Border Collies Love Busywork

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

After discussing the poor design of Giant Pandas, it’s time to examine another cute black and white animal – the border collie.

Border collies are very smart, one of the smartest breeds of dog in the world. “Betsy”, a dog so smart she actually needs a pseudonym, knows over 340 different words. She was featured in a fascinating National Geographic article back in 2008:

Each image depicted a dog’s toy against a white background—toys Betsy had never seen before. They weren’t actual toys; they were only images of toys. Could Betsy connect a two-dimensional picture to a three-dimensional object?

Schaefer held up a picture of a fuzzy, rainbow-colored Frisbee and urged Betsy to find it. Betsy studied the photograph and Schaefer’s face, then ran into the kitchen, where the Frisbee was placed among three other toys and photographs of each toy. Betsy brought either the Frisbee or the photograph of the Frisbee to Schaefer every time.

If you think that’s impressive, you’ll be amazed by video of the experiment, which reveals that Betsy actually knows German! Most people don’t even know German. Do you know German? I don’t know German!

Border collies have been used on farms for over 100 years to assist in herding livestock. More recently, they’ve also worked as search and rescue dogs. However, when kept simply as pets, the collies’ intelligence often causes them to become bored and destructive.

According to this Wall Street Journal article, more than a few people are now paying to give their border collies work to do, by renting sheep. For $15 per dog at Fido’s Farm, owners can set their dogs free to practice on a flock of 200 sheep. Of course, these sheep don’t actually need to be herded. Despite their obvious intelligence, the dogs aren’t quite smart enough to understand just how pointless their work actually is.

The best item from the Journal’s article isn’t actually the fact that people are renting sheep. Nor is it the fact that some folks have even gone so far as to purchase their own sheep, just to amuse their dogs. It’s not even the fact that if the dogs get bored with the rented sheep on Fido’s Farm, they can herd ducks for an extra fee. No, the best thing has to be this stipple portrait of a border collie:

Border Collie stipple portrait
It’s labeled simply “Border Collie”


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