Brave, loyal, and highly intelligent, the handsome Collie has been used as a herding dog in the highlands of Scotland and Northern England for centuries. But with origins that pre-date record keeping, the Collie’s earliest days of development are shrouded in mystery.
What we can say for certain is that the Collie’s stunning good looks seem to have happened rather accidentally. The Collie was bred for strength, agility, courage, and of course strong herding instinct. It just so happens that, somewhere along the way, this breed lucked out with striking good looks that truly set him apart from the rest of the herd, so to speak.
Experts point to the influence of a wide range of breeds that may have contributed to the Collie’s development—the Norwegian Elkhound, Eskimo Dogs, and even the tiny Pomeranian! It’s all up for debate, although it is widely accepted that the earliest Collies were closer in size and appearance to today’s Border Collie. In time, though, the Collie’s size grew—and so did his coat. Today, he comes in Rough- and Smooth-coated varieties; the two are identical with the exception of coat type.
The Collie lived out a simple existence, herding and droving—until he caught the eye of a certain dog-loving monarch; in the 1860s, Queen Victoria visited the highlands and became enchanted with Collies. Such was her influence that the Collie was nothing short of an overnight superstar. The breed was instantly in demand as a family companion.
Cross-the-pond popularity followed. The Collie Club of America was founded in 1886 and the breed made its first appearance at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1877. But it wasn’t until the 1900s that the Collie’s status as a pop culture icon was sealed. Lad of Sunnybank, a bestseller detailing the heroic acts of a Collie was beloved by readers old and young alike. Next, Lassie. Yes, what is now a household word began with a short story written in 1938. That story served as the inspiration for the 1943 movie Lassie Come-Home and subsequent films. The 1950s TV series Lassie cemented the Collie’s image on a global scale as the smartest, bravest, most loyal and devoted animal on the planet. Hey, let’s face it, if you’ve watched a few episodes you know that, no matter what Timmy had gotten himself into—stuck in a well, lost in the woods, you name it—Lassie was never far away and she always saved the day.
But here’s the thing. Collie fanciers know it and believe it in their hearts: Lassie isn’t just an imaginary icon. This breed does possess all of those incredible qualities. The Collie is fiercely loyal, keenly intelligent, and many fanciers point to the breed’s innate ability to seemingly predict its guardians’ behaviour.
Today’s Collie is a medium-sized dog with almost perfect proportions from top to bottom. There’s nothing extreme about his appearance, although his head and expression are very distinctive—refined, bright-eyed, and always alert.
The Smooth-Coated Collie has a short, dense, coat. In contrast, the Rough-Coated Collie’s coat is long, harsh in texture, and abundant everywhere save the head and legs. The breed comes in four different coat colour variations. Sable is the most popular (no doubt due to Lassie’s appearance) but tri-colour, blue merle, and white coat colours also exist and are accepted by the AKC.
So is this herding breed a good option as a family pet? In a word, yes.
The Collie is mild-mannered, devoted to his guardians, and notoriously good with children. As compared to some herding dogs, the Collie leans more to the quiet side—though if he has a reason to bark (like a stranger approaching the home), you’ll hear him loud and clear.
Hearty and strong he may be, but this gentle soul is not suited for outdoor living. He thrives in the home. If left alone for extended periods he will be unhappy, and will most likely act out by aggressive behaviour or excessive barking. He wants to be loved—so keep him close to your home and heart, and give him his due.
Ready to get out and have some fun? The Collie is up for most anything, so long as he’s with you. Given his heritage, it’s no surprise that the Collie is a natural at herding trials, but he’ll also thrive in activities such as obedience, agility, and tracking. And, with his sweet temperament and dashing appearance, the Collie has a true gift for therapy work.
Early training at the puppy stage is recommended to help socialize the Collie and establish acceptable boundaries for problems like pulling on-leash, jumping up on people, or excessive barking. Because the Collie is a sensitive soul, it is especially important that training be consistent and positive in nature. Treated and trained with kindness, the Collie will develop into the most handsome and well-mannered dog you’ll ever be lucky enough to love.
When it comes to health considerations, the Collie is a hearty dog, but like all purebreds he can be prone to some disorders, including Collie Eye Anomaly, which can be mild or cause blindness. The Collie Club of America established a health foundation in the 1980s, designed to help fanciers and the public in efforts to promote the good health of the breed. It’s also worth noting that Collies have some drug sensitivities, so be sure your veterinarian double-checks that any medications they prescribe are safe for Collies.
Given the legacy of Lassie, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call the Collie the most famous breed of all time. Collie enthusiasts will tell you that fame and notoriety are well deserved, because in their eyes there is simply not a finer, more noble, or more special breed out there. It’s hard to argue those points. Spend a little time with the gentle Collie and, odds are, you’ll find yourself in agreement.