Farm Collie Definition
Defining the dog
Wikipedia defines a farm collie as “a rare collection of the remnants of the original Collie dog type.”
Many today refer to the definition for the Scotch Collie given in The Farmer’s Dog by John Holmes
“There are several other types of Collie quite distinct from the Border Collie in that they are ‘loose-eyed’ workers. 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 ‘strong-eyed’ dogs. For all-round farm work they were often far more use…”
The above definition is an excellent one, I would like to draw attention to one aspect of this quote that is often ignored, “Most of these are native to Scotland and include the old-fashioned Scotch Collie”, the predominate dog of this type in days past was of Scottish ancestry, yet most dogs referred to as farm collies in America today are of English ancestry , many with little or no Scotch lineage. The distinction between English and Scotch Shepherds is often downplayed, but reading historic articles, one gets a sense of the difference between these two closely related breeds. It is worth noting that although many members of the farm collie movement have built their expectations of what a farm collie ought to be around Holmes’s definition of the Scotch Collie, they have built their breed around English dogs. [READ MORE ABOUT ENGLISH VS. SCOTS DOGS]
On this website we use the term “farm collie” to mean the old fashioned type of scotch collie as it existed before show breeders changed its form, a type of dog that was highly intelligent and biddable, a versatile dog that was at home in the city as a loyal pet or on the farm where it worked stock in a loose eyed style.
Defining the term
Before the farm collie movement of the 1990s the term “farm collie” was seldom used, in the 1940s and 1950s “farm collie” just referred to the collie dogs that were then commonly found on family farms. In that older definition it could mean any kind of collie covering the entire range from Border Collies to Lassie and everything in between, and although some in more recent times have tried to use the term farm collie to describe a more narrow type, the definition of “farm collie” today can differ widely depending on who you are talking to.
Google News archive provides a nice timeline for a search term that can help visualize a term’s usage in print over the past century. Here is the timeline for “farm collie”
By looking at a few of the articles from the 40s and 50s you will see that this was a generic term in those days for any collie living on a farm, while the usage we see in the past ten years is often related to a particular type of dog.
The other term frequently heard today to describe these dogs is “farm shepherd”, this term has an even more questionable past, here is the timeline for “farm shepherd” in print.
So if the usage of “farm collie” only started in the 1930s, and these dogs were very popular from much before that, what name did they call them before that? “Scotch Collie” was the most used name for these dogs from the mid 1800s until the mid 1900s, here is the timeline for that term.
You can see here that the term “scotch collie” has much more history of usage than “farm collie”, it’s the term John Holmes used in his oft-quoted book. Some have avoided the term “scotch collie” because of it’s association with show collie types, however the show collie people have moved on and abandoned the term, AKC collies are called “Rough Collies” while UKC dogs are called just plain “Collie”. It is probably time to begin taking it back, especially since the term is so seldom used nowadays.
To sum up, in America today a farm collie can mean many things depending on who you are speaking to, the Collies Back to the Future website lists seven different definitions for “farm collie”. If you choose to use the term “farm collie”, realize that it is ambiguous, I use it here in the Farm Collie Primer because of its familiarity with many people, but throughout this website we use terms that are more specific to the type of dog being referred to, like Old-Time Scotch Collie. [READ MORE ABOUT NAMES]