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11 Bright Facts About Border Collies

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Border collies are fun, energetic dogs that love problem-solving almost as much as they love people. Learn more about this classic working dog. 

1. Modern border collies can trace their lineage back to one dog. 

Old Hemp (born in 1893) is widely considered to be the progenitor of the border collie. Unlike other dogs of his kind, his herding method was quieter and less aggressive. Despite having a softer technique, his method got results and impressed breeders. Old Hemp became a stud dog and fathered over 200 pups

2. Romans brought sheepdogs to Great Britain.

The Roman Empire was the first civilization to master the art of raising and herding sheep. They brought sheep and shepherds over to the British Isles, where they established a wool industry. Many of the sheepdogs the Romans brought to Britain couldn’t hack it in the cold weather, so the Celtics began breeding their own. These new dogs were smaller and more agile than their predecessors; they were called collies after the ancient Celtic word colley, meaning useful or faithful. 

3. Their name comes from the region in which they flourished. 

Border collies get their name because they were initially bred on the border of Scotland and England. It is believed that James Reid, the secretary of the International Sheepdog Society, coined the name while describing the dogs in letters to colleagues. 

4. They’re furry geniuses. 

Dogs are pretty smart as a species in general, but no breed can beat the border collie in intelligence. The bright pooches were bred to be independent problem solvers capable of solving complex tasks. 

5. But that doesn’t mean training them is easy. 

Because these dogs are so smart, it means they pick up on everything and learn very quickly. This means you need to train them right away before they develop any bad habits, such as barking, nipping, or whining—behaviors many border collies default to when they're bored. Train them young and make sure they're focused on the task at hand, as their attention tends to wander.

6. Collies are the ultimate herding dogs.

Herding dogs like border collies have been specially bred to chase and organize animals. This modified predatory behavior incorporates the beginning of the hunt (stalking, crouching, nipping), but without the killing. Border collies make particularly good herders thanks to their independence and intelligence. The need to herd is so deeply ingrained in these dogs, that some modern owners actually rent sheep for their pets to corral. 

7. Crouching is a technique. 

Border collies can move swiftly in a catlike, crouched position, thanks to a space between the tops of the shoulder blades, which lets the dogs slither by while staying low to the ground. This technique lets them herd animals with extreme precision. 

8. Watch out for "the eye." 

Another trick up the border collie sleeve is the “the eye.” This intense stare intimidates the livestock and helps the dogs herd and control the animals. You may catch your dog giving you this look when you have something delicious in your hand. 

9. One has a big vocabulary.

Chaser the border collie is often called the smartest dog in the world. She has been working with John Pilley, a professor of psychology, to learn an impressive number of English words since she was two months old. Chaser first learned that specific toys had different names when she was just five months. Since then, Chaser has slowly amassed an arsenal of words, and has the cognition and development of a toddler. 

The clever pooch shows off her smarts by bringing specific items when asked. Even more impressive, she understands that items have a unique proper name (like Franklin), and then a more general common noun name (like toy). She knows the proper noun names of her 1000 unique toys. 

10. Another holds a more unusual world record 

A talented border collie named Striker holds the record for Fastest Car Window Opened by a Dog. The canine rolled down the non-electric car window in 11.34 seconds.

11. Staying active is a must. 

Don’t expect to lay around the house with this dog. The smarter the breed, the easier it is for it to get bored when left with no stimulation. Border collies are working dogs and enjoy having tasks to keep them busy throughout the day; the high-energy dog needs to redirect its spunk or else it will misbehave.

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Big Questions
Why Can't Dogs Eat Chocolate?
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Even if you don’t have a dog, you probably know that they can’t eat chocolate; it’s one of the most well-known toxic substances for canines (and felines, for that matter). But just what is it about chocolate that is so toxic to dogs? Why can't dogs eat chocolate when we eat it all the time without incident?

It comes down to theobromine, a chemical in chocolate that humans can metabolize easily, but dogs cannot. “They just can’t break it down as fast as humans and so therefore, when they consume it, it can cause illness,” Mike Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss.

