Australian Shepherd vs Border Collie: What’s The Difference?

australian shepherd puppy

Australian shepherds and border collies are two of the most popular herding breed dogs.

Herding breed dogs are working dogs that were bred to be very owner-focused and dedicated to their work, which was to move livestock around and help their owner keep control of their environment.

In order to do these types of tasks, both Australian shepherds and border collies were bred for their eagerness to please, their smartness, and their strong motor skills.

This makes them excellent dogs for those who love the outdoors as well as those who want a smart and dedicated animal companion.

But while Australian shepherds and border collies do have a lot in common being in the same class of herding breeds, there still are some notable differences.

Differences that can really matter when you’re choosing a pet companion to add to your family and household for the next decade or longer.

The following is a fair look at these two breeds of dogs to help you choose the perfect match for your lifestyle and family.

Size and Appearance

The border collie and Australian shepherd can be similar in appearance, making it sometimes hard for newcomers to these breeds to pick them out.

They both fit under the label “medium-sized dog” with the border collie reaching an average height of 22 inches and the Australian shepherds reaching an average height of 23 inches (males of both breeds tend to be slightly taller than females, though not always).

Where the two differ, however, is in weight, with the Australian shepherd being a bit heavier by an average of ten pounds.

Then there are also the colors in which both breeds are available in.

Most people associate border collies with that black and white coat iconic in so many films and television shows featuring border collies — but did you know that there are actually more accepted coat colors for border collies than there are for Australian shepherds?

Dog breeders and official breed standards have it that border collies can come in the following great array of colors:

  • Black
  • Black & White
  • Blue
  • Blue & White
  • Blue Merle
  • Blue Merle & White
  • Lilac
  • Gold
  • Brindle
  • Red
  • Red & White
  • Red Merle
  • Red Merle & White
  • White ticked
  • Sable Merle
  • Sable
  • Saddleback Sable

Meanwhile, the Australian shepherd is only officially recognized by coming in the following four colors:

  • Blue Merle
  • Black
  • Red
  • Red Merle

An Australian shepherd that comes in many different colors with two different-colored eyes is called heterochromia; an event that will very, very rarely occur in a border collie.

Additionally, the border collie may come with a coat that is either short or rough, both with a long plumed tail. The short coat border collie is a good choice for those who want slightly less grooming responsibilities.

In contrast, the Australian shepherd will always feature a long top coat with a dense undercoat designed to protect him or her from the elements.

Most Australian shepherds will have a long tail similar to the border collie, but some may be naturally born with a bobbed tail.

Temperament

As both the border collie and Australian shepherd are herding breed dogs, bred for similar purposes, they, as a whole, have similar temperaments.

Both of these needs are very intelligent and thus, when not purchased as a working farm dog, do best in a home where they will be both mentally and physically stimulated.

You can mentally stimulate a herding breed dog by doing things like getting them involved in more intricate tricks and playing nosework games with treats.

Both the Australian shepherd and border collie are considered to be ‘velcro dogs’ which means that they will constantly want to be around their owner or family. These dogs are very, very loving and will become highly attached to their family.

This deep attachment also means that members of both breeds are at-risk for developing separation anxiety and it is vital to have a plan to prevent separation anxiety from developing whenever bringing home a new Australian shepherd or border collie puppy.

It is important to  note, however, that this same attachment to family makes most Australian shepherds and border collies uninterested in strangers or other dogs.

While neither breed is prone to stranger or dog-aggression, they are not as gregarious as other breeds like the golden retriever.

Likewise, once the border collie and Australian shepherd has reached adulthood, they will generally stop being ‘dog park dogs’ due to their having a higher drive to stay with owners rather than engage with other dogs.

Generally put, border collies will be more timidly wary of strangers but won’t bark or put on a fuss unless a stranger steps onto what they perceive as ‘their’ property.

Meanwhile, an Australian shepherd tends to be more forward, barking to alert of anyone that nears a property.

Finally, when it comes to kids, generally put, herding breed dogs like the Australian shepherd and border collie are not the best choice — at least when it comes to little kids.

That’s because the drive to herd in these breed is very, very strong and can be nearly impossible even for experienced trainers to train it out.

Thus, you may have a dog that will nip at or otherwise chase young kids in order to control their environment and fulfill what they were bred to do.

If you have children and are set on a border collie or Australian shepherd, make sure to go to a reputable breeder who can help you choose a ‘lower-drive’ puppy that may be less herdy.

Health

Both Australian shepherds and border collies are considered very healthy dogs without any major health concerns or issues that will plague the average dog — at least throughout the majority of their lives.

The average lifespan for each is between 13 and 15 years. Both breeds, like many other breeds, are prone to developing hip and elbow dysplasia during their senior years.

This condition impacts the joints and can cause painful arthritis. Epilepsy can also occur, while not commonly also not rarely.

The one caveat to this is that some lines of border collies have a 10% likelihood of producing a border collie puppy with what is known as Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome.

This genetic condition prevents white blood cells from being properly released and thereby preventing the puppy’s immune system from properly warding off diseases.

Symptoms of TNS will develop when the puppy is around seven months and, due to the severity of the condition, most puppies will die shortly thereafter.

Because of this, it is vital to go to a reputable border collie breeder and ensure that a DNA swap is done to detect TNS before bringing home a border collie puppy.

For puppies of both breeds, always ask to see the parents’ health certificates and avoid any breeder who will not offer them.

Cost or Price Comparison

The cost of either a border collie or an Australian shepherd puppy will depend on several factors including the breeder’s location and reputation, the size of the litter, the parents’ pedigree and/or lineage, the specific puppy’s coloring, and more.

That said, with all things being equally, border collies tend to be slightly less than Australian shepherds.

A border collie from a backyard breeder without papers may be available for around $250, a more reputable breeder around $700, and for a premium border collie puppy with superior lineage, show-quality appearance, papers, and breeding rights, between $1,300 and $4,500.

An Australian shepherd from a backyard breeder without papers may be available for around $350, a more reputable breeder around $900, and for a premium Australian shepherd puppy with superior lineage, show-quality appearance, papers, and breeding rights, between $1,500 and $5,000.

Choosing the Right Puppy For You & Your Family

Australian shepherds and border collies are outstanding dogs for active, outdoorsy individuals and small families. These dogs are incredibly loving and are always ready to get-up and go.

Neither, however, is a good choice for families who aren’t hope a lot or who don’t want a ‘velcro dog’.

Because of their vast similarities, choosing the right choice between the Australian shepherd or border collie will depend upon whether you are really interested in entering competitive dog sports (border collies have a bit of an edge here), you want a dog with some guarding instincts (an Australian shepherd is better for this), or if you have a specific look in mind.

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