What is a Collie?
I personally like to think of my breed as unique. We are so unlike many other breeds that it really is difficult to describe us in perfectly clear terms.
Below you'll find excerpted sections of the breed standards for both the AKC and the UKC. I only included the general character and expression sections because it is these very things that people first think of when they hear "Collie". It also is a great example of how even the 'experts' can't find the perfect words to describe us.
American Kennel Club Standard for the Collie (not complete)
Dogs: 24-26 inches at the shoulder, 60-75 pounds
Bitches: 22-24 inches at the shoulder, 50-65 pounds
Colors: Sable and White, Tricolor, Blue Merle and White
The Collie is a lithe, strong, responsive, active dog, carrying no useless timber, standing naturally straight and firm. The deep, moderately wide chest shows strength, the sloping shoulders and well-bent hocks indicate speed and grace, and the face shows high intelligence
The Collie presents an impressive, proud picture of true balance, each part being in harmonious proportion to every other part and to the whole. Except for the technical description that is essential to this Standard and without which no Standard for the guidance of breeders and judges is adequate, it could be stated simply that no part of the Collie ever seems to be out of proportion to any other part. Timidity, frailness, sullenness, viciousness, lack of animation, cumbersome appearance and lack of over-all balance impair the general character .
Expression- Expression is one of the most important points in considering the relative value of Collies. Expression, like the term "character" is difficult to define in words. It is not a fixed point as in color, weight or height and it is something the uninitiated can properly understand only by optical illustration. In general, however, it may be said to be the combined product of the shape and balance of the skull and muzzle, the placement, size, shape and color of the eye and the position, size and carriage of the ears. An expression that shows sullenness or which is suggestive of any other breed is entirely foreign. The Collie cannot be judged properly until its expression has been carefully evaluated.
The United Kennel Club Working Group set of Standards for the Collie (not complete)
Dogs: 22-24 inches at the shoulder
Bitches: 20-22 inches at the shoulder
Ideal weights have been deleted.
Color: Sable, Tricolor and Blue merle
(Laddie's note: While White collies are not acceptable in the United Kennel Club Conformation Ring, they are occasionally produced in a litter if the 'white factor' is present in both parents, but this color is not bred for as it is in America)
General Appearance- The Collie should instantly appeal as a dog of great beauty, standing with impassive dignity, with no part out of proportion to the whole.
Characteristics- To enable the Collie to fulfill a natural bent for sheepdog work, its physical structure should be on the lines of strength and activity, free from cloddiness and without any trace of coarseness.
Expression, one of the most important points in considering relative values, is obtained by the perfect balance and combination of skull and fore face size, shape, color and placement of eye, correct position and carriage of ears.
The first Collie Standard for the UKC was published in 1881 and there have been five revisions. It is the opinion of many that the 1910 version was the best. It succeeded in presenting an evocative picture of the Collie that lifts the spirit to read. I quote:
“To enable the Collie to fulfill his natural bent for sheepdog work he should be built on lines of strength, activity and grace, with a shapely body and sound legs and feet. He should be lithe and active in his movements, and entirely free from cloddiness or coarseness in any part of his conformation and lastly he must be gifted with true expression. Expression is obtained by the perfect combination of head, muzzle, size, shape and color and placement of the eye, and correct position and carriage of ears, which give the dog that sweet, dreamy, semi- cunning, yet alert outlook that makes the perfect Collie the most beautiful of the canine race.”
The origins of the collie may not be so well recorded as some other breeds, but we don't need papers to know that we are loved. I hope you find the following little bit of history helpful and informative.
The collie is a dog of British Isle breeding originally hailing from the cold, wind blown Scottish highlands, though most people say we truly did not come into our own until the 18th century when we seemed to become synonymous with northern England. It cannot be said precisely of what lines and types of dogs we evolved from with any certainty except that they had to be responsive to humans and be good at sheepherding. There are those that believe that much of our blood may actually be Roman but this is in such conjecture that most people will not even acknowledge the proposed theory since there is absolutely no evidence to support it. The British are very assured in themselves that they were perfectly able to produce us without the help or influence of outside cultures or dogs.
The earliest illustrations of dogs that seem to most resemble both the smooth and rough collies can be found in Thomas Bewich's "The History of Quadrupeds" dating approximately 1800 though it shows the rough as a smallish dog of only about 14 inches called a Shepherd's dog and the smooth, or Ban dog, as a larger 'mastiff" type. Mastiff, in those days, refers to a general type of dog... NOT the dog that we know by that name today. The roughs of those days were indeed somewhat shorter and were most commonly seen as black or black and white in color.
