Living with Collies
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. How do I know if a collie is the right breed for me?
2. Are collies good with children?
3. Are they OK with cats and other animals?
4. Are collies indoor or outdoor dogs?
5. How much grooming does the Rough collie require?
6. Will I be able to groom the collie myself?
7. Do males or females make better pets?
8. Is there any difference between the Rough and Smooth collie temperaments?
9. How much should I expect to pay for a collie puppy?
10. What should I look for in selecting a breeder?
11. How do I pick the right collie puppy for my family?
12. Are there any hereditary diseases in collies that I should be aware of?
13. Do collies have eye problems?
14. Do collies require any special veterinary care?
15. How long do collies live?
16. At what age can I take the puppy home?
17. Do older puppies and dogs adjust well to a new home?
18. What should I feed my collie?
19. How do collie breeders get their collies' ears to bend over?
20. Should I breed my collie?
21. Are there any negative aspects of collie ownership?
22. After I've purchased my puppy, how can I become more involved in the collie fancy?
Answers:

1. How do I know if a collie is the right breed for me?
The collie is a large, intelligent herding dog. He adores being in the company of his people and should be an integral part of their lives, not just a living yard ornament. He is clean indoors and learns quickly when gentle, patient training methods are used. The rough collie coat requires a fair amount of grooming and both rough and smooth varieties require periodic exercise in the form of walking, fetching or playing. After you have evaluated your lifestyle and schedule and made sure that you have the time and ability to commit to the lifelong care of a new dog, it is time to meet some collies. Attend several dog shows (both all-breed and collie specialty) and talk with different breeders. Interact with the dogs themselves and see if you find them appealing. If so, seek out one or two breeders and ask for an appointment to visit their kennels. Most breeders are willing to schedule such "tours" and will allow you to view their dogs in their own surroundings. Don't be afraid to ask questions and don't be afraid to change your mind. It is a lot easier to decide not to get a collie before you've taken him home, then afterward.

2. Are collies good with children?
Absolutely! Collies and kids go together like peanut butter and jam. They are a great combination. Collies are instinctively watchful over their charges and are naturally gentle.

3. Are they OK with cats and other animals?
Yes. However young collie puppies must be taught to respect other animal members of the household and the introductions should be gradual and supervised. This socialization process is usually simple as collies learn quickly and are nonaggressive.

4. Are collies indoor or outdoor dogs?
Both. Collies want to be with their people! They can tolerate reasonable outdoor temperature ranges, provided they have been acclimated and that there is adequate shelter and water. They do not thrive when banished to the outdoors without companionship! They are easy to live with indoors, are generally very clean, have little "doggy" odor, and most collies are not destructive.

5. How much grooming does the Rough collie require?
This depends on several factors, including the amount of coat the collie carries, the coat texture, the time of year, and the environment the collie lives in. A collie that carries a lot of coat (such as a large male) might require an hour or so of brushing at least every two weeks. The correct collie coat with good texture is very brushable. It does not tangle and mat as readily as some silky coat types such as those of the cocker spaniel or afghan hound. A collie who is shedding his coat (usually in the spring or summer) can require a half an hour of brushing every 4 or 5 days for about three weeks. A collie who has access to weeds and stickers should be brushed for a few minutes each day.

6. Will I be able to groom the collie myself?
Most likely. Of course, the smooth collie is easiest as he requires only a few minutes of grooming with a slicker brush or comb. However, the rough collie coat is not as intimidating as it looks. It is quite manageable and nearly all collies enjoy being brushed and groomed. A folding grooming table (cost: about $100) makes the job is easier by raising the dog up to a comfortable height. Bathing can be done in the bathtub using a hand held shower attachment. A bath every 8-10 weeks or so should be sufficient, but more often if desired is not at all harmful.

7. Do males or females make better pets?
Males and females make equally good pets. The collie is a breed in which there is very little difference in temperament between males and females. The males are larger and carry a fuller, more impressive coat. The females are more compact and take less time to groom. The choice is really a matter of personal preference.

8. Is there any difference between the Rough and Smooth collie temperaments?
This question usually initiates a lively debate between rough and smooth collie owners! The answer is yes, there is "some" difference. Generally speaking, the smooth collie tends to be a bit more active than the rough. (Granted, any of us would be more active if we were running about in our underwear instead of wearing a big fur coat!) Nevertheless, both varieties are equally gentle, intelligent and affectionate.

9. How much should I expect to pay for a collie puppy?
Prices can vary widely, depending on the cost of living in the breeder's geographic location. On average, $600 - $1000 is the starting price range for a well-bred and properly-reared companion collie puppy.

Not to be overlooked, consider providing a home to a "rescue" collie - that is, a collie from a local shelter. Collie Rescue groups are established in many areas of the U.S. and they are always seeking permanent or foster homes for less fortunate collies. Collie Rescue groups offer dogs of various ages and backgrounds - usually those who have been picked up by or surrendered to animal shelters. The fee for adopting one of these homeless collies can vary, but it is generally in the $100 range.


10. What should I look for in selecting a breeder?
A reputable breeder will ask you as many or more questions than you ask of him. All prospective buyers of the breeder's pups will be thoroughly screened since the breeder wants the best homes for his dogs. A breeder should be very knowledgable about the breed. Experience counts, so ask how long the breeder has been involved in collies and in what aspects (conformation, obedience, herding, therapy work, etc.) Has the breeder shown or bred any American Kennel Club (AKC) Champions of Record? If so, how many? What health screening test does the breeder routinely have performed on his collies prior to breeding? What type of health guarantee does he offer on the puppies? Will the breeder accept the puppy back, regardless of age, if the buyer is no longer able to keep him? Most important: is the breeder someone with whom you can build rapport? Remember, the breeder should be a resource for you for the life of your puppy. Do you feel comfortable dealing with this individual? Also, check out the breeder's kennel facilities. They need not be new or elaborate, but they should be clean. A little doggy odor is acceptable, but there should be no strong odors from urine, feces, stale food, etc. It should be obvious that the dog droppings are picked up regularly and that good sanitation is the rule. Are the dogs themselves in good condition? Signs of overdue grooming, hanging mats, overgrown toenails, inflamed, mattery eyes, flea infestation, or scars on faces or ears from fly-bites or infighting are not desirable. The breeder's first concern should be his dogs. If you suspect that their care is lacking, then you should choose a different breeder.

11. How do I pick the right collie puppy for my family?
The breeder will help you with your selection. Do you want an active, outgoing puppy who "never stops" or a more sedentary companion? The breeder knows the personality of each puppy in the litter and can guide you to a puppy that will be the best "match" for your household.

12. Are there any hereditary diseases in collies that I should be aware of?
Both purebred dogs and mixed-breed dogs are subject to a variety of diseases, just like people. One advantage of purchasing a purebred dog from a reputable breeder is the value of the planned breeding program which produced the dog. Such breeding programs strive to reduce the likelihood of inherited disease through pedigree study and health screening.

It is important that the prospective collie buyer ask the breeder which health-screening tests are conducted on the sire and dam of each new litter. Collie breeders consider examination of their collies' eyes by a licensed ophthalmologist to be of paramount importance. These examinations are to determine the presence of hereditary or congenital Eye Disease. Other screening tests may include blood tests for Canine Brucellosis, Thyroid function, and Von Willebrand's Disease. In addition, x-rays can be taken to detect any signs of Canine Hip or Elbow Dysplasia. Cardiac screening via auscultation or ultrasound may be appropriate in some cases. Since testing is simple and relatively available, it just makes good breeding sense to screen whenever possible.

Dermatomyositis is a hereditary disease which has occurred in collies as well as several other breeds. This disease affects the skin and muscle tissue of the dog and research is currently being conducted to discover its mode of inheritance and a cure.

A reputable breeder should answer all of your questions about the health and history of his family of dogs. He should support health screening of all breeding animals and should offer his puppy buyers a reasonable health guarantee. If he does not, choose a different breeder!


13. Do collies have eye problems?
Two inherited eye diseases are of a concern to all collie breeders. The first is called Collie Eye Anomaly or CEA. CEA is a set of physical conditions which are present in the collie prior to birth. When the puppy is just a few weeks old, a canine ophthalmologist can examine the eyes by dilating the pupils with medicated drops and viewing the interior with an ophthalmoloscope. The eye is then graded as either "clear" (non-affected or "normal") or as "affected." (It should be noted that there is no standardized rating system or nomenclature that is used by all veterinarians.) CEA is described as:

Chorioretinal Change or Choroidal Hypoplasia - changes that affect the central layer of the lining of the eye.

