Scotch Collie History
A Brief History of the Breed
The Scotch Collie developed in Scotland centuries ago to aid in herding, protecting and driving flocks of sheep. Among it’s ancestors were undoubtably Roman Cattle Dogs, Native Celtic Dogs and Viking Herding Spitzes. We know from accounts that by the late 1700s the Collie existed in Scotland in a form very similar to what we have today, as the nineteenth century progressed their popularity and fame spread abroad and they became quite sought after outside of their native land, in England for herding and driving stock as well as for dog shows, they were also being exported in small numbers to the new world in these times to aid farmers on the frontier.
By the turn of the twentieth century the Scotch Collie was all the rage on both sides of the Atlantic, people in cities wanted them because they were fashionable, royalty owned them, dog showmen showed them, farmers used them for various tasks around the farm and more were being imported from Britain all the time. At that time all Collies were of one breed, the show people, the city pet owners and the farmers and ranchers all had Scotch Collies, and, for the most part they all had some degree of working ability. As time went on, through the artificial constraints of the show ring, the fancy dogs began to lose a lot of what had made them great in the first place, their intelligence (termed sagacity in many of the old writings) and their herding instinct, these traits were preserved in the Scotch Collies remaining on farms. J. E. Dougherty, writing in 1908 stated:
I have been a breeder for many years, and in that time have trained a great many collies, in fact, I try to train a number each year. Go back to the days of old Dublin Scott, Champion Christopher, Scottilla, Strephon, etc., and some of the Ashwin dogs. Nearly all the puppies from these dogs proved to be good workers, in fact, I would say not less than fifty per cent of the puppies in those days proved to be intelligent and had the working instinct. As time went on we found them less susceptible to training, in trying to follow the fashion of long heads, and breeding to the winners, our puppies grew less intelligent, until at the present time we find that we do well to get one in ten worth the trouble of training, and the fact is, the “heeling” quality found in the old time collie has gradually disappeared, and not over ten per cent of the puppies now “fashionably” bred have that trait, and let me say to the public, a puppy that will heel properly is worth a dozen that have not that quality.
An article published in World Today in 1908 had this to say about the split between show collies and working collies.
The showmen have been breeding a head of peculiar shape, and this, with a few other obvious parts, which contribute to the new type, makes the modern collie. His obscure type parts that are of practical importance get scant recognition from the collie judge. The intelligent collie of other days will soon be in a separate group. The show collie will form another variety, useful only as a show dog.
When registered dogs became more popular, the Scotch Collies found on farms around the country suffered, the old working lines were replaced by champion pedigreed lines that had already had the brains bred out of them or by related breeds with plenty of brains and ability like Border Collies, Australian Shepherds or English Shepherds.
Around this time (mid-twentieth century) the Australian Shepherd and English Shepherd began to be registered. Where did this leave the remaining old-time Scotch Collies? The AKC would not have them with their rigid standards based on show qualities, so many of them began to be registered as Australian and English Shepherds or just allowed to die out.
By the 1980s, decades of neglect and genetic erosion had decimated the old-time Scotch Collie population on both sides of the Atlantic, and only a few remote pockets of these dogs existed.
Today, we are working hard to restore the Old-Time Scotch Collie. We are taking back genetic material from various sources where it has gone in past decades, from select Rough Collies with working ability, from Australian and English Shepherds of obvious Scotch ancestry, and from remaining unregistered pockets of Scotch Collies.
Much more information on Scotch Collie breed history can be found at www.oldtimefarmshepherd.org