Sunday, May 6, 2012

But where did the collie breed originate?

The origins of the collie are often debated, and since Terry Thistlethwaite did such a great job with her article, I decided to include it here, as she does a much better job explaining it than I could.

Collie History
by Terry Thistlethwaite

While the story of  the far travelled tri colour Collie in Erik Knight's "Lassie Come Home" has affixed the country of Scotland in the minds of most as the origin of the Collie breed,  the historical record takes us back to a time before the Scots embraced the breed to discover it's foundation.  When Celtic tribes invaded the British Isles before the time of Christ, they brought with them livestock dogs that were highly regarded in a society based on a pastoral livlihood.  These dogs, in fact, prove to be the early ancestors of the breed that came to be called "Collie".  The breed name itself has been said to possibly have come  from the "Coaley" sheep of Scotland, but more likely the name, too, dates back to the Celts, who's word for "useful" was, in fact, "Collie". 

Localized types of "Collie" (or "useful herding dogs") developed in different areas throughout Great Britain during the Middle Ages with concentrations primarily in Ireland, the north Border country, and Scotland.  Historical records speak of the Galway Collies, North Country Collies, Weslh Hillman, Irish Collies, Dorset Sheepdogs, Smithfields (forebears of today's Australian Cattle dogs): Ban Dogs and Rutherfords (forebears of today's Kelpies); Highland Collies (from which came the blue merle colour); and Beards, Shags, and Welsh Grey Collies (forebears of today's Bearded Collies). It was the Galway Collies from which Trefoil, the undisputed ancestor of all modern day Collies decended. Trefoil was born in Ireland in the year 1873, and was an elegantly beautiful rough coated tri colour dog, (black, white and tan) much the same as Erik Knght's fictional Collie, Lassie.


That the primary foundation of the Collie lies in Ireland rather than Scotland is oft debated by researchers, and surely not to be conclusively decided in this article.  In researching this debate, however, I came across the writings of H.D. Richardson, who, in an article published in The Irish Penny Journal in 1841 noted,
<i>"...The venerable Bede, as well as the Scotch historian John Major, informs us that Scotland was originally peopled from Ireland under the conduct of Reuda, and adds, that even in his own days half Scotland spoke the Irish language as their mother tongue; and many of my readers are doubtless aware that even at this present time the Gaelic and the Erse are so much alike that a Connaught man finds no difficulty in comprehending and conversing with a Highlander, and I myself have read the Gaelic Bible with an Irish dictionary. Scotland also was called by the early writers Scotia Minor, and Ireland Scotia Major. The colonization, therefore, of Scotland from Ireland, admits of little doubt...."</i>
Thus, even if the modern day version of the Collie began in Scotland, the modern day version of the Scotsman began in Ireland!  As the dog was clearly of Celtic origin -- so were both the Irish and the Scottish people.  Add to that  infusion of the Gordon Setter (a Scottish breed) and the Irish Setter (an Irish breed), both known to have had their place in the development of the Collie breed, and it seems the breed is best said to be of "Irish / Scottish origin" dating even further back, of course, to the Celts.

Old Cockie

Ch Charlamagne
One ot the earliest Collies of note was a dog named "Old Cockie", (also called "Cockie Boy") born in 1868, and said to be the first known sable and white (or brown and white) coloured Collie.  This dog was highly lauded for his endearing expression and fine head detail. He was among the first "herding breed" dogs to be shown in England, at the Birmingham National Dog Show in 1870.  Old Cockie was the sire of Maude, who was bred to Trefoil to produce a dog named Ch Charlamagne. Born in 1879, Charlamagne became the grandsire to Ch Metchley Wonder, a top winning Collie who was purchased for such a high price that the sale made headlines.  <b>His son, Ch Christopher, born in 1887, was bred extensively in Britain before being exported to the U.S. All Collies today are decended from Ch. Christopher.</b>

Ch Christopher

A point of interest here is that the mother of Ch Christopher's great grandsire, Scott,  was  a Smooth Collie by the name of "Ch Waite".  She was the very first Smooth Collie champion, and thru Ch. Christopher, is an ancestor of all Collies today.  Thus there exist no Rough Collie lines in which Smooth Collies do not appear.
Queen Victoria had a big influence in popularizing the Collie in the 1880's, and had Smooth Collies as well as white Collies in her Royal Balmoral Kennel.. In the U.S., wealthy fancier J.P. Morgan and his well funded associates imported many top winning British Collies into their mostly New York and eastern seaboard kennels at prices that would be considered substantial even by today's standards. In 1885 (the same year the Scottish Collie Club was founded),  the breed was accepted into the American Kennel Club.  A year later, 1886, the Collie Club Of America was born...

Since Ch Christopher is in Abby's pedigree, and since every American collie is descended from him, I want to learn more about him!


  1. Thank you for this very interesting and informative info!!! Really enjoyed reading about where the Collie breed comes from!

  2. This is fascinating. I just discovered your blog through another blog through another know how it is. I'm looking forward to checking out previous posts. One of my dear dogs from the past, Gracie, was a rough collie I rescued from the pound. She was sweet and dear to the point of being a saint!

    Is it true collies were mixed with Borzoi's at one point to refine their conformation? If not, when did breeders develop that longer nose? In truth, I kind of like that old-fashioned look.

    I look forward to reading your posts.