Old-Time Scotch Collie Breed Standard Working Draft

We are not trying to create a new breed but to define a very old breed which up until now, has been loosely classified as “Farm Collie” by many. This breed has, over the past 100 years or so split into, or been used in creating, many separate breeds, sub-breeds if you will, what we are attempting to do is to define the characteristics of the original parent breed with the intention of differentiating it from all the others which have evolved from this stock. You may want to read my Old-Time Scotch Collie FAQ.

Reading the old accounts of these dogs, four characteristics stand out as defining them and setting them apart from separate but closely related breeds like English Shepherds and Border Collies. These should be the predominant defining elements of the Old-Time Scotch Collie today, they are:

  1. Coat – Ideally, smooth on face but with longer fur at cheek and chest, indicating at least a suggestion of a collie ruff; fur long and dense over most of the body, and smooth legs below hocks, though feathers can occur.
  2. Muzzle – pointed and fox-like.
  3. Ears – semi-erect, sometimes fully erect, never low set or floppy.
  4. Temperament – sweet, gentle nature with no hint of aggressiveness or hyperactivity, sagacious.

Note: This is nothing more than a proposal, any and all comments, suggestions and criticisms are welcome here. The more input we receive the better, use the comment section at the bottom of this page to contribute to the discussion.

Head: Moderate length, neither too long like modern Rough Collies, nor too short like some lines of English Shepherd, with a moderate and well defined stop. No pick-headed types. Not overly narrow.

Muzzle: A sharp, fox-like muzzle should be the goal of any breeding program, however a moderately broad muzzle is acceptable as long as it is not overly short. Flews should show no sloppiness or drooping.

Eyes: Variable from round to almond with a slight oblique set, never should eyes be overly small. Eyes should express shrewd intelligence, and willingness to please.

Ears: Small, lying close to the head when relaxed and standing erect or partly erect when on alert. Never should ears be overly long or droopy showing any inclination towards hound or spaniel ears.

Neck: Strong, reasonable length and arched.

Body: Slightly long compared with height, back firm with a slight rise over loins; ribs well sprung, chest deep, fairly broad behind shoulders.

Tail: Moderately long with sweep toward end. Natural bobtails are acceptable up to eight inches long. Gay tails are acceptable.

Gait: Viewed from the front at a fast trot, front feet stay close together. Hindlegs powerful with plenty of drive. A reasonably long stride is desirable and should be light and appear effortless.

Coat: Over 2″ in length, most abundant on tail, breeches, mane and frill, smooth on face, front of forelegs and below the hocks. The longer and heavier coat is a distinguishing characteristic of the Scotch Collie helping to differentiate it from other, closely related breeds.

Color: Predominate colors are sable, tri-color (black, tan and white), black and white and blue merle, any combination thereof is acceptable.

Size: Height: 20 – 24″, weight: 35 – 65#, lean and fit condition.

Temperament: Gentle, caring, not high strung at all, friendly yet reserved with strangers, eager to obey, of above average intelligence. Content to lie about when not needed but ready to spring into action at a minutes notice. This is the most important item of all for it was the Scotch Collie’s temperament more than its beauty that made them so popular 100 years ago. This breed may serve well on a farm herding livestock for the same reasons it may serve well in town playing with children, bidability, sagacity and reciprocity. Any unjustified aggression should disqualify a dog.

More reading: Some of the historical sources on which this standard is based are listed below.

Related Images:


  1. A couple thoughts… I’m glad your size range only goes up to 65 pounds since all the early records suggest the original collies were pretty small. Selection for show and over here in the states where there were larger predators made larger dogs more common but in Watson’s The Dog Book and other places it’s obvious the early collies were large Sheltie size.

    Why no black and tans. Again, that is probably the most common of the early collie color. Sable was quite rare. Merle was also common. But both in working and early show lines the B&T was very prominant.

