Comparing New Zealand Heading Dog vs Border Collie

When it comes to working dogs, few breeds compare in intelligence, agility, and dedication as the New Zealand Heading Dog and the Border Collie. Both breeds have a rich heritage of working alongside humans, particularly in herding livestock.

The New Zealand Heading Dog and the Border Collie are two of the most iconic sheep herding breeds globally. Both are highly sought after for their work ethic, intelligence, and efficiency in handling livestock.

However, while they share many similarities due to their herding lineage, they also possess distinct differences shaped by their historical backgrounds and the terrains in which they were bred to work. Drawing a comparison between these breeds helps potential dog owners or trainers determine which might be the best fit for their specific needs and environments.

Characteristics of Comparison between New Zealand Heading Dog and Border Collie

Both dogs are highly intelligent and need consistent mental stimulation. Without regular tasks or challenges, they can become bored, leading to destructive behaviors. However, the New Zealand Heading Dog is often described as more intense and single-minded in its working style. At the same time, the Border Collie can sometimes be more adaptable in various tasks outside of herding.

As the name suggests, the New Zealand Heading Dog is known for its ability to ‘head’ or steer sheep, often working at high speeds and covering vast distances. Their style is direct, making swift moves to guide livestock. In contrast, the Border Collie often employs the “eye” method of herding – using a penetrating stare to control and move sheep, which can be both mesmerizing and effective.

While both breeds are adaptable to various climates and terrains, the Border Collie is a more versatile breed when it comes to roles outside of herding, such as in agility, obedience, and even search and rescue operations. The New Zealand Heading Dog, while versatile in its own right, is primarily honed for the rugged terrains of New Zealand and herding.

History of Breeds

The New Zealand Heading Dog originated from Border Collie roots but was selectively bred in New Zealand to cater to the unique terrains and sheep herding needs of the region. As settlers arrived in New Zealand, they brought with them various herding dogs, including early variations of the Border Collie.

Over time, these dogs were crossed with other breeds to enhance certain attributes, leading to the emergence of a distinct breed – the New Zealand Heading Dog. This breed was developed to be agile, swift, and resilient, navigating the vast and rugged landscapes of New Zealand while managing large flocks of sheep.

The Border Collie’s history traces back to the borders of Scotland and England, where they were initially bred for herding and controlling sheep in the hilly areas. The name “Collie” is believed to have been derived from the Celtic word for “useful.”

These dogs were known for their intelligence, agility, and the signature “eye” technique in herding. They were further refined and standardized in the 19th century. Today, the Border Collie, beyond its herding prowess, is celebrated in various canine sports and as a beloved family pet.

photo of new zealand heading dog

Appearance Differences and Similarities of a Border Collie versus New Zealand Heading Dog

The world of canine breeds is diverse and fascinating, with each breed boasting its own unique set of physical and temperamental characteristics. Two breeds that often cause confusion due to their superficial similarities are the Border Collie and the New Zealand Heading Dog.

While they may appear alike at a glance, a closer look reveals distinct differences that set them apart. However, their similarities often bring them under the same umbrella for the untrained eye.

At first glance, the Border Collie and the New Zealand Heading Dog might be mistaken for each other. Both breeds are medium-sized, athletic, and possess a keen sense of alertness. They have a relatively similar body shape, characterized by a muscular frame designed for agility and endurance.

Their coat colors can also overlap, with black and white being the most common shades seen in both breeds. Additionally, both dogs have erect ears that stand tall, signifying their constant alertness, and their eyes often possess an intense, intelligent gaze. Due to their shared herding background, both breeds have a similar posture and stance, especially when they are focused on a task.

Despite these similarities, the Border Collie and the New Zealand Heading Dog have distinct differences. The most notable difference lies in their coat texture. Border Collies come in two varieties which are smooth and rough.

The rough variety has a double coat with a long, feathery outer coat, while the smooth variety’s coat is shorter. In contrast, the New Zealand Heading Dog typically has a short, dense coat without the feathering seen in many Border Collies.

