Landrace vs. Purebred Scotch Collies

Landrace and Purebred Scotch Collies

Q: Why do some Old-Time Scotch Collies look more like modern Rough Collies and others look more like Aussies?

Short answer: Old-Time Scotch Collies are a “landrace breed”. Read on to learn what constitutes a landrace breed, how they differ from “purebred” dog breeds and how we can maintain this healthy, hearty and intelligent population.

What is a “landrace”?

Landraces are local populations of animals that are consistent enough to be considered breeds, but are more variable in appearance than are standardized breeds.

A combination of human and natural selection has shaped the evolution of landrace breeds. Natural selection and geographical isolation have created genetic consistency and adaptation to the local environment.

A Conservation Breeding Handbook
by D. Philip Sponenberg and Carolyn J. Christman

Many purebred dog breeds started out as a landrace and were further refined and standardized through selective breeding towards a written “breed standard”. So it was with the Scotch Collie, as breeders worked towards their arbitrary standard, the dogs evolved into the heavy-coated, long nosed, aristocratic dog we know today as the Rough Collie. There are other landrace dog breeds you are no doubt familiar with but may be unaware are landrace breeds. Some of these are:

  • Border Collies
  • Jack Russell Terriers
  • Salukis


Breed Partisans

Certainly there is room for both Rough Collies, Old-Time Scotch Collies and all other members of the collie family, and yet some people want to deny the Scotch Collie’s status as a breed.

It is very common for people unfamiliar with landraces to deny their existence as breeds, to “improve” them through crossbreeding until they are nearly extinct, and to even try to destroy them.

Carolyn Christman
program coordinator of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy

This has been exactly the case with the old Scotch Collie. In the 17 years since McDuffie acquired the Allison dogs most of their descendants have been crossed into the English Shepherd breed for so many generations that the two types are indistinguishable. Others seem to react defensively, or deny the existence of the Scotch Collie altogether, such as the person who wrote the following.

Unfortunately, the Scotch Collie has been extinct as a true or pure breed for many, many generations.

Tish Toren

Never mind the fact that the old Scotch Collie was never a “pure breed” dog in the first place. Once it became a “pure breed”, that is to say “a breed that closely resembles other dogs of the same breed” it ceased to be the old time Scotch Collie and became the Rough Collie.

Purebred or Standardized Breeds

The creation and breeding of purebred dog breeds is based on an entirely different system [from that found in nature] with detrimental consequences: in creating today’s breeds, a few animals of a characteristic strain, a “landrace”, were selected that were highly typical. While showing some basic traits in common, these landraces were rather heterogeneous. The few selected animals were inbred in order to fix the desired characteristics. Sometimes, different looking strains were crossed in order to create an entirely new type.

Dr. Hellmuth Wachtel
Breeding Dogs for the Next Millennium


Standardized breeds are what most people think of when they think of breeds; in fact, standardized breeds are the only kinds of breeds that many people recognize as breeds. Standardized breeds began as landraces but were developed further when a group of breeders agreed upon a “standard,” or definition, and agreed to breed towards this ideal. As a result, uniformity and predictability were increased and diversity was reduced.

A Conservation Breeding Handbook
by D. Philip Sponenberg and Carolyn J. Christman

The Old-Time Scotch Collie is not such a “standardized” breed, it is a landrace breed. In fact, from the beginning when this standardization of the Scotch Collie began, certain people have spoken out against it, have clamored for the old fashioned collie to be left intact even as they slowly disappeared. As early as 1892 some were fighting to preserve the old Scotch Collie.

There are now two classes of exhibitors —the moderates, who work quietly on the old lines, seeking to beautify and refine a working dog, and the progressives, who sacrifice utility and intelligence for beauty. At present the progressives hold the fort, and consequently the old Scotch collie is in danger of being improved off the face of the earth.

The Fanciers’ Journal, January, 1892


The Scotch collie has been traveling the same road [as the Setters] during the past twenty-five years. 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.

World Today – 1908


THE number of people who have a warm place in their hearts for the old-fashioned collie or shepherd dog, and who appear to be concerned for the future of the breed, is gratifyingly large. Since we first opened the discussion of this subject six months ago, we have received many letters from dog lovers who want to see the old-fashioned collie saved.

Country Life in America – 1912

From this perspective we can see that the primary difference between the Rough Collie and the Old-Time Scotch Collie is that one is the purebred breed and the other is the landrace breed. To be sure there are differences is appearance and temperament between the two breeds, but those differences originate from the different breed selection methods enforced on these dogs. They are from the same root, the indigenous herding dogs of Highland Scotland, and share more in common than in difference. It is also true that not all modern Rough Collies have lost everything that made the old Scotch Collies unique and therefore fall within the acceptable range of the Old-Time Scotch Collie standard. This sort of breeding between Rough Collies and Old-Time Scotch Collies would not be cross-breeding any more than breeding different types of Jack Russell Terriers would be. Since the number of Old-Time Scotch Collies available for breeding is currently quite low (as of this writing there are 54 dogs in the registry and not all of those are even alive), bringing in new blood is critical to survival. Where else can this new blood come from?

Q: My breed is a rare breed, so where am I to go to outcross?
A: [One] way is crossing with a related breed. While there is great reluctance because of the still prevailing “pure race” dog breeding system, this method was of necessity used repeatedly in various breeds. Already after four generations of back breeding, breed type can be nearly restored, so even when greyhounds were crossed with bulldogs, or Boxers with Pembroke Welsh Corgis!

Dr. Hellmuth Wachtel
Diversity FAQs

So we have several potential sources of new breeding stock.

  1. Rough Collies with old fashioned looks and temperament.
  2. Related breeds, of which there are several, English Shepherds, Australian Shepherds, Ovelheiro Gaucho and others.

This outcrossing is in fact not just necessary for our breed’s survival, but is recommended for the health of the breed. Many problems suffered by modern “pure bred” dog breeds are the result of inbreeding, these kinds of genetic diseases can be avoided by maintaining a wide range of genetic diversity.

Last year the time-honored mother of modern pedigree breeding herself, the English Kennel Club, has changed her basic and principal centennial rule: dogs of unknown or “impure” origin are no more absolutely excluded from being registrable if officially admitted! In fact this would not destroy a breed’s characteristics if well planned and followed by back-breeding and appropriate selection. On the contrary, as few as just one strange animal per hundred breeding dogs and generation in a population would very effectively prevent genetic losses and thus counteract the advance of inherited diseases and improve viability, health and general fitness of the breed!

Dr. Hellmuth Wachtel
Breeding Dogs for the Next Millennium

Dr. Wachtel goes on in this article to present 6 Steps to better breeding for breed preservation. Most of these steps are what breeders of old time Scotch Collies have been doing for generations.

  1. Banning inbreeding (incestuous and linebreeding)
  2. Severely restricting use of individual studs according to numerical breed size, i.e. use of many sires
  3. No over-typing selection.
  4. DNA breed studies investigating actual state of remaining gene diversity per breed.
  5. Selecting dogs primarily for performance, health, longevity, temperament, not just for looks and soundness
  6. Planning measures for boosting genetic diversity (use of genetically distant individuals, planned crossbreeding, combining color and coat variants etc.)

These postulations may appear revolutionary but they are based on long established scientific knowledge long applied in any other discipline of animal breeding (farm animals, wildlife conservation, rare zoo animals).

Who knows, maybe some day in the distant future the healthy collie genes in the Old-Time Scotch Collie breed may be able to help the inbred Rough Collies survive, just as Rough Collie blood is currently helping to increase the limited gene pool the Old-Time Scotch Collie.

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  1. Great article, Andy. It’s wonderful to see somebody who recognizes how unique the Old Scotch Collie’s landrace distinction is & what needs to be done to preserve it. I too disagree with the claims that OSCs are extinct & haven’t been purebred for many, many generations. IMO, that’s disrespectful to the farmers who’ve worked so hard to keep them going. In the mid-1990s, my friend Erika duBois told me that OSCs were all over Nova Scotia where she & her DH lived & farmed. MOF, she said they were all over Canada, adding “Just drive down any country lane & that’s the dog you’ll see.” I have photos of OSCs sent to me by a friend of Ericka’s, a German lady who lived on Martha’s Vineyard. She got her dogs in Scotland & the photos include pics of their Scottish OSC ancestors. If I ever find them, I’ll send them to you.

  2. Thanks for this article, Andy. I hear from so many people who run the gamut. It is bewildering, in fact, what people’s ideas are. However, when you are trying to preserve something that is rare, the problem is in finding something to breed them to or else run into the same inbreeding problems that got modern breeds in trouble. You have to start somewhere. We have to choose from what we can find, to work with. Of course if we could go back in time and find Scotch Collies of the temperament and type that we want, I’d do it! But I think some of us have made a good stab at preserving health, looks, intelligence, and, I like to think, a certain indefinable charm that is the hallmark of the Scotch Collie.

  3. Thanks for the good feedback Vivian and Jessica.

    On the subject of the “indefinable charm”, I think Guy Ormston said it best.

    A true working Scotch Collie has a distinctive character or quality which surrounds it like an aura. This spirit could be likened to the majesty of a lion, the pride of a great thoroughbred stallion, the confidence of a Winston Churchill. All good Scotch Collies possess this ambiance.

  4. Great Article! We can add another breed to the list of dogs from verifiable Old-Time Scotch Collie origins. Here in northern California, the McNab has been a mainstay dog for many California farmers and because of the isolation of the many of the farming communities in this area these dogs have stayed pretty true to it’s own ancestry. is a great place to start learning about them.

    There are still small communities of farm collies pocketed throughout the west among farming families. We have a challenge locating them because the homesteading type farmers don’t associate with the “hoity toity” dog breeder types, and their dogs come from their personal family lines. They don’t care about getting onto the internet. Their dogs are usually considered “mixes” of Aussies/ES/BC etc, by those who come across them…when in fact it’s these farm collie dogs who are likely from the same lineage as those breeds.

    There are so many breeds where dogs were pulled from the original collie dogs of America. These ‘breeds’ all shared the same ancestors until someone started pulling a few to create some particular club a hundred years ago…some only fifty years ago! The collie dogs that didn’t fit into the particular breed club’s chosen “standard” were simply not registered with that breed registry they didn’t just disappear . Many dog lines are out there that WERE eligible for registry but failed to register or simply refused to pay for registry before they CLOSED it.

    Another unfortunate piece is that, here in northern CA, dogs who do not fit into the breed’s standards are being neutered and spayed out of existence, when previously they were simply given away. Our own Jenny was very close to being spayed until we discovered what was happening with traditional farm collies. When we started seeing paintings from the 1800’s of dogs identical to her we realized that there was something wrong. Where did the dogs like Jenny go?. We have so many people who tell us she is a “Border Collie Mix” ! ACK…no she is from old farm dogs that existed long before the BC Breed existed…but’s it’s just so hard to explain to those who only believe tripe produced by the AKC.

  5. Very well written and referenced and very true.
    Here, in Canada, I have heard breeders say that the Old-Time Scotch Collie breed cannot survive due to it’s small remaining gene pool and the inbreeding that is going on in efforts to preserve the breed.
    Aside from the very obvious irony in this statement coming from purebred breeders (!) it is unfortunate that some breeders’ incestuous or close family breeding is giving the Scotch a bad reputation… and even more unfortunate if this type of breeding creates an unhealthy, weakened ‘purebred’ Scotch Collie by limiting genetic diversity. That would be the complete opposite of that which was the true Old Time Scotch Collie landrace breed.
    Thanks again Andy!

  6. I consider the Collie as a landrace. He has been modifed throughout the years according to the whims of those who would breed him. However, that does not change the fact that he is still a landrace.

    Research demonstrates that the Collie was called the Scotch Collie even in the 1800s, though it is held that the breed originated further back. He was still called the Scotch Collie during the 1900s. I don’t know why the “clubs” quit calling him a Scotch Collie, and started differentiating by coat by calling them Rough Collies and Smooth Collies. he is STILL the Scotch Collie.

  7. I had the priviledge to hav a grandfather who had a farm in Maryland. As a child I visited often. He had a dog named “sheep” who indeed was an old time scotch shepherd as he called it. He was probably 50-55 lbs. He had tipped ears like a modern collie but that was it. His head was definitely NOT a modern collie head. Actually his head shape was exactly like the head of my Border Collie. He had a white neck collar and was other wise a modern Collie color. His coat length was closer to the smooth collie than the rough. Exactly in between.

    I have looked and looked and can’t find exactly what I am looking for. Several photos were close. My Border Collie is 12 so this is a preliminary investigation. If I could find
    another like him that would be great. He is very mellow which is perfect for me at my age.


    RC Gilbert

  8. Believe it or not, there is hope from the show-collie world: Wicani Kennels has dedicated itself to reducing the inbreeding coefficient (as well as eliminating CEA and MDRN1 sensitivity) of UK collies by outcrossing with american and canadian dogs. Her bloodline is truly a work of art…..the classic ’20s collie is coming back

  9. I love your work! Your people are some of my biggest dog-loving heroes! As to the Jack being a landrace, I hope the JRTCA and some devoted farmers are keeping true to that notion, because the AKC sure isn’t helping things; esp now that they took the short legged variety in 2013.

