Name That Breed – A Collie By Any Other Name…

An etymological dictionary of the Scottish language, 1818

An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, 1818

In the early 1800s the name “collie” or “colley” as it was often spelled in those days, was not widely known or used outside of Scotland. People who wrote about these dogs, most of whom were English, used the term “Scotch Shepherd”, “Scotch Shepherd’s Dog”, “Scotch Sheep Dog” or “Highland Sheep Dog” this to differentiate them from the then common English Sheep Dog (not the Old English Sheepdog, but the forerunners of the English Shepherd, a close relative to the Scotch Collie). As time passed and people became more familiar with the Scottish dog, the term “collie” became more and more common until by 1860 the terms “Scotch Collie”, “Highland Collie” or just plain “Collie” had become commonplace. I say this to point out that the familiar term “Scotch Collie” was really only in common use from about 1860 to 1930, before that it was different things and of course the Scottish themselves never called it a Scotch Collie, to them it was just a collie.

This comes up because today there is a confusing jumble of names related to this breed, allow me to attempt to untangle this mess.

“Scotch Collie”: The old fashioned name for the original collie dog, it went out of vogue about 70 years ago, largely replaced by the term “Rough Collie”. It is sometimes considered offensive as this form has fallen out of favor in Scotland in favor of Scots or Scottish. J. Richard McDuffie avoided this term for his dogs which were quite clearly of Scotch Collie ancestry because of its association with the long nosed show type dogs.

Dictionary of the Scottish Language, 1808

Dictionary of the Scottish Language, 1808

“Farm Shepherd”: The term used by Mr. McDuffie (see Scotch Collie above) to describe his dogs to avoid using the term “Scotch Collie”. Unfortunately this term has its own issues, for one it is needlessly ambiguous, as any dog that cares for sheep can be termed a “shepherd” and most Americans think German when they hear “shepherd”. Dusty Copeland, a breeder in California calls her dogs “Farm Shepherds” and they have no collie blood in them at all.

“Farm Collie”: Often characterized as the “old type of collie”, however printed references to this term being commonly used before the farm collie movement began in the 1990s are scarce. This term has come to mean whatever the speaker wants it to mean and is applied to everything from English Shepherds to Border Collies to old fashioned looking Rough Collies.

“Scotch Shepherd”: A common term for the collie that predates the term Scotch Collie. I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago encouraging the use of this term since it avoids the ambiguity of “farm collie” and “farm shepherd” while differentiating dogs of Scottish ancestry from those of English. Since then a friend of mine has pointed out that the term “shepherd” is undesirable since it does not clearly say “collie” to people and instead often conjures up images of German Shepherds.

Why, you may ask, does any of this matter? Because we need a unified message to help promote this breed and the term “farm collie” is too vague and does not distinguish between English and Scottish dogs. As a group we should agree first on a name, once that is done breed organizations, registries and other infrastructure important to preserving this breed may follow.

So what should the old fashioned Scotch Collie be called? I like Scotch Shepherd because it is historical and because shepherd indicates it’s working ability, but agree with the point above that it can also be unclear. I also like Scotch Collie but would like to make a differentiation from the non-working show dogs, maybe by adding “old” or “working” to the title as in “Old Scotch Collie” or “Working Scotch Collie”. What about the idea of using the old fashioned spelling “colley” to set them apart?

Please make your opinion known by posting below.

Note: In the 6 months since this article was written I have, with the input of friends, decided on using the term “Old-Time Scotch Collie” to refer to these dogs because it has historical precedence, clearly says what it is to most people and avoids the over ambiguous “farm collie”, “old-time” is shorter than “old-fashioned” and saves a syllable while paying homage to “Old-Time Farm Shepherd”.

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6 Responses to Name That Breed – A Collie By Any Other Name…

  1. Pingback: Where is the Old English Sheepdog? | Old Time Farm Shepherd, Celebrating Farm Collies Past & Present

  2. Pingback: What is an Old Time Farm Shepherd? How do they differ from an English Shepherd? | Old Time Farm Shepherd, Celebrating Farm Collies Past & Present

  3. Arlene says:

    I grew up with these Collies, worked by a second generation dairy farmer – my mom, whose dogs descended from her father’s bitch, brought to Canada in the early 1900s. She called our dogs Scotch Collies, and that was because they were soft enough to work the milking cows without causing unwanted tension. They were incredible family dogs and I have since not met a purebred specimen of any breed to match. If I had a vote it would be “Working Scotch Colley”.

  4. Shep says:


    Thanks for adding your personal story and for the comment.

  5. Paul says:

    Thanks for your thorough research. We adopted an ES from the pound. He was labeled as an Australian Shepherd, but clearly was not. Your work has helped us understand our dog a lot better.

    I like Scotch Collie or Working Scotch Collie. I believe that the folks of Scotland might like Scots Collie.

  6. Shep says:


    Thanks for your comment. I would love to see pictures of your dog.


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