Coloboma, Staphyloma, Ectasia - terms referring to a bulging or cupping of the eye, usually in the region of the optic disc.

Tortuous Blood Vessels or Vascular Disease - abnormalities in the blood vessels of the eye.

Retinal Detachment - Separation of the retinal layer from the wall of the eye. This can be a partial or total detachment, the latter which would result in blindness in that eye.

Collies affected with mild CEA generally have very adequate vision throughout their lives. This syndrome is generally not progressive, meaning the dog's eyesight will not get worse. The exception would be in cases where the dog is severely affected and that hemorrhage or complete retinal detachment have occurred.

Most veterinary specialists agree that CEA is carried as a recessive gene, and that the breeding of clear, non-carriers is the "ideal" solution to the eradication of this syndrome. Unfortunately, since CEA is so widespread throughout the collie gene pool, progress has been slow. Also, since mild CEA is not a debilitating disease as are some others, selections of breeding animals are made using a variety of other criteria as well, including good overall health, structure, temperament, vigor, etc.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy. This is a different disease than CEA. As its name indicates, PRA is a progressive disease which refers to retinal degeneration. This results in total blindness in both eyes. Initial symptoms may include "night blindness" or the dog not seeing well in dim light. PRA is often evident at about age six months.

In recent years, DNA tests for PRA and for CEA have become commercially available. The Collie Health Foundation has been an active financial contributor to research grants to develop these tests. Using genetic markers in a DNA sample, the tests determine not only if the collie is affected with PRA or CEA, more importantly, they detect if the dog is a carrier of the genes.


14. Do collies require any special veterinary care?
Good basic veterinary care including scheduled vaccinations and a yearly physical exam is appropriate for the collie. As a breed, they are generally quite healthy.

Of note: a number of collies have definite sensitivies to certain drugs. This sensitivity is caused by the presence of a mutant gene called MDR-1. The MDR-1 gene permits some drugs to cross the blood-brain barrier, causing mild to serious reactions, even death. Fortunately, the MDR-1 gene can be detected through a simple cheek-swab DNA test performed by the medical staff at Washington State University. The WSU web site is the best place to check for an up-to-date list of drugs to avoid giving to MDR-1 collies. These drugs include certain heartworm medications, pain medications, and anti-cancer drugs.It has been estimated that only about 30 percent or less of the collie population does NOT carry at least one MDR-1 gene.


15. How long do collies live?
While it has been documented that several collies have lived to the very old age of 17 years or longer, the average lifespan is about 12 - 13 years.

16. At what age can I take the puppy home?
Physically and psychologically, seven and one-half weeks is the very youngest age that a puppy should go to its new home. In collies, the properties of the head (meaning skull shape, eye placement, muzzle length and shape, etc.) are often not determined until 10 - 12 weeks of age or older. Since head properties are important criterion for the show breeder in making a selection of which puppy to keep for himself, it is not unusual for the puppies to be kept until this time. Often collie breeders like to keep two or more puppies longer to "grow out" and observe which will possess the qualities which will be of the most value to his breeding program and in the show ring. So if a breeder offers an older puppy for sale, do not assume that it is the one that no one wanted. Quite the opposite may be true! As they say, "the cream rises to the top" and it is often these older puppies that were the prettiest in the litter.

17. Do older puppies and dogs adjust well to a new home?
Yes. Dogs like routine and once a routine is established for them in their new home, they are quick to settle in. Indeed there are distinct advantages to choosing an older puppy or an adult dog instead of a tiny puppy. An older dog might be the best choice for very young children, as they are better able to tolerate rough play and are less likely to be seriously injured if tripped upon by a toddler. Older puppies have better bowel and bladder control than baby puppies and can sleep though the night without needing to "go out." A baby puppy needs lots of sleep, so children may receive more enjoyment from an older playmate who is ready to play for longer periods of time.

18. What should I feed my collie?
Follow your breeder's recommendation. There are a number of premium-quality dog foods on which collies will thrive. You need not purchase the most expensive food available, but don't settle for grocery store or warehouse club specials either. Most collie breeders feed such brands as Eukanuba, Innova, Precise, Nutro, Pro Plan, Royal Canin, or Diamond, among others. The collie's primary diet should be kibble (dry dog food) in combination with a lesser amount of canned food or meats. Table scraps can be added, but they should not exceed 10% of the total meal. Leftover lean beef or chicken, steamed rice, pasta, cooked vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese, and plain yogurt can be added for variety. Avoid rich sauces or highly-seasoned foods, as these can cause digestive upsets. Collies do well when fed twice a day (morning and evening) and fresh clean water should be available at all times.

