The Rough Collie

for centuries the native sheepdog of the Gaelic-Highlands of Scot-land

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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.   The word may trace to Irish-Gaelic - 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 “southern” (English) term.

In the 1700s, the Rough Collie’s natural home was still in the Highlands of Scot-land, where he had been used for centuries as a herding dog;  principally used by drovers to move sheep and cattle to market.

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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”.

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After the ‘industrial revolution’ (1750 – 1850), dog-ownership became fashionable in Britain, 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. When Queen Victoria acquired a Rough Collie, after seeing one at Balmoral Castle, they were transformed into something of a fashion item.

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"Queen Victoria at Osborne" painted by Sir Edwin Landseer shows Queen Victoria, seated on a horse held by John Brown, a Highland gillie.
There are three dogs in the painting, and the one behind Brown is a collie.

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Balmoral Castle, Scot-land

Continued breeding for show purposes drastically changed the appearance of the dogs in the U.K.; during the 1960s, it was a much taller dog than it is today (although in the USA, the size standard has not been revised downward and dogs have remained between 24-26 inches). 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 In the UK the Rough Collie is no longer used for serious herding, having been replaced by the Border Collie.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 USA and a number of European countries, there has been a resurgence in the use of the Collie as a working and performance dog.

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Collies are capable of being keen herders while remaining sensible, flexible family companions, whether as working dogs on a ranch or farm or helping out a suburban owner who keeps a few sheep, goats, or ducks as a hobby. Participation in herding helps preserve the special heritage of the Collie and opens up new opportunities for owner and dog. The qualities that make a good herding dog—trainability, adaptability, loyalty, soundness of body and character, agility, grace—are important in many areas, and contribute so much toward making the dog an outstanding companion as well.

Three coat colours are recognised for Rough Collies: sable and white, where the “sable” ranges from pale tan to a mahogany; tri-colour, 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.

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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, 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..

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