Defining a Breed: An Apologia of the OTFS

Back in October 2009, in the wake of events that transpired on the Farmcollie list concerning the rescuing of Scout and Bonnie from an animal shelter in Klamath Falls, Oregon and the subsequent castration of Scout I felt impelled to defend a breed of dogs and to work towards a definition of that breed, the result was this article and eventually the Old-Time Scotch Collie Association was formed as a result. (View the Farmcollie Archives in question, you may have to login first)

In the midst of the discussion on the list, Scout, a beautiful dog inbred on Sojourner’s Jacob, a dog who is mostly McDuffie’s Old-Time Farm Shepherd (OTFS) with some Rough Collie, was referred to as a “farm collie”, this was mostly because there was no good name for what he was other than OTFS and that name sometimes ruffles the feathers of the English Shepherd crowd. These same, (the English Shepherd fanciers), proceeded to call him a “mixed breed dog” and a “crossbred dog”, which is a nice way of saying mutt, it seemed to me that these people could use a brief lesson in the history of the old fashioned collie.

adIn the farm collie world today the waters are pretty muddy, there are Old Time Farm Shepherds, English Shepherds, Old Fashioned Farm Collies, just plain Farm Collies as well as Scotch Collies and Rough Collies, so to say it can be confusing is an understatement, even to those familiar with all of these names it can be a bit overwhelming. But let’s turn back the clock a bit, one-hundred years ago the Scotch Collie was all the rage in America, people in cities wanted them because they were fashionable, royalty owned them, dog showmen showed them, and farmers used them for various tasks around the farm. At that time they were being imported from Britain just as fast as they could, I have many old classified ads from the time advertising imported scotch collies as proof. Back then” these were all considered one breed, the show people, the city pet owners and the farmers and ranchers all had “Scotch Collies”, and, for the most part they all had some degree of working ability. As time went on, through the artificial constraints of the show ring, some dogs began to lose a lot of what had made them great in the first place, their intelligence (termed sagacity in many of the old writings) and their herding instinct, these traits were preserved in the Scotch Collies remaining on farms. J. E. Dougherty, writing in 1908 stated:

I have been a breeder for many years, and in that time have trained a great many collies, in fact, I try to train a number each year. Go back to the days of old Dublin Scott, Champion Christopher, Scottilla, Strephon, etc., and some of the Ashwin dogs. Nearly all the puppies from these dogs proved to be good workers, in fact, I would say not less than fifty per cent of the puppies in those days proved to be intelligent and had the working instinct. As time went on we found them less susceptible to training, in trying to follow the fashion of long heads, and breeding to the winners, our puppies grew less intelligent, until at the present time we find that we do well to get one in ten worth the trouble of training, and the fact is, the “heeling” quality found in the old time collie has gradually disappeared, and not over ten per cent of the puppies now “fashionably” bred have that trait, and let me say to the public, a puppy that will heel properly is worth a dozen that have not that quality.

An article published in World Today in 1908 had this to say about the split between show collies and working collies.

The showmen have been breeding a head of peculiar shape, and this, with a few other obvious parts, which contribute to the new type, makes the modern collie. His obscure type parts that are of practical importance get scant recognition from the collie judge. The intelligent collie of other days will soon be in a separate group. The show collie will form another variety, useful only as a show dog.

While the Scotch Collie was at the height of popularity, its lesser known cousin was busy earning its keep and the respect of its owners, the English Shepherd which had probably come to America from England with some of the first colonists, wasn’t as flashy looking as his Scottish counterpart but could definitely hold his own around the farm. You see, the various people of the British Islands each had their own breed of herding dogs, today the English Shepherd is virtually unknown in urbanized England while its cousin the Welsh Sheepdog is struggling to make a comeback in the western part of that island. Although they were never very popular outside of the farm, many references to these English Shepherds, not to be confused with the Old English Sheepdog, can be found in British and American literature from the nineteenth century. The British book The Illustrated Natural History  By John George Wood, 1865 says