The name 'collie' also has its own debate forum. Most people accept that the word is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word, col, which meant black. This plus the evidence of Shakespeare's use of the phrases 'collied nights' and 'collied brow' suggests that in at least Elizabethan times the word meant dark or black.
Others have said that the word may not be Anglo-Saxon at all but Gaelic with the meaning 'useful'. Still others suggest that we are named after the black faced sheep that we were bred to herd, called colleys and yet others have offered the suggestion that our name is derived from possibly having the duty of hauling carts of coal out of coal mines, those dogs being called 'coalies' or 'coalers'. Whatever the truth, our name evolved as we did, and in due course, we became known as collies.
Our popularity was truly sealed with the advent of the keeping of written pedigrees early in the 19th century and from then on we progressed rapidly. We became broader, larger dogs and our heads began to lose the early stockiness that typified us. In the show circuit, we made our debut in 1860, when a class was included at a Birmingham dog show for 'Sheepdogs'. It seemed that this class primarily consisted of the ordinary drovers dogs, usually bobtails. But it was obvious that the few rough and smooth collies that were present made an impact for the following year, the 'Sheepdogs' class was divided into three categories... 'Rough coated', 'Smooth coated' and 'Bobtailed'. By 1870, Roughs and Smooths had their own separate classes.
Up until this time, the black, black and white or tricolor dogs were the only ones seen, but in 1871 a dog by the name of "Old Cockie" made his appearance in the ring and the history of the breed was forever changed. "Old Cockie" was a Sable and white dog of tremendous pre-potency whose dominant sable gene became all the rage of popularity. He is credited with stamping the collie type into the immortal history of the breed.
From then on, collies were seen in nearly every color imaginable. When her majesty, Queen Victoria, first saw the collies performing their work on her Balmoral estates, she immediately fell in love with them and kept several of each color in her kennels. Her patronage to the breed brought it to full recognition and we became known not only for our trusted service to the shepherd, but also as playmate and companion to the rich and royal. And though America already had collies of the old 'working' type, thanks to the sheepherding immigrants, their breed came into high favor and popularity in the US when the first two officially imported black and tan collies from Queen Victoria's kennels were exhibited in 1879.
By 1886, our type became fixed enough that the English have seen no need to change most of the basic standards set forth at that time and worldwide, collies have easily competed against collies from other countries. But ever since World War II, things have changed in America. Across the sea, they became a dog of greater height and girth, towering over their cousins by two inches and ten pounds. Their heads have became stronger and more well rounded in the fore face and well blunted muzzles replaced the 'foxy" type. The "sweet" expression is not so prominent as it is over seas, but except for these changes they are essentially the same as their English cousins. There is, however, some fear that in time the American bred collie will diverge from the original English standard so much that they may well be considered their own breed as has happened to the English and American Cocker Spaniel.
(Laddie's note: In Russia, it is not uncommon for 'working' collies to reach a height of 32 inches at the shoulder! I've never seen a picture of that type so I cannot say whether there is a great difference in facial structure or not.)
Whether we are from America, England, Argentina or Russia there is just something about us that makes people stop and stare. Even the most dog frightened folks will pause a moment (from a distance) to admire us. We are more often than not an out going bunch. We give our friendship freely and well remember those who know how to give the perfect back scratch or always seem to have something interesting to show us. While we handle crowds with grace and ease we are not so aloof as many of our canine cousins. We are quick and keen to distinguish who will come to greet us and who most likely will not. Look at our tails from ten feet away and we could care less. Look into our eyes from a hundred feet away and our tails are going. And friends made are usually friends for life, but make no mistake. While we cannot be considered an aggressive dog, we will not stand idly by while the ones we love are in danger. I know of more than one perfectly sweet collie who has left their mark on the forearms of those who attempted to hurt a family member. You may even have known a collie or two who intervened a childhood game to stand and bark at those they thought were getting to rough. Being the sensitive creatures we are, we as a rule do not tolerate violence.
When we play with you, we will go into the game whole heartedly and have no problem playing as rough as you like. But with children, or
those who cannot handle us as our closest companion can, we can be as gentle as the softest summer breeze.
When we work, there exists nothing else in our minds. We jump at the opportunity to perform the wishes presented to us whether in spoken word or nod of head. We will give everything set before us a try to the best of our ability and if at first we don't succeed, it doesn't take much to encourage us to try again.
We are so much to so many. We are beauty... we are strength... we are courage... we are kindness... we are diligence... we are grace... we are charm... we are empathy... we are friends and we are love.
We are collies.