Border Collie vs. Golden Retriever (And The Best Dog Is…)

Border Collies and Golden Retrievers are both much loved canine companions, and each breed has its own unique and lovable characteristics. Golden Retrievers are golden-haired angels made for cuddling, and collies are whip-smart companions with boundless affection and energy. Border Collie vs. Golden Retriever: Which is the better dog?

Golden Retrievers edge out Border Collies as the best all-round dog. Both breeds are incredibly smart, loyal and loving dogs but Golden Retrievers are a better fit for first time dog owners and families with children, while Border Collies have a tendency to be more high-strung around strangers and other dogs.

Both the Golden Retriever and the Border Collie are lovable and intelligent breeds and each has their own particular winning qualities. If you’re trying to decide between the two breeds, I’ll provide some information about the differences and similarities to help you decide which dog will be the best fit for your home and lifestyle.

Border Collie vs Golden Retriever

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Why Choose the Border Collie?

An agile mix of Roman herding dog and the smaller Viking Spitz were combined to create the classic Border Collie. The Border Collie has not only dominated as the number one herding dog for the last 300 years, but they also top the ranks in agility competitions and overall canine intelligence. Energetic and very smart, these black and white wonders were formally acknowledged as a breed by the American Kennel Club in 1995. 

Advantages of Owning a Border Collie

  • They’re intelligent – The Border Collie is a highly intelligent dog breed and a delight to train as they thrive on mental stimulation. In the book, The Intelligence of Dogs, Stanley Coren found the Border Collie to be the top out of 1999 dog breeds when it comes to smarts. He discovered that Border Collies could learn a new command in under five attempts and replicate the command 95% of the time.
  • They’re playful and active – Border Collies love to play with anything that can be thrown or retrieved. Bred to be a working dog, Border Collies are hardwired for activity and make great companions for active lifestyles such as hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Border Collies love nothing more than to run or show off their exceptional jumping skills, which place them top in agility competition rankings.
  • They’re a healthy and hardy breed – Bred for Scotland’s rugged outdoors, the Border Collie is a particularly hardy breed that can withstand various climates. With a lifespan of 12 to 15 years, the Border Collie is one of the longest living breeds of its size and category.
  • They make great family dogs – Border Collies fit in well with families and other dogs and are usually good with cats if familiarized with cats from an early age. Border Collies bond exceptionally well with children but must be taught not to nip at children’s heels when excited and not herd them like sheep.
Facts about Border Collies

Disadvantages of Owning a Border Collie

  • They require mental stimulation to thrive – Border Collies have incomparable intellects and thrive on mental stimulation more than most other breeds. Owners should expect to devote time to engaging their pet in training and play, particularly training such as agility trials. Without sufficient mental stimulation, they may display destructive behaviors such as chewing, barking, or escape behaviors.
  • They need socialization – Although they are not an aggressive breed, Border Collies tend to stay close to their human families and exhibit shy behavior around strangers and other dogs. Early socialization can reduce breed-specific tendencies towards shyness. 
  • They need plenty of exercise – Border Collies are not the dog breed of choice for those with a sedentary lifestyle. Border Collies need exercise and play every day and will suffer if their routine is broken. These dogs need large spaces to run, and owners should ensure that they can access open ground where their collies can run free and engage their working instincts.
  • They tend to nip at heels – To the Border Collie, the universe and everything in it are worthy of being herded into formation. Unfortunately, children are often considered part of your loving Border Collie’s flock. These playful nips are non-aggressive play but sometimes can be a problem with smaller children.

My wife and I once fostered a pair of Border Collies for several weeks, and they were fascinating to watch but might not exhibit the type of behavior you’d prefer in a small home or a home with children!

At the time we lived on several acres and had a couple of large goats. The collies spent their days herding the goats onto an area in the field that they wanted them to be, and would get them back in line the moment they strayed. They were absolutely tireless. They very well may attempt to obsessively herd your children and other pets as well.

Why Choose the Golden Retriever?

Dudley Majoribanks from the Scottish highlands had much to do with the modern Golden Retriever’s origins. In his plans to create the perfect hunting dog, he interbred a yellow colored retriever and the Tweed Water Spaniel (now extinct). He then added a small proportion of Bloodhound and Irish Setter to the mix, as well. The Labrador Retriever of the 1840s -the 1890s was then further bred to create the Golden Retriever who first premiered at a British dog show in 1908.

Designed as a hunting dog primarily, the Golden is a working breed and needs plenty of stimulation and exercise to be healthy and happy.

Advantages of Owning a Golden Retriever

  • They’re a bright and exceptionally gentle breed – Stanley Coren rated the Golden Retriever number four when it comes to smarts in his book The Intelligence of Dogs, which revealed in-depth research into almost 2,000 dog breeds. Their intelligence, combined with their calm natures, has made them the iconic dog for the blind. Great with children and gentle with babies, no dog fits into family life more perfectly than a Golden.
  • They’re easy to train – With their loving and eager to please nature and high intelligence, Goldens are a pleasure to train and respond well to mental stimulation. Goldens may be trained from as early as 12 weeks and can learn an extensive list of commands and vocabulary. 
  • They love to play – Goldens love to play and remain puppy-like throughout most their lives. They love nothing more than to play fetch and swim. As such, they do need consistent and regular exercise to give an outlet to their large stores of energy. They are perfect companions for active owners and families who enjoy the outdoors.
Watch this video to learn more about Golden Retrievers.

Discover how to train your Golden Retriever by playing games: 21 games to play with your Golden that will make them smarter and better behaved!

Disadvantages of Owning Golden Retrievers

  • They need plenty of exercise – One way to experience the opposite of a Golden’s calm nature is to fail to give them a regular physical outlet for their energy. Golden’s require up to an hour of good quality physical exercise a day, or they can display destructive tendencies. They are not suited to sedentary households with little interest in spending active time in the outdoors.
  • They shed a lot – Goldens need plenty of grooming lest they decorate your household in their fur. This breed should not be considered by owners who have high cleanliness standards and don’t tolerate dog hair well. Goldens are also notorious for jumping into water or mud whenever they can so be prepared for plenty of baths and wiping of feet after walks.
  • They thrive on companionship – Golden Retrievers need plenty of human contact to thrive and don’t take well to being separated from their owners for long stretches. People who work long hours or who travel often would not suit the devoted nature of the golden breed.

And the Winner Is…..

Golden Retrievers and Border Collies are both brilliant athletes with high levels of intelligence. They’re both unique and intelligent breeds that have oodles of personality and are very loving. That being said, the overall winner is…

The Golden Retriever! This fun-loving and loyal breed is energetic, gentle and patient. A Golden Retriever makes an excellent first time dog for new dog owners and is, in fact, probably the best dog you could have for families with children.

Another option would be a mix between these two breeds. The Border Retriever aka “Coltriever” is emerging as a breed in its own right and combines the best of these two iconic breeds. Who knows, they may be recognized in their own right as a breed in the future? Move over, Labradoodle!

Learn more about Coltriever’s, a mix between a Border Collie and a Golden Retriever


Essentially, the best breed between the Border Collie and the Golden Retriever depends on your circumstances. Golden Retrievers do take the first place in the best family pet category, but the Border Collie has exceptional intelligence and responsiveness that is hard to match. Either way, you’ll be a winner if you’re lucky enough to get either one of these loyal companions.

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Bryan Mullennix

Bryan's a freelance travel photographer and happy dog dad. He currently lives in Las Vegas with his wife, his son, and two dogs Nom Nom & Speck.

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