The toxic effects of this slow metabolization can range from a mild upset stomach to seizures, heart failure, and even death. If your dog does eat chocolate, they may get thirsty, have diarrhea, and become hyperactive and shaky. If things get really bad, that hyperactivity could turn into seizures, and they could develop an arrhythmia and have a heart attack.

While cats are even more sensitive to theobromine, they’re less likely to eat chocolate in the first place. They’re much more picky eaters, and some research has found that they can’t taste sweetness. Dogs, on the other hand, are much more likely to sit at your feet with those big, mournful eyes begging for a taste of whatever you're eating, including chocolate. (They've also been known to just swipe it off the counter when you’re not looking.)

If your dog gets a hold of your favorite candy bar, it’s best to get them to the vet within two hours. The theobromine is metabolized slowly, “therefore, if we can get it out of the stomach there will be less there to metabolize,” Topper says. Your vet might be able to induce vomiting and give your dog activated charcoal to block the absorption of the theobromine. Intravenous fluids can also help flush it out of your dog’s system before it becomes lethal.

The toxicity varies based on what kind of chocolate it is (milk chocolate has a lower dose of theobromine than dark chocolate, and baking chocolate has an especially concentrated dose), the size of your dog, and whether or not the dog has preexisting health problems, like kidney or heart issues. While any dog is going to get sick, a small, old, or unhealthy dog won't be able to handle the toxic effects as well as a large, young, healthy dog could. “A Great Dane who eats two Hershey’s kisses may not have the same [reaction] that a miniature Chihuahua that eats four Hershey’s kisses has,” Topper explains. The former might only get diarrhea, while the latter probably needs veterinary attention.

Even if you have a big dog, you shouldn’t just play it by ear, though. PetMD has a handy calculator to see just what risk levels your dog faces if he or she eats chocolate, based on the dog’s size and the amount eaten. But if your dog has already ingested chocolate, petMD shouldn’t be your go-to source. Call your vet's office, where they are already familiar with your dog’s size, age, and condition. They can give you the best advice on how toxic the dose might be and how urgent the situation is.

So if your dog eats chocolate, you’re better off paying a few hundred dollars at the vet to make your dog puke than waiting until it’s too late.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Elusive Butterfly Sighted in Scotland for the First Time in 133 Years

Conditions weren’t looking too promising for the white-letter hairstreak, an elusive butterfly that’s native to the UK. Threatened by habitat loss, the butterfly's numbers have dwindled by 96 percent since the 1970s, and the insect hasn’t even been spotted in Scotland since 1884. So you can imagine the surprise lepidopterists felt when a white-letter hairstreak was seen feeding in a field in Berwickshire, Scotland earlier in August, according to The Guardian.

A man named Iain Cowe noticed the butterfly and managed to capture it on camera. “It is not every day that something as special as this is found when out and about on a regular butterfly foray,” Cowe said in a statement provided by the UK's Butterfly Conservation. “It was a very ragged and worn individual found feeding on ragwort in the grassy edge of an arable field.”

The white-letter hairstreak is a small brown butterfly with a white “W”-shaped streak on the underside of its wings and a small orange spot on its hindwings. It’s not easily sighted, as it tends to spend most of its life feeding and breeding in treetops.

The butterfly’s preferred habitat is the elm tree, but an outbreak of Dutch elm disease—first noted the 1970s—forced the white-letter hairstreak to find new homes and food sources as millions of Britain's elm trees died. The threatened species has slowly spread north, and experts are now hopeful that Scotland could be a good home for the insect. (Dutch elm disease does exist in Scotland, but the nation also has a good amount of disease-resistant Wych elms.)

If a breeding colony is confirmed, the white-letter hairstreak will bump Scotland’s number of butterfly species that live and breed in the country up to 34. “We don’t have many butterfly species in Scotland so one more is very nice to have,” Paul Kirkland, director of Butterfly Conservation Scotland, said in a statement.

Prior to 1884, the only confirmed sighting of a white-letter hairstreak in Scotland was in 1859. However, the insect’s newfound presence in Scotland comes at a cost: The UK’s butterflies are moving north due to climate change, and the white-letter hairstreak’s arrival is “almost certainly due to the warming climate,” Kirkland said.

[h/t The Guardian]

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