Published here with the kind permission of Erika DuBois
Our first “collie” pup, the runt of her litter, came to us the summer of 1960. We had just moved onto what was then a typical Cape Breton farm: a herd of eight milk-cows, a team of horses (Brownie and Queenie); a flock of hens, some cats, and a hired man of about 60 years named Albert.
Over the next few years, without any formal training at all, Kippy became a fine worker, able to go get the milk cows on her own. She could follow hand signals as well. By the time she was three, she understood 13 words, more than my youngest child. Eventually she became a multi-mom, producer of many fine pups of her own, mostly good workers like herself.
Sadly, over the past 20 years, collies of Kippy’s ilk have all but disappeared from Inverness County, where at one time they guarded every doorstep.
As well as being herders, and guard-dogs, these “old” collies were tolerant of children and very clean in habit. Quite often there were smooth coated individuals in a litter, which are very elegant and for my taste quite hairy enough if they are to be lodged in the house. They came in all the colors and with the same white markings one associates with the modern collie. Fairly often you’d find a “smiler” among them, with a little way of tucking up the corners of his/her mouth when pleased by praise or petting. Older people coming to get a pup would often pry open the mouth, not to inspect the teeth as I imagined, but because it was thought that a dog with a black roof to its mouth would be a good cattle dog.
Not surprisingly, their heads, broad and with a definite step at the eyeline, were formed to hold brains. They showed none of the exaggerated narrowness and elongation of the modern show collie. The local strain kept its special qualities less by careful crossing than by ruthless culling. Training a dog was unheard of; farmers usually expected a dog to work on instinct alone. If he wouldn’t or couldn’t work of his own volition, he was replaced.
The following paragraph from The Farmer’s Dog by John Holmes describes this old type of dog in its homeland:
There are several other types of Collie quite distinct from the Border Collie. Most of these are native to Scotland and include the old-fashioned Scotch Collie from which the modern show Collie is descended. Now practically extinct, I have clear recollections of several of these dogs in my youth and believe that, in my early efforts to walk I was assisted by one. They were all easy-going level-headed dogs, useful but not flashy workers, and quite willing to lie about the place when there was nothing better to do.
Personally I think it is a great pity that this type has been practically exterminated by the increasing popularity of (the Border Collie). For all-round farm work they were often far more use than the classically bred dog.
Unfortunately, in Cape Breton, because pups usually changed hands for nothing, they were deemed worth nothing. When changing life-styles rendered herding dogs unnecessary and fashion decreed a Setter or Police dog, many people (confusing price with worth) were content to do away with the old dog. The result of such vanity has been genocidal for the Old Scotch Collie; in a few years it has become a rarity.
About five years ago I acquired an aged bitch, almost exactly like our first dog. I traced her ancestry back through her mother to a collie bitch, “Charlie-the-Wire’s dog,” and hence to a MacKinnon family at West Lake Ainslie. There the trail disappeared, but I feel sure, judging from her habits and appearance, the present Lassie is a descendent of our old Kippy.
I then began my search for a male of the old type, but I found them extremely rare. Of the three that I found, one was castrated, another was Lassie’s full brother, and the third, a fine golden-haired fellow from Antigonish, simply had no interest in girls.
Meanwhile I had found a very handsome smooth coated bitch from Englishtown on Cape Breton. She had been on the road for a time, and I was not really surprised to one day discover her under the shed with a biggish litter of pups. Their dad, I later learned, had been done away with because of his bad manners. So I continued to search and continued to be frustrated. A few months ago I did at last find a family of fine, old-type collies near Truro. It remains to be seen, however, if a breed can be revived from such a small base.
Is it too late to revive this grand old type? I would like to think it can be rescued, and will appreciate hearing from any one who owns or knows of one of these dogs.
Erika helped kick off the farm collie movement when she wrote this article in the 1980s. She kept the dream alive for a number of years but sadly she had to give up eventually as the lines she was looking for just could not be found. She is no longer actively involved in breeding and promoting farm collies.
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