New Scotch Collie Alliance by Guy Ormiston

Scotch Collies

Written around 2002 and published here with the kind permission of Guy Ormiston

The new breed was in the old concealed. The old in the new revealed.

History tells us the Shepherd’s Dogge ultimately became the Scotch Collie, a very long time ago in a turbulent area across the waters known as the Borders. This area was the Anglo-Scottish frontier, geographically in contemporary times where the north of England meets the south of Scotland. Topography like the Chevoit Hills, the Debatable Land and the Roman Wall challenged the border tribes of the sixteenth century and was home turf for the Scotch Collie. It is well documented, this classic Scotch Collie of old became the tap-root for numerous offshoot breeds – the likes of the AKC Victorian Collie, the Border Collie, the Australian Shepherd, the English Shepherd, the Kelpie and the American farm shepherd (to name some of the more well-known). Several hundred years ago the Scotch Collie was also established here in rural America. In the 1940’s along the Oklahoma-Kansas state line (time and origin of my misspent youth), just about every farmstead was safeguarded by a Scotch Collie or a farm shepherd. I found out later, the breed was liberally spread across the entire United States and Canada.

For whatever reason, the American Scotch Collie almost faded into oblivion after the 1950’s. Since then, several valiant efforts have been made to save the breed; efforts which were productive. A few enthusiasts were instrumental in preserving the Scotch Collie genetics in the last half of the twentieth century and are to be highly commended. The original dog most rescuers were trying to get back to, was in fact the original “Scotch Collie”, yet it was identified by several names and misnomers. This did create some confusion amongst older breed enthusiasts, and gave mixed directions to interested newcomers. Another obstacle in attempting to reestablish the breed was lack of affiliation with a major registry; a difficulty which can hopefully be overcome. The next problem we face, to my knowledge, a realistic standard had not been established for the Scotch Collie in America. What went before tells us: the lack of an explanatory standard can be a major hinderance towards advancing any breed.

It is anticipated, by properly identifying our breed as the Scotch Collie and gaining the support of a major registry, and by developing understandable breed standard, we can unite the various salvage efforts, and actually resurrect the Scotch Collie! To that end, I have been in contact with the United Kennel Club, Inc. (UKC) of Kalamazoo, MI. UKC was established in 1898 and I believe is the largest registry of working dogs in the United States. Longevity and expertise in registration are certainly part of UKC history. At this point UKC has not said they would register the Scotch Collie, but neither have they said No!

The New Scotch Collie Alliance (NSCA) is hereby organized to acknowledge the existence of Scotch Collie remnants, recognizing there are living collie dogs exhibiting hereditary claims to the old breed name. Also, NSCA now provides a breed standard which encourages careful exclusion of extraneous breed influences, to actively pursue purity of type. The method of breed renewal will be to utilize vestiges of Scotch Collie character found in lines of grade collies existing in isolated pockets of the United States or Canada, and to identify individual sports found in the off-shoot breeds, which still reflect the stamp of their Scotch Collie ancestors. In the process, this will ultimately diminish extreme diversity of type and reconstitute the once definitive mental characteristics, as well as attain the magnificent external appearance of the Scotch Collie. The recently established breed standard is a basis of comparison and assistance, not an iron-clad supreme authority. It is an objective to work toward. The Scotch Collie mental traits always take precedent over physical features. The Scotch Collie Breed Standard is at Enclosure 1, and is based on half-century-old memories of old timers, century-old photos and documented descriptions dating back to the 16th century. In reality and in spite of resurrection efforts, the old Scotch Collie is almost extinct, being absorbed in fact by the very breeds it itself spawned over the past several centuries. That its distinct type recurs with consistency from the ranks of the offshoot breeds speaks volumes for the antiquity and genetic dominance of the tap-root Scotch Collie, proving the traits and characteristics of the modern Scotch Collie quite obviously run deep. It is not the objective of the NSCA to register pedigrees or to become a governing body. Our goals are to establish a workable Scotch Collie Breed Standard, identify and unite the Scotch Collie breed fanciers into a restoration project, all with the intent of our collies becoming recognized and registered by the United Kennel Club, Inc.

Time and experience has afforded me the lesson that good working dogs are not bred by groups or registries. Each individual breeder has a unique vision and a particular talent for breeding dogs. Each breeder follows his/her own vision, hopefully within the confines of the breed standard. Pedigree registries have never been the defining influence on the quality of dogs produced and we cannot expect that. Each breeder must accept responsibility and, each will meet with varying degrees of success – perhaps in tandem with like minded associates, by breeding-in selected traits and breeding-out those traits not condoned by the breeder(s). The breeder also selects or culls bloodlines in building his/her own strain. To be sure, each breeder cultivates the degree of quality and abilities within their own distinctive strain within the breed. Some strains developed will be of high quality, some lesser. While building a strain, it is best to affiliate with the most professional and enduring registry available and to work with them as a partner. If you have a vision of bringing the Scotch Collie back, so later generations can utilize and enjoy the original, please join hands with fanciers of like mind. We need to demonstrate to UKC a commitment and unified strength. May we work together for breed recognition so we ultimately achieve our personal objectives.

