Scotch Collies and Sheep Dogs – 1919

Old Type Scotch Collies in a Painting
Drawing by Gainsborough. Study for his painting Squire Hallet and His Wife. In this picture is shown a typical highbred collie of the period.

The early Romans had their Shepherd dog (canus pastorales) but no line of descent can be traced to help us to identify the exact type of Shepherd dog of that day. Dr. Cains, author of Tretis of English Dogges (1570) is the first writer to refer to Shepherd dogs. In that work he says: “Of dogges under the coarser kind we will deal first with the shepherd’s dogge whom some call Bandogge, the Tydogge, or the Mastyne, the first name is imputed to him for service (Quoniam pastori famulator), because he is at the shepherd’s, his master’s, commandment. The second a Ligamento of the band or chain wherewith he is tyed. The third Sagina of the fatness of his body.” In the Foure Books of Husbandrie (1586) reference is made to “The Shepherd’s Masty, that is for the fold, must neither be so gaunt nor so swift as the greyhound, nor so fatte nor so heavy as the Masty of the house, but verie strong and able to fight and follow the chase that he may beat away the woolfe or other beasts, and to follow the sheepe, and to recover the pray. And therefor his body should be rather long than short and thick, in all points he must agree with the ban-dog.”

About two hundred years later (1790) we find in Bewick’s History of Quadrupeds illustrations of the “Cur-dog” and the “Ban-dog.” Bewick says of the Bandog that “It is lighter, smaller, more active and vigilant than the mastiff, but not so powerful, and its nose is smaller (narrower) and possesses in some degree, the scent of the hound. Its hair is rough and generally of a yellowish grey, streaked with shades of a black or brown color. It does not invariably, like the preceeding kinds, attack its adversary in front, but frequently seizes cattle by the flank. It attacks with eagerness and its bite is keen.” Bewick says of the Cur-dog: “It is a useful servant of the farmer and grazier, and although it is not taken notice of by naturalists as a distinct race, yet it is now so generally used, especially in the north of England, and such great attention is paid in breeding it that we cannot help considering it a permanent kind. In the north of England this and the foregoing, the shepherd’s dog or Scotch Collie, are called Coally dogs.” There is little doubt from these remarks that Berwick referred to the dogs which we now class under the heading of Scotch Collie and English Bob-tail Sheep dog.

The derivation of Collie is somewhat puzzling. Some dictionaries give it that Collie is identical with cooly, colly, coley and cooley, having reference to black. Certain lexiconographers suggest that the name Collie comes from col (black), and that certain Highland sheep, known as colleys on account of the black color of their faces and legs, were tended by a dog, hence the name Collie-dog. Chaucer evidently used the word Colle as a proper name. In the Nun’s Priest’s Tale he writes, “Ran Colle our dog, and Talbot and Garland.”

In his “Twa Dogs” (1786) Burns says:

The tither was a Ploughman’s Collie,
His breast was white, his touzie back
Well clad wi’ coat o’ glossy black
His gawcie tail, wi’ upward curl
Hung owre his hurdies wi’ a swirl.

There, at least, is a description of our black and white Collie of today, both as to color and carriage of tail. The dog, in Burns’ time, had come to be a well recognized type; just how far back of that period the type existed we cannot know for a certainty, as there are no definite records on the subject existing for determination.

Promenade Au Jardin. E. Murato

In the New York Show of 1878 there were but nineteen entries, but the popularity of the Collie breed now brings together entries of a hundred and over at our large shows. The beauty of the Collie, his artistic lines, and the fine coat of a really good specimen have done much to make him the popular favorite that he is, but outside of the fact that he is a truly beautiful animal, many owners have selected him as being a companionable dog, to say nothing of his ability as a worker. It is not, as some people think, impossible to have a show dog and a worker at the same time. There are many excellent show dogs that are fine workers, this dog being so full of intelligence that it is not hard to bring even a fine bench show specimen back to his natural instincts and teach him to handle sheep.

