The Colley, The dogs of Great Britain… 1879

One of the most beautiful and useful of all dogs is the Scotch sheep-dog or colley, excellent engravings of which are given, pp. 125-128. With a fine muzzle he combines an intelligent-looking and rather broad head, and a clear but mild eye, a pricked and small ear slightly falling at the tip. His body is elegantly formed, and clothed with a thick coat of woolly hair, which stands out evenly from his sides and protects him from all the vicissitudes of the weather, neither wind, rain, nor snow being capable of penetrating it. The legs are well formed and the feet strong and useful. The tail is long, gently curved, and bushy, and the whole outline resembles that of the dingo; but the form is stouter and the limbs stronger. The color is nearly always black and tan, with little or no white; sometimes, however, the whole skin is of one or other of these colors, but then the dog is not considered nearly so valuable. The colley, like the true English sheep-dog, has always one or two dew-claws on each hind leg.

A great deal of discussion has lately taken place in regard to the colley’s proper color and general appearance, and various descriptions have been given of what each writer considers the genuine breed, differing in every respect but the one to which I have drawn attention, which in almost all cases has been admitted to be essential. Some gentlemen, however, who have obtained specimens with beautiful but open coats of a glossy black, pointed with tan, have contended that this is the desideratum; and so it is for the dog, considered simply as a companion. Hitherto, however, no one has ventured to propound the theory that he is to be so regarded; and, until I find that a separate class is made at some one or more of our important shows for “toy colleys,” I must continue to describe the breed from the shepherd’s point of view, only—regarding any suspicion of a setter cross, and especially if shown in coat, as injuring his value for the reasons before given. Only those who have seen one or more of the public sheep-dog trials (instituted about four years ago by Mr. Lloyd Price, and many of which have of late years been held in Wales as well as in England), or have privately seen these animals at their usual work, can realize the amount of intelligence displayed by them. In these trials the slightest sign from the shepherd is understood and obeyed, and even the exact amount of driving calculated to make the sheep go quietly forward to the pen without breaking away is regulated to a nicety.

But, irrespective of his obedience to his master’s orders, the independent intelligence of the colley is very high, and it is interesting to watch him or some other sheep-dog manage a wild sheep Which is to be driven against his will in a certain direction. Very frequently the sheep turns round and stands facing the dog, and the natural expectation on the part of a spectator is that the latter will try by barking to make the sheep turn round and progress somewhere. Not so, however; such a proceeding would inevitably cause a “break away,” and the course pursued is to lie quietly down and face the sheep. By this method in a short time the facing is changed to a quiet retreat, or sometimes to a slight backing, when the dog quietly moves a step or two forward and again lies down, till at last, by this kind of coaxing, the weaker animal of the two is quietly managed. In such cases a high degree of intelligence and tact is required which is partly innate and partly acquired from the shepherd by education. As a consequence there must be a due development of brain in the sheep-dog, and there must be a disposition to learn and obey the orders given. So clever is the colley that he will not be imposed on for any purpose not evidently useful, and it is seldom that he can be taught to execute tricks for the gratification of idle spectators, although there is no difficulty in getting him to perform them once or twice to please his master. If exhibited beyond this extent he is apt to sulk and refuse to show off; but when he is wanted to do really useful work, such as is required for the shepherd’s purposes, he is untiring, and will go on until utterly exhausted.

No other dog in this country is so constantly with his master engaged in his proper calling—taking the breed as a whole. Occasionally, it is true, pet dogs are as much so, but by no means universally, nor are they even then so frequently employed in carrying out their master’s orders. This naturally increases the intelligence of each individual and reacts on the whole breed; so that, independently of the constantly weeding out of puppies rendered useless from a want of intelligence, the superiority of the whole variety in mental attributes is easily accounted for. For the same reason, when the pet colley gets old and is submitted to the rebuffs of children or strangers, he is apt to become crusty in temper, and sometimes even savage; but he is always most affectionate to his master, and no dog seems to be more sincerely repentant when he has done wrong.

Within the last ten years the colley has become very fashionable as a pet, and his market price has risen from $15 to $150, or even more for animals good-looking enough to take a prize at our shows. For this kind of colley, beauty of form and a brilliant black coat are the chief requisites, and these are greatly aided by the cross with the Gordon setter; that is to say, without any consideration for the purposes to which this dog was originally bred, and is still extensively used. The pet colley, not being exposed to weather, is quite as useful to his master with an open setter coat and feathered legs; while regarded from an artistic point of view he is more handsome from the superior brilliancy of his color, and from the addition of feather. His ears, when thus bred, are, however, seldom good, being neither pricked like the colley’s, nor falling close like the setter’s; and this is the chief objection to the cross from the pet dog point of view, though no doubt it is and has been easily bred out by careful selection. Moreover, if a pet is wanted solely as such, the Gordon setter in his purity is a handsomer dog than the colley, with a more pettable disposition, and it would be better to select him accordingly.

In Scotland and the north of England, as well as in Wales, a great variety of breeds is used for tending sheep, depending greatly on the locality in which they are employed, and on the kind of sheep adopted in it. The Welsh sheep is so wild that he requires a faster dog than even the Highlander of Scotland, while in the lowlands of the latter country a heavier, tamer, and slower sheep is generally introduced. Hence it follows that a different dog is required to adapt itself to these varying circumstances, and it is no wonder that the strains are as numerous as they are. In Wales there is certainly, so far as I know, no special breed of sheep-dog, and the same may be said of the north of England, where, however, the colley (often improperly called Scotch), more or less pure, is employed by nearly half the shepherds of that district, the remainder resembling the type known by that name in many respects, but not all. For instance, some show a total absence of “ruff” or “frill;” others have an open coat of a pied black and white color, with a setter shaped body; while others, again, resemble the ordinary drover’s dog in all respects. But, without doubt, the modern “true and accepted” colley has been in existence for at least thirty years, as proved by the engraving published in Youatt’s book on “The Dog,” nearly thirty years ago, which, by permission of his publisher, was accepted by me as the proper type in 1859, in my first treatise on the varieties of the canine race. That portrait was, I believe, copied from a specimen in the gardens of the Zoological Society, which for some years after its formation possessed a most interesting collection of dogs, now unfortunately abandoned. The engraving given on page 99 represents some specimens of good American bred Colleys; that on page 128 is a portrait of Tom Ridley, the first prize dog at the N. Y. Bench Show, 1877, and owned by Mr. F. Bronson, of New York City.


Excerpted from The dogs of Great Britain, America, and other countries, their breeding, training, and management in health and disease by John Henry Walsh (Stonehenge), 1879

Youatt's Colley referenced in the article

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