Wednesday, April 25, 2012


The original Collie was a generic herding dog.  It's an ancient breed-type that's been around in one form or another since people began herding sheep thousands of years ago.  The meaning of the breed name is lost.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "collie" may be a derivative of the word, "coaly" used to describe the black color of the sheep it herded. Or it may be taken from a proper name for dog.  In 1386, Chaucer used it as a call name, "Ran Colle our dogge." 

Chaucer's dog probably looked just like this one.
breed history border collie
Engraving by Wm. Lizars, "The Naturalist's Library," 1830-1840

In fact all Collies looked pretty much like this one until the mid 1800s, when Queen Victoria's passion for the breed made the working dog a society favorite. It wasn't long before everyone who was anyone had to be seen with a Collie. One Victorian fashionista gushed, "Indeed her gracious majesty was the very first to render these celebrated dogs fashionable in good society, having adopted one." In 1864 a London journalist wrote, "No young gentleman would be seen walking down Union Street with a collie dog in 1863, but now collie is positively king of the canine race."

I wrote an article for The AKC Gazette about Queen Victoria's dogs.  You can read it here.

This is a photo from the article.  Sharp was the Queen's favorite.  Although he looks more like a retriever in this photo, he was Border Collie.

The mid 19th century generic herding dog is the common ancestor of the numerous herding breeds we love today.  
These photos are from my collection* showing how the rough coated Collie looked 

in 1907
vintage photo collie
in the 1930s
vintage photo collie
in the 1950s
vintage photo collie
on a palm chair
vintage photo collie

And this is the rough coated Collie today (photo: )

Click here to see classic Collie stalking behavior.

Click here to read more about Queen Victoria's Collies.

*Be nice. If you reproduce my photos, please reference my blog.


  1. It is fun to see how the breed evolved over the years. I have a border collie and he is my constant companion.


  2. Queen Victitia had the old-fashioned looking Collie, not the "Border Collie," which wasn't so named until the 1920s! The modern looking Collie has evolved, HOWEVER he is still the same breed as he was in the 1800s and 1700s. The variations in the collie of several centuries ago included working styles, generalized physical type easily recognized as "collie", variety of colors but commonly seen with white collar tail tip, and white often on the feet, legs, belly, and chest. Black and tans, blacks, blue merles, and black and whites were the most common colors, but tan, buff, and other descriptors that were possibly those later described as sables and sable and whites became popular with the advent of early stock and poultry shows that included dogs. Queen Victoria adored Collies, and both the old-fashioned and increasingly modern looking Collies (same breed) took up more and more space in the Queen's heart, home, and kennels. It us said that the Queen owned more than 90 Collies in her lifetime, and later a number of them took on the Sandringham Kennel prefix/suffix.

    During the late 1890s, a black and white working Collie owned by a shepherd and named Old Hemp was born and demonstrated an intensity of drive, compulsion, and stalking behavior that would later be called "eye" that would later stamp this strain of Collie for many generations to come. Of course, this style of working livestock is only one of many styles, and while it is now the preferred style of working stock by the modern Border Collie (BC), it is not the most common style which is the upstanding working dog. The modern Scotch Collie (aka Rough Collie, Smooth Collie,, and previously as the Highland Collie, Smooth Sheepdog, Shepherd Dogge, Colley, and others) works by this method, in addition to other breeds such as the Weksh Collie, Australian Shepherd (an American breed of Basque and Collie origin), etc. Due to the exposure of the Birder Collie on television in programs such as A Dog and His Master, the public now identifies any sheep herding dog, but erroneously calls it a Border Collie. What Lassie was to Collies worldwide, the BCin the movie Babe is for BCs and "sheepdogs."

    Fortunately or unfortunately, the evolution in what many identify and perceive as the Collie proper (aka Scotch Collie, Rough Collie, Smooth Collie) that has caused many physical changes however leaving the core qualities of extremely high intelligence, intuitiveness, steady temperament and disposition, versatility and working capabilities bar none, intact. Extremism can occuring fits and starts in any breed, and it continues to evolve. Likewise, other types of herding dogs including both the Border Collie and Australian Shepherd are now experiencing their own extreme changes in physical appearance, etc., that appear to mirror what occurred with the Collie beginning about 120 years ago. Interesting, don't you think? The hand of man can have beneficial as well as perilous effects on a breed or, for that matter, other species in general even to the point of extinction.

  3. Correction: the name of the popular BBC television series which helped make the BC an easily remembered sheepdog is One Man and His Dog.