Another subtle difference is their facial appearance. While both breeds have an intense gaze, the Border Collie’s eyes can be a variety of colors, including blue, brown, amber, or even one of each (heterochromia). The New Zealand Heading Dog, on the other hand, typically has brown eyes.


Both of these breeds are medium-sized dogs designed for agility and stamina in the fields. The Border Collie typically stands at about 18 to 22 inches tall at the shoulder for males and 18 to 21 inches for females. They usually weigh between 30 to 45 pounds, depending on gender and individual genetics.

On the other hand, the New Zealand Heading Dog is slightly leaner in its build. Males stand around 20 to 24 inches tall, with females slightly shorter. Their weight generally ranges between 25 to 40 pounds.

The slight size difference is a result of the New Zealand Heading Dog’s adaptation to the varied terrains of New Zealand, where a more slender frame can be beneficial in navigating the region’s distinct landscapes. In terms of build, while both breeds are athletic and agile, the New Zealand Heading Dog has a slightly more streamlined appearance than the Border Collie’s robustness.

Coats & Colors

When it comes to their coats and colors, the distinctions become more apparent, although overlaps still exist. Border Collies are renowned for their diverse coat colors and patterns. The most common color is black and white, but they can also come in blue merle, red merle, brindle, gold, and even tricolor patterns that include black, white, and tan.

Their fur can range from short to medium in length, with some having a slight wave or curl. Regular grooming is needed for the Border Collie, especially for those with longer hair, to keep it looking its best.

The New Zealand Heading Dog, while less varied in coat colors than the Border Collie, still presents a visually appealing coat. The most common color for this breed is black and white, similar to the Border Collie.

However, their fur is typically short to medium in length and is straighter than the Border Collie’s. This makes the New Zealand Heading Dog slightly easier to groom, requiring only occasional brushing to remove loose fur and maintain its sleek appearance.

That being said, the appearance of an individual dog can always vary slightly from the breed standard. Factors like genetics, diet, and care can lead to minor differences in size, coat texture, and coloration.

Comparing Personality & Temperament

The Border Collie, stemming from the picturesque landscapes of Scotland and England’s border regions, is often perceived as the quintessential herding dog. Famed for their exceptional intelligence, these dogs possess a natural flair for agility and are laser-focused.

They’re not only rapid learners, but their skills often dazzle in dog sports and performances. Their innate sensitivity and alertness mean they’re often in tune with their owner’s feelings, adjusting their behavior accordingly.

In contrast, the New Zealand Heading Dog, as its name suggests, originates from the pastures of New Zealand. Their primary function lies in herding sheep across varied terrains.

These dogs, while equally intelligent and agile, possess a more restrained demeanor than the exuberant Border Collie. The Heading Dog’s hallmark trait is its independence, often leaning on its instincts to shepherd flocks rather than awaiting human direction.


Regarding integrating into a family dynamic, the Border Collie is a gem. Particularly suited for families that revel in physical activity, they eagerly partake in diverse games, from fetch to intricate agility courses, and are always up for cognitive challenges. Their bond with family members is profound, creating an atmosphere of trust and affection, especially towards younger members.

On the flip side, New Zealand Heading Dogs, while they appreciate a bustling household, are more self-reliant. They might opt to be spectators rather than active participants in every family event. This doesn’t detract from their loyalty, however. They won’t hesitate to defend their loved ones when push comes to shove.


Border Collies, with their protective inclinations, are often attentive watchdogs for children. However, one must be mindful of their innate herding instincts. They might occasionally exhibit nipping behaviors, particularly if children run around them, which is their way of ‘herding’ the kids.

The New Zealand Heading Dog exhibits a more tempered response to children. Their inherent calmness means they’re less prone to nipping behaviors. With correct introductions and consistent guidance, they can seamlessly integrate into a household with kids, offering both companionship and a sense of security.

Other People

The protective nature of Border Collies might make them slightly reserved around unfamiliar faces. Though they aren’t innately aggressive, a certain wariness around strangers can be expected. Hence, it’s pivotal to ensure their early socialization, acquainting them with diverse individuals to nurture their adaptability.

