Border Collie Collapse Syndrome

Susan Bulanda

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This article is based on my personal experience, opinion, and research.

A new syndrome has affected several breeds of dogs, and it is still being researched. It is most likely genetically based as are many other health issues. All dogs are susceptible to genetically based health issues because all dog breeds have a limited gene pool. That is what makes a Golden Retriever a Golden Retriever. A limited gene pool concentrates the inherited qualities of the breed. When breeders create a line of dogs, it further limits the gene pool by concentrating the genetic quality of the line. In certain breeds when breeders continue to breed dogs with a health issue, the problem can spread throughout the breed. Examples of this is deafness which is common in some breeds. It has been scientifically shown that the merle, harlequin, and piebald-colored dogs carry the gene for deafness. For example, about 30% of all Dalmatians are deaf.

Over the years because of breeding practices, many dog breeds have changed. This makes it difficult for SAR dog handlers to replace a dog when their older SAR dog retires. For example, I had the honor of owning and training the first Border Collie, Ness, to do SAR work in the United States. He was the grandson of a very famous international herding dog champion named Spot. Because so many Border Collies had the same name, the breeder’s name proceeded the name of the dog on registration papers, thus my dog’s grandfather’s name was Gilchrist’s Spot.

At the time few people heard of or even saw a Border Collie and all Border Collies were working dogs. Fast forward to today. Many people own Border Collies and they are a familiar breed in SAR, as well as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and several other breeds. This is quite different from years ago when most SAR dogs were German Shepherds or Bloodhounds. Even these breeds have changed. The Bloodhounds used in WWI were quite different than the ones used today. 

As breeds became popular, many breeders were not educated or cared about genetics and how they relate to producing a good working line of dogs. In the case of the Border Collie, there was a split in the breed. The true working dogs were not generally registered with the American Kennel Club but rather with Border Collie registries such as the North American Sheepdog Society who focus only on working dogs. When the AKC closed their registry to non-AKC Border Collies, the gene pool became limited. Thus, the non-AKC Border Collies remained working dogs and many of the AKC Border Collies became show dogs. There is a huge difference in the ethics and goals of the breeders in each registry. Other breeds have experienced a drastic change in their working ability as well, such as the American Cocker Spaniel and the Irish Setter. 

In terms of genetics, it only takes three generations to alter the quality of a breed of dog. This is because the breed instincts, such as a Pointers style of pointing, is not a single gene, but a collection of genes that must be present for the dog to have its style of pointing. What this means to the SAR dog handler is if they return to the breeder of their retired SAR dog, there have been more than three generations since their dog was bred. Due to changes in the line of dogs, it is important to carefully evaluate the line to see what has happened over the years. Some breeders try to keep their lines strictly working lines, others are interested in conformation or looks. 

As breeds become popular, a greater number of people get involved in breeding the popular breeds, often with less concern for health and genetic issues and more concern about making money. As a result, new health issues have developed in some breeds. One health issue that is important for SAR dog handlers to be aware of is the Border Collie Collapse Syndrome, (BCC). Although it first appeared in Border Collies, they are not the only breed that suffers from this problem. So far, the Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Kelpie, Australian Shepherd, the Bearded Collie, Collie, Shetland Sheepdog, and the Whippet have also shown this syndrome. Except for the Whippet, all these breeds are distantly related. 

Unlike heat stroke, dogs that collapse from BCC have no laboratory abnormalities and recover quickly. They can collapse in all types of weather which means that it is not a heat related problem. They usually recover from 5 to 30 minutes. Excitement, intensity of exercise as well as heat can trigger an episode. Sometimes a dog can collapse five minutes afterexercising. 

Border Collies and some of the related breeds are popular for SAR use which means they experience high excitement and intense activity This makes it important to be aware of this syndrome. Who knows what other breeds may develop BCC as breeding practices and the gene pool changes.  

SAR dog handlers who use these breeds must be careful since a dog can collapse in an environment that could be dangerous or even lethal. It is also important to know about BCC so that the handler does not panic if it happens. If you are not sure if your dog collapsed due to BCC a quick trip to a veterinarian clinic would be wise. 

It is important to also realize that Labrador Retrievers also suffer from a syndrome called Exercise Induced Collapse. It is a bit different from BCC but similar in that a Lab is usually diagnosed before two years of age and can tolerate low to moderately strenuous activity. The symptoms seem to affect the hind legs making the dog walk with a wobble and uncoordinated gait. This can happen after five to twenty minutes of strenuous activity. 

Please Note: I often hear from my clients, “but my dog has papers,” or “he is not from a breeder.” For clarity’s sake, the term breeder applies to anyone who produces a litter of dogs, no matter if they are an ethical or a puppy mill breeder. As for papers, every registry can only keep a record of the breeding and ancestry of a dog as reported to them. No registry can guarantee the quality of the dog or even if the papers issued with the dog belong to that dog. I had a client who called me and told me that they had a Rottweiler. When the breeder found out that the client was going to come to me for training, he confessed that the puppy was half Rottweiler and half German Shepherd. Yet this dog had AKC registration papers that claimed it was a Rottweiler. Some independent registries such as the Jack Russell Terrier Club require a photograph of all sides of a dog, witnessed and signed by a veterinarian to be submitted with a request to register a dog (at least one year of age) before they will issue registration papers. 

See the following:

https://www.lsu.edu/deafness/genetics.htm#:~:text=As%20stated%20above%2C%20deafness%20can,is%20desirable%20in%20many%20breeds.

https://vmc.usask.ca/services/medicine-bcc.php#top

Susan Taylor, Cindy Shmon, Lillian Su, Tasha Epp, Katie Minor, James Mickelson, Edward Patterson, and G. Diane Shelton (2016) Evaluation of Dogs with Border Collie Collapse, Including Response to Two Standardized Strenuous Exercise Protocols. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association In-Press.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5326/JAAHA-MS-6361

 Susan Taylor, Katie Minor, Cindy L. Shmon, G. Diane Shelton, Edward E. Patterson, and James R. Mickelson (2016) Border Collie Collapse: Owner Survey Results and Veterinary Description of Videotaped Episodes. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association In-Press.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5326/JAAHA-MS-6436

EIC — https://vgl.ucdavis.edu/research/vgl-researchers

Recognized as a dog trainer since 1963, Susan Bulanda has worked with dogs in a variety of fields. She is recognized worldwide as an expert in Canine Search & Rescue (SAR) and as a canine and feline behavior consultant. Certified with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, she served both as its Vice President and Dog Chairperson. As an Adjunct Professor at Kutztown University and then at Carroll Community College, Susan developed two programs: “Canine Training and Management Program -- Level I & II” -- for students who want to become dog trainers and canine behavior consultants. In the corporate world, she was a Systems Analyst specializing in critical methodologies. Her books have won numerous national awards; she has lectured worldwide, and written hundreds of articles. Her books include: K9 Obedience Training: Teaching Pet and Working Dogs to be Reliable and Free-Thinking READY! Training the Search and Rescue Dog Ready to Serve, Ready to Save: Strategies of Real-Life Search and Rescue Missions Scenting on the Wind: Scent work for Hunting Dogs Boston Terriers Faithful Friends: Holocaust Survivors Stories of the Pets Who Gave Them Comfort, Suffered Alongside Them and Waited for Their Return God’s Creatures: A Biblical View of Animals Real Estate Today Seller Beware Save Yourself Thousands of Dollars Soldiers in Fur and Feathers: Animals that Served in WWI Allied Forces K9 Search and Rescue Troubleshooting: Practical Solutions to Common SAR Dog Training Problems War Dogs of World War II
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