Very few things in life are more appealing than a border collie puppy. Starting with a puppy might not be the right decision for everyone, but there's no doubt that training your own puppy from scratch can be one of the most rewarding of experiences when things go well--and it's almost enough to make you forget how frustrating it can be when things go badly!

Guide to Selecting a Breeder

There's no doubt that buying a border collie puppy with the aim of someday competing in sheepdog trials is a risk: your chances of success will be much greater if you purchase a trained (or at least "started") dog. On the other hand, doing well at trials with your very own home-raised and home-trained puppy is a much bigger, more satisfying achievement than doing well with a dog that someone else trained. If you can get to Open with a dog that you've trained yourself, you've really accomplished something pretty special. To increase your chances of success, keep the following tips in mind when choosing a breeder:

Buy from a Breeder of Working Border Collies

It should go without saying that your trial-prospect puppy should only come from a breeder of working border collies: do not buy your puppy from an AKC breeder who emphasizes the "versatility" of their pups and who points with pride at a few titles won in AKC or AHBA herding trials. A true working breeder will either have a commercial livestock operation or will have proved themselves through regular placements in Open-level competition at USBCHA-sanctioned sheepdog trials. Success in Open trials is never measured by titles before or after a dog's name. Similarly, it should go without saying that a prospective working border collie should never be purchased from a pet store.

Be Alert to Potential Health Problems

In general, border collies are a healthy breed, as is to be expected in dogs bred to work. There are, however, a few health problems of which buyers should be aware. Border collies can inherit a condition called Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA). Luckily, CEA can be detected by the time the dog is six or seven weeks old. You should arrange to have your pup examined by a canine ophthalmologist as soon as you get him, if the breeder has not already had him examined. The ophthalmologist will be able to tell whether the pup has CEA, and if so, whether the condition will affect the puppy's eyesight. Although CEA is often mild enough to have little or no effect on an affected dog's vision, if CEA is found the breeder should agree to take the pup back if you so choose. In any case where CEA is diagnosed, even if the ophthalmologist tells you that the CEA will have no effect on your pup's vision and you prefer to keep the pup, you should notify the breeder, so that the breeder will know not to repeat that breeding again. If your pup is found to be free of CEA by the ophthalmologist, he will be free of it for life. It was once believed that border collies were subject to another hereditary eye disease called PRA, but it has since become apparent that PRA is either exceedingly rare or non-existent in the breed.

Border collies can get hip dysplasia, even if their parents show no signs of the disease in x-rays or in their daily lives. Nothing you or the breeder can do will guarantee that your pup will not turn out to be dysplastic, but to reduce the chances, you should ask to see certificates that the sire and dam of the litter have been found free of dysplasia by the OFA, PennHip, or Cornell. You should also be careful not to overfeed your pup, and to give him plenty of exercise (with emphasis on running rather than jumping) to ensure that he builds the kind of muscle that helps maintain good joint formation. Border collies can get epilepsy, which may be hereditary, but for which there is no test. The best you can do is to question the breeder as to whether there are any known incidences of epilepsy in the sire’s or dam’s lines. Finally, a very serious hereditary disease called ceroid lipofuscinosis has been found in some border collies, but only in those from Australian show lines. If you avoid buying border collies with Australian or New Zealand ancestors, CL should not be a concern.

Know the Working Styles of the Parents

Ideally, you should only purchase a puppy who is a product of parents whose working styles you find pleasing. Spend some time at trials watching Open competition before you purchase your puppy; before long, you'll find that some dogs appeal to you more than others. Do you prefer a slow, steady working style, or do dogs who race through the course set your heart on fire? Do you like a stylish dog with a lot of eye, or do you prefer a more upright dog who might be more biddable about flanking off pressure? The earlier you can get a fix on what sort of dog you might like to handle in a trial someday, the more intelligently you can choose a puppy that you can help you get there.

Know What Else the Parents of Your Potential Pup Have Produced

In a perfect world, the parents of your prospective pup will have been bred before, and some of their offspring might already be running in trials for you to analyze. It doesn't always--in fact, it rarely--works that way, simply because it usually takes a couple of years before a young dog is ready to start entering in trials. But if you're lucky enough to be able to evaluate some offspring of the parents before you agree to a puppy from a particular breeding, make certain to take full advantage of it. If a dog has produced offspring that you don't like, particularly if those offspring share the same fault, be wary of the cross no matter how much you like the parents as working dogs.

Pay Attention to Pedigree

Breeding isn't everything, but it's a lot: a well-bred puppy will have a better chance of developing into a trial dog than a puppy who is simply the product of a couple of solid work dogs without distinguished pedigrees. (But, just to complicate that generalization, plenty of well-bred pups are washouts, and some more commonly-bred pups *do* become trial dogs.) Before you buy your puppy, it's a good idea to do some research into some of the working border collie lines to familiarize yourself with the history of the breed: a few useful books to help you can be found in the LittleHats Resources section.

Buy from a Breeder from Whom You Feel Comfortable Asking for Help

The best breeders will have an interest in helping you succeed with your goals for your puppy and will be happy to give you advice throughout the training process. Your pup's breeder is often very familiar with the genetics of your pup; he or she might even have trained your pup's parents or siblings. The training insights that you can obtain in such situations can be invaluable, and you need to feel free to ask your breeder intelligent questions as you start to train your dog. A good relationship with your breeder is thus very important: all else being equal, try to buy from a breeder who appears open to helping a novice rather than one who seems to find newbie herders a big bother.

NB: parts of this documented have been adapted from All About Border Collie's Tips on Getting a Border Collie