In contrast, New Zealand Heading Dogs, bolstered by their autonomous personality, might display indifference towards strangers. They’re usually not hostile but prefer to adopt a ‘wait and watch’ approach, taking their time to familiarize themselves with newcomers.

Dogs & Other Animals

Given their herding lineage, navigating the realm of interspecies interactions is a nuanced affair for both breeds. While initial encounters might be marked by attempts to ‘herd,’ harmonious coexistence is achievable with methodical training and introductions.

Border Collies, empowered by their sharp wit, quickly assimilate boundaries. They usually exhibit amicability towards fellow dogs but can mark their territory if not accustomed to social encounters from an early age.

In comparison, the laid-back demeanor of the Heading Dog might make them less proactive in initiating play with other dogs. Yet, they rarely exhibit aggression. Introducing them to other household pets, like cats, demands a structured approach to ensure peaceful cohabitation.

Behaviour Issues

A Border Collie’s vast reservoir of energy and intellect requires regular outlets. Neglecting their mental and physical needs can manifest in unwanted behaviors, from destructiveness to heightened anxiety. Consistent engagement through training, physical activities, and cognitive challenges is non-negotiable for their well-being.

The New Zealand Heading Dog’s independent spirit means that while they might not resort to destructive behaviors when under-stimulated, they can develop a pronounced obstinate streak. Their potential to become distant or seemingly uninterested emphasizes the importance of regular interactions and challenges to keep them engaged.

The Border Collie, often dubbed the “workaholic” of the dog world, is recognized for its high intelligence, intense focus, and boundless energy. Originating from the border region between Scotland and England, this breed was designed for stamina and herding finesse.

    High Energy Levels: The primary challenge that Border Collie owners face is managing the breed’s exuberant energy. Without adequate physical and mental stimulation, these dogs can develop destructive behaviors.

    Sensitivity: Border Collies are highly sensitive and may not respond well to harsh training methods. Their keen sense of their surroundings can sometimes result in nervousness or skittish behavior.

    Herding Instinct: This instinct is so strong in some Border Collies that they might try to herd other animals, children, or even vehicles, which can be potentially dangerous.

The New Zealand Heading Dog, a relative of the Border Collie, was specifically developed in New Zealand for herding sheep in the country’s challenging terrains. They share many traits with the Border Collie but have distinctions that make them uniquely Kiwi.

    Stubbornness: While they are intelligent, some Heading Dogs can be a tad more independent and stubborn than their Border Collie counterparts. This can sometimes make training more challenging.

    Barking: Some New Zealand Heading Dogs can be quite vocal. They use barking as a tool when herding, but this can translate to unwanted noise in a domestic setting.

    Social Needs: The Heading Dog tends to be more social and craves companionship. If left alone for long periods, they can develop separation anxiety or depressive behaviors.

border collie walking

Training & Exercise of a Border Collie versus New Zealand Heading Dog

Border Collies are often regarded as one of the most intelligent dog breeds. They thrive on challenges and need daily mental and physical stimulation. Training a Border Collie requires consistency, positive reinforcement, and a variety of tasks to keep them engaged.

For exercise, the Border Collie benefits from a mix of structured activities such as obedience training, agility courses, and fetch games. Their inherent desire to herd can be channeled into herding activities if they have access to facilities.

An under-exercised Border Collie can become destructive or develop behavioral problems. They require at least an hour of intense exercise daily, complemented by mental challenges like puzzle toys or scent games.

The New Zealand Heading Dog, while less globally recognized than the Border Collie, is no less impressive in its herding abilities. Training a New Zealand Heading Dog requires patience and understanding its natural instincts.

They are independent thinkers, accustomed to making decisions in the field. This independence can sometimes be mistaken for stubbornness.

Positive reinforcement techniques work best, emphasizing commands like ‘come,’ ‘stay,’ and ‘down’ from an early age. They tend to be slightly more reserved with strangers compared to Border Collies, so early socialization is key.