19. How do collie breeders get their collies' ears to bend over?
Proper ear carriage on the collie is considered to be both ears sitting fairly high up on the head when the collie is alert, with the ear tips folding forward. The "break" (fold line) of the ear should be about one-quarter of the way down from the tip. There are many factors that can play havoc with correct ear carriage, such as heredity (multiple genetic factors), age, hot or cold weather, teething, pregnancy, illness, and parasites (flies and mites). Since show collies are judged on their expression (among other things) and ear carriage plays such a critical role in creating expression, most collie breeders pay particular attention to their puppies' ears while they are in the growing-up stages. These breeders will "train" the ears, beginning at about age 8 to 10 weeks, by taping them into the correct position. "Ear tapes" or "braces" are fashioned out of tape and with moleskin padding. The idea is simply to "brace" a puppy's ears into the proper position while he is in the fast-growing and teething stages. Afterwards, usually around age 7 to 9 months, the tapes can be left out. Sometimes an older puppy's or adult collie's ears will be temporarily re-taped for a few days prior to showing so that the ears will look their best in the show ring. The new collie owner can learn to do this ear bracing by asking his puppy's breeder to demonstrate. The best way to learn is to watch someone do it. Click here to see a step-by-step illustrated tutorial. Also, there are several books that illustrate different techniques. The Collie Concept by Mrs. George Roos and The Illustrated Guide to Sheltie Grooming by Barb Ross (both from Alpine Publications) each have excellent sections on ear bracing.

20. Should I breed my collie?
The notion of breeding a litter of puppies seems to often be accompanied by the storybook vision of a box full of clean, fat, fluffy pups playing contentedly with each other as their dam and owner look blissfully on. While this idyllic scene is surely possible, it represents a very small portion of the whole dog-breeding experience.

The reality is that there is always genuine hard work, time, expense, responsibility, and sometimes heartbreak associated with the breeding, whelping, and raising of a litter of puppies. The would-be breeder is strongly encouraged to examine his reasons for wanting a litter prior to initiating a breeding.

Work. The job begins with arranging for the actual mating to occur. The experienced breeder spends many behind-the-scenes hours researching pedigrees, evaluating ads and photos, and looking at dogs at shows prior to selecting a stud dog for his bitch. If the chosen dog lives far away, there are trips back and forth to the airport for shipping the bitch, not to mention prior trips to the veterinarian for pre-breeding tests. Once the puppies arrive, say "so long" to a full night's sleep for a while! Neonatal puppies must be closely monitored for several days. A newborn puppy can easily become chilled and take a sudden downhill turn in just a couple of hours. If the dam is not producing sufficient milk for her litter, the breeder must step in with supplementation for the puppies. Fostering newborn puppies can require feeding every 3 hours around the clock for many days. Are you willing to learn to tube-feed, using a stomach tube and syringe? Bottle-feeding even an average-sized litter can take hours. By the time the last pup is fed, the first one is hungry again!

When "Lassie" had her babies on TV, they never showed "poopy" newspapers than needed to be changed -- or a puppy howling because it was sick or had a tummy-ache -- or the entire litter covered in cereal as they learned to eat from a pan by wading through it! As puppies grow and are weaned onto solid food, they will consume more and more. Four meals per day times the number of puppies in the litter equals the number of piles of puppy poop you will pick up per day. Of course, if you don't watch their diet and keep their environment clean, the resulting diarrhea will mean even more messes to clean up.

Remember, too, that your collie puppies' ears will need to be braced and no doubt re-braced as littermates learn to pull each other's ear tapes out.

Time. Properly maintaining and caring for a litter of puppies will average about 3 to 4 hours per day of your time until all are sold. If you have a full-time job, will you be able to handle the extra workload? Feeding, cleaning, ear-bracing, playing, grooming, leash-training -- all of these things will create demands on your schedule. Don't forget the time it takes to handle phone calls and inquiries. Screening prospective buyers takes time and usually involves multiple visits and phone calls.

Expenses. A good rule of thumb when planning a litter is to have at least $1000.00 set aside for expenses. And don't count on recovering your $1000.00! With a little luck, you will get some of it back. But if illness strikes the puppies or their dam or if a Caesarian section or other "unexpected expenses" occur, consider it gone. An outbreak of parvovirus could cost you literally thousands of dollars to treat and save the puppies.

