The Pembroke Welsh Corgi
“Royal Warrants are a mark of recognition to individuals or companies who have supplied goods or services for at least five years to HM The Queen…. Warrants have always been regarded as demonstrating excellence and quality, and are highly prized.”—The Royal Warrant Holders Association
When Dookie the Pembroke Welsh Corgi entered King George VI’s household in 1933, a gift to the then-Princess Elizabeth, he inspired a lifelong bond between the future queen and the breed that has spanned almost 80 years and, while not officially recognized with a royal warrant (after all—warrants are issued only to tradespeople! Sniff!), has certainly fixed the royal seal of approval on the Corgi. Her Majesty prizes her Corgis so highly, in fact, that they are permitted the run of the palace, providing companionship for the queen during her daily activities, and appearing in many photos of Her Majesty and the royal family. The queen, it is said, prepares food for her dogs with her own hands and feeds them herself.
Surprisingly, the Corgi’s roots lie not in marble halls and gilded bedchambers but in the mud-and-manure-caked corrals and dirt-floored huts of 12th-century Wales. Setting aside the charming but unlikely folktale of children finding puppies left by fairies in the woods, the true story of the Pembroke Corgi’s background is almost as hard to pin down. As with many ancient working breeds, there is little direct evidence in word or picture to prove how the Corgi came to be; unlike the pets of aristocrats, working dogs were largely undocumented and tended to be lumped together as “curs”—not a derogatory term in those times, but simply used to distinguish ordinary canines from dogs of high breeding.
One theory is that the name corgi derives from cur; another that the name was a blending of the Welsh cor (dwarf) and ci (dog). Dwarf dogs they were, bred low but fast to work cattle and other livestock, and to kill rats in home and stable.
The Pembroke’s northern cousin, the Cardigan Welsh Corgi, is likely the older of the two breeds, but whether the Cardigan is an ancestor of the Pembroke, or whether the breeds evolved separately from very different canine ancestry, is debatable. Whatever the case, the two Corgis are similar in appearance to a casual observer, but do have distinct characteristics.
The Pembroke is shorter and trimmer, with upright, pointed ears and a sharp muzzle contributing to a “fox-like” face. The Cardigan is sturdier in body and head, with larger, more rounded ears sitting lower on the head. It also sports a long, bushy tail, while the Pembroke’s tail should be very short. The more popular of the two at 27th ranking in American Kennel Club registrations vs 86th for the Cardigan, the Pembroke must be red, fawn, sable, or black and tan, with optional white markings. The Cardigan may be any colour except white.
The Pembroke Corgi should be double-coated, with a thick, soft undercoat and coarser guard hairs on the outside. Some Pembrokes, known as “fluffies,” are born with an extra-long and soft coat. This does not mean the dog cannot be a wonderful companion, but it is considered a serious fault in a show or breeding dog, and fluffies should not be sold as rare (i.e., high-priced) individuals.
The two Corgis share a heritage of farm duties, but the Pembroke is said to be livelier and busier. Deborah S. Harper, author of The New Complete Pembroke Welsh Corgi (Howell; 1979), writes: “…the [Pembroke] Corgi is an energetic dog, full of life, quick in movement and mind….Yet, while a Corgi is always ready for the task at hand… he does not indulge in tiresome perpetual motion.” In his Why We Love the Dogs We Do (Free Press; 1998), Stanley Coren includes Corgis in the “Clever Dogs” group, and writes: “These intelligent dogs have a work ethic and willingness to learn that make them the easiest breeds to train….[they] are most often successful when complex activities have to be learned.”
Many Corgis will show a tendency to herd and guard—not surprising considering their heritage—but which may lead to behaviour problems if not controlled and channeled through socialization and training. Gossip has it that even the queen has difficulty with her nippy dogs on occasion.
The breed is generally sturdy and healthy, typically living up to 15 years. As in many other breeds, hip dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy (an eye abnormality), and von Willebrand’s disease (VWD; a blood clotting disorder) are genetic issues being addressed by responsible breeders. While most Corgis can run, jump, and twist well enough to herd cattle or compete in agility, some are afflicted with disc (back) problems and those dogs will need to lead quieter lives. As stated on the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club of Canada website: “Keeping your Corgi fit and in good weight will help avoid many health problems.”
Although hobnobbing with bluebloods may be all in a day’s work for some Pembroke Welsh Corgis, sadly, none has ever been granted the title of prince. Yet, the cur dog with humble roots may still be laughing all the way to Buckingham Palace, as the Prince of Wales is merely a king in waiting, while the Corgi was long ago crowned as monarch over the queen’s heart—By Appointment to Her Majesty.
If you like the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, check out:
Cardigan Welsh Corgi
Charismatic Corgi cross