28 June

Why I’ll Never Stop Loving Border Collies

by Jon Katz

I will never stop loving border collies, even though Zinnia, my yellow lab, is the dog I need in my life now.

While visiting our friend and shearer Liz Willis, in Vermont today, I looked down the road and saw her two beautiful dogs – border collies –  staring at me, wagging their tails, as if we were old friends.

It was like we knew one another in another life, we both just lit up at the sight of each other. Maria often says that I think like a border collie,that’s a sobering thought.

I guess we are alike in a sense.

I made eye contact with them, and I smiled and they smiled, we knew one another, we knew that look in the eyes of the other, it says “come on, move! Let’s do it! Hey, come and throw this frisbee, or herd these sheep before the top of my head comes off!”

I know this look, I love this look. I came down the hill and these two dogs were eagerly waiting for me.

They know how to play people like me to give them what they want – work to do. There are no other dogs like them.

I leaned over but couldn’t reach over to the ground, where the frisbee lay. They made sure that I could see it. One of them right came up to me, looking impatiently at me, but tail wagging.

What was taking so long? I knew the look.

I know border collies, there is no animal on the earth smarter than they are. I pointed to the red frisbee, and then up to my chest. “Throw it up here,” I said, “I can’t reach it down there.”

The black and white dog with the big ears (I don’t know their names) looked down at the frisbee, and then up at me. I gestured again to my chest. He looked at me, then the frisbee. He figured it out in three seconds.

He picked up the frisbee and flipped it up in the air, it was simple enough for me to catch it, and then throw it. They two of them raced off happily.

Then we did it again. And again. For border collies, once is fun. Twice is a lifetime addiction.

The dogs had that mad and joyous border collie look, the black-headed one had rushed back with the frisbee and didn’t need to be asked, he just tossed it up in the air so I could catch it, a perfect toss.

And he knew he had me. His look in the photo say sit all.

On the way home, I joked to Maria that if that were Zinnia, she would stare at me for a month before she would grasp the problem – I couldn’t reach it. Border collies make those decisions all the time with sheep, it’s what they do.

I am very lucky and happy to have Zinnia.

As I write this, she is asleep, her head resting comfortably on my foot.

I love her calm and ever-present love, her affection for all living things, her way of slipping so easily into my life.

But I did love seeing these two dogs at Liz’s farm. They evoked Rose, and Izzy and Red, three of the greatest dogs I have ever had. In the years I had Rose, I’m not sure I ever spoke to her, it wasn’t necessary once we got to Bedlam Farm. She just knew what to do.

I believe dogs are spirit animals, they enter our lives and mark the passages of time. Rose had hers, Red had his, Zinnia has hers. Each one altered the trajectory of my life.

Maria says the border collies and I love each other because we are alike in so many ways – obsessive creatures with mad gleams in our eyes. And enthusiasm for life.

I don’t know yet why Zinnia is here, that has yet to be revealed. Rose disdained games, she would have scowled at me, Izzy loved to chase frisbees, playing was usually beneath Red’s dignity.

I do know that Zinnia, sweetest of souls,  could never figure out how to snap a frisbee up in the air that quickly so that I could catch it and throw it for her to chase.


  1. We are on number 5 and 6 border collies. Ages 2 yrs and the other is 7 months, the are related Aunt and nephew, this is the breed for us so smart. You hit the nail on the head Jon. I love how they communicate with me so easy to train and sometimes a little ornery but I love it they love to think and figure things out I think I like that the most about them

  2. Jon, this is a great post. Dogs can be incredibly smart, some so much I believe they intentionally conceal it.

    Over (50) years and many homes, we’ve had (10) dogs, mostly mixed breeds, from a toy poodle to a German shepherd (although never a border collie). None ever had a problem communicating their feelings or wishes. Some examples:

    • Our feisty poodle (“Clyde”) hated being left alone. So on returning home from her morning coffee, my wife needed to step over the “souvenir” he would leave for her in the hallway.
    • The German shepherd (“Big Lady”) loved the water. When we hiked on the banks of the Red River, I needed to wear rubber boots, because she would pull me in.
    • Now, daily at about 10 pm, our Aussie Mix (“Hazy”), older and usually sedate, begins to bound around and whine for my attention. It’s her walking time.

    We just need to listen. But they’re fun – all of them.

  3. Lost my border collie in Feb. I had him since he was 8 weeks old and he lived to 15 1/2 years. We had such a connection, he was so smart, I knew he understood everything I said to him. I miss him every day. Starting to consider another spirit animal.

  4. I dog-sat a pair of border collies and thought I was going to die of exhaustion. In addition to being the smartest, they have no “off” switch!. Throw the ball into the pool, retrieve it, chase around the pool, throw again…for hours. They were owned by a young couple with no sheep, no farm, no work for the dogs to do – just a small suburban lot. No wonder they were both marginally psychotic (the dogs, not the people).

  5. Ive lived with three Border Collies. Fly was my shadow and my trusted ally, my favorite. She played soccer with my kids, circled the basketball court (our driveway) as they shot hoops and retrieved golf balls chipped into the fronnt pasture. She knew my every routine and anticipated what was next. She sulked when the town rule said she had to be leashed. We never used one otherwise. It’s been years since she left us (at age 15) and I still miss her.

  6. Your picture definitely captures that Border Collie look; “just let me know what you want done and I’ll have it completed before breakfast.” I’ve had dogs all my life besides making a career out of taking care of them. I’ve lived and been around all kinds of breeds, but nothing comes close to a Border Collie in intelligence. They capture my heart like no other.

  7. Mickey used to give me that look when we played ball. He rarely missed a catch. I could never get him to catch a frisbee without chewing it up! Loved that dog and still miss him.

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