by   David Hancock

Creating New Breed Titles

Those breed historians seeking a long and pure origin for the collies of Scotland would be wise to study the words of William Stephens on such dogs in The Kennel Encyclopaedia of 1907: “In the first Volume of the Stud Book, 78 ‘Sheep Dogs and Scotch Collies’ were registered up to the year 1874…Only 18 had pedigrees, and only three of these extended beyond sire and dam. There is no doubt that, some years ago, the Gordon Setter cross was introduced, the consequence of which was the production of black dogs with bright mahogany-tan markings, thin in coat, and possessing a Setter’s ‘Flag’, instead of pale tan markings, dense coat and thick brush.” Stephens went on to point out: “The great fault now met with is unduly exaggerated (Borzoi type of) head which is always accompanied by a stupid and vacant expression – quite unlike the intelligent expression of the true collie.” He would not have admired some of the Collie heads appearing in today’s show rings.

Critics of the Collie’s head and show ring alterations have long been at work. In his The Dog of 1933, James Dickie gave the view: ‘About sixty years ago the collie became a fashionable pet, and thereafter two new strains developed, the rough and the smooth show collies. It was then laid down that the head should be long, narrow and sharp, but not domed; since then dogs have been bred entirely without a stop and with extraordinarily narrow heads. The brain-pan, in fact, has been bred out of them, with the natural result that, compared with his working ancestor, the show collie is little better than a congenital idiot. The popularity of show collies is on the wane. The smooth variety was never common, and the rough variety, having been ‘perfected’ and become a fool in the process, is rapidly being superseded by dogs of less size and more brains.’ His prediction about popularity was, 30 years later, somewhat wide of the mark, but the severity of his words, with a forthrightness unlikely to be matched in dog books of today, do illustrate the depth of feeling over the changes in this breed brought about by show ring fanciers.  

 In his Non-Sporting Dogs of 1905, Frank Townend Barton wrote: “Smooth-coated sheep-dogs are found in every county of Great Britain, and farmers and shepherds are very fond of them, many being splendid animals at their work. In breeding smooth-coated collies the chief difficulty presenting itself is in connection with the coat; so many specimens being mixtures. With careful selection and perseverance much more might have been done for the smooth coats. Certainly they have not the handsome appearance of their rough-coated brethren.” In his Our Dogs of 1907, Gordon Stables wrote: “The smooth-coated dog…although found in the Highlands, is a Lowland dog, with a Lowland coat and Lowland ways, and more at home among cattle than sheep.” This "Lowland dog" or Smooth Collie is under threat, on sheer numbers alone, but is penalised to many by its now-untypical long narrow head. Today, we have two separate breeds of Scottish Collie and not just distinguished by length of coat. 

The pedigree dog world itself has not always been kind to the pastoral breeds, with the Rough Collie being a prime example. William Arkwright, the great working gundog expert, writing in The Kennel Gazette, July, 1888, had this to say: “…’fancies’, locust like, appear to have settled on the Collie, and, unless we can exterminate them, they will most assuredly exterminate the Collie. ‘Fanciers’ have recently determined that a Collie shall have an enormous head, an enormous coat, and enormous limbs, and that by these three ‘points’ shall he stand or fall in the judging ring; so they have commenced to graft on to the breed the jaw of an alligator, the coat of an Angora goat, and the clumsy bone of a St Bernard. A ‘cobby’ dog with short neck, straight thick shoulders, hollow back, and small straight tail, but graced with a very long snout and a very heavy jacket, is already common at our shows, and increases and multiplies…First of all, the Collie is intended for use, for definite work, and, as soon as we find ourselves breeding dogs that cannot gallop, jump, ‘rough it’, aye, and think too, we may be certain that, whatever he may have got hold of, it is not a sheepdog…”

In an editorial in the June 1890 issue of The Kennel Gazette the writer stated: ”…turn to sheepdogs: how many collies of the present day, who have won prizes, could clear a high hurdle or scamper over the backs of a flock of sheep to turn it?…the sheepdog is now a companion and not trained for work, many, we are afraid, would hardly be good for a long gallop, or could do more than run a mile or so behind a slow carriage.” In the June 1891 edition of The Kennel Gazette, the Standard and Scale of Points for the breed as drawn up by DJ Thomson Gray, President of the Scottish Collie Club and acknowledged expert on Scottish dogs, was published as being adopted. Under General Appearance, the following words were used: “A lithe, active dog, with no useless timber about him, his deep chest showing strength, his sloping shoulders and well-bent hocks speed, and his ‘bawaint’ face high intelligence. As a whole, he should present an elegant and pleasing outline, quite distinct from any of our other domesticated breeds, and show great strength and activity.” Heavy-feathered legs were considered as a fault. In the KC official breed standard extant in 2012, the breed’s General Appearance had to be: “Appears as a dog of great beauty, standing with impassive dignity, with no part out of proportion to whole.”  The strictures on leg coatings included ‘front legs well feathered, hind limbs above hocks profusely feathered.’ Of these two word pictures for the breed, which is more the likely to perpetuate a working dog with a manageable coat?

