Chapter XVI. The Collies
The origin and history of the Scotch Collie as a distinct breed are still unsolved questions. There are no solid facts to base even a theory upon, and, as in the case of many other dogs, we are left to conjecture.
Professor Low, in “Domesticated Animals of the British Islands,” says that the Terrier of the Highlands was anciently the shepherd’s dog; and the Rev. Dr. Alexander Stewart says that the Collie is “the old indigenous dog of the British Islands,” and claims for it the honour of being at once the Deerhound, Otter-hound, Sealdog, Terrier, and shepherd’s dog of the Scottish Gaels. Fingal’s dog Bran, he says, was “just an exceptionally strong and intelligent Collie; nor would it be easy to persuade me that the faithful Argus of Ulysses, in far-off Ithaca, three thousand years ago, was other than a genuine Collie of the same breed as the Fingalians more than a thousand years afterwards in the hunting-grounds of mediaeval Scotland and Ireland,” who therefore, of course, are to be considered as identical with the Collie of to-day.
If we take Dr. Stewart’s opinions as seriously meant, we can only reflect that the learned doctor, like many other worthy men, shows national predilection. Enlarged currency was given to Dr. Stewart’s views by the substance of his contribution appearing afterwards as a leader in the Daily News, and that again being reproduced by the Fanciers’ Gazette. If Professor Low is correct, the “ancient shepherds” of the Highlands exhibited less judgment than they are proverbially credited with when they resorted to Terriers to look after their flocks, especially as, according to Dr. Stewart, they possessed the real Simon Pure Collie.
The more likely theory with regard to the Collie’s origin is that the dog is the result of selection carried on through a long series of years. There has been an attempt made by writers to circumscribe the national character of this dog by calling him the Highland Collie, as though he were peculiar to the North of Scotland. There appears to be even less justification for this than for calling the Old English Black-and-tan Terrier the Manchester Terrier, for Manchester has done something special in making the modern Black-and-tan Terrier what he is; but it is not so in the case of the Highlands of Scotland and the Collie, and this dog is more properly described as the Scotch Collie, even to the manner of spelling the word.
This dog is peculiarly Scotch, and as a pastoral dog was originally more intimately connected with the Lowlands, where he is still met with pure in the greatest numbers, although now plentiful in both the Highlands of Scotland and the northern counties of England – and, indeed, through the influence of dog shows and the rage for the breed in fashionable circles, in London itself.
The English form of Sheepdog is described in earlier times than is the Scotch Collie; and it is not improbable that the latter may be in part derived from the former and the Scotch Greyhound. The Collie at least partakes of the form of both, having the strength of build of the English Sheepdog and the lithe, graceful action of the Greyhound. This is, of course, a mere suggestion, and not even much supported by the fact that intermediates in form between the Collie and both of these are seen in litters of what are called pure Collies.
If we endeavour to learn anything of the Collie’s origin from his name, we are again met with a host of difficulties. Some writers have assumed that the name is of Gaelic origin; but they advance no satisfactory reasons, and, before that can be accepted, we must have proofs that the dog is Celtic.
In Chaucer, “Coll our dog” occurs, and it may be the name was used in reference to the colour – black prevailing in this variety of dog. It has been suggested that Coll and Collie may be from the same root as collar, and the name given to the dog because of the white collar round the neck, which is very common in this, and indeed in all breeds where we get a mixture of a dark colour and white.
Dr. Ogilvie, in his “Imperial Dictionary,” and Jamieson, in his “Scottish Dictionary,” both give Collie; and it is not improbable that Collie is merely the diminutive and familiar form of Coll, for in all Scotch words the “ie” is thus used – Will becomes Willie, and Lass Lassie. Bewick, in his “British Quadrupeds,” indeed, had his own peculiar and original spelling of the word, which was Coaly – pardonable in a book published in a town the subject of the proverb “Carry coals to Newcastle.”