The Scotch Sheep-dog, more familiarly called the Colley, is not unlike the English Sheep-dog in character, though it rather differs from that animal in form. It is sharp of nose, bright and mild of eye, and most sagacious of aspect. Its body is heavily covered with long and woolly hair, which stands boldly out from its body, and forms a most effectual screen against the heat of the blazing sun, or the cold, sleety blasts of the winter winds. The tail is exceedingly bushy, and curves upwards towards the end, so as to carry the long hairs free from the ground. The colour of the fur is always dark, and is sometimes variegated with a very little white. The most approved tint is black and tan; but it sometimes happens that the entire coat is of one of these colours, and in that case the Dog is not so highly valued. The ” dew-claws ” of the English and Scotch Sheep-dogs are generally double, and are not attached to the bone, as is the case with the other claws.

This shows that there has always been a differentiation between these two closely related breeds. The difference in form between these two breeds is probably due to Scotland receiving more influence and immigration from Norse peoples and therefore the Scottish dogs had a larger infusion of herding Spitzes. There was no doubt a long history of interbreeding between the Scotch and English Shepherds, and no doubt the Welsh as well. Likewise in America there has been considerable interbreeding between these canine cousins, yet they remained distinct as is apparent from the following excerpt from The Hunter-Trader-Trapper of 1910.

Some person wants to know the difference between the shepherd and the Scotch collie dog and, being a breeder, I think I can give the information. They are distinct breeds of dogs. The collie Is Imported from England… Its color Is sable and white and black and white and some are pure white. They are not as good hunters as the shepherd dog. The shepherd is one of the oldest breeds of dogs In the world and nobody knows how they originated. They are more scrappy than the collie and some of them make good coon dogs. They vary in size and color, some are black, some black and white or black and tan, some with yellow legs, etc. Some of them have straight hair and some are curly.
Ira Kline

When registered dogs became more popular, the Scotch Collies found on farms around the country suffered, in many cases they were replaced by AKC registered “Rough Collies” as the fancy dog show variety had come to be known, in this way the old fashioned Scotch Collie suffered severely as the old working lines were replaced by champion pedigreed lines that had already had the brains bred out of them. The English Shepherd, because it was never a show dog, largely avoided this catastrophe and kept its working ability, although remaining less well known.

Around this time (1930s and 1940s) the English Shepherd began to be registered as a breed. Where did this leave the remaining old fashioned Scotch Collies? The AKC with their rigid standards based on show qualities would not have the old style collies, so many of them began to be registered as English Shepherds as they looked similar and the English Shepherd standard was sufficiently broad to allow the Scottish dogs in. This was good for both breeds as it added more dogs to the small English Shepherd population and it gave the Scotch Collies some legitimacy in a world that defined a dog’s worth by its pedigree.

By the 1980s, decades of neglect and genetic erosion had decimated the Scotch Collie population on both sides of the Atlantic, a few remote unregistered pockets of these dogs existed, like the dogs J. Richard McDuffie found in Tennessee. Mr. McDuffie realized what these dogs were but he didn’t like the name “Scotch Collie” since that name had developed other implications. The following was written to the Farmcollie list in 2002:

Old Shep is from a line of Scotch Collies (what Erika DuBois and Mr. McDuffie and I call them) that were bred by one family for over 100 years… Mr. McDuffie stopped using the term Scotch Collie to refer to these dogs as he found that too many people confused this term with dogs that showed clear sighthound heritage. He began to refer to them as OTFS.

Mr. McDuffie recognized that these dogs were different from English Shepherds, their heritage was more Scottish than English, they showed the characteristics of the Scotch Collie which had differentiated them from their English cousins for centuries. As George Wood said in 1865 “the Colley, is not unlike the English Sheep-dog in character, though it rather differs from that animal in form”. In trying to breed these working Scotch Collies back from the brink, they have been crossed with registered English Shepherds of more obvious Scottish heritage as well as select Rough Collies that display old fashioned brains and ability. And why not? If the English Shepherd breed could borrow from the Scotch Collie gene-pool by registering Scotch Collies, then the reverse is also fair, after all these two breeds have mixed for centuries.