Your expense column will start growing even before the breeding occurs. Health screening for the dam (eye check, hip x-ray, thyroid panel, brucellosis test, vaginal culture and sensitivity, etc.) will run a few hundred. Add in the stud fee ($400 - $00), post-whelping checkup for the bitch ($75 - $100). Count in food and supplements for the bitch, formula for the puppies, food for the puppies after they're weaned (a growing litter can consume a 35-lb. sack of premium puppy kibble in less than a week!) and shots for the puppies (not just one apiece, but a series of vaccinations for distemper, leptospirosis, hepatitis, and parvo virus). Don't forget worming medication and those important eye checks! Figure around $30 per puppy for an eye exam by a licensed ophthalmologist. Are all of the puppies pre-sold? If not, factor in advertising expenses until good homes are found for all.

Responsibility. There are far too many unwanted puppies and dogs in shelters to take a cavalier attitude about breeding dogs. Do you have plans for each and every pup before it is born? Even if your friends and neighbors claim to be dying for a puppy from your "Lassie Girl," this interest often vanishes when the actual time comes for the puppies to go to their new homes. Are you willing to keep all of the puppies until permanent homes are found? Are you willing to take back a puppy, regardless of age, if the new owner can no longer keep it? What if hereditary disease crops up? Are you willing to refund the purchase price of the puppy or offer a replacement?

Heartbreak. Considering breeding a litter so your children can experience the "miracle of birth?" Most bitches do not want a large audience when whelping their litter. Occasionally a puppy is born dead or deformed. Do you want to share this scene with your kids? If the birth is particularly painful, the bitch can become frightened and bite. She could even die in labor and your children will have lost their beloved pet. Are you prepared to deal with this possibility? A far more sensible idea is to borrow a videotape of how puppies are born from your local humane society or library to share with you children.

Don't buy in to the old wives' tale that every dog needs to have a litter in order to be "fulfilled." This is utter nonsense! Dogs can and do lead very fulfilled lives without ever procreating.

So now what do you do? You're dying to play with puppies, you want another collie just like your own "Lassie Girl," but this breeding business doesn't sound so fun after all! Perhaps another puppy from your breeder's upcoming litter would have a place in your home. Part of the beauty of a carefully planned, line-bred litter is consistency. Odds are, a new puppy from the same breeder would be very similar to you current collie. Or perhaps there is room in your home and heart for a "rescue collie" who would dearly appreciate a "second chance" at a new life. Consider, too, that many of the qualities that you love so much about your "Lassie Girl" are indigenous to collies as a breed, and are not unique to just your own collie. Food for thought!


21. Are there any negative aspects of collie ownership?
The most important thing to realize when considering ownership of a collie (or any breed) is the amount of real time required to care for the new puppy or dog. The prospective owner should evaluate his own schedule and lifestyle to determine if there is the time to housebreak and train a new puppy. Is someone available at home to feed and socialize him? Will he spend long hours at home alone while everyone is at work? Will someone be able to properly groom the dog or will a professional groomer be used? Is there money in the household budget for this service as well as for routine and emergency veterinary care? Food, toys, beds, brushes, leashes and other equipment will also need to be purchased. With the addition of any new canine family member to the household, there will be some shedding on carpeting and furniture. Soft floaty hairs from the rough collie and short, slick hairs from the smooth collie will become part of life. Too, some individual collies love to BARK - so bear in mind that the house may not be as quiet as before!

22. After I've purchased my puppy, how can I become more involved in the collie fancy?
Your puppy's breeder should help facilitate your entry into the collie fancy. If the breeder lives nearby, he should be able to provide you with information on local collie club meetings and events. He should introduce you to other collie fanciers in your area. If he is active in club activities, ask him if you can come along. Volunteer to help out at club events. Consider membership in the Collie Club of America, the national club for collies. Read all you can by subscribing to dog magazines such as the AKC Gazette and Collie Expressions. Attend the Collie Club of America National Specialty Show and enjoy the annual showcase of collies from all across the country. As you demonstrate to the rest of the fancy that your desire to learn and willingness to help are genuine, then you will most surely be welcomed into the fascinating world of the purebred collie.


Text by Melinda Sunnarborg. All rights reserved.
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