When it comes to exercise, the New Zealand Heading Dog is a robust and tireless worker. They love open spaces and thrive in environments where they can run and play freely.

Daily long walks and activities that tap into their herding instincts are ideal. If they are not working on a farm, activities like agility, flyball, or even frisbee can help burn their energy. They, too, require at least an hour of vigorous exercise daily to stay healthy and happy.

Taking Care & Maintenance Difference

When considering adding a dog to the family, understanding their care and maintenance needs is crucial. The Border Collie and the New Zealand Heading Dog are two popular breeds that are often compared due to their sheep-herding lineage. Though they share a common purpose and some physical resemblances, they have different requirements in terms of care and maintenance.

Both breeds have carved out a reputation for intelligence, agility, and work ethic in pastoral settings. However, their historical development, herding roles, and care needs have diverged over time.

Originating from the border regions between Scotland and England, the Border Collie was bred for both its intelligence and agility. They have been celebrated for their ability to understand complex commands and are often considered one of the smartest dog breeds.

Their heightened intelligence means they need mental stimulation in addition to physical exercise. It’s not uncommon for Border Collies to engage in repetitive behaviors or become destructive if they aren’t mentally and physically challenged.

The New Zealand Heading Dog, a descendant primarily from the Border Collie, was bred in the challenging terrains of New Zealand to manage large flocks of sheep. They are known for their speed and stamina.

This breed was developed to possess a natural inclination to guide and manage herds with minimal guidance. Unlike the Border Collie, which often relies on intricate commands, the New Zealand Heading Dog operates with broader instructions, capitalizing on its instincts.

When considering care and maintenance, it’s essential to understand that while both breeds are active and need exercise, the Border Collie tends to demand more varied activities. This can range from agility training to puzzle toys that stimulate their intellect. While equally energetic, the New Zealand Heading Dog might be content with more prolonged, straightforward activities such as long runs or extensive fetch sessions.

Grooming a Border Collie versus New Zealand Heading Dog

The Border Collie boasts a double coat, which can be either smooth or rough. Their fur is dense and demands regular grooming, ideally a few times a week. This not only helps keep their coat clean but also ensures that they are free from mats and tangles, which can be painful and lead to skin issues.

Especially during the molting seasons, the undercoat becomes more prominent, and the need for brushing increases. Regular grooming sessions also provide an opportunity to check for ticks, fleas, and other potential health issues.

On the other hand, the New Zealand Heading Dog’s coat is smooth and short. Their grooming needs are considerably less intensive than the Border Collie’s. A weekly brush is generally sufficient to keep their coat in good shape.

This helps in removing any loose fur and ensuring the skin remains healthy. Due to their shorter fur, it’s also easier to spot any skin irregularities or external parasites.


Both breeds shed, but the nature and amount of shedding differ. Border Collies tend to shed more with their longer and denser fur than the New Zealand Heading Dogs. While they shed throughout the year, there are two peak shedding seasons – during spring and fall.

This is when the undercoat is shed, and the amount of loose fur can be surprising for first-time owners. Daily brushing during these periods can help manage the shedding and keep your home relatively fur-free.

New Zealand Heading Dogs, with their sleeker coats, shed as well, but the volume is generally less. Their shedding is also more consistent throughout the year, without the pronounced peaks seen in the Border Collie. For those who are concerned about large amounts of dog hair around their home, the New Zealand Heading Dog is a more manageable choice.

Life Span

Among the most intelligent and agile of breeds, Border Collies play an integral role in pastoral scenes worldwide. Their agility and keenness to learn make them not just excellent herding dogs but also stars in canine sports.

Given proper care, Border Collies live fulfilling lives, spanning an average of 12 to 15 years. Factors influencing their lifespan include genetics, nutrition, environment, and routine health care. An active lifestyle, combined with mental stimulation, often contributes to their overall well-being, potentially prolonging their life.

Originally bred from the Border Collie stock, the New Zealand Heading Dog has been refined to meet the specific demands of New Zealand’s rugged landscape and the needs of sheep farmers in the region. Adapted to vast terrains, they display tremendous stamina and resilience. Though they share common ancestry with Border Collies, certain environmental factors and breeding practices have led to their slightly shorter average lifespan of 12 to 14 years.