The late Hugh Dalziel, one of the best authorities on the breed, wrote of the Collie, “It would, indeed, be difficult to overestimate the intelligence of a good Collie; he thinks and acts for himself under difficulties and conditions new to him, and in matters relative to his special duties rarely fails to strike out the true path. That he feels the responsibility of his charge, and acts independently of special orders, all who have had the opportunity to observe him must have noted.” I have seen a dog in charge, under the shepherd, of a flock of white-faced sheep on the south side of a hill, and where the water shed was the boundary and no fence to mark it, over and over again, without the slightest hint from his master, get up and leisurely pick out and drive back to the north side of the hill the hardier black-faced sheep that had stolen over the crest and down the south slope among their white-faced friends in search of the better bite they well know grew there.”

Those who have watched the collie at his work, whether on the hills or in the dales, or taking his flock from one place to another, can testify to the great intelligence displayed by the Collie in many ways on such occasions. I was brought up in East Anglia and lived not many yards from one of those famous old Roman roads which run in a perfectly straight line across hill and through valley for miles; in many stretches of such a road one can see a long distance ahead. I have seen two flocks of sheep approaching one another, and without waiting for orders, I have seen the dog of each flock advance beyond his charge, as it were, approach one another and stand sentry, as it were, in the middle of the road, each Collie diverting its flock to one side to prevent its becoming mixed, nor would they relinquish their positions until their entire individual flocks had passed the sentry and “all was well.”

The Sheep dog Trials of recent years have done much to stimulate an interest in the working dog. At these trials, which are frequently held in connection with the county agricultural shows of England, a certain number of sheep are liberated, and it is the work of the dog to bring them into a given fold in a limited number of minutes. Sometimes the sheep are too far off for the shepherd to give instructions verbally and orders are conveyed by signal to the dog; this proves again his marked intelligence. The Sheep Dog is able to display some of his best ability at the sheep auction marts; without a well-trained dog at such places it would be impossible to keep flocks from mixing. As a companion, and as a dog to have around the house or on the farm, he cannot be beaten, very little teaching is required to make any puppy know what is required of him.

A black and tan collie of the working type which was commonly met with some twenty-five years ago. This strongly contrasts with later dogs.

Many there are who consider the Collie a treacherous dog; this is mainly because they do not know him. There are good and bad individuals in every breed, and, taken all round, the Collie is the reverse of treacherous, if not properly checked his one fault is over-exuberance, he is inclined to be noisy, but above all things there can be no question of his faithfulness. There is little doubt that the Collie stands unrivaled for beauty and intelligence. Therefore, in the former case it is not to be wondered at that he has been selected so often as a subject for the artist’s brush, and in the latter instance, if not as a worker, as a boon companion.

As to the matter of selection, the choice is a large one, there are many varieties both in rough and smooth. One seldom now sees the rich black-and-tan that was associated with the dog in his early show days. The popular colors of today are sable, sable-and-white, black-and-white, and that most striking combination black, tan and white, or as it is commonly called, tricolor, and the Marled or marbled sometimes called tortoise-shell, having reference to its bizarre coloring combination. Years ago it was thought that these colored dogs were mere accidental color sports, but it has been clearly proved by many that Marled Collies can be bred true to type, the most beautiful of this class being the blue-marled, which is a combination of white, light slate, dark slate, and here and there a light flecking of fawn or sable. Nothing among the Collies is more pleasing to the eye than a really fine specimen of the rough-coated male. Whites have taken a strong hold in the West, and are exceedingly attractive. In bygone days there was a prejudice against the white, that it was liable to be deaf; this was more a question of inbreeding than a natural defect in the dog. The late Queen Victoria owned some very beautiful whites, and I remember about the time of her Jubilee one of the younger Rothschilds, then a student at Cambridge University, had a remarkably beautiful white Collie. This color was, at that time, quite rare in the dogs of the breed.

