When Did the Border Collie Come to America?

by Betty Lewis
The first border collie was introduced to the United States more than 100 years ago.

The first border collie was introduced to the United States more than 100 years ago.

Kane Skennar/Photodisc/Getty Images

The border collie came to America from the British Isles, where sheepdogs of different varieties were identified with their regions. The Border Colllie Museum website notes collie dogs have been in the United States since the birth of the country. However, no one knows precisely when the border collie came to America.

From Collie to Border Collie

According to the United States Border Collie Club, there is evidence border collies started developing their own gene pool before the 1860s, when they began to appear in conformation dog shows in the British Isles. Border collies impressed spectators at the 1876 sheepdog trials when they successfully guided sheep to their pen, directed only by whistles and complicated hand and arm signals from their master. The term "border collie" wasn't widely used until the early 1900s when it became necessary to differentiate working collies from those bred for their appearance. The American Kennel Club notes the border collie is known for his “intelligence, extraordinary instinct and working ability."

Crossing the Pond

Collie dogs were helpful during America’s westward expansion, performing traditional shepherding duties to help herd sheep and cattle. After the civil war when Americans began importing sheep, border collies came along for the ride. In addition to his sharp intelligence, the border collie has several characteristics making him an effective sheep herder. He has the ability to gather sheep, especially on hills, and bring the flock to the handler. His “eye” is another tool he uses, holding and controlling the sheep with the strength of his eye, calmly and silently directing them to follow his lead. Finally, he “claps,” dropping down so his belly is close to the ground. When used with his eye, clapping gives the dog a predatory look, useful for controlling his charges. These inherent traits made the border collie a welcome addition to American ranchers.

Spot 308

It’s difficult to know exactly when the first border collie stepped on American soil, but the USBCC estimates he was likely in the U.S. by 1890, or even decades earlier. Spot 308 is considered the progenitor of American border collies. Born in England in 1920, the "Supreme International Champion of 1923" was purchased by Sam Stoddart in 1923. Stoddart was a Scottish shepherd living in the U.S. who became one of America's top border collie breeders in the 1920s and '30s. Over the next several decades, border collie exhibitors such as Stoddart worked to promote and develop the breed, through demonstrations and breeding programs. Dogs were bred and competed for working and obedience trials, capitalizing on their natural intelligence and herding skills. As the American border collie became more established, he grew in popularity on and off the ranch. The American Kennel Club recognized the border collie in 1995 and the breed has since been split into show and working lines.

Living History

Today you're more likely to see a border collie out with his family than herding sheep, though he's still the herding dog of choice of North American ranchers. The dogs are loved for their keen intelligence, enthusiasm and loyalty, traits developed from years of selective breeding to ensure these guys can run the farm. He may love being part of the family, however he can’t turn off his instincts; the border collie will still engage in his natural behavior. This means he may herd the family cat or kids visiting for a birthday party. He needs plenty of mental and physical exercise; activities allowing him to exercise mind and body, such as agility, tracking, obedience, herding or flyball, can help channel his energy into positive behavior. Left to his own devices, a bored, frustrated border collie can engage in destructive behavior, such as digging.

Photo Credits

  • Kane Skennar/Photodisc/Getty Images