So to summarize; accusations that we are not dealing with a breed here are just not true, we are dealing with an ancient and rare breed, a breed that was very common one-hundred years ago and has since taken a beating at the hands of fashion. We are trying to restore the old fashioned Scotch Collies, it is a desperate situation but I believe this battle is not lost, we can take back genetic material from various sources where it has gone in past decades, from select Rough Collies with working ability, from English Shepherds of obvious Scottish ancestry, and from remaining pockets of working Scotch Collie like McDuffie’s OTFS.  The one thing we need in order to avoid the name calling (crossbred dogs) and disrespecting within the farm collie community is to establish the validity of these dogs as a breed, we need a consistent name and we need a place to track pedigrees. The names “old fashioned farm collie”, “old time farm shepherd” and to a lesser extent “farm collie” all refer to the same breed, the old fashioned Scotch Collies, to avoid the confusion and present a consistent message we should choose a name and stick to its use. In 2010 several of us who were breeding this type of dog consulted together and decided to use the term “Old-Time Scotch Collie” to refer to this breed, it has historical significance and also makes clear that these dogs arenot related to the modern show collies. The term “farm collie” on th e other hand should be avoided because it only adds to the confusion, depending on the definition you choose to use, the term “farm collie” can encompass just about any kind of old fashioned or working collie type dog, English Shepherds, Australian Shepherds, Border Collies and many other collie types can rightly be called farm collies, I feel that the ambiguity only adds to the confusion surrounding this breed. [Read more about naming this breed here]

May we who breed and fancy the Old-Time Scotch Collie keep working towards increasing and promoting our breed. We should be proud to say that, yes, ours is a breed and not a type, ours are not some cross-bred mongrels, but the remnant of an ancient dog breed, a breed much more endangered and fragile than the English Shepherds, but a breed nonetheless.

Related Images:


  1. Unfortunately, the broad brush used to paint the good and bad guys in this article makes it a weak spot in an otherwise strongly researched website. I really hope that anyone who reads this particular article follows the link to the list archives and tries to read them without bias, because this article reads like it was colored by some of the more extravagant segues in that discussion. For instance, “crossbred” isn’t an insult – it’s a statement of a dog’s heritage. Several of those “ES enthusiasts” who uttered the dreaded m-word are actually working or have worked with direct relatives of Scout’s.

    Perhaps some term definition is in order: a breed relies on genetic consistency through many generations of inbreeding and rigid selection. Not only has it been a mere four generations since Jacob was bred to his cross-bred daughters, there is so much variety in the phenotype of the actual dogs who were linebred on Jacob that people aren’t even aware they’re related until they’re shown the pedigree.

    This isn’t to say that Jacob and Jenny’s get are useless, but they certainly aren’t members of a breed. It’s far more accurate to use the term coined for describing the entire landrace as it exists today – farmcollie. A landrace is marked by genetic variety but shares a common behavioral factor, such as the job the dogs naturally do (another modern-day example is the Altdeutsche Hütehunde landrace in Germany). Any collie-type breed or mix thereof that retains multipurpose farm work abilities is a farmcollie, and the mutts have the added bonus of offering genetic variety in a world run by closed registries. How this statement is an insult is beyond me.

  2. After rereading my post several times I fail to see this “broad bush”, all I did was mention that it was offensive for certain people to call Scout a crossbred dog, implying that he was not worthy of rescuing intact, I then went on to describe in detail why I believe that Scout was in fact of a breed. The only “broad brush” I can see is the way I summarized the farmcollie list discussion, but that discussion was not the subject of this post, it was the impetus for this post. As for being offended by some on the list, that was my personal reaction to the fact that these seemed to be suggesting that Scout’s genetic material was not worth saving since he was not a part of a breed as they saw it.

    a breed relies on genetic consistency through many generations of inbreeding and rigid selection

    Balderdash! There are a number of definitions for “breed” and perhaps that is at issue here as much as the definition of “farm collie”, “scotch collie” or OTFS.

