THE SHEPHERD’S DOG – 1829

Excerpted from “Biographical Sketches and Authentic Anecdotes of Dogs” by Captain Thomas Brown – 1829

Note: This is the earliest detailed description of the Scotch Collie. Bewick described the collie’s behavior almost 40 years before this, but the only physical description Bewick gives other than his fine illustration relates to dewclaws.

This book is noteworthy for several reason;

  • Its accurate description of the collie’s looks, this adds considerably to the body of evidence that the pre-dog show, pre-Queeen Victoria Scotch Collie was very similar in appearance to the Victorian era collies.
  • The great illustration provided which corresponds nicely to Bewick’s and adds to the above argument.
  • The many anecdotes provided which establish the collie’s character and intelligence.

(Cants Domcsticus, Linnaeus.)

This dog is distinguished by his upright ears and sharp muzzle with a great villosity of the under part of the tail, as well as on the back of the forelegs. The body is rather long, covered with a thick woolly-like hair, and the legs are rather short. There is a singularity in the feet of the Shepherd’s Dog, all of them having one, and some of them two superfluous toes ; which appear destitute of muscles, and hang dangling at the hind part of the leg more like an unnatural excrescence than a necessary part of the animal. But, as ” Nature has made nothing in vain,” these must certainly be destined for some useful purpose with which we are not yet acquainted. These dew-claws are likewise sometimes found in the spaniel, pointer, and cur dog; in the two former they are generally cut off at an early stage, as they are an impediment in covers, and frequently get torn, thereby creating sores, and sometimes rendering the dog unfit for use.

This useful and intelligent animal is one of the most placid, obedient, serene, and grateful members of the canine race. He is ever alive to the slightest indication of his master’s wishes, prompt and gratified to execute them; and he seems to enjoy the greatest delight when employed in any kind of useful service. Formed by nature with an instinctive propensity to industry, he is never more pleased than in exerting his talents for the benefit of man, and in giving constant proofs of his inviolable attachment.

The native calmness, patience, and devoted faithfulness of the Shepherd’s Dog, render him insensible to all attractions beyond the arduous duties connected with the flock under his care. When once properly trained, he not only becomes perfectly acquainted with the extent of his beat, but also with every individual in the flock; he will most correctly select his own, and drive off such as encroach on his limits. This appears the more extraordinary, when we consider the vast extent of mountain country and the numerous flocks committed to the charge of a single shepherd, a duty which he could not possibly perform but for the invaluable services of this sagacious animal. A word or signal from him will direct the dog so as to conduct the flock to any point required, and that signal he will obey with energy and unerring certainty.

The labour of a shepherd, with the assistance of a dog, is comparatively an easy task; but without one we can hardly suppose an occupation more arduous. Indeed, without the aid of this animal, it would be next to impossible to collect flocks in those extensive and precipitous tracts of mountain-land where the sheep delight to graze, and which in many places are quite inaccessible to man.

Many have supposed that this dog is naturally sleepy and indolent, as, when unemployed in the way which he seems conscious he was formed for, he is generally seen reposing by the side of his master. He is seldom observed running about in an active and sportive manner like other dogs, and, unlike most others of his species, too, he seldom receives the caresses of strangers, but generally regards them with a suspicious eye, or, with an appearance of timidity, endeavours to shun them altogether. Nor is he by any means that indolent and sullen animal which he appears to be. On the contrary, he is perhaps, of all other dogs, the most sagacious, affectionate, faithful, and active, possessing the greatest share of comprehension, penetration, and even courage. All those impressions so unfavourable to the general character of this dog originate in mistake, inasmuch as he seems to consider the tending of the flock the business of his life; and the frequent excursions he necessarily makes during the day afford him sufficient exercise. Accustomed to see none but his master in those dreary and generally unfrequented wilds, he naturally acquires a thoughtful and expressive gravity; and; like man himself, when unaccustomed to society, he becomes habitually taciturn and shy. We are here speaking of him in situations remotely situated; for where he is accustomed to see strangers, he shows all the amiable qualities of other dogs.

We shall adduce sufficient anecdotes of the Sheep Dog to prove his moral nature, and the sagacity, gratitude, and self-denial of this truly faithful creature.

The Shepherd’s Dog, from being inured to all weathers, is naturally hardy; and, accustomed to fatigue and hunger, he is the least voracious of the species, and can subsist upon a scanty allowance.

If a shepherd is travelling with his flock to a distance, his dog will only repose close to his feet; and should he wish to leave them for the purpose of taking refreshment, he has only to intimate his intention to his dog, and, in his absence, he will guard the sheep with as much care, and keep them within due bounds, as well as he himself could have done. Although left alone for hours, a well-trained dog always keeps the flock within the limits of a made road, even although there are no fences; he watches every avenue and cross-path that leads from it, where he posts himself until they are all past, threatening every one who attempts to move that way; and should any of them escape, he pursues them, and will force them back to their companions without injuring them.

The breed of this dog is preserved with the greatest attention to purity in the north of England, and in the Highlands of Scotland, where his services are invaluable. The Shepherd’s Dog of this country, with all his good qualities, is still greatly inferior in point of size and strength to those of the Alps, and of that extensive range of mountains which divide France from Spain, as well as to the variety which is found in the neighbourhood of Caucasus.

In this country there are two kinds of this dog,— that used by shepherds, which is of a small size, and the breed used by drovers and butchers.

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