Scotch Collie vs Rough Collie, What is the Difference?

scotch collie vs rough collie

I have owned Scotch Collies for over 12 years and I love my dogs, they are smart, obedient and human-oriented. But when I go places with them I always meet people who have no idea what a Scotch Collie is and how they differ from the more common Rough Collie. I do not have a lot of experience with Rough Collies myself so I had to dig in and do some research so I could explain to people the differences and the pros and cons of these breeds. Now, having done my homework I am sharing with the world here in this article the ultimate guide for Scotch Collie vs Rough Collie.

Breed Stats

Rough CollieScotch Collie
Height22 – 26 inches17 – 26 inches
Weight50 – 70 pounds35 – 70 pounds
Life span12 – 14 years12 – 15 years

Scotch Collies have more variability than Rough Collies because they are a landrace breed while Rough Collies are a purebred breed. Purebred means that the breed is bred to conform to a rather tight set of standards so all dogs in that breed will look fairly similar.

A landrace breed develops, not through selective breeding to a standard but through a long span of time over a large area as in this case the shepherds of Scotland selected only those dogs with the desired characteristics to breed. The landrace breed therefore has more genetic diversity and shows a wide range in looks and temperament.

A fine example of a Scotch Collie
A Scotch Collie with pronounced stop and large eyes.

Breed Origins (Who’s Your Daddy?)

If we could travel back over 200 years to the early nineteenth century in the Scottish Highlands we would find only one type of collie dog. A type the local Scots called Collie but that the English named “Scotch Collie”. They were a landrace breed, that is to say that there was a great deal of genetic diversity so that although one breed there was a range of types in looks and temperament.

In the mid 1800s the Scotch Collie began to come into fashion among the English upper classes. Collies began to appear in dog shows and to be bred with the intention of winning shows. The old landrace Scotch Collie began to change as they were bred to meet kennel club breed standards. Slowly they became more uniform, losing their status as a landrace breed. The Rough Collie was born out of these efforts as a purebred, standardized breed.

It will sooner or later have to be recognized that the show bench collie is absolutely distinct from his ancient prototype, and the formation of an old Scotch Collie Club will have to be seriously considered.

The Fanciers’ Journal, January 1892

However that is not the whole story of the collie. In some areas where working ability and intelligence were still more highly valued than pointed noses and heavy coats, the collie remained true to its original type. As the twentieth century wore on fewer and fewer refuges for the original “Scotch” type collie were left. Small family farms on both sides of the Atlantic, long a haven for the original type of collie, were no longer profitable and the Scotch Collie lost more ground to the more popular Rough Collie.

Rough Collies

The Scotch Collie somehow survived until the 1990s when some people began working to preserve and reestablish them. Today, thanks to the Old-Time Scotch Collie Association, the Scotch Collie is making a slow but steady return.

So you see the Rough Collie started as the same breed as the Scotch Collie, but over time changed into a new breed. Selective breeding has morphed the original Scotch Collie into something quite different. The Scotch Collie is the original collie of the Scottish Highlands, the progenitor of the Rough Collie as well as other collie breeds.

Temperament Differences

Comparing Scotch Collie vs Rough Collie temperaments you will find that they are very similar. The main characteristics that both breeds are known for are:

  • Sweet disposition
  • People oriented
  • Smart
  • Sensitive

The Scotch Collie is considered by many to have the edge mentally in situations that require thinking and problem solving. There are some amazing stories of the exploits of Scotch Collies illustrating their intelligence. Indeed in comparisons of temperament between the Rough Collie and the Scotch Collie, the Scotch just seems to have a bit more of those instincts that made them such popular dogs in the first place way back in the 1800s. These include working instincts like hunting and herding where the Scotch Collie appears to be far ahead of the Rough.

Winning honors and prizes with brainless idiots should be but a poor compensation for the loss of intelligence.

The Fanciers Journal, January 1892

This same sort of breeding decision, made generation after generation has led to a widening gulf between these two dog breeds. While the Scotch Collie stays more or less as they were, the Rough Collie drifts farther away with each successive generation.

Neither breed tends to be hyperactive like the Border Collie and some other breeds in the collie family. And they can be equally good dogs in the country or the city, although city dogs do need to make sure to get adequate exercise.

Because both breeds are very human oriented, they will do better the more time they can spend with their family. Leaving these dogs alone for long periods can cause stress and lead to behavioral problems.