There is a third type of Collie but little known outside of Scotland. He is essentially a working dog—the Bearded Collie, much resembling the dog illustrated in the painting of The Piping Shepherd by Fripp. This dog is a sort of combination of the Scotch Collie and the old English Sheep dog, the Bearded is a shaggy hard-coated dog but, unlike the Bobtail, he is allowed to carry the whole of his tail, which is quite bushy and carried low. He is very strong and well fitted for the rough usage that is apt to to be his on the northern hills. In general form the only difference between the rough-coated and the smooth-coated dog, is the question of length of coat. But the only way thoroughly to realize it is to see a full-coated dog clipped.

Eclypse. After an engraving by Joseph B. Pratt from a painting by Frank Paton.

Among the well known Collie fanciers in America the late J. Pierpont Morgan took prominent place. Mr. Morgan had a very large kennel of both rough-coated and smooth-coated Collies. Some of the best prize-winners were exhibited by the Morgan Kennels. The Morgan kennels had the famous “Ormskirk Alexandra,” purchased from that great Scotch fancier, the late Panmure Gordon. As a worthy rival to the Morgan dogs were W. Samuel Untemeyer’s many fine dogs;his “Southport Sculptor” was one of the most remarkable. Dr. Jarrett of Philadelphia benched many successful dogs in both rough and smooth classes, and Mrs. J. L. Kernochan of Hempstead, Long Island, had a fine collection of smooth-coats. Mr. Andrew Carnegie’s enthusiasm for the Collie was naturally to be expected.

The show Collie of today has changed but little in general from the type of twenty years ago except so far as the formation of head is concerned; in this there is an inclination toward the narrow head of the Borzios or Russian Wolfhound, which is longer and more Greyhound-like than was customary in the Collie. A general description of the type of dog follows: The skull should be flat, moderately wide between the ears, gradually tapering to the eyes, the cheek should not be full or prominent. The muzzle should be of fair length, tapering to the nose, and must not be lippy. Whatever the color of the dog the nose must be black; the teeth level, and the jaws clean cut and powerful; the eyes of medium size set somewhat obliquely, and brown in color, except in the case of Maries, when one or both may be blue and white, the expression full of intelligence with an alertness when listening; the ears small, moderately wide at base but not too much at the side of head. When in repose they should be carried thrown back, and when alert bought forward with tips slightly drooping. The neck should be muscular, of fair length and somewhat arched. The body should be rather long with well-sprung ribs, deep chest, loins slightly arched, and powerful. The forelegs should be straight and muscular, a fair amount of bone, showing flexibility without weakness. The hind legs muscular at thighs, clean and sinewy below the hocks. The feet should be oval, soles well padded, and toes arched and close together. The brush should be profuse, moderately long, carried low when the dog is quiet, with slight upward “swirl” at end, gaily carried when the dog is excited, but not over his back. The coats should be dense, the outer coat harsh to the touch, the undercoat soft, furry and very close. The mane or frill should be very abundant, the face smooth, also the ears at tips, but they should carry more hair toward the base, the fore legs well feathered, also the hind legs above the hocks. In size dogs should measure from 21 to 24 inches at shoulder, and weigh from 45 to 65 pounds. The general character should be lithe and active, deep of chest, his sloping shoulders and well bent hocks indicating speed, his expression highly intelligent. He should be a fair length on the legs, giving him somewhat a racy appearance. These characteristics apply to both rough and smooth except so far as length of coat is concerned.

The Collie figures prominently in literature and in art and has deserved the attention given him not only because of his picturesqueness but likewise because he is very distinctly a dog of character and of lovable traits that endear him to those who take the trouble to know him.

"Twa Dogs" by William Wells. In the collection of Mr. Andrew Carnegie


Written by T. C. Turner
Published in Art & Life Magazine, August 1919

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