The Collie is one among many Sheepdogs that writers have credited with being the origin of all our varieties of Domestic dogs; but this seems an untenable position to take on the question. Far more feasible is it to suppose that the Collie, like other breeds, is the result of crosses and selection to adapt him to the special requirements of his country and the work he is called upon to perform.
There is one point upon which most people will agree, namely, that the Collie is in physical properties more nearly allied to several races of wild dogs than any other of our domestic breeds. The Aguara dogs, and especially the Hoary Aguara, as depicted by Lieut.-Colonel Charles Hamilton Smith, in Jardine’s “Naturalists’ Library,” bear a strong resemblance to a Smooth or a Half-rough Collie with prick ears, which feature is not uncommon in the Collie. The likeness between the Collie and the Indian Haredog, as given by Youatt, is very striking.
At once a useful and an ornamental variety, the Collie is one of the prime favourites with the dog-loving public of to-day. How great is the popularity achieved by the breed, may be gauged with a fair amount of accuracy by the enormous entries at all the more important shows, and these whether in the north or in the south, by the number of clubs that exist to foster the breed, and, lastly, by the phenomenal prices first-class specimens of the breed have realised over a long series of years. The only other variety that can claim anything like the same amount of popularity as the Rough Collie is the Fox-terrier. In fact, for years it has been practically a neck-and-neck race between the Collie and the Fox-terrier for pride of place in the long list of Domesticated dogs. So far as the Rough Collie is concerned, his beautiful full coat and striking colours have combined to make him one of the most ornamental of all dogs; and though the Smooth in every respect except coat is the equal if not the superior of the Rough, the difference in value between.two dogs of similar excellence in their respective varieties is so great as to be almost incredible.
As will be gathered from this, there are two varieties of Collie as generally accepted – the Rough and the Smooth; but there is also a third, the Bearded Collie, which is often found in the sheep-markets of Perth, Stirling, and Falkirk. This is a purely working type of dog, and appears to be a combination of the Collie proper and the Old English Sheepdog. Unlike the latter, however, it is not bob-tailed. Classes for this distinctive-looking dog are provided at some shows, and meet with a fair amount of success.
The Collie Club has, by its influence, made our exhibited Collies en masse more homogeneous, and its influence has, on the whole, been to give more correct ideas to the public of what a true Collie is. Naturally, too, with a breed that existed primarily as a worker, one likes to see what influence for good or ill shows, and necessarily the encouragement of a more or less ornamental animal, have exerted. It is pretty generally admitted that we have to-day an animal of a more uniform type, as well as a more pleasing one, so far as regards the Rough variety; but the craze for an extra long head and one or two other mere externals for a time at least endangered the breed. Some of those outside the pale of the Fancy may wonder why it is not possible to have the taking coat and the workmanlike appearance in one and the same animal. The fancier knows that such is practically impossible so far as the Rough Collie is concerned, and for this reason. One of the glories of a typical Collie, judged from a show point of view, is his coat, and this would be utterly ruined if he were used as a sheep-tender. Moreover, from a pecuniary point of view, it need scarcely be pointed out which is the more valuable.
The late Mr. Hugh Dalziel was one of those who thought that the influences of shows tend strongly to deteriorate the dog in his capacity as a worker, and it must be confessed that there is more than a substratum of truth in what he more than once stated. It is, however, only fair to say the contrary opinion has been vigorously upheld by a good many owners of winning stock. These have supported their views by adducing numerous instances of prize-bred dogs that have proved excellent Sheepdogs. Instances coming under personal observation cannot decide the question, for the reason that they are numerically insufficient to draw safe inferences from. Rather have we to ask, To what causes may be attributed the wonderful sense and judgment and marvellous cleverness in dealing with sheep inherent in the Collie ? To this there can be but one answer: the constant education and practice in one particular work – and that in conjunction with a master – and the selection, generation after generation, of the progeny of the best to succeed to the work. Even the habit of running round a flock has become an inherited instinct, and, as Darwin points out, is seen in the action of the Collie when running round a carriage and heading the horses.