NSCA Draft Breed Standard

Mission: The dual purpose in preserving this working breed is to maintain the distinct functional working qualities, and to keep the physical appearance of the tap-root dogs – physical and mental traits which transcend at least three centuries in the United States.

General History, Breed Appearance and Mental Traits: The Scotch Collie in the United States is a work-based breed developed to herd livestock. The American version evolved from collie dogs accompanying European immigrants to the new world as early as the 17th century,  thus the Scotch Collie in America maintains a century or more tenure over spin-off breeds. The pastoral dales of Scotland’s Lowlands and the north of England are believed to have been the underlying stock farming environment which stimulated the breed to demonstrate as aptitude as a herd dog. Their splendid fitness as guardians, watch dogs, varmint dogs and companions of children evolved over generations while protecting homesteads, livestock and farm families in rural America. Sable & white and/or tri-color (black, white & tan) have been the primary and traditional colorations of these dogs in the United States. They are strongly built and over-all-balanced dogs – athletic, lithe and active. Their coat is thick not wooly, consisting of an undercoat resembling sealskin; the outer jacket is wear-resistant and harsh, not fine and thin. A Scotch Collie exhibits a neck ruff, a curving tail with a thick brush. The head is broad across the skull and muzzle, with a definite step between. The ears more or less pricked or semi-pricked. The preferred height of the collie is from 22 to 26 inches, the ideal weight is from 50 to 75 pounds, the male taller and heavier than the bitch. The Scotch Collie should not be too big or awkward to outrun stock. Biddability, courage while working, and trustworthiness are mandatory traits. Any propensity for hyper-activity, viciousness, shyness, cowardice, inane stock chasing, excessive barking, lack of watchfulness or to be short of high intelligence are all considered serious faults. The intelligence of the old Scotch Collie is always the most redeeming characteristic of the breed recalled by admirers dating to pioneer days, and the one most critical to maintain. The collie should be amenable to the voice of its master and responsive to his/her command. The first consideration in perpetuating the breed should at all times be , producing a useful and intelligent dog. This standard describes an ideal specimen of the breed. No Scotch Collie will match this standard exactly. The objective of the breeder is to use the standard as a guide and as the goal to strive for.

Color: The color of the Old Scotch Collie has become a factor only because other herding breeds descending from these early collies have for the most part become identified with specific colors; e.e. Border Collie (black & white), English Shepherd (black & tan), Kelpie (black & tan), Australian Shepherd (blue merle) and Heelers (blue ticked and/or red ticked). Since sable & white, and black, white & tan (tri-color) are the ancestral colors of the old Scotch Collie and serve to distinguish it from the other breeds just mentioned, an evolutionary process to ultimately recapture that color standard should be undertaken by contemporary breeders. Realizing contemporary foundation dogs may be outside the color standard, initially all collie colors are acceptable in a foundation dog if the mental traits and conformation of the Scotch Collie are present in the individual; however, the following color standard is established as a reachable objective in the foreseeable future. The white portion of both color phases (sable and tri-color) preferable ring the neck, appears on the feet and legs and can blaze the face. An abundance of a white color is preferred, although no dog should be over  50% white and spotted  dogs are also outside the preferred standard. The occurrence of black guard hairs on the back, tail and face of the sable are not unusual and entirely acceptable. Although sable without white, and tri-colors with little tan, and other collie colors may be registered; in selecting mates, in the interest of descendants ultimately meeting the color standard, mates of off-colored dogs should be of the approved color(s). The sable hue can range the brown color spectrum, from rust to the color of maple syrup, to a golden tint. The breed color distinction secondary only to mental capacity and physical hardiness, must necessarily be strived for, ultimately achieved and maintained for breed identity.

Coat: The “from the past” Scotch Collie in the United States and Canada has traditionally been a rough-coated dog. A smooth-coated variety of the breed was known in Europe, and a few smooth-coated dogs gravitated to the United States. The rough-coat is the only coat acceptable in this standard; however the coat or jacket can vary in length at the discretion of the breeder. The coat is a matter of considerable importance, with the double coat being the correct sort. The sealskin undercoat has water-resistant properties and serves to protect the dog from inclement weather. The outer-voat must be thick, harsh and hard, but not wooly; protection from thorns, briers and nature’s weather elements the objective.

