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Border Collie Appearance: Coat, Colors & Ears

HERDING GROUP DOG BREEDS - Border Collie Appearance: Coat, Colors & Ears


Border Collie dogs come in two coat types (rough and smooth) and in a wide variety of colors. The Border Collie’s ears are of medium size, set well apart, and carried in any number of ways. Explore all the different combinations in this excellent piece by Karen Bell. She is an AKC Breeder of Merit Bronze and has been involved with the breed for a total of 38 years.


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Border Collie Colors & Markings: Coat

The Border Collie breed comes in a wide variety of colors in addition to the well-known black and white.


Border Collie Colors (AKC):
Black YES
Blue YES
Blue Merle YES
Brindle YES
Gold YES
Sable YES
Sable Merle YES
White & Black YES
White & Gold YES
White & Red YES
Seal NO
Red Merle YES
Slate NO
White & Blue YES
White & Seal NO
White & Blue Merle YES
Lilac YES
Saddleback Sable YES
White & Red Merle YES
White Ticked YES


Dogs can have white markings, tan points, merle patterns, or none of the above.

White markings often appear in the classic Irish patterns, (white blaze, collar, tail tip, front legs, and back feet), and although predominantly white dogs are not preferable, there is no color that is not allowed in the conformation ring.


Border Collie Markings (AKC):
White Markings YES
Merle Markings YES
Tan Points YES
White Markings, Tan Points YES
White Markings, Ticked YES
White Markings, Tan Points, Ticked YES
White Markings, Brindle Points YES
White Marking, Brindle Points, Ticked YES


No color or marking is preferred; all should be judged equally. Unique markings, such as white spots on the back or side or tail, which can be disqualifying in other breeds, are not faults in the Border Collie.

Color and markings are always secondary to movement. For many breeders, it is fun to watch the rainbow of colors appear as puppies are born. The breed comes in such a wide array of colors that occasionally DNA testing is the only way to determine the actual color of a Border Collie dog.


border collie colors
Border Collie Color Chart


Border Collie Colors: Eyes & Nose

Eye color can vary with the predominant body color of the dog. Dark-colored dogs should have correspondingly dark eyes. Eye colors can range from dark black/brown to amber, gold, green, or blue. While blue eyes on a dark dog are not preferred, it is not a fault. Merles can have two of the same color eyes, two different colors, and/or the “merle” eye which is a two-toned eye. Eyes should be oval in shape and, preferably, have dark pigment surrounding the rim. The nose should be fully pigmented with well-developed nostrils.


Border Collie’s Coat Texture

Like many Herding dogs, Border Collies have two coats. The outer coat should have a coarse, slightly wiry feel. The outer coat is straight or may be a bit wavy (especially as a dog ages) and is designed to shed water and protect from wind and snow.

The undercoat is softer and somewhat wooly, and provides insulation from cold and also from heat. The undercoat is the “temperature regulator.”


Border Collie’s Coat: Type & Length

Border Collie dogs have two coat types, rough and smooth. While quite common in dog sports and herding, the smooth coat variety of Border Collie is still uncommon in the conformation ring. There is currently a renewed interest in presenting the smooth coat variety on equal footing with the rough coats.

Our national specialty will have dedicated classes for the smooth coat variety and you may see smooth classes at your local shows soon. The breed standard calls for them to be judged equally, but many conformation judges have never seen them in their rings. The gene for smooth coat is the dominant coat variety, so breeding quality conformation dogs should be able to be done within a few generations.

Rough and smooth coated Border Collies can be born in the same litter. Smooth-coated dogs should still have the double coat described above. The texture of the topcoat is coarse (think Labrador Retriever) and the dog may have furnishings on the legs.

There is a lot of variability in the amount and length of rough-coated dogs, with some having huge coats and others more closely resembling smooths; however, rough coats should never be excessive, and shedding should not be penalized in the show ring. Coat type, color, markings, and length are all secondary to proper movement.

border collie colors
Rough Coat Border Collie


Ear Set of the Border Collie

Border Collie’s ears are of medium size, set well-apart, and carried in any number of ways, including both up, both down, one up and one down, rose or tipped forward or out to the side.

border collie colors
Border Collie’s Ears


Presentation in the Dog Show Ring

Border Collies are subject to seasonal shedding. Movement and structure should be given higher priority than the amount or length of coat; dogs should not be penalized for being “out of coat” due to seasonal shedding.

When being shown, it is expected that the dog be presented naturally. Feet may be trimmed and hocks may be neatened. Whiskers are left untrimmed. Border Collies should never appear “sculpted.” With proper coat maintenance, little else is needed before ring time. Rough-coated dogs are often wet down and the top coat is blown straight. In the ring, the coat should appear flowing with the movement of the dog. Often, on a heavily coated dog, hair is thinned over the hips so that it does not “flop” to-and-fro and distract from the overall appearance.

The Border Collie is, and should remain, a natural and unspoiled true working sheepdog. Although a full complement of healthy teeth with a scissors bite should be presented, broken teeth and other scars incurred in the line of duty are acceptable.



Are you looking for a Border Collie puppy?

The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase one from a responsible breeder. Not sure where to begin finding a breeder? Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral person, which you can find on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.


Want to help rescue and re-home a Border Collie?

Did you know nearly every recognized AKC purebred has a dedicated rescue group? Find your new best friend on the AKC Rescue Network Listing.


Border Collie Dog Breed Magazine

Showsight Magazine is the only publication to offer dedicated Digital Breed Magazines for ALL recognized AKC Breeds.

Read and learn more about the energetic Border Collie dog breed with articles and information in our Border Collie Dog Breed Magazine.


Border Collie Breed Magazine - Showsight