Are Border Collies really that smart?

If you are thinking about adding a Border Collie to your family you have probably heard how intelligent the breed is. This might in fact be the thing that sparked your interest in the breed to begin with! You have probably seen these dogs performing tricks, running complicated agility courses and herding sheep into pens and it really is fascinating. What a lot of people do not realize is that the intelligence of these dogs can be a real problem if you are not ready for it.

After having a Border Collie as part of our family I can honestly tell you this has been the best dog I have ever had in the past 35 years. He has been a true companion, a loyal friend and an alert member of the household. These dogs are smart, can learn an astounding variety of tricks in very little time and can be very sensitive to their owners. The problem with this level of intelligence is, however, their minds must be actively engaged almost constantly by their owners or they will keep themselves busy. What you do not want, under any circumstances, is a Border Collie under the age of two years, to be looking for a way to keep himself busy.

Educating yourself before deciding on a Border Collie is nothing short of critical. You simply must understand what you are getting yourself into. But, like in most things, while education is a good thing you must be ready to put your knowledge into action. This is the little step we missed. We knew that we had to keep our Border Collie mentally stimulated (yes, I know how weird that sounds) but did not really make sure we knew how to do it. It sounds so simple. Just teach him a few tricks, right? Wrong.

My wife and I found out very quickly the dog learned the easy ones in about 2 minutes and we simply ran out of the tricks we knew. Forget sit, shake, lay down and all that stuff. These were learned in literally minutes and our dog was ready for more. There was an interesting twist to even the simple ones we had not expected. These dogs are so smart, so perceptive that they notice relatively small differences in commands. For example when teaching the hand signal for sit he got it several times in a row but then it stopped working. We got confused and then frustrated. Why did it stop working? It turns out that very slowly and unintentionally we were changing the angle at which we held our hand. The dog thought we were trying to teach him a new trick! The second we did the hand signal at the correct angle he sat right down. Same hand signal with a slightly different angle. They are that perceptive. Are other breeds and dogs smart as well? Of course. Can they learn complicated tricks? No question. It just seems to me this one picks them up super quick.

After some initial trouble and confusion we picked up a few books full of dog tricks and hunkered down to figure out how to really own a dog of this breed. I am happy to say that we are the happy owners of a happy Border Collie. His latest trick is “Go get your beer!” where he literally goes to the fridge gets a can of beer or soda, brings it to me and then closes the fridge door. Tricks are just a part of the overall approach for owning one of these dogs but an important part. They are an amazing breed that requires a great deal of commitment on the part of their owners!

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  1. Morna says

    This is a very interesting article I can relate to. I have a five month old puppy and i was wondering When do border collie puppies brains mature to their full potential. As in I realise that his brain is still growing but when does it stop and he can start learning amazing tricks and stuff

  2. says


    As far as I can tell from our experience they can start learning tricks and commands at a very, very young age….don’t think you need to wait much at all before starting to work with your border collie.

  3. says

    no need to wait! At 8 weeks old my pup was able to pick up sit, down, shake, rollover, spin, and wait in a matter of minutes. They are smart from the very beginning. Impulse control is what takes some time…

  4. Alison says

    I have very very sadly I sent my baby boy Boycey to sleep after 15 years of the most amazing partner, friend, and little boy. I just wanted to say that even at 15 years he still use to amaze me with his intelligence. Enjoy every day with your boarder collies they will honestly be the best friend you will ever have.

  5. lorna says

    i have two border collies male and femail. the male is so attentive and interacts with us and he is so loving. my female doesntvseem to need me! !! she is only interested angus the male. how can u get her to be more attentive?

  6. Sean says

    I have a 1yo border collie. After we got past the basic trick and basically ran out of things to do, we started playing hide-and-seek with one of his toys. We started with hiding it in one room, but quickly expanded to two, than three. Eventually it is now whole-house hide and seek with the toy. Also, don’t try hiding in a previous spot, as he checks all of those before exploring alternative locations.

  7. says


    That’s a great exercise. Sounds like it falls into the “give him a job” line of thinking as he runs around trying to find it. Pretty amazing how much recall they have!

  8. says


    Hmmm. Sounds like an especially independent Border Collie. Sheesh…not sure on that one. Our Ned has always been very attentive/involved with us since he was a puppy. Maybe some one-on-one time with her and you each day? Go to a favorite spot, play with her favorite toy, etc?

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