Head: Historical depictions of the old Scotch Collie in the United States and Canada reveal a collie with a characteristic wide skull more solid than slender and a broad muzzle with a definite step between the skull and muzzle in profile. The moderately flat-wide skull and broad muzzle (with a step) of the pioneer Scotch Collie are intrinsic and necessary to distinguish this old breed from contemporary show strains of collies. The more roomy skull between the ears, ostensibly for greater intelligence, and the stringer muzzle for biting power are time-honored and desirable for the breed, thus a narrow backskull and a straight-plane muzzle in profile are not desirable. Eyes are large and wide apart, never pig-eyed or drooping. Ears should be small and semi-erect.

Conformation: A depiction by Englishman dog-fancier Vero Shaw made in the late 1800’s serves well as a Scotch Collie conformation standard, “These are the dogs that are light and sinewy in build, with long neck and head, ears certain to be more or less pricked, the belly a bit tucked up, and the hind-quarters sloping back to the well-let-down and sickle-shaped hocks, indicative of speed and with a general outline, as his lithe frame and shaggy coat are seen looming through the mist, not at all unlike that of a wolf… the feet of a Collie… should be small and rather round.” Please note, the drawing of the Collies accompanying Mr. Vero’s original description agrees with the head type delineated in the previous paragraph. The sloping refered to by Shaw does not mean a sloping top-line like a German Shepherd, but refers only to a slightly sloped croup. The best balanced collie is the same distance from the root of tail to shoulder as height at shoulder. Defects: long of body and short of leg.

Vero Shaw's collie illustration
Vero Shaw’s collie illustration

Character: The collie should be attentive to its master and easy to control, exhibiting courage, boldness and confidence when exposed to livestock. Steadiness, obedience, responsiveness and trainability in their highest form should all be a part of their innate herding aptitude – and even be capable, through repetitive exposure, of handling herding duties without formal training. The collie must be reserved and suspicious of strangers. However, fear biting, shyness, snappiness when being treated for injury or during a dog show, or while being handled for worming or grooming are all unacceptable. The collie should be trainable for handling by its master, veterinarians or show judges. Roaming beyond the limits of its master’s property is an undesirable characteristic and the collie should be trainable in this regard, i.e. to stay within its master’s territorial boundaries. Hereditary nervousness is considered a major fault. Protectiveness of any livestock on the farmstead against marauders or varmints is expected of the Scotch Collie; this should be a natural characteristic of any individual collie.

Guardian Instinct: The nature of a Scotch Collie must emphatically be one which exhibits guardian behavior. Distinguished from guard dog behavior, guardian instinct or behavior means the collie protects the living things belonging to its master whether it be livestock, children or other family members. This innate behavior by the collie includes herding escaped livestock back to the correct pen without need of human direction, tending after baby livestock with almost maternal concern and alerting its master to anything unusual, especially if an animal is hurt or in trouble. A collie with guardian instinct requires any other dogs of the homestead to follow rules established by the master, and may even correct other dogs when they disobey their master. The herding instinct of the Scotch Collie is inherent within this guardian behavior, in that their herding instinct is not motivated by a prey drive. The Scotch Collie strives to make the livestock obey the desires of the master or the collie itself by expressing dominance; the collie’s motivation is the result of the master’s routine, the homestead’s physical boundaries, and previous bonding between the collie and the homestead’s livestock.

Working Style: The Scotch Collie does not use the power of the eye to control livestock, nor does it have a creeping style when approaching livestock – both adversarial traits inherent with some collie/shepherd breeds later developed from the Scotch Collie, ostensibly from nineteenth century outcrosses with gundogs. Thus, the Scotch Collie could be described as loose-eyed and upright in its working performance, not adversarial in approach to livestock. Herding dogs may be described by herding-style, such as gathering dogs, as heelers or as headers. A Scotch Collie is any and all of those depending on the task at hand, to include their traditional talent of fetching and driving milk cows to the barn. Natural herding balance, being in the right place at the right time, is a talent they develop through repeated use on livestock. They will bark and grip if dealing with a belligerent animal where power is needed, but are not overly aggressive if obeyed by the livestock. The Scotch Collie should not be prone to, or must be easily broken from, needless livestock harassment. These collies are excellent varmint dogs and often excel as tree dogs. Such treeing traits can be selected for within the breed and outstanding lines of squirrel dogs, coon dogs and opossum dogs have been developed.

Ambiance: 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.

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  1. Perhaps, I have been a bit rash in the last comment. However, thank you for publishing this. It is a great aid to resolving what kind of dogs my ancestors could had used when they moved to the Prairies from Russia.

