Shepherd’s Dogs of Britain – 1853

But more distinctly to be referred to the Lyciscan type, are the common dogs of shepherds, to which the term Shepherd’s Dog is, with us, more especially applied. Various kinds of dogs, however, are employed in different countries for the tending of flocks and herds. In some they approach to the Mastiff type, as in the countries of the East, where they are employed to protect the flocks, not only from wolves, but from human enemies. In others they approach to the characters of the common wolf, and are of sufficient strength to encounter these enemies. Such are the Shepherd’s Dogs of the Pyrenees, which so much resemble the Black Wolves of the same country, that they may be mistaken for them. In Hungary, the common Shepherd’s Dogs so much resemble wolves, that a recent traveller tells us, that the owner of large estates in that country informed him, that he could not distinguish the dogs of his own shepherds from the wolves of the same locality ; and in other countries of the Danube the same resemblance is observed. In the Celtic parts of Scotland, previous to the extensive introduction of sheep, the Shepherd’s Dogs were a kind of Terriers. For the most part, however, the common Shepherd’s Dog with which we are familiar in this part of Europe, has deviated in certain characters, especially in size, from the pristine type of the wolf, though still the affinity may be sufficiently traced in individuals to indicate their origin. Thus, if we shall place the older Shepherd’s Dog of the south of Scotland, termed a Colley, beside an Esquimaux Dog, we shall discover little difference between them in their essential characters, and still less between the Esquimaux Dog and the Shepherd’s Dog of Iceland. The dogs of this class have a certain likeness to one another, which may be ascribed, independently of a common origin, to their being employed in the same pursuits, and treated nearly in the same manner. They are of small or medium size, have the muzzle narrow, the ears sub-erect, the hair long and coarse, and the tail bushy… In the British Islands, the Shepherd’s Dogs present considerable diversities of form and habits. Those of the southern counties of downs are mostly a peculiar breed, with shaggy furs, pricked ears, and generally with short or rudimental tails. They are rude, noisy, and generally less tender towards their charge than the dogs of the cultivated parts of France and Germany. In the countries of enclosures, the English Sheep-Dogs are of every sort, and have rarely the characters distinctive of a true breed. In the mountainous parts of the north of England and south of Scotland, the dogs of this class have acquired a more uniform set of characters, and so have become a breed or race, the individuals resembling one another; and they excel all the others in the faculties and habits proper to their condition. They are termed Colleys, probably from the Celtic Coillean or Cuillean, signifying a little dog or whelp. This kind of dog is placed more in habitual communication with his master than most others. He inhabits the same cabin, and becomes, as it were, a member of the household. He contracts much of the simplicity of habits and manners distinctive of those with whom he associates. He is homely in his demeanour, indifferent to the caresses of strangers, whom he rather repulses than courts, and seemingly sedulous only in the discharge of his proper duties. He attaches himself to his immediate master; and frequently, when transferred to a stranger, pines, and yields an unwilling service. The race is frequently crossed with other breeds; but, for the most part, those are the most useful and trusty which retain the conformation of the older colleys. They are faithful, and never reluctant to exert their powers. When directed by the voice and gestures of the shepherd, they collect the straggling sheep, and bring them in a body to the places appointed. They run in silence; but, when driving the sheep into pens and houses, or forcing them to cross rivulets or narrow passes, they use the voice, barking with a sharp and peculiar tone. They have been known to follow a strayed sheep to a distant farm, separate it from the flock with which it had mixed, and bring it back again to its own pastures. Wonderful instances are on record of their sagacity and perseverance, when left to their own resources. A curious case is mentioned by the Etterick Shepherd’. A flock of newly weaned lambs under his charge, 700 in number, from some unknown cause, took sudden fright. In the endeavours of himself and an assistant to collect them, they separated, and fled in three divisions to the neighbouring hills, south, west, and east. Apostrophising his dog, the Shepherd exclaimed, ” Sirrah, my man, they’re a’ away!” Sirrah comprehended the import, and without a word of direction, and although it was now midnight, set off alone in the pursuit. The night passed’on, while the anxious Shepherd and his fellow-labourer traversed separately every neighbouring hill for miles. Neither the sheep nor the dog were to be anywhere seen; and the Shepherd and his friend, after the sun had been up, were returning to their master with the ungrateful intelligence that every one of his flock of lambs had been lost. On their way homeward, they discovered a number of sheep at the bottom of a ravine, the faithful Sirrah watching them, and looking round for relief. They thought at first that this was one of the three divisions, which the dog, in this particular situation, had been able to master. ” But what was our astonishment,” says the Shepherd, ” when we discovered by degrees that not one lamb of the whole flock was wanting! How he had got all the divisions collected in the dark, is beyond my comprehension. The charge was left entirely to himself from midnight until the rising of the sun; and if all the shepherds in the Forest had been there to assist him, they could not have effected it with greater propriety. All that I can further say is, that I never felt so grateful to any creature below the sun as I did to Sirrah that morning.” Anecdotes of a like kind might be multiplied without number. The older shepherds of Tweeddale and the Cheviots delight to tell of the fidelity and services of these their humble companions ; and any one who would spend a day with a shepherd of Etterick, amongst his flocks on the hills, would receive more remarkable information regarding the habits of dogs than he could derive from all the cynegetica of Greece and Rome. Beside the true Shepherd’s Dog, there is a class employed in the duty of conducting those innumerable flocks and herds which are continually in the course of being conveyed along the highways to the towns and markets. The dogs employed in this service are of a very mixed kind, and generally more muscular than the true sheep-dogs. They acquire a great aptitude for their peculiar service. When conducting their charge, often through crowded highways and the streets of towns, they keep the animals together, head them or follow them as the case may require, and make circuits, that they may take their stations at the lanes and bye-ways into which the animals are likely to turn. They may be seen lying for hours together on our public roads, watching their charge, and preventing the animals from straying away, or being mixed with other passing herds, while all the time their careless masters may be indulging themselves in the neighbouring alehouse. Some of them have been known, by themselves, to conduct a flock of sheep, or herd of cattle, through a crowded city to the pen or yard to which they had been in use to go. But they are much more rude.and harsh towards their charge than the genuine sheep-dogs. They do not hesitate to inflict wounds, when necessary to urge onward the terrified and exhausted flock. This difference between their habits and those of the shepherd’s dog is the result of the peculiar employment of each. The shepherd’s dog is the guardian of the flocks, and fulfils the duties assigned to him ; the drover’s dog is a jailor, conducting an unwilling charge to the slaughter-house.

Allied to the Lyciscan group, are likewise numerous other dogs, more or less mixed in blood. Such are the dogs termed Curs, which are frequently the offspring of the shepherd’s dog and terrier ; the Lurcher, which is the product of a shepherd’s dog or barbet and the greyhound; the Ban-dog, in which the blood of the bull-dog is to be recognised ; and such are many more which do not admit of classification.

Excerpted from On the domesticated animals of the British Islands by David Low – 1853

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