  10. Such an interesting article. We saw a stuffed specimen of a scotch collie in the Natural History museum in Tring in the Uk, it looked exactly like our 9 year old rescue “collie cross” who in her notes was apparently from Scotland. She has all the attributes you mention and is exactly as you describe the “land race” She has a Wonderful temperament, but loves to chase rabbits and squirrels!

  11. Thank you so much for your article. I grew up with Scottish Collies in New Brunswick. Have looked for them for years. Just knew these coolies I have seen were not them. had no idea what they were until I read your piece. They were our right hand on the farm. Can they be purchased here in the USA? If so how can I get one? Thank you so vary much.

  12. I just love this. I feel a bit silly for getting emotional about this subject, but I’ve become SO frustrated over the years trying to find a collie that had the same basic temperament as the collies I grew up with! I perused rough collie after rough collie after rough collie, all to no avail. I phoned and visited breeders, joined collie clubs, and attended dog shows and collie agility events, but the temperaments were for the most part, just wrong. I saw collies that were afraid of their own shadow, aggressive and snappy, hyperactive to the point of being confined to a kennel for their own safety, and all or most with a complete inability to bond with their owners much less any desire to please them.
    I kept asking, “What happened to this wonderful breed?” I would hear, “Nothing. This is the way collies are supposed to be.” or “I don’t see any difference in these collies and I’ve owned, bred and raised collies for 45 years.” Etc. Etc. Etc, until I thought it must be me and I just remembered wrong and collies weren’t the breed I thought they were.
    Then one day surfing the web I came across an ad for Old-Time Scotch Collie pups. The description of these dogs, their temperament, character etc. was exactly what I was looking for and had been looking for, for twenty years!!! I was over the moon and began to read everything about these amazing dogs that I could get my hands on! One day soon I will be a breeder of this breed. Thanks you so much for all you do and have done to preserve this breed and to get the word out about them! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

  13. My husband was doing some genealogy research into the Irish side of his family, and came across the dog licenses for some of his relatives in the 1860s. We deciphered the breed as being “Scotch” but (not have heard of the Scotch or landrace collies, we were confused as to why so many of the people on this small Irish island had scottish terriers, which seemed too specific a breed to be right. A bit more searching we came across the mention of a Scotch collie which made a lot more sense, and we found your website. So thank you.

    What may be of interest to you is that my husband has a rather vivid memory of his Great Uncle’s dog ‘stealing’ his biscuit as a small child when they were visiting. This dog was similar to a rough collie, and was used as a working dog.

    Perhaps if these lines of farm collies survived to 40 years ago, they might still be around? His family are from Claire Island in County Mayo, Ireland, but he hasn’t been since he was a boy. Tthe dog license records from the surrounding area are also full of “Scotch” dogs.

  14. I acquired my first English Shepherd forty years ago because I was trying to find a dog like Spike, a somewhat blunt-nosed “collie” type that lived on a neighboring farm in the Midwest when I was a kid. Spike herded, protected, defended, and played with kids he knew too. Great dog. English shepherds are the closest I’ve come to having Spike. I’ve now had five of them over the years. Farm collies are smart, sensible, and sturdy. Mine have had few health issues, or training issues. They “get” it, no matter what you want them to do, very quickly. They may not agree with you but they know what you want.

  15. Thanks for the information. I am 62 this year and have always wanted a collie. I remember watching Lassie as a baby through the bars of my crib. I would cry when Lassie would lift her paw to say goodbye. After all I have been reading and researching about the breed, I have decided I want an Old Time Scotch Collie. Now to find the breeder.

  16. An excerpt from Far Off in Sunlit Places Stories of the Scots in Australian and New Zealand by Jim Hewitson – says “But what would a Scots shepherd be without his dogs, his faithful Border collies? (Perhaps these were “Old Scotch Collie” dogs?)

    They were at Grafton on the Clarence River (NSW) en route to a job at the Wellingrove Station, Arriving at the estuary the ship met with heavy weather and the skipper, fearing for the safety of his vessel because of its sheavy load, ordered ll superfluous cargo and livestock to be thrown overboard. To the dismay and disbelieve of the McMasters this order included their sheepdogs. The McMaster boys were not about to see their canine companions of many a shearing consigned to a watery grave. When the crew cast the dogs overboard, to the amazement of passengers and crew, but probably not to their parents, the boys jumped into the estuary and swam the dogs to shore. The father of the family, John McMaster, went to work as station manager at a number of runs but sadly was drowned in April 1851 crossing the flooded Severn River (NSW).

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