What to Know About Collies

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on April 12, 2022
7 min read

Collies are loved the world over for their beautiful coats and charming personalities. 

If you're thinking about becoming a collie parent, though, there are a few things to keep in mind so you can look after your dog properly. 

Here's what you need to know about this beloved dog breed. 

The rough collie is a type of collie with a long double coat. Because of their long hair, rough collies are also called "Long-Haired" Collies. They were originally used for herding sheep in Scotland. The smooth collie also has a double coat and was raised for herding, but unlike the rough collie, smooth collies have short hair.

Some people think of both types of collies as part of the same breed. Others treat them as different breeds.

  • Personality. The collie personality is known for its ingrained intelligence, friendliness, loving nature, and affection toward people. They're fast, athletic, and energetic dogs, so you will want to make sure that your collie has plenty of playtime and exercise to avoid boredom. Collies are good with kids and are loyal to their families, so they make excellent companions.
  • Physical collie traits. Collies are known for their beautiful coats, making them great show dogs. The coats are usually seen in colors like sable (dark chocolate brown) and white, tricolor, blue merle (part black and part bluish-grey), and white. The breed is also noted for its beautifully formed eyes, elegantly shaped head, and regal-looking features.

How big collies get can vary depending on their gender. Male collies can grow to between 24 and 26 inches in height and weigh between 65 and 75 pounds. Female collies grow to between 22 and 24 inches in height and weigh between 50 and 65 pounds. 

The average collie life expectancy is 12 to 14 years.

  • Grooming. Groom your collie regularly to keep their coat healthy and beautiful-looking. Aim to brush both smooth and rough collies at least once a week. They have double coats, and you will want to remove dirt and stray hairs from the undercoat. Pay special attention to the area behind a rough collie's ears and elbows. You will also want to spend more time grooming during the shedding season.

You may need to bathe your collie anywhere from weekly to once every 3 to 4 weeks. The longer their coat, the more often you may need to bathe them. The frequency can also depend on how active your dog is, how much time they spend outdoors, how dirty they get, and how well you maintain their coats.

  • Feeding. Feed your dog high-quality meals, whether that means the commercially available dog food or a recipe approved by a veterinary nutritionist. It is not easy to supply a complete and balanced diet at home. Meanwhile, make sure the food you provide is right for their age. Avoid human food, as that can cause problems for your dog's health. Make sure your collie has water available to drink at all times.
  • Training and exercise. Collies are smart and active dogs. They need regular exercise and plenty of playtime. If they don't get enough activity, they may get bored and start barking more often. Games like fetch can be enjoyable for both you and your collie.

Start training collies when they are puppies so they become socialized and adapt well to family life. Use positive reinforcement with your collie during training to get the best results. They don't respond well to harsh treatment.

  • Dental care. Brush your dog's teeth daily. You can also use dental chews and toys that can prevent dental problems. Ask your vet for the best dental care options for your collie.
  • Ear cleaning and nail trimming. You will want to clean your collie's ears and trim their nails at least once a month.
  • Flea, heartworm, and tick management. Talk to your vet for the best flea- and tick-prevention products for your collie. A type of parasite called heartworm can also be deadly for your dog. It is recommended to administer heartworm medication all year long and to check your dogs regularly for ticks and remove them as early as you can to prevent infection. Look for fleas and ticks behind your dog's ears, under their feet, around their ears and eyes, near their anus, and under their tail.
  • Vaccinations. Speak to your vet about the vaccinations your collie needs and make sure to follow the schedule they provide. In general, it’s recommended your puppy takes distemper, parvo, DHPP and rabies vaccinations. Follow up with DHPP shots every 1 to 2 years, and rabies shots every 1 to 3 years. Rabies shots are required by law. You will also want to have your dog checked annually by your vet. These annual checkups can help your vet pick up on problems early on and provide effective treatment for your collie.

The health of your collie can be affected by some types of genetic conditions. This means that the collie breed is at a higher risk of developing these conditions. 

Collie Eye Anomaly. Both types of collies can develop Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA), a collection of different eye problems that commonly affect collies. For example, your collie can have blind spots, issues with the blood vessels of the eye, or problems with the retina. Sometimes, collie eye anomaly can cause blindness.  

Your vet will be able to tell you whether your dog has Collie Eye Anomaly and whether they need more specialized medical care. Collies with a mild form of the condition can live a completely normal life.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Progressive retinal atrophy is another eye condition that can affect both types of collies. If your collie has this condition, its retinas will grow weaker with time. The retina is the layer of tissue behind the eye that helps your dog see. This condition can lead to blindness.

Progressive retinal atrophy is not as common as Collie Eye Anomaly, but it can be harder to detect because it shows up in the latter part of your dog's life. Your vet can find out if your dog has this condition by conducting a DNA test.  

Multidrug sensitivity. Sometimes, your collie can have a condition called multidrug sensitivity. This means they can have a potentially deadly reaction to some types of drugs. Your vet can check to see if your dog has the gene that causes this sensitivity by doing a blood test. In the future, they will suggest different medications if needed.  

Other general conditions. Your collie can sometimes develop a condition commonly called GDV. That’s gastric dilatation and volvulus. As a result of this condition, the stomach can get twisted. This can lead to death. Get to a vet immediately if you suspect GDV. Also aim for prevention by feeding your dog smaller meals and avoiding exercising your dog soon after eating.

Your collie can also develop seizures, a condition called epilepsy. They can also have allergies and thyroid conditions.  

Rough collies can also develop certain medical conditions: 

  • Canine cyclic neutropenia or gray collie syndrome. This is a blood disorder that can lead to death in puppies. When puppies have this condition, their skin color can turn gray, pinkish-gray, or beige. Even if the puppies survive, they rarely live for more than 3 years because their ability to fight illness and disease will be weak. 
  • Hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is rare in collies. When your dog has hip dysplasia, the ball and socket parts of the hip joint don't fit well together. Sometimes, they don't grow properly. The joint can become weaker and stop working over time.

Some breeders are working to better manage the way certain genetic conditions affect the health of collies. They do this by breeding the dogs only after a careful selection process. 

If you're getting your collie from a breeder, remember to openly talk about what types of health conditions you can expect in your collie. 

It is recommended to have your collie's eyes screened before they turn 6 to 8 weeks of age. In some places that provide accreditations, breeders are required to conduct these eye tests. Accreditation is a system that helps pet owners know whether the breeders meet quality standards. 

It's unclear where, exactly, collies come from. Many people think, though, that they come from Scotland, where they were trained to be sheepdogs.  

It's also unclear where the name of the breed comes from. Some people think that the name refers to its coat color, which looks like coal sometimes. Others think the name comes from a sheep breed known for their black-colored faces, called Colley sheep. The name could also come from similar-sounding words in the Gaelic/Irish or Anglo-Saxon languages.  

Queen Victoria took a liking to these dogs when she was at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. She brought back a few for her own kennel in 1860. That helped to popularize the breed in England, especially as a show dog.  

The first English rough collie was brought to the U.S. in 1879, and it's now a well-known and much-loved breed in America. Movies that featured a rough collie called Lassie and a TV show of the same name in the 40s and 50s made the breed a household name.  

Owning a pet is a responsibility. Use these guidelines to help your collie stay healthy and happy for as long as you can. That way, you'll have more years to spend with your furry friend.