How I Chose a Border Collie as a Working Dog Breed, Part 1

Reader Contribution by Mary Powell and Barnyard Weed Warriors
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ReadPart 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5in this series. 

Every good cowboy needs a good working dog to help manage the livestock they are tasked to move and manage. Some cowboys prefer Heelers. Others chose Kelpies, Catahoula, Australian Shepherd, or Hanging Tree Dogs to help manage livestock. You need to select a breed that will work well with the livestock you have — unlike my situation. Yes, I started with a Basset Hound that thought he was a herding dog.

Eli was my son’s dog and I inherited him after my son left home. The dog was more of a therapy dog for me, walking with me and snuggling up with me, after I had a major life-changing event. When I started working at a small feedyard, I was allowed to bring Eli, to sniff out rats and mice, while I was caring for the cattle.

Basset Hound as Unexpected Working Dog

Then one day, Eli started helping the other herding dogs, push cattle up to the holding pens, when we shipped them out for processing. Eli followed behind, working himself back and forth behind the herd, just like the other heeling dogs.

When the cattle refused to move up the loading chute, I could tell Eli to talk to the cattle and he would bay out his mournful Basset Hound bark that encouraged the cattle to move, without being intimidating. He was very entertaining to watch as we loaded the cattle trucks, but he was really helping!

Tragedy Leads to a New Working Dog Breed

Unfortunately, Eli’s life as a cattle dog was short-lived. His nose chasing rats and mice put him in a dangerous situation and it cost him his life.

As the amazing hound lay in my arms dying, I swore I would never have a pet dog again. I just couldn’t deal with losing a dog like this again and my heart just couldn’t take the pain (we will revisit this in a later post). I was devastated — I’d lost my walking companion and best friend. I knew I had to get another dog, but the time for another dog would take time. Or so I thought.

Thirty days after Eli’s untimely death, I was in a farm store, looking at a magazine about Border Collies (I still have that magazine). What I read in those pages intrigued me: a dog that can “read your mind,” anticipate the livestock’s movements, and had the ability to bring the livestock to you. The smartest dog breed in the world seemed be just what I needed.

I bought the magazine and read it all in an hour. I had a good idea about the breed and with my prior experiences of owning dogs, felt I might want to get one, so I called a friend who raised Border Collies.

An hour later, I was looking at a very beautiful, freckle-faced dog with one blue eye and one brown eye. She had a medium-length, rough coat and her name was Allie.

I could see she had potential. For what, I had no clue, but something deep within me clicked with this dog. I was given the option of returning her if things didn’t work out. Within one week, I knew that I would not be returning this dog!

Caution When Choosing a Border Collie as a Pet

As I share my experiences, I must warn the reader that not everyone should own a Border Collie. These dogs are high energy, need a full-time job, and are not recommended for families with small children, as their natural herding instinct will push them to herd the children and even snap at them in order to keep them herded into a group.

Many Border Collies end up in rescues or being killed by cars as they have a tendency to escape their fences and run. They also will find livestock to herd and will run them through fences if they aren’t properly trained and controlled.

These dogs are truly intelligent and the owner needs to be willing to keep themselves educated on herding, training and being able to keep them working.

Mary Powellis a goat rental business owner and agricultural educator with more than 27 years’ experience working on ranches, farms and feedyards. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Kansas State University with an emphasis in Livestock Production Management. Follow Mary and her many misadventures with the goats on Facebook atBarnyard Weed Warriorsand Ash Grove Goat Ranchor on herBarnyardWeedWarriors.comwebsite.  If you have questions for her about her goats or Border Collies, email Mary at

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