Amongst those in authority who believed that our modern Collie is a degenerate as regards intelligence was the late Mr. D. J. Thomson Gray. He said: “The craze for high-set ears and extra long heads has given us not a Collie, but a long-coated Greyhound, with all the latter’s stupidity. Fanciers in breeding for outward points have ignored intelligence, so that the most intelligent dogs of the breed are found in those outside the prize-lists. As a watch, as a companion, and as a sporting dog, an intelligent Collie has few equals, and what makes him the more valuable in the eyes of the non-fancier is that he is as guid as he is bonnie.”
In general appearance the Collie stands clear and distinct from any other of our Domestic breeds : his build is light and graceful – no superabundance of needless bone or tissue to cumber him in his work, no sacrifice of these at the shrine of elegance; yet his style and carriage are eminently elegant in every outline and graceful movement, and there is a fitness about him for the rough yet important work he has to do, and in his countenance there is a combination of wisdom and self-reliance, toned down by an expression of loyalty and love for his master, that commends him to us and commands our admiration.
There is no dog that excels the Collie in good looks, high intelligence, and unswerving loyalty to his master or his mistress, and to these qualities does he owe his high position as a general favourite with the public, whilst his practical excellences render him indispensable to the shepherd. As an instance of the sagacity shown by the shepherd’s Collie the following may be quoted. A Scotch herder once bought some sheep in Edinburgh, and on the way home, as the road was crowded, lost two of them. This was not only a misfortune to John, but a slur upon his dog and a reproach to the man. Several days after John learned that a farmer who lived near the highway had found a pair of sheep, and he went with the dog to see if they were his. The farmer, with proper caution, asked him how they were marked. As John had bought sheep from many sellers, and had hurried out of town, he could not inform the farmer, who said: “Very well, then it is only right that I should keep the sheep.” “It’s a fact,” replied John, “that I cannot tell the sheep; but if my dog can, will you let me have them?” The farmer, though hard, was honest, and, having little fear of the ordeal, had all the sheep upon his farm turned into a large park. John’s dog also was turned into the park, and immediately singled out first one and then the other of the strays. That afternoon John was offered forty pounds for his Collie, and refused it, saying: “He’s a good dog, and he’s worth more than that to me. He does my work for me.”
Of the development by training of that intelligence with which the Collie is so liberally endowed there is hardly any need to speak. Our many variety shows furnish us with abundant proof, while a decent book of well-authenticated instances of remarkably clever dogs might easily be compiled. Suffice it to say that there is hardly any limit to the many useful and ornamental tricks that the Collie may be taught by a patient and painstaking owner.
Of the many fallacies in connection with dogs that ought to be relegated to the limbo of forgotten absurdities is the very prevalent one that the Collie as a breed is treacherous. Even the judicial mind is not free from bias in respect of the dog, and one County Court judge who was called upon to adjudicate in a case in which a Collie figured stated that all he knew about Collies was that they were treacherous brutes. Further, he said that he had owned one, and that it had bitten several members of his family, so he sold it! Statements such as these are very damaging to a breed, and are the more regrettable since they are unwarranted by what is known of the breed as a whole. It is a slander, to say the least, on a most intelligent breed, for the modern Collie is not by nature treacherous, whatever may be said with regard to his remote ancestors. Shows more than anything have been instrumental in establishing that close association with men that is so desirable. That there are individual Collies that are savage as there are individuals in every breed cannot be denied. To condemn a variety, however, simply because of the failings of a very few is manifestly unfair, unreasonable, and misleading.
The general character of the Collie is the reverse of treacherous, although he is not so ready to bestow his confidence in a “love-at-first-sight” way, as some breeds that are accustomed to fawn and to be fondled are. His affections, once placed, are strong and his memory is tenacious; and these qualities, combined with his unusually high intelligence, make him one of the most interesting and pleasant of companions. Out of doors he is active and merry, not to say boisterous, and if this last is not kept within reasonable limits it may develop into a serious fault. When, however, this does occur, it is the fault rather of the owner than of the dog. As a watch-dog he is vigilant and trustworthy, more especially if those higher qualities are developed by judicious training.