132 THE HARSH-HAIRED HERDERS
THE HARSH-HAIRED HERDERS OF EUROPE'S PASTURES
Livestock-farming, the rearing, herding and eventually getting stock to market, has long been a hard living not a gentle pastime. Before the days of rail and wheeled transporters, the sheep and cattle, and therefore the shepherds and their dogs, 'hoofed' it. The dogs were either robust or they didn't survive. The drovers needed substantial dogs, able to travel huge distances and protect the stock, as the bouviers demonstrate. The Lake District farmers needed a leggier dog than those in Kent; the moors' shepherds needed robust, agile dogs with immense stamina. Function, as always with dogs, decided form.
The Beardie group is represented in most areas of Europe: the Cao da Serra de Aires from Portugal, the Briard and the Picardy from France, the Pyrenean sheepdog, the Gos d'Atura of Catalonia, the German Sheep Poodle, the Lowland Sheepdog of Poland, the South Russian Owtcharka, the Schapendoes of Holland and, from the British Isles, the Bearded Collie, the Old English Sheepdog and the now-extinct Old Welsh Grey, Blue Shag and Smithfield Sheepdogs. This group of dogs is also represented in the Egyptian Sheepdog, the Armant, and the Patagonian Sheepdog, which may be an offshoot of the Old Welsh Grey, introduced by migrating Welsh settlers. The Tibetan 'Terrier' too may belong here.
He wrote that this type of shaggy-coated collie instinctively made a wide sweep, with shepherds stating that they can safely trust 200 or 300 sheep 'to the sagacity of this valuable dog, which does not hurry or push, but drives them as coolly and as cautiously as if its master were present'. Vero Shaw produced an illustration of the collie described by Phillips, adding that 'It is impossible to give any standard for judging this variety. General appearance, tail, strength, and shagginess without too much length of coat, should be taken into consideration'. Shepherds were known to refer to such collies as goat-haired collies; goats also of course having beards.
In some areas where prolonged wind-chill exposure was met, felted coats like those of the Komondor, the Bergamasco and the Puli were needed. But the coat texture and length produced was originally always in pursuit of a purpose and never appearance. The herding breeds were developed by essentially practical men, in eternal combat against the elements and wild predators, men who quickly discarded weedy or faulty dogs. I know of no old print or early photograph or painting which depicts the longer-haired herding breeds with the excessive length of coat displayed by many of their successor breeds at today's shows.
I can find no evidence nor any credibility in the stories that the longer-haired herding dogs all originated in one country and spread out from there. I believe it is likely that the herding dogs brought south by the migrating Indo-Europeans roughly four thousand years ago had the prototypal dogs and since then they have gradually evolved into the types and with the physical features demanded by location, function and local preferences. In Britain, Bearded Collies have been interbred with the Old English type and the working sheepdogs of the Border Collie type for centuries. This is not to say of course that in some areas a definite type was not preferred and kept distinct. I believe it is likely that the shaggier sheepdogs were called Beards (or Hirsels) in Scotland, Haggards in Ireland, Greys in Wales and Shags in England, where the bigger ones were used as drovers' dogs and dubbed Bobtails.
The sheep-herding dogs quite often went with flocks of sheep when these changed hands, and sometimes countries too. It is, in my view, quite absurd to claim that the different herding breeds, especially when they occur in the same country, are completely unrelated. It is entirely fair however to state that line-breeding for distinct 'type' has been practised for several hundred years in a number of areas. In the Pyrenean region, the dog from Abrazzie was considered by Megnin to be the ideal for the standard of the Pyrenean Sheepdog, with the Bagneres type having the best head, while the thick-set St-Beat dog was likened to a miniature Bobtail (Old English Sheepdog).
Beardies work in a different style from that of their shorter-haired fellow working sheepdogs; although they can display the same ground-hugging creeping gait, they are not silent or "strong-eyed" but excel at collecting and then retaining sheep in big groups. This capability made them most useful to drovers and butchers. The goat-haired collies were favoured by renowned drovers such as McDonald of Skye around 1930 then shepherds like Tom Muirhead of Dunsyre a few decades later. Brian Plummer, the countrysports writer bought Muirhead's kennel of Beardies, describing the white-headed ones as willing to 'face the devil himself', because of their hardness. Now Graham Nicholson's Working Bearded Collie Foundation is continuing their work.
Other bobtailed dogs, somewhat smaller than ours, are the Berger des Pyrenees, the Gos D'Atura of Catalonia (recently recognised by our KC) and the Polski Owcaarek Nizinny or Polish Lowland Sheepdog, although some specimens in these breeds which are born with tails can be seen undocked. The Cao da Serra de Aires from Portugal, known as the "monkey dog " from its heavy eyebrows, beard and moustache and the Catalan Sheepdog both feature the full tail, the latter breed carrying it gaily when working. The Portuguese dog, the Schapendoes of Holland and our own Bearded Collie are astonishingly similar in appearance, a significant fact if one day gene pools need enlarging.
Beardies are clever dogs and this, together with their determination and tractability, has led lurcher breeders to utilise their blood, as have Deerhound breeders of old, although no shepherd would want Deerhound blood in his stock. This particular group of herding dogs readily arouse our affection; it is even more important that they are afforded our respect, respect for their true type and soundness. It is disrespectful just to breed to meet show ring criteria. The service given by these harsh-haired herding dogs across many borders and down many centuries in truly remarkable; I pray that those who prize stance and a glamorous coat ahead of soundness and utility do not utterly spoil a quite exceptional group of honest, appealing and thoroughly admirable pastoral dogs.