    Temperament – the original collies were quite sharp and generally unfriendly to people who weren’t their people. Treacherous was a word fairly often applied. Not that I’m advocating selection for this trait, mind you, but it is the historical temperament.

  2. Jan

    Thanks for the feedback.

    You are right, collies today are much larger than in previous times, but so are humans, much of this can no doubt be attributed to better nutrition.

    I don’t think black and tan was intentionally left out, it would no doubt be covered by the phrase “any combination thereof is acceptable”. But good luck finding one of these.

    It is my belief that “treacherous” was nothing more than a negative stereotype that the breed had, and not an actual breed characteristic. As evidence I submit the wealth of stories about the scotch collie on this website, no evidence of a treacherous nature is found here. Some breeds in our day suffer with negative stereotyping, Rottweilers for example. However, being unfriendly to people not their people is certainly acceptable and quite common, I believe the phrase “reserved with strangers” would allow for a certain amount of that sort of behavior. I for one prefer my dogs to be unfriendly to strangers until I tell them it is okay.

  3. What a wonderful site you have! I’ve so enjoyed exploring both the site and the origins of the modern collie breeds. I have a few comments on the draft, since you asked. I had shelties for 25 years, and despite the horrible overbreeding and poor breeding of these dogs, they are absolutely stellar when you obtain them from an ethical, responsible breeder. Re Temperment: A good sheltie is NOT yappy, excitable, nervous or genetically shy, and these are completely in opposition to the breed standard. Although many shelties are not good with children, the larger ones seem to be less skittish around toddlers. One of the nicest sheltie characteristics is that they’ll work or play as long as you will and can be trained to do almost anything around a farm including varmint hunting, but are happy to lie around and veg when not busy. They especially like piles of laundry… 😉 Re Head Type: Shelties are supposed to have a head shaped like “a blunt wedge” either longer or more triangular, with a small but definite stop that looks much like the old scotch collie photos. I have seen exactly the head type you’re looking for in a few oversize shelties; modern rough collies were crossed into at least one sheltie line as recently as the 1960s, plus shelties do not breed true for size in the desired size range of 13-16 inches at the shoulder. If you are yourself establishing a bloodline and not just a registry, you might consider including some sheltie crosses should you come across a larger (16″ and up) dog that fits your mental picture. As for a foxy look, English shelties (and collies too?) have a much foxier look than those from North America. I would caution against having too “sharp” a muzzle – this can lead to undershot lower jaws which can cause health problems. You can have a sharpish muzzle and still have good underjaw. Re Gait: On many of the Farm Collie sites, it seems like a LOT of the dogs, whether English Shepherds or other, have very straight rear angulation. Dogs with a primary gait of the trot, like collies and most other shepherds, need some angulation in the rear so that they don’t tire as easily. You might consider stipulating some angulation, even if you don’t want to get too specific about it. The sheltie standard actually states what angles the bones should have in relation to each other for both front and rear conformation, but I don’t know that that level of detail is necessary. If a dog can work all day long, that’s the test. Re Eye shape: Personally, I find that a round eye is not nearly so expressive or pretty as an almond shaped eye. That’s just my preference, though. Re Color: Would you consider adding white as a color? Color-headed whites have no genetic defects and this is an established collie color (it’s also in shelties but due to politics in the ASSA a few decades back, they cannot be shown in conformation.) There are no genetic problems associated with color-headed whites. Your description above would imply that sable merles would be allowed, which is fine, but be aware that these are difficult to detect as adults; if bred to another merle, either sable or blue, then double merle pups can result and usually have vision, hearing or other serious health problems. I only mention this because it isn’t mentioned anywhere that I could find on your site. Like Jan, I also vote to have black and tan allowed! OK, I will stop now since I’m sure you’re tired of reading this!!

  4. He actually has very nice eyes, in this picture the wind is blowing in his face which makes him appear to have small eyes.

  5. Andy,
    As always, a great job. Well done.
    I believe that the Breed Standard working draft that you have begun here is excellent and represents the breed, the wonderful old stories as well as the new accounts I have heard.
    If I were to make one suggestion, and I could not have much to add to your draft, it would be perhaps a little more on the temperment, as I agree that this quality is one of the key characteristics of this wonderful old breed. Loyalty, faithfullness and devotion should perhaps be words to include, as these words speak to me of the Scotch Collie’s wonderful character in historical accounts as well as newer anecdotal accounts and descriptions of Scotch Collies today.
    I agree with Jan that Shelties are a wonderful breed and I myself lost my beloved Sheltie a year and a half ago, but I am not sure that some of the character of the Sheltie, in breeding them, would fit as well with some of the key characteristics of the Scotch Collie, although there are undeniably many characteristics of the Sheltie (intelligence, working ability, loyalty) that would fit well. The Sheltie, however, tends to be more of a ‘sharp-eyed herding dog’ by instinct, and are more forward and strong eyed, as well as generally more likely to bark while working and running, whereas one of the highly held characteristics of the Scotch Collie, and one of the characteristics that most differentiated it from other working/herding dogs, was that they were soft-eyed, calm and quiet workers, as quoted here from ‘The Farmer’s Dog’ by John Holmes:
    “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”.
    Thank you for the opportunity to all share our views and opinions in defining the breed standard for this incredible, wonderful dog.

  6. I would love to see the landrace reinstituted in roughly the same manner and for the same reasons it initially developed. Show dog breeds have been intentionally developed to achieve an appearance standard. Scotch Collies (and their off-shoots) developed as a result of their owners needs for a talented farm hand. Appearance was secondary, if relevant at all. As a farmer, I understand the need and motivation to develop a helpful farmhand. The written history of the Scotch Collie landrace, and my observation of the best current examples of the breed, have these working characteristics:

    1. Loose-eyed herding ability, motivated by a tempered prey instinct in conjunction with a keen recognition of and subservience to its master. The best examples of the Scotch Collie work in a “head-up/tail-up”, calm, confident, courageous manner with an acquired understanding of the objective of the work. They do not work to detailed instructions of from a “handler” but instead glean the master’s objectives and assist as a partner. Their “tasks” develop naturally over time as they learn the traditions and rythms of their farm. They also have an innate desire to maintain order, prompting them to guard gates and return stock to their normal pastures and guard gaps until the master arrives to repair it. Though they are not aggressive and strong-eyed in the classic sense, they will not hesitate to bite head or heel when needed to accomplish the work.
    2. Hunting abilities of Scotch Collies are reminiscent of most common squirrel dogs. They will use nose and eye to track and follow squirrels, racoons, opossum, and rabbits. and will bark to mark the site of prey. With practice and encouragement, a good Scotch Collie will develop into a fine hunting dog.
    3. A Scotch Collie is wary of strangers but immediately will trust the reassurance of its master and become friendly to visitors. This trait may initially appear as insecurity; but matures as valiant protection of farm, home and family. These dogs quickly adopt a domain and a family, and are absolutely loyal to their own. As a result, they will chase and kill vermin, snakes, coyotes, stray dogs and such in order to protect cattle, sheep, chickens, ducks, and children. Add to this loyalty an instinctual understanding of human families, and you get “Timmy fell in the well” stories. Scotch Collies are sensitive to the weakness and fear of small children and will adjust their behavior to reassure the young members of their family.
    4. A calm and level temperament is somewhat unique to Scotch Collies as opposed to other dedicated working breeds. The majority of their time is spent lying “on the porch” and wandering around the farm. They are not irrationally excitable, though they will rise to the occasion when courage and/or aggression is needed to protect the farm or move stock. Their herding behavior is not particularly efficient (as in a strong-eyed breed like the border collie) but their work is performed in a calm and puposeful manner, though it may involve occasional barking and frenetic movement.

