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For centuries the Collie was bred for their working ability rather than appearance or pedigree and so much of their true origins has been lost. It is generally accepted that both the Rough and Smooth Collie originated from one common ancestor found in the highlands of Scotland where he was used as a working sheepdog. As working dogs they were bred for strength, loyalty, and intelligence. From this common ancestor emerged the two varieties of Collie we still have today - the Rough Collie, the long-haired variety that was used for working directly with the flocks and the Smooth Collie, the short-haired variety used mainly as a drover dog to drive the livestock to market.


Over the years even the word Collie has been spelled many different ways and is open to speculation about it’s origins. In older literature you will see it spelled, Coll, Colley, Coally and Coalley. Often found working with the black-faced Colley sheep, it is possible they became known as “colley dogs”. Another theory holds that the dogs themselves were black and were therefore called Coalley’s. In Anglo-Saxon the word “coll” means black and in keeping with the fact that the dogs were often black, this could also account for the variation seen as Colley. Regardless of the origins, the spelling “Collie” was firmly in place by 1870 when Queen Victoria, impressed with their beauty and intelligence, brought several home to England with her.


Likely directly due to Queen Victoria’s acceptance of what, until then, was considered a “working dog” the Collie gained in popularity and it became fashionable to own a Collie. In 1870 at the Birmingham Dog Show, Old Cockie placed 2nd of 14 in the sheepdog class. Most Collies today can trace their pedigree back to Old Cockie, or to his grandson, Charlemange and it is said that through these two dog the sable colour was established and the smooth, balanced look of the Collie head became the standard. Part of the Collie standard today is the “sweet expression” and Old Cockie was said to have an expression that “surpasses sweetness”.


During WWI Britain issued a nationwide recruiting campaign for eligible dogs and 2000+ dogs were volunteered by their owners. England’s fleet of Scotch Collie sentries have been credited with saving troop water supplies from contamination by enemy spies. At one point during the war, Germany tried but failed to bomb the Collie kennels at West Hartlepool.


Popularity as a family dog came about in the early 1900’s with the writings of Albert Payson Terhune, whose stories included the heroic acts of one of his Collies. Published in 1919, Lad: A Dog, was based on Terhune’s own Rough Collie, Lad. The novel became a best seller with children and adults alike. A short story written in 1938 by Erik Knight was eventually turned into the 1943 movie, Lassie Come-Home. Multiple other “Lassie” movies have cemented the Collie as a loyal, smart, loving, family dog.


Breeding for show purposes changed the look of the dog to become what we know today as the Collie. Although the Collie is no longer used for serious herding there has been a bit of a resurgence in the use of Collies as a working dog. There are groups dedicated to having their Collies get down to their roots and work herds among other things. Collies have been found to make fantastic sporting partners and lately you can find Collies enrolled, and excelling, in all kinds of doggie sports - fly-ball, agility, obedience trials, dockdogs, and so on.


History of the Collie: