, tooth brushing and even nail clipping. Where they differ is when it comes to coat grooming.

Australian Shepherds require regular grooming of the coat to keep the fur in tip top condition. These dogs shed moderately to excessively. They require coat brushing at least once a week to prevent any tangles and stuck debris.

Border Collies actually shed more than Australian Shepherds. Because their coats are rougher, these dogs require more attentive care and more coat brushing to keep a healthy coat. Border Collies require a good brushing at least twice a week.

Australian Shepherds require a medium to high amount of grooming care. However, Border Collies tend to require a high amount of grooming care. Keeping this in mind when picking your dog breed.

3. Australian Shepherds are bigger

As mentioned, Australian Shepherds are bigger than Border Collies – both in height and weight. But that isn’t the only physical differences between the two. To the typical person, they look quite similar. But if you take a deeper look, they actually look quite different.

Though both coats are double coats, the coat of a Border Collie isn’t as smooth as the Aussie’s coat. They’re usually denser with a rough outer texture. With that said, Australian Shepherds are probably a bit better for cuddling, especially with kids.

Aussies have a more unique eye color, as they’re more likely to develop heterochromia. This condition is when each eye is a different color, usually brown and blue. Border Collies can also have heterochromia, but it’s much more rare.

In terms of coat variations, they both have different coat combinations. Border Collies can be black and white (the most popular), motted, blue merle, red merle, sable and white, blue and white, red and white or chocolate and white.

On the other hand, Aussies come in all sorts of color. They come in four standard coat colors with several variations each. They’ll be classified as either black, blue merle, red merle or red. However, highlights like white and tan (copper) can be present.

4. Border Collies have a higher life expectancy

Border Collies have been known to outlive Australian Shepherds. With that said, Border Collies have a life expectancy of 10 to 17 years. On the other hand, Australian Shepherds can see a life expectancy between 13 to 15 years.

That’s not to say Border Collies are healthier or more robust dogs. Both dogs are relatively healthy and can live long (compared to other breeds) if properly taken cared of.

Best of Both Worlds: Border Aussie

The Border Aussie is an Australian Shepherd Border Collie mix - perfect for those on the fence between the two breeds.
Special thanks to Pingis, the Border Aussie. Check out her Instagram for more pictures!

Having a hard time picking? Why not the Australian Shepherd Border Collie mix? The hybrid, often called the “Border Aussie,” is a great combination of the two. Because both dogs have similar temperaments, the biggest difference would be physical characteristics.

Like with most mutts, Border Aussies can vary a lot in appearance depending on which side they take more from. Some will have a more Aussie-type coat whereas others will take after the Border Collie side. You won’t know until you actually see them.

Final Recommendation

Personally, I don’t think you can go wrong with either a Border Collie or Australian Shepherd. They are very similar in size, temperament, personality, intelligence, grooming needs and herding instincts. Even the Border Aussie mix will be very similar to both breeds.

When choosing between the two dogs, the most important part is being able to provide them with exercise. As both breeds have what seems like unlimited energy, physical activity is the most crucial part in taking care of them.

If you plan to use a dog for herding purposes, then identify what type of livestock you’ll want the dog to herd. If you own cattle, then Australian Shepherds are the dogs to go. For sheep, Border Collies are a no brainer.

Border Collies do their herding work from afar, so they’re more effective with smaller livestock. Australian Shepherds may get closer and can be more aggressive with larger livestock.

Finding an Aussie or Border Collie

As popular as both dog breeds are, you won’t have a difficult time finding either one. You’ll have plenty of options for finding a Border Collie or Australian Shepherd.

Local Animal Shelter – The best option I recommend to everyone is to try to adopt a dog. This is specifically true for Aussies and Borders in an animal shelter. Like we said, these dogs do not like being in small enclosures, which they’re certainly subject to at a shelter.

If you happen to find one at your animal shelter, please take them away as soon as possible. Chances are, they’re very unhappy in such a situation.

Though it’s not common to find one of these purebreds in your shelter, it is still possible. It’s a good idea to always check first before moving on to another option.

Pet Adoption Websites – There are plenty of reputable adoption websites online. The best part? Australian Shepherds and Border Collies are likely to be found! Be a little patient and they’ll pop up soon.

Just to name a few, take a look at Petfinder, Adopt a Pet and Petango. There are many other options on the internet. Just do a quick search and many should pop up.

Find a Reputable Breeder – If you can’t adopt one, there’s no shame in getting a new pup from a reputable breeder. If you have friends or acquaintances that own a pure Aussie or Border Collie, it’s a good idea to ask them first. Then you’ll have a real referral and some information on the health of their dog.

AKC has a merit program for reputable and responsible dog breeders. Search their database for merit breeders of your choice and contact them.

Other popular platforms, such as dog forums or Yelp can also be a handy tool when looking for Aussie/Border breeders.

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