Diet & Nutrition

The high intelligence and activity levels of Border Collies mean that their dietary needs are dynamic. A protein-rich diet helps sustain their energy levels. Animal-based proteins like chicken, beef, fish, and lamb are ideal. Fats, particularly omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, support cognitive functions and maintain their lush coat.

Complex carbohydrates provide them with sustained energy, but it’s crucial to monitor for grain allergies. Additionally, minerals like calcium and phosphorus are vital for bone health, especially in growing puppies and active adults.

Given the New Zealand Heading Dog’s rigorous work routine, their diet should be as robust as their stamina. A protein-rich diet, primarily lamb, beef, and chicken, aids in muscle repair and growth.

Their diet should also be supplemented with healthy fats for sustained energy and a shiny coat. They might also benefit from the inclusion of locally sourced foods, like venison. Like the Border Collie, it’s important to monitor for any signs of food allergies or intolerances.

Health Issues

Border Collies are generally healthy, but certain genetic conditions have been identified in the breed. Hip dysplasia, a malformation of the hip joint, can lead to arthritis in older dogs. Progressive retinal atrophy affects the eyes, causing gradual vision loss.

Collie eye anomaly, another inherited condition, can impact vision severely in some cases. To reduce the risk of these conditions, responsible breeding is essential. Moreover, potential owners should seek breeders who conduct regular health checks on their breeding dogs.

Although the New Zealand Heading Dog is a hardy breed, it’s not exempt from health concerns. Hip dysplasia is a noted concern, as it is in many medium to large breeds. Given their active nature, joint health becomes paramount. Eye conditions, possibly inherited from their Border Collie ancestors, can also be a concern.

It’s essential for breeders in New Zealand to have routine health screenings, especially when considering breeding pairs. This will ensure the longevity and robustness of the breed in the future.

Cost of getting a Border Collie versus New Zealand Heading Dog

When looking to add a four-legged member to your family, especially one from the herding group, two breeds that may come to mind are the Border Collie and the New Zealand Heading Dog. Both breeds are known for their agility, intelligence, and work ethic, making them excellent companions for active families or those involved in dog sports. However, the initial and long-term costs of owning these dogs can vary considerably.

    Initial Purchase Price
    Border Collies are a well-known breed, popular worldwide. As a result, the price of a Border Collie puppy can range from $600 to $2,500 depending on lineage, breeding practices, and whether they’re bred for work or show. New Zealand Heading Dogs, though popular in New Zealand, may be less commonly available elsewhere.

    Typically, they might be less expensive than Border Collies, averaging between $400 and $1,200. Prices, however, can vary based on location and the dog’s pedigree.

    Training Costs
    Both breeds are exceptionally energetic and thrive when they have a job to do. Training is essential to ensure they’re well-behaved and mentally stimulated. While basic training costs are similar for both, if you’re considering dog sports or herding activities, specialized training can be pricier for Border Collies due to their popularity in agility and herding trials.
    Generally, Border Collies and New Zealand Heading Dogs are hardy breeds. However, like all breeds, they’re prone to certain health issues. Border Collies might face conditions like hip dysplasia or Collie eye anomaly. Regular vet check-ups, vaccinations, and preventive measures will be necessary throughout their lives.

    New Zealand Heading Dogs are known to be generally healthy but can have issues related to working injuries if they are active in herding or farm tasks. It’s crucial to set aside a budget for unexpected health concerns and routine veterinary care for either breed.

    Maintenance and Care
    Both breeds require regular grooming, though Border Collies, with their thicker double coat, may necessitate more frequent grooming, especially during shedding seasons. This can translate to higher grooming expenses unless you opt to groom them yourself. Additionally, given their high energy levels, investing in toys, puzzles, and agility equipment might be something to consider for both, ensuring they remain mentally and physically stimulated.
    Long-term costs
    Dogs, irrespective of their breed, will incur costs over their lifetime. Food, treats, regular health check-ups, grooming, and unforeseen emergencies can add up. However, with breeds like Border Collies and New Zealand Heading Dogs that have high activity levels, one might also consider costs associated with training classes, dog sports, and potential herding activities.


