Information about the Rough Collie

The Rough Collie (also known as the ‘Long-Haired Collie’) is a long coated breed of medium to large size dog that in its original form was a type of collie used and bred for herding in Scotland. Originating in the 1800s, it is now well known through the works of author Albert Payson Terhune, and through the Lassie novel, movies, and television shows. There is also a smooth-coated variety; some breed organisations, including both the American and the Canadian Kennel Clubs, consider the smooth-coat and rough-coat dogs to be variations of the same breed. Rough Collies generally come in shades of sable, merles, and tri-coloured. This breed is very similar to the smaller Shetland Sheepdog which is partly descended from the Rough Collie.

Both Rough and Smooth collies are descended from a localised variety of herding dog originating in Scotland and Wales. The Scottish variety was a large, strong, aggressive dog, bred to herd highland sheep. The Welsh variety was small and nimble, domesticated and friendly, and also herded goats. When the English saw these dogs at the Birmingham market, they interbred them with their own variety of sheepdogs producing a mixture of short and long haired varieties. After the industrial revolution, dog ownership became fashionable, and these early collies were believed to have been crossed with the Borzoi (Russian Wolfhound) to get a more “noble” head, which is today one of the true characteristics of the Rough Collie. Though it is not known conclusively if the Borzoi cross made it into the mainstream of the breed. When Queen Victoria acquired a Rough Collie, after seeing one at Balmoral Castle, they were transformed into something of a fashion item. Continued breeding for show purposes drastically changed the appearance of the dogs; in the 1960s, it was a much taller dog than it is today (in the UK; in the US, the size standard has not been revised downward and dogs have remained between 24-26″). Earlier dogs were also more sturdy in build and reportedly capable of covering up to 100 miles in one day. In the UK the Rough Collie is no longer used for serious herding, having been replaced by the Border Collie. Though in the United States and a number of European countries, there has been a resurgence in the use of the Collie as a working and performance dog.

The Collie Club of America is one of the oldest breed-specific clubs in existence in the United States (founded in 1886). The Collie Club in England dates from 1881.

Quoted from Collie Club of America:

Unfortunately, the Collie’s exact origins are shrouded in obscurity. It has been the subject of much research and speculation. The word “Collie” is as obscure as the breed itself. The name has been spelled many different ways: Coll, Colley, Coally and Coaly. Generally, the most accepted origin of the word is “Coll” – the Anglo-Saxon word for “black”. In the 18th century, the Rough Collie’s natural home was in the highlands of Scotland, where he had been used for centuries as a sheepdog. The dogs were bred with great care in order to assist their masters in the herding and guarding of their flock. Without a doubt, it is to the English fancy of the late 1800s that the breed owes its development as a popular show dog. Rough Collies were first exhibited in 1860 at the Birmingham, England dog show, in the generic class “Scotch Sheep-Dogs”. In 1879 the first English Rough Collie was imported to this country. It is from England that we find the famous pillars of the breed, from which the American fanciers sought not only their next big winner, but also their foundation stock. By the turn of the century, the American Rough Collie was in a state of continued development. The breed continued to flourish in England. American show prizes were dominated by the British imports. As a result of the imports, the breed made rapid progress between 1900 to 1920. These dogs built the foundations upon which the present day Rough Collie is based and paved the way for the emergence of the great American kennels of the 1920s and 1930s

The word may trace to Gaelic or/and Irish – in which the words for “doggie” are, respectively, càilean and cóilean. This would be more consistent with the breed’s origin in the Gaelic-speaking Scottish Highlands than an Anglo-Saxon term.

Three coat colours are recognised for Rough Collies: sable and white, where the “sable” ranges from pale tan to a mahogany; tricolour, which is primarily black edged in tan; blue merle, which is mottled gray. All have white coat areas, in the collar, parts of the leg, and usually the tail tip. Some may have white blazes on their faces. In addition, the American Kennel Club accepts white, where the dog is predominantly white with coloured markings of sable, tricolour, or blue merle on the head and sometimes body patches. Rough Collies have a blunter face than the smaller, but otherwise very similar Shetland Sheepdog, which is partly descended from the Rough Collie. The planes of the muzzle and the top of the skull should be parallel in collies, with a slight but distinct stop. (In shelties, the planes are not parallel.) The downy undercoat is covered by a long, dense, coarse outer coat with a notable ruff around the neck, feathers about the legs, a petticoat on the abdomen, and a frill on the hindquarters.

The desired size and weight varies among breed standards; male collies can stand 55.8 to 66 cm (22 to 26 in) at the shoulder; the female averages 5 cm (2 in) shorter. The males are usually in the weight range (45 – 75 lbs) and the females are usually 5 to 10 lbs less. Although collies in the US are sometimes reported to be over a hundred pounds, this is a gross exaggeration for a healthy dog- a large collie typically weighs no more than 85 pounds. The UK standard calls for dogs to be significantly smaller than those under the American Kennel Club.

One of the characteristic features of the Rough Collie is its head. This is light in relation to the rest of the body, and resembles a blunted wedge tapering smoothly from ears to black nose, with a distinct stop and parallel head planes. The muzzle is well rounded, and never square. There is considerable variation in the colour of the head, however. The eyes are medium sized and almond shaped. The ears are supposed to be semi-prick, with the upper third folded over. Ears which do not ‘tip’ properly are fairly common, and many collies have their ears taped as puppies (using medical adhesive or paper tape) to encourage them to lay properly- no cutting or surgery is involved. They are similar to a Shetland Sheepdog’s, but larger.

Once seen, the contrast between the Rough Collie head and that of a Border Collie is immediately apparent, the latter having a considerably shorter muzzle and a more distinct stop between muzzle and forehead. The ruff is also distinctive in distinguishing the two breeds.

Rough collies should show no nervousness or aggression, and are generally good with children and other animals. However, they must be well socialised to prevent shyness. They are medium to large sized dogs, but can be well suited to live in small apartments because of their calm disposition. Like many herding dogs, collies can be fairly vocal, and some are difficult to train not to bark. The amount of herding instinct varies, with some dogs being quite drivey and others calmer. Rough Collies are very loyal and may be one-family dogs (although most make exceptions for children), but are very rarely aggressive or protective beyond barking and providing a visual deterrent. They are typically excellent with children as long as they have been well-socialised and trained. They are eager to learn and respond best to a gentle hand. They relish human company and generally fare poorly as outdoor dogs.