The Ultimate Border Collie

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This book is a complete guide to border collies, with a lot of useful information for owners. It covers origins and history, choosing and raising pups, feeding, breed traits and training, obedience, agility, flyball, herding, other work, breed standards and showing, breeding, collies in different countries, and health and disease.

On the whole, this guide to collies is highly recommended. The chapters on training and working collies give a very clear idea of what collies are like, and what they can do. There is a lot of breed-specific information, for example on their little behavioural quirks, their abilities and vulnerabilities, including diseases associated with the breed.

Each chapter has been written by someone with expertise in that particular field. This has great advantages because it means that each writer knows what they are talking about. There is a disadvantage, however, in that there is a lack of coherence in the book as a whole, which reflects different ‘border collie cultures’. Part of the book focuses on the performance of collies, what they can do, and part focuses on what certain people have decided that collies should look like.

The main reason that most owners like border collies is for what they can do. However, collies have a number of tendencies that make them less than ideal pets for people who do not know the breed well, and whose lifestyle and temperament do not fit well with the breed. Border collies are sensitive, so can become sound-phobic and over-excited. They can be nippy. And they need something to do. Put a collie in an enclosed environment where it has no work, and is overstimulated by loud noises and bright lights, and the dog will probably go mad. Border collies often end up in shelters in the UK. People take them on without knowing enough about their needs. Collies do not cope well with shelters, which are about the worst possible environment for them. Being confined in a noisy kennel is extremely stressful for a collie. Shelters need to rehome these dogs fast, and it would help the breed if there were a chapter on rescue in this book.

It would also be helpful if the chapter on breeding addressed the issue of what the pups are for. The traits needed for a working dog, keenness, responsiveness, which often comes with a tendency to be obsessive, are not necessary those needed for a pet dog. It is far more important for pet collies not to nip, or wreck the house if left alone, and to be able to cope with a little less exercise than a working collie. Dogs from working lines do not always make good pets. The chapter on breeding focuses on producing show collies, whose main role is to look good. This, for most owners, is the least important issue, especially with this particular breed. Anyone breeding collies will want to place them in good homes. This is not possible without asking what the dogs will be for, and whether they are likely to have the right temperament to be working dogs, or pets. This is a key issue, which the chapter on breeding does not address.

This grumble apart, The Ultimate Border Collie is generally a real treat for people who love collies, full of interesting facts as well as useful information.