The Border Collie, renowned for its intelligence, agility, and herding capabilities, typically gives birth to litters that contain anywhere from 4 to 8 puppies. However, this number can vary. Factors such as the health and age of the mother, the quality of prenatal care, and genetics can influence the size of the litter.

It’s not uncommon for some Border Collie litters to exceed this range, with some litters containing as many as 10 to 12 puppies, but this is less common. Regular veterinary care and proper nutrition during pregnancy can positively impact the number and health of the puppies.

The New Zealand Heading Dog, on the other hand, is a breed that originated from the Border Collie itself. Bred primarily for herding sheep in the challenging terrains of New Zealand, this breed possesses many of the same qualities as its ancestors. As for litter size, New Zealand Heading Dogs typically produce a litter of around 4 to 7 puppies.

As with the Border Collie, several factors can influence this number, including the mother’s health, age, and genetics. While they may have smaller average litters than the Border Collies, the same principles of health and well-being apply to ensure maximum puppy survival and vitality.

Breeders & Centers

When considering the acquisition of a new canine companion, particularly one as specialized and distinctive as the Border Collie or the New Zealand Heading Dog, the source of your future pet becomes crucial. Both these breeds are renowned for their intelligence, agility, and herding instincts. While these qualities make them ideal for certain tasks and environments, they also require particular attention to their breeding and upbringing.

Ethical Breeding Practices: Over the past few decades, the dog breeding industry has seen its fair share of controversies. From puppy mills to inhumane conditions, there are plenty of pitfalls potential dog owners need to be wary of.

By choosing reputable breeders or centers, one can ensure that the puppies are born in environments where their health, welfare, and happiness are paramount. Ethical breeders maintain high standards, prioritize the well-being of their dogs, and work diligently to eliminate hereditary diseases.

Breed-Specific Knowledge: Border Collies and New Zealand Heading Dogs are unique breeds with specific needs and characteristics. Knowledgeable breeders are well-versed in the histories, temperaments, and potential health concerns of these dogs.

They can provide invaluable insights about the breed’s quirks, needs, and best practices for training and care. This understanding ensures that puppies get the right start in life and new owners receive guidance tailored to their specific breed.

Training and Socialization: These breeds are known for their high energy and intelligence. In the wrong hands, this can lead to behavioral issues. Reputable centers and breeders start training and socialization early, setting the stage for well-adjusted adult dogs. Proper early interactions with various stimuli, environments, and people can make all the difference in molding a confident and well-behaved pet.

Long-term Support: Many established breeders and centers offer ongoing support to new dog owners. Whether it’s advice on diet, training, or health concerns, having a knowledgeable source to turn to is invaluable. Many breeders also encourage a community amongst those who have purchased their dogs, offering a network of support and shared experiences.

Promotion of Responsible Ownership: By choosing a reputable source, potential dog owners are not just ensuring the well-being of their future pets but are also promoting an industry standard. Every time one opts for an ethical breeder or center, it sends a message about the importance of responsible breeding and ownership.

Conclusion: Which Is Better, Border Collie or New Zealand Heading Dog?

Deciding between the Border Collie and the New Zealand Heading Dog depends on potential dog owners’ specific requirements and preferences. If you’re looking for a dog that’s versatile in herding and excels in agility, obedience, and various canine sports, the Border Collie is an ideal choice. It’s adaptable and has a broad range of skills, making it an outstanding companion beyond the pastures.

However, suppose your priority is a dedicated, intense, and resilient herding dog that’s specifically suited to the challenges of New Zealand’s vast and rugged landscapes. In that case, the New Zealand Heading Dog is unmatched.

Neither breed is inherently superior – their value lies in their distinct strengths and how they align with the owner’s needs and circumstances. Therefore, making an informed decision depends on understanding these nuances and assessing your own requirements.

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