The Collie: History and Appearance
Most people think of the Collie as the large, long haired, sable and white dog named Lassie that is featured in the television show and motion pictures of the same name. However, the Collie breed of dog actually comes in two varieties: the familiar rough coat of Lassie, and the little known smooth coat. Both the rough coat Collie and the smooth Coat Collie are bred to the same standard.
The exact origin of the dog is undetermined, but like many other breeds, it has an interesting history. The breed comes from Scotland and England, where its ancestry lies in the occupation of sheepherding. The smooth coated Collie was occupied as a drover, guiding livestock to market, while the rough coated breed was suited for watching over and guarding the livestock. The breed was considered strictly a working dog up until about two centuries ago.
There are early woodcuts from the 1800’s presenting evidence of the breed’s ancestors. The breed was called a “Shepherd’s Dog.” The rough coated variety was much smaller at the time than they are today, and was usually featured in black and white.
Early in the 19th century, dog fanciers began to show interest in the breed. The keeping of written pedigrees began, and the breed started to progress. The Collie became larger in stature and more refined in its features. In 1867, “Old Cockie” was born. He was the standard for the rough Collie characteristics, and he is also believed to have introduced the sable coloring to the breed. In time, the rough coated Collie began to appear in a variety of colors, including red, buff, and mottled coloring. Black, black and white, tan and white, and blue merles were seen most frequently.
The early pedigrees were quite short. At the time, pride of ownership was prized above written records. In 1860, the first classes were offered for what were called “Scotch Sheep Dogs.” Both the rough and smooth coated varieties competed.
It was some time later that Queen Victoria saw her first Collies. She enthusiastically sponsored the breed, and there was a surge in the Collie’s popularity. The Collie type was fixed by 1886, and the height and weight standard were never changed in England.
While the Collie traveled to the New World with settlers to watch over their sheep, it was not until 1877 that they were shown in America. Appearing in classes for “Shepherd or Collie Dogs,” only a few were entered. The next year’s show, however, brought two Collies that were imported from Queen Victoria’s own Balmoral Kennel. Immediately, there was a surge in the popularity of the American Collie. J.P. Morgan, a well-known financier, established kennels. Many of his contemporaries followed, and soon, the English Collies were being imported for high prices. A half a century later, the breed would become popular in Japan, and Americans would begin exporting the breed.
The Collie Club of America was established in 1886. It was the second parent club to join the American Kennel Club. The Collie Club became active in supporting the breed.
The Collie is no longer in great demand as a herding dog. He is now valued as a family dog with a special affection for young children. The breed is often placed in the top of AKC rankings. The Collie has benefited from its reputation as a loyal and brave family companion. Featured in the book Lad: A Dog, as well as the aforementioned Lassie, the breed has been blessed with a positive image and reputation.
Collies usually weigh up to 75 lbs. Females reach 24 inches at the shoulders, while males reach 26 inches.
The head possesses a signature wedge shape, with a smooth, clean, outline. It tapers on the sides, and the muzzle is well rounded. The teeth meet in a scissors bite. Because of dog’s features, including the flat skull, arched eyebrows, and slight stop, the foreface has a chiseled appearance. The eyes have an outward appearance. They are medium almond shaped, and usually dark in color. The ears are in proportion to the head, and are either folded back or held three quarters of the way up.
The Collie has a fairly long neck, a hard, firm body, and a strong, level back. The legs are straight and sinewy. The feet are oval in shape, with tough, padded soles. The tail is long and carried low during quiet moments. It is raised during excitement, but never appears over the back.
Rough coated Collies feature a well fitted, abundant coat. The coat on the legs and head is shorter. The outer coat is straight and coarse feeling. The undercoat is thick, soft, and close. The coat is longer on the mane and frill. The hair on the hips and tail is thicker.
The smooth coated Collie has short, hard coat that is dense. The coat is flat and lies close to the skin. There is a thick undercoat.
There are four recognized colors: Sable and White, Tri-Color, Blue Merle, and White.
Showing a Collie
In show, the Collie is held to certain standards, though surprisingly, it is the animal’s expression that is judged as highly important. The dog’s expression should be evaluated, in that it does not show timidness, sullenness, or aggression. The facial features are considered a part of the evaluation of the Collie’s expression.
Collies may not be over or undersized. The coat cannot be curly or soft. The dog must have a sound gait and come to a natural stop. The legs must be straight; narrow or wide placement is considered a fault. The dog should not have prick ears or low ears. Eyes cannot be large or round. Eye faults are severely penalized. There is a great deal of importance placed on the shape of the head. Head flaws are considered to be severe faults.
Overall, it is extremely important that the Collie displays a balanced appearance, and demonstrates good character, and a strong expression.