Information about the Collie

The collie is a distinctive type of herding dog, including many related landraces and formal breeds. It originates in Scotland and Northern England. It is a medium-sized, fairly lightly built dog with a pointed snout, and many types have a distinctive white pattern over the shoulders. Collies are very active and agile, and most types have a very strong herding instinct. The collie type has spread through many parts of the world (especially Australia and North America) and has diversified into many varieties, sometimes with mixture from other dog types. Some of the collie types have remained as working dogs, used for herding cattle, sheep and other livestock, while others are kept as pets, show dogs or for dog sports, in which they display great agility, stamina and trainability.

Common use of the name “collie” in some areas is limited largely to certain breeds; such as to the Rough Collie in parts of the United States, or to the Border Collie in many rural parts of Great Britain. Many collie types do not actually include “collie” in their name.

The exact origin of the name “collie” is uncertain, although it may derive from the Scots word for “coal”, many collie types are black or black-and-white. Alternatively it may come from the related word colley, referring to the black-faced mountain sheep of Scotland. The collie name refers especially to dogs of Scottish origin, but the collie type is far more widespread in Britain and in many other parts of the world, often being called sheepdog or shepherd dog elsewhere.

Collies are generally medium-sized dogs of about 10 to 25 kg (22 to 55 lb), fairly lightly built with a pointed snout and erect or partly erect ears, giving a foxy impression. Cattle-herding types tend to be rather more stocky. The fur may be short, flat, or long, and the tail may be smooth, feathered, or bushy. Collies have a moderately long tail, with the end of the bone reaching to the hock or joint below. When the dog is quiet, then the tail is low, and has a upward swirl or twist. When the dog is in a gait, or when the dog is excited, then the tail is carried gaily but not over the back. Types vary in colouration, with the usual base colours being black, black-and-tan, red, red-and-tan, or sable. Many types have white along with the main colour, usually under the belly and chest, over the shoulders, and on parts of the face and legs, but sometimes leaving only the head coloured or white may be absent or limited to the chest and toes (as in the Australian Kelpie). Merle colouration may also be present over any of the other colour combinations, even in landrace types. The most widespread patterns in many types are black-and-white or tricolour (black-and-tan and white).

Collies range in trainability from the “average” Rough and Smooth Collie, to the arguably most trainable of all breeds, the Border Collie. The Border Collie is also the breed most in need of a job while the Rough, Smooth, and Bearded Collies fit better into the average family lifestyle.

A working member of a breed like the Border Collie, is an extremely energetic and agile dog with great stamina. When in fit working condition they are able to run all day without tiring, even over very rough or steep ground. Working collies display a keen intelligence for the job at hand and are instinctively highly motivated. They are often intensely loyal. Dogs of collie type or derivation occupy four of the first sixteen ranks in Stanley Coren’s The Intelligence of Dogs, with the Border Collie being first. These characteristics generally make working strains suitable for agility; in addition to herding work they are well suited to active sports such as sheepdog trials, flyball, disc dog and dog agility. Working strains have strong herding instincts, and some individuals can be single-minded to the point of obsessiveness. Collies can compete in herding events. Collies exhibiting basic herding instincts can be trained to compete in herding trials.

Certain types of collie (for example Rough Collies, Smooth Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs and some strains of Border Collie and other breeds) have been bred for many generations as pets and for the sport of conformation showing, not as herding dogs. These types have proved to be highly trainable, gentle, loyal, intelligent, and well suited as pets. Their gentleness and devotion also make them quite compatible with children. They are often more suitable as companions than as watch dogs, though the individual personalities of these dogs vary. The temperament of these breeds has been featured in literature, film, and popular television programmes. The novels of Albert Payson Terhune celebrated the temperament and companionship of collies and were very popular in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s. More famously, the temperament and intelligence of the Rough Collie was exaggerated to mythic proportions in the character Lassie, which has been the subject of many films, books, and television shows from 1938 to the present.