    Here is the definition I like to use. Wikipedia: A breed is a group of domestic animals with a homogeneous appearance, behavior, and other characteristics that distinguish it from other animals of the same species. When bred together, animals of the same breed pass on these uniform traits to their offspring, and this ability—known as “breeding true”—is a definitive requirement for a breed. The offspring produced as a result of breeding animals of one breed with other animals of another breed are known as crossbreeds or mixed breeds.

    By this definition what you call a breed is subjective based on what appearance and behavior you are looking for and how much variance is allowed for. It is my assertion, and I make it throughout this website, that Scout, Sojourner’s Jacob, etc. all fall within the range that was considered the Scotch Collie breed in the early 20th century and therefore can be considered of that breed. Some, however make the assertion that unless you have an organized breed club and a written standard or “generations of inbreeding and rigid selection” that your breed does not exist. This is nonsense, breeds of dogs have existed for millennia before any breed club was ever formed. If you want to say that the Scotch Collies of yesterday were more of a landrace, I can agree with that, but they were certainly considered a breed 100 years ago, and English Shepherds are considered a breed today and they have a great deal of diversity too.

    As for these “ES enthusiasts” who have worked with direct relatives of Scout’s, most of them are working on assimilating the remaining OTFS into the ES gene-pool, Resistance is futile.

    If there were an OTFS or Old Scotch Collie breed club, Scout could have been registered given the range of looks that we see 100 years ago. Furthermore that range in appearance and behavior in the few OTFS dogs living today is no greater than that found in the ES breed with its great diversity of types from the Stodghill B&T to the more Scotch looking dogs, yet nobody questions their breed status. How is it that the ES people can breed in OTFS dogs and get a “purebred” ES, while others cross an OTFS with a RC and get a “cross-breed”? It is this double standard, this breed elitism that most offends me.

    I would sure like to see some evidence of your statement about Jacob’s progeny, all of them I have seen have looked very similar.

  3. HI I have english shepherds or farm collies. My male is out of the Dunrovin’s Old shep lines and chesney’s farm collies. My females are from the butcher lines here in Oklahoma. I would be glad to share pictures with anyone who wants to see them.

  4. Thanks for the comment Mr. Ford.

    I can vouch for the quality of Burl’s dogs, I have a dog that I bought from him and she is fantastic. His Buddy is one in a million, as close to McDuffie’s “Old Bobtail Line” as any living dog.

  5. As an owner of one of the Niedrauer’s Jacob/Jenny offspring, I find MC’s comments somewhat offensive. There is more consistency in the appearance of these dogs than the broad scope of appearances I have seen in registered “purebred” ES. And how can a dog who comes from Jacob be registered as “purebred” ES when they are no more “purebred” than my Diego? It’s all politics, pure and simple.

  6. I realize I’m coming to this discussion a few months late, but I have to give props for this entire post and the response. I don’t know the history regarding this particular subject, but I share much a of the same feelings as Shep. In my year of belonging to the AWFA list group, I came to many of the same conclusions that he has. I’m quite excited to find that I’m not alone in my opinion that those who post to it are mainly involved in breeding ES and have pretty much hijacked it for their own purposes.

    “It’s far more accurate to use the term coined for describing the entire landrace as it exists today – farmcollie”

    Did I miss the memo?

  7. My wife and I owned Scout from a puppy. My ex-wife Kate took him west after our divorce. Along with a female. I understand that he went to another family and then snapped at their daughter ( after she touched a sore ) and went to the pound then back to Kate. HE ISN”T a mutt. He was a working farm collie dog on my farm. I’m currently looking for his replacement . Please contact me at the attached address.

  8. Hi, Is it too many years to late to get in on this discussion? We got a dog in 1997 from the Humane SocIety in Newington, Ct. She was 2 years old and they called her a mixed breed. If I posted a picture of her here it would be difficult to tell her and Scout apart. I am sick to think that we had to get her spayed as part of the adoption agreement, but I didn’t know until now that we most likely had a Scotch Collie? An English Shepherd? Now I have been searching to find a dog just like her and would love to breed more. She was the most intelligent unusual dog we ever had and we used to wonder what kind of “mixed breed” she was. If anyone knows anywhere I can find one please let me know. Also I can post a picture of her if anyone is interested.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.