When the Rough Collie was judged to a scale of points, easily the highest number (20 out of 100) was awarded for the coat. This appals me; how can the coat, especially in a working breed, possibly be the dog's most important feature? But it shows how the early exhibitors rated coat above all else. Is it at all surprising therefore that the Collie is susceptible to all the dermatoses that affect the modern dog? The excessively heavy coats of the Rough Collie and the Shetland Sheepdog were not there when these breeds first emerged and cannot be good for either breed. . The Rough Collie is required to have a coat that fits the outline of its body and is very abundant in the frill and mane, with profuse feathering above the hocks and a very profuse tail. I suspect that within my lifetime the Rough Collie's coat has doubled in length, which to me spoils the appearance of a distinctly handsome breed. The coat no longer fits the outline of the body, it drowns it. No dog could work with such a coat in the pastures. No shepherd would wish to own a dog with such a coat. For me this is a beautiful breed being slowly but surely ruined by its sheer weight of coat. No longer does the coat fit the outline of the body, as demanded by the breed blueprint; the physical beauty of this breed is in peril.

 A correspondent called ‘Nestor’ writing The Annual Retrospect: The Breeds in 1892, Collies, published in The Kennel Gazette of January, 1893, gave the view that:
“There has been, in 1892, more than in any previous year, a strong predilection on the part of the more modern judges to award prizes to dogs possessing the longest heads, narrowest skulls, smallest ears, and longest coats, legs, feet, shoulders, chest, and, in fact make and shape generally being either ignored or looked upon as merely of secondary importance…density of coat, and not length, should be aimed at, for to a working dog in snow and slush a long coat is a terrible nuisance, as any practical Collie breeder well knows. True, to a show dog who is deficient in bodily properties, shelly in make, bad in shoulders, and with no quarters, a long coat is invaluable, like charity, covering a multitude of sins.”

The judge of Rough Collies at a 2013 Championship Show reported: “The Standard calls for a coat which fits the outline of the body but there were some Collies who had far too much coat, so much in fact that at times their eyes were buried in the coat and there was no indication of where the skull ended and the neck began. They are a working breed and would not be able to do the job they were intended to do if they were weighed down with excessive coat.” One hundred and twenty years later and the same fault is complained about; do the breed elders exert any influence for good in this breed? Or is it just a case of ‘we like them like that’ (so that’s good enough for the dogs too!) Breed type is important and precious to breed identity; loss of true type can destroy a breed. Grooming skill should not be part of the judging process. Where will the passion for possessing dogs as grooming objects end? Are we really happy about producing breeds of dog whose coats are a physical handicap, almost a disablement? What is the point of valuing the origin of your breed and then breeding specimens of that breed with twice the coat of their ancestors? The key questions are surely these: What length of coat does a dog need to retain the type of that breed? and, what length of coat allows the dog to lead a healthy life? Seeing a working or sporting breed in bootees to keep its coat clean saddens me. It is important for us to show respect for our dogs, not just regard them as an accoutrement for a human hobby.

In 2015 only 78 Smooth Collies were registered with the KC and 746 Roughs. In 1908, there were over 1,200 Rough Collies and 170 Smooth Collies registered with the KC; one hundred years later, in 2008, the figures were: 1,171 Roughs and 43 Smooths, the latter’s very survival being threatened. Twenty years earlier however, over 8,000 Roughs were registered, indicating the fickleness of the pedigree dog world and indeed the public response to the promotion on film of a breed. The ‘Lassie’ films gave enormous exposure to the Rough Collie; the Dulux paint commercial gave very damaging temporary exposure of the Old English Sheepdog, with rescue centres being overwhelmed by the breed in due course.

Perhaps a change of breed name would bring benefits, with the Rough being renamed the Highland Shepherd Dog and the Smooth becoming known as the Lowland Shepherd Dog; the show fanciers would fight this tooth and claw, and I can why loyalty to a registered breed and its survival matters to them. But a re-launch, with a new name is often the way to draw attention to a product and these two 'products' are worthy of the change and certainly worth saving. The Belgians seem to be doing rather well with their four types of Belgian Shepherd Dog, perhaps the Scots could emulate them. For me, the Lowland Shepherd Dog has more immediate appeal than Collie (Smooth); if such a step saves the breed, who can argue?