    I would like to see these traits as the primary objectives of the Scotch Collie reestablishment effort, while paying due respect to genetic history as much as possible. If a somewhat standard appearance results from breeding for these behavioral traits, so be it. But the farmers and shepherds who originally developed the Scotch Collie landrace were simply breeding the most useful farm dogs to the most useful farm dogs. That is why the appearance of these dogs varied widely, though there were similarities stemming from the physical traits of the best (most useful) farm dogs.

    I realize that I probably represent a very small minority of dog owners/breeders who are relatively unconcerned about appearance; but ultimately concerned about talent and temperament. However, it would seem that the landrace Scotch Collie can only be resurrected if we focus on the traits that led to their existence in the first instance.

    These are my thughts and motivations for my involvement in this reestablishment effort. I certainly hope that my approach is not offensive to anyone. That is no part of my purpose. But I would like to see the Scotch Collie registry pay homage to the historical reality of the landrace. That may be very difficulty in light of the devolution of the “family farm”. But it would be wonderful to see the Scotch Collie play the phoenix and rise from the ashes of obscurity to once again find its place on hobby farms, ranches, rural homesteads and family farms. I realize that these dogs also make wonderful pets; but their ancestors were first great working dogs.

    I greatly appreciate the Herculean effort that has gone into establishing this website, the OTSCA, and the related sites and organizations. Thank you all so much for your efforts to resurrect this most admirable dog. I certainly hope that I can make some small contribution to the effort.

  7. Love this website. Love this dog.
    I am moving to a ten-acre place in TX and I want one; or two eventually.
    I had a border collie/alsatian cross who was my constant companion for 15 years. I agree that the border collie has over-specialized and do not wish to put up with their manic energy or penchant to harass if bored. I will really need a companion/herder/varmint dog to help me with the dairy goats I intend to raise.
    Thanks for all of the information and stories! What really intrigues me is that personality and intelligence are the important traits rather than physical characteristics. Please do not succumb to the tendency to very narrowly define physical conformity.
    Again, thanks!

  8. I have a farm collie who came from a farm. Though he is obviously a collie, People always say his nose is too pointy, or his ears are supposed to tip (they are erect) and his coat is not show quality. but he is the sweetest and best natured dog you will every meet. and… very smart. 26″ at the shoulder and 62 pounds just as you describe. He is a therapy dog at a retirement home where the residents ‘remember lassie” who was also not a fluffy coated collie that is popular today. These are the greatest dogs. Thanks for helping me understand his special origins and how he is a true breed.

  9. My sister and I are each looking for a scotch collie puppy. We live in Illinois. Are there any breeders within driving distance? We heard of a breeder in Wisconsin, but I haven’t been able to find any information. We would so appreciate your help. We both recently lost our dogs to old age/cancer. We so…miss our dogs. Thank you!!

  10. Hello,
    Wonderful, very interesting and complete website! Fascinating articles! I have never known about these dogs before coming to your site, and I’m so intrigued! I very respectfully offer a thought on your proposed breed standard: Since the muzzle should be foxy looking, perhaps mention should be made of the teeth being of a scissors bite? This to avoid underbites developing in order to accentuate a “foxy” look. I have seen some very unfortunate underbites on Border Collies recently, and hope this would never show up in these lovely dogs.

  11. We recently adopted a “Collie mix” from a wonderful Rescue here in Michigan–the Rescue focuses on dogs from Texas who have ended up in high kill shelters. Our “Andy” fits these descriptions to the proverbial “T”. Interestingly enough, in the wake of the death at age 13 of our beloved old Brittany–Scout–I had been interested in and researching both OTSC’s and English Shepherds. When I saw the photograph and description of this delightful little dog–he’s just shy of 40 lbs–I had a gut feeling he was indeed a “Farm Dog” and he certainly meets every expectation I would have had for a Scotch Collie. He does not have strong herding behavior but he does like to chase squirrels and has already managed to clear out some voles we had around the place. He’s the sweetest, calmest dog I’ve ever have and that’s saying a great deal as I’ve been “mom” to some truly wonderful dogs over my 60 years.

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