Written by Doris Donnerman (last updated April 6, 2009)
A working breed for centuries, it is probable that few Collies boasted written records of their lineage prior to about 1860. This does not, however, mean that the Collie was unknown until this time. His origin has been for years the subject of much discussion and speculation. There are those who suggested that his ancestry goes back to Biblical times of about the fifth century B.C. There is evidence that in the Roman civilization one of the three recognized classifications of dogs was the sheepdog. From the earliest days when man, became an agronomist, growing his crops, tending herds, and otherwise being civilized, man has had sheep and cattle. Wherever man has tended sheep and cattle he has had the companionship of the Collie, or one of his immediate ancestors to make his task a little easier, his daily work a little more sure and efficient.
It is believed that when the Romans invaded England their sheepdogs came with them and were interbred with the dogs that were at that time native in that area. During the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the raising of sheep became increasingly important in Northern Scotland. The raising of Cattle flourished in the County of Northumberland in England. Following the same system of selection and breeding that today produces our show ring champions, these early users of working dogs slowly developed dogs that had special adaptability for their particular work. The Smooth-coated Collie gradually became identified as the cattle-driving dog of Northumberland County and the Rough-coated Collie was evolved for the rigors of the climate and the topography of northern Scotland. There is little doubt that both varieties came from a common ancestor. As early as any breeding records were kept, Collies of both varieties appeared in a single litter. By selective breeding for coat the two distinct varieties were established. But even today Smooth Collies are obtained by breeding a Rough to a Smooth.
By about 1800 the breed had obtained some prominence and there is little question that the Collie, even then, was being held pure in strain, although it is probable that no breeding records were kept. In early Colonial days the settlers brought Collies to America and it is probable that the ordinary "farm Collie" that the general public today calls "the short-nosed kind of Collie" owes his origin to these early American importations from Scotland.
There is speculation about the source of the name of the Collie. In the Scottish Highlands there were sheep that had black legs known as the "Colley" sheep ("Colley" being the Anglo-Saxon term for black). Others hold that these sheep had black faces. The dogs had been trained, selected, and bred for their agility and ingenuity in negotiating the narrow sheep paths of northern Scotland. They had been developed by the necessity of their owners to have the native wisdom of the mind of the shepherd, the consideration that is necessary to the leading of other animals to the following of their will. They had the force and drive that were needed in the rough country they had to traverse. The Collie provided the invaluable companionship for the lonely shepherd on his hillside, took on the name of the sheep they tended and became known as the "Scot's Colley dog." Often this name was changed to the "Scotch sheepdog" and later it became universally recognized as "the Collie." It is not uncommon today to hear the Collie referred to as the "Scotch" Collie.
With all this to support the origin of the Collie there is little except the fact that the original Collies were black in color to give credence to the theory that the Collies originated in Wales and were called the "Coallies." It seems much more reasonable to accept the version previously mentioned.
Bearing in mind the work for which the breed was developed we see how wisely man, in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, aided nature in the production of an ideal sheepdog. Essentially the Collie of today is the Collie of the early 1800's except for refinements that have added tremendously to the majesty of his appearance. Then, as now, the Collie had a harsh, straight outer coat and a dense under coat, offering insulation alike to the blazing rays of the summer sun and the driving rains and snows of the winter. Although size has undoubtedly increased, the Collie remains a dog of essentially the same proportions.
The Collie is never a dog to go out of his way to seek trouble, yet he will meet trouble when and as it comes in a most capable manner. Up to a certain point he seems actually to ignore trouble, to hold himself above such things. When the end point of a Collie's tolerance is reached, however, he employs all of his age-old sagacity in disposing of his annoyance with the least possible delay. His nature is affectionate, making him an excellent dog for children, and with all of his size, he displays grace and consideration, comporting himself in the presence of children with the same care that is sometimes associated with walking on eggs.
Few dogs can be trained as easily as the Collie, provided the trainer displays an average understanding of dogs generally. Although the Collie will give of himself lavishly in doing his master's bidding, it is not usually easy to get him to repeat what he has already done and done well. Collies have been known to go through a handsome repertoire of tricks, one after the other, and to stare unbelievingly at the person who asks them to do again that which they have just accomplished so well. By some this characteristic is mistaken for an evidence of lack of brains, but probably those who believe this have not analyzed the situation to a sufficient degree. The Collie that is asked to repeat, time after time, something that has already been accomplished with dexterity is undoubtedly amazed, and no doubt his canine reasoning ability is much disturbed by what he seems to recognize as a flaw in his master's brain rather than a discrepancy in his own!
The Collie male dog stands at twenty-two to twenty-four inches and weighs about sixty pounds. The female stands at twenty to twenty-two inches and weighs about fifty pounds.
Additional information on the Collie can be found at the website for the American Kennel Club.
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