  2. I am a teenager who has never had or even seen an Old Scotch Collie but I would like to own a Scotch Collie someday.

  3. One of my rescues seems to be an old time Scotch Collie. He was listed as a rough haired collie/german shepherd by the shelter but based on his features, his temperament and his history (from a farm long established by Scottish settlers). I’d like to get his DNA tested someday but I suppose only Collie would be found. One thing is for sure, he has the very best personality and I would love another hundred of these dogs. So beautifully laid back yet ready to go to work anytime. Very dedicated and absolutely adorable with one ear up and one ear partially down. As cute as they get. What a great breed. I hope they make a return……I’d sure love many more of these dogs.

  4. Like many people, a dog in my childhood became the dog to which I have compared every other dog I have known since then. I have searched for a dog like him for awhile, and Scotch Collies, all things considered, are the closest thing to him I have found, followed by English Shepherds.

    So here is my question–I currently have a dog that adopted us (border collie mix), and currently do not have the space for another. I do not have the resources to breed these dogs, but I am asking if there is anything else you folks need to have done that I could do. I can write letters or articles, and I can be very persistent. I can contribute monetarily (although my pocket is not all that deep) to the welfare of this breed. May I offer you some assistance?

  5. I have been blessed with not one-but two beautiful old-time Scotch Collies! They are absolutely wonderful companions for me, living alone in the country. I contacted the local collie club and sent them photos. They did not even know what a Scotch Collie was! So thank you so much for a comprehensive web page on this delightful breed. My only regret was that I had both fixed, since I don’t have the nerve for breeding. Mine came from different shelters a few months apart, severely neglected and in bad shape. I have had them for about 4 months now and they are gorgeous-with the BEST personalities. I will stay in touch via social media and do what I can to help save the breed.

  6. I found this to be a fascinating article especially the parts about working style and type of herder as I have found this to be very true. I had a small working Scotch Collie type dog in the mid 1970’s and early 80’s. We had up to 100 head of sheep at the time, and she was a natural. Without any training she joined us in the tasks of moving and putting this large flock into the pens and barn for shearing, weaning, marketing, or whenever required. She found lost new few-day old calves for us and lay down with them licking them gently on the nose, barking an alert to call us and then waiting for help to arrive to get the wee ones back to our cow foster mom. She went everywhere with whoever was the youngest of the children at the time. She walked sedately by the toddler’s side, a small hand on her shoulder for comfort. You never needed to worry as no one could bother that child.
    Now 30 some odd years later, I have another Scotch Collie who is now two. She is not the same in appearance, but very beautiful just the same and shows many of the same character traits. I have high hopes for her and hope to breed her to help with maintaing this splendid breed which has come so close to bring lost.
    Thanks for the excellent article it is so truthful a description of the breed.

  7. Thank you for your article!! I have been interested in becoming a part of the dedicated breeders who are working to revive the Scotch Collie for more than 30 yrs now. However I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved with a breed that didn’t have any formal organization. Without the guidance of a dedicated club, as well as a standard , it’s impossible for like minded breeders to work together for a common goal . I agree 100% that without a working standard in place the breed is unlikely to be successful, as there is no other way to set type , whether is be physical , intellectual, working style etc..
    I think the above standard is very close to how most of us envision the Scotch Collie as, like many others , my love for the breed comes from that irreplaceable childhood dog . However , I would caution against having such an open interpretation of the description of coat . Having been involved with the dog show world most of my life I can say this with absolute certainty…when it comes to coat more is always better !! And as such I would caution against allowing the concept of dogs with Too much coat , otherwise the risk will always be there for this beautiful working breed to go the way of the rough Collie . Beautiful dogs yes , but dogs dripping with coats so heavy they couldn’t possibly do the work they were originally bred to do. Possibly add a sentence such as … Dogs with an overabundance of coat so as to make them resemble the rough coat shall b penalized … Or something along those lines. Just a suggestion!! I would hate to see this amazing breed revived successfully only to be turned into something no dedicated lover of the breed wants .
    Thank you for your hard work on this!

  8. Found this website by accident, but what you say about these dogs resonates with me. My family has had a total of 8 border collies over the years, four of them of Arthur Allen’s breeding, and I am seeing the breed wrecked: if breeders ate not turning them into bushy-coated bears for show, they are making overly-hyper animals who can’t sit still. The older-style border collies we had decades ago had more in common with your Scottish collies than with what is being bred today.
    I am retired and will probably never be able to live on a farm, but am interested in adopting an older female dog, say, six and up. If you get word of such a dog, needing to be rehomed, please let me know. We live in a townhome but there are excellent places to walk around here. She would need to tolerate cats. Thanks.

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