Physical Differences

The Rough Collie and the Scotch Collie are similar but different in appearance. It is an amusing fact that breeders of registered Rough Collies often look down on Scotch Collie as inferior while Scotch Collie breeders sometimes see the Rough Collie as something of an abomination. The truth of course is that both breeds are beautiful in their own way, here is a breakdown of characteristics Scotch Collie vs Rough Collie.

Coat – Both breeds have ample coats and shed as lot. The Rough Collie’s coat is longer and heavier, meaning more hair to shed, more work to groom and more concern for the dog in hot weather.

Head – The Scotch Collie has a pronounced stop, that indentation where the muzzle meets the skull, while the Rough Collie has almost no stop at all.

Size – The average Rough Collie is larger and heavier than the average Scotch Collie. But being a landrace breed, some Scotch Collies are as big as a Rough while others are quite a bit smaller.

Eyes – The Rough Collie has been bred to have small almond shaped eyes while the Scotch Collie has large round eyes.

A Rough Collie

Potential Health Problems

Many generations of close breeding in the Rough Collie has unfortunately left a legacy of health problems in the breed. On the other hand the Scotch Collie has potential health problems like any breed but far fewer concerns.

MDR1 is a sensitivity to Ivermectin, a common anti-parasite medication.If this condition exists the administration of Ivemectin could make the dog very sick. MDR1 is a genetic disorder and can be tested for. It is fairly common in most collie breeds, Rouch Collies and Scotch Collies being no exception.

Collie eye anomaly can effect a dogs vision and can even lead to blindness. It is a genetic disorder that can be tested for. The genes that cause this disorder are carried by the majority of all Rough Collies. The genes are found among Scotch Collies too but are far less common there.

Hip Dysplasia is a deformation of there hip socket. It is found in both breeds but is not common in either. Hip Dysplasia can have a genetic cause or can be caused by an injury as a puppy. It can be tested for in adult dogs but the test is controversial as it can be hard on the dog.

Other disorders uncommonly found in either breed include degenerative myelopathy, epilepsy, retinal atrophy and canine cyclic neutropenia among others.

For doing genetic tests on collies we recommend Embark DNA testing, you can check out there prices on Amazon by following this link.

Open vs Closed Registries

The kennel clubs run what is called a “closed registry” with respects to Rough Collies, (the British, American and Canadian clubs all do). This means that no new blood ever enters the gene pool of their collies, it is completely closed off. Whatever dogs had been registered by 1900 or whenever they closed their registries represent the entirety of genetic material that the Rough Collie breed has to work with.

Over the years this kind of closed gene pool tends to become more and more restricted as the blood from certain successful show winners becomes more common while other less bred dogs do not make as big of a contribution to the breed or none at all. This result is that the Rough Collie breed becomes more and more inbred as time goes on and that leads to more health problems.

Meanwhile the Old-Time Scotch Collie Association maintains an “open registry”, meaning that new dogs can be added if they meet the breed standard. This keeps the Scotch Collie breed more genetically diverse and overall healthier than the Rough Collie breed.

A Scotch Collie
Scotch Collie

There have been many dogs added to the Old-Time Scotch Collie registry, some of the more interesting additions include;

  • A dog from the remote backwoods of British Columbia
  • A dog obtained from a market in Peru
  • The last litter of puppies from an old woman whose family had been breeding them for generations in Tennessee.
  • Two dogs imported from Brazil

Bringing in new dogs strengthens the Scotch Collie breed, making it more genetically diverse. There are more and more Scotch Collie breeders who are testing their dogs for genetic problems before breeding so the day may come when genetic disorders like Collie eye anomaly and MDR1 no longer exist in the Scotch Collie breed.

On the other hand, in the Rough Collie breed Collie eye anomaly is very prevalent, it is estimated that between 70 to 90% or Rough Collies in the United States and Great Britain are effected. So it may be unrealistic to expect that it could ever be removed from that population entirely.

Final Thought Scotch Collie vs Rough Collie

In looking at these two breeds side by side, it is really surprising how far selective breeding has taken the Rough Collie in the last 150 years. Still these two breeds have more in common than they have differences.

If you are interested in learning more about the events that created the differences between the Rough Collie and the Scotch Collie and the efforts that have been made to save the Scotch Collie from near extinction, check out the article Improved Off the Face of the Earth.

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  1. Thank you for this wonderful information!! After having Rough Follies for 50 years, I have just acquired a Scotch Collie and had not known of the breed previously, so it was just a joy to find your site!

  2. This was an excellent article. Thank you. Where would one go to to purchase a good Scotch collie?

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