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Find out more about this era in collie history. Or, click here to read an overview of collie history.

In their words

1872 - The Dog, Thomas Pearce and George Earl

''He lets you see this [intelligence] in the sparkle of his oblique, crafty, intelligent eyes, which, together with his pointed nose and half-pricked ears, and the general character and expression of his head, remind one strongly of the fox.'

'He has... an unmistakably shrewd, observant expression.'

Like we talked about in our overview of Rough Collie history, originally the Rough Collie was known as the 'Shepherd's Dog', before later becoming known under various names such as 'Highlands colley', 'colley', and 'collie'.

The origin behind the name is unknown. Some think it is a reference to the scots word 'coll',  some think it refer to the 'coolly', a breed of sheep. Hugh Dalziel, writing in British Dogs (1883), believed 'collie' to be the appropriate spelling, being the term 'coll' in it's 'diminutive and familiar form' (adding -ie).

The dogs were an extremely valuable asset to the farmer - performing all tasks on the farm save for protecting the flock from wolves. The shepherd's dog was known for its intelligence and intuition, as well as its characteristic appearance - including a pointed face, tipped ears, and long coat.

Descriptions from the mid 1800s reveal a collie who would be quite familiar today. Even this far back in the breed's history, we could see separate subgroups appearing: collies bred mainly for work, or for show. 


Coat colours in general include black and tan, or only one of the two (this devalued the animal); a sandy yellow, which we would likely call sable today; mixed greys, likely considered blue merle today; and black and white. In the mid 1800s black and tan in the ring seemed to be the most favourable colour, but in the 1870s the mixed greys of the merle coat had caught the Victorians eyes. There was further 'controversy' over the claim of black and tan being the most populous coat colour in the colley, which is explored in the article later in this page.

Collies in the 1800s seemed to be of a similar size today, with 21 inches and 23 inches in height being referenced. The breed standard for the Rough Collie today is 22-24 inches for dogs, and 20-22 inches for bitches. It is important to note, though, that there was no rule for the height of a good dog. 

When texts from this era describe the head of the shepherd's dog, the picture isn't too dissimilar to our breed today. Descriptions involve the 'pointed' muzzle, the 'fox-like' countenance, clever, crafty eyes, and a long shaggy coat. Although over 100 years of breeding collies almost purely for show have refined his appearance, these hallmark features are undoubtedly still our breed hallmarks today - the 'pointed muzzle' is still seen somewhat in the dolichocephalic head proportions. A 'long shaggy coat' may not be the term we use now, but when we see etchings from the era, we can see a similar straight, harsh, and profuse coat.

In their words

1847 - Dogs; Their Origin and Varieties, Directions As To Their General Management and Simple Instructions As To Their Treatment Under Disease, H.D. Richardson

'He stands about twenty-one inches in height at the shoulder; is very gracefully shaped; muzzle pointed; ears half erect; coat long, but fine and silky; tail and hams fringed with hair; colour usually black and tan, or sandy yellow.'

In their words

1845 - The Dog and the Sportsman, J. S. Skinner

'​But the true shepherd's dog, most in use ... is ... seldom two feet high. ... We received a pair that were perfectly black; with head and nose sharp and pointed, and with a manner and countenance indicating uncommon alertness and intelligence. ... In Great Britain, and particularly in Scotland, the colours of the shepherd's dog are more mixed with shades of red and brown; or black dogs, with sharp ears, turning down at the tips'

In their words

1872 - The Dog, Thomas Pearce and George Earl

'The true Highland Colley is about 23 inches high, but there is no rule for his height; he is compact, strong, muscular, and wiry…'

'Those of a mixed grey colour are most esteemed; also the sharpest or most foxy-faced, even if they have tulip ears— nothing being more characteristic of pure Colley origin than this pointed face.'

In their words

1865 - The Illustrated Natural History, J. G. Wood

'The Scotch Sheep-dog, more familiarly called the Colley… is sharp of nose, bright and mild of eye, and most sagacious of aspect... The colour of the fur is always dark, and is sometimes variegated with a very little white. The most approved tint is black and tan; but it sometimes happens that the entire coat is of one of these colours, and in that case the dog is not so highly valued. The 'dew-claws' of the English and Scotch Sheep-dogs are generally double, and are not attached to the bone, as is the case with the other claws.'

When early writers considered the shepherd's dog, they put a lot of emphasis into describing the eye and expression. They were known as very intelligent dogs - many writers seem very fond of this and even describe the dogs as though they had a supernatural intelligence!

It's clear why these dogs needed the trait. Most texts from the time link the breed intrinsically with the nature of their work, and their usefulness to their farmers and masters. 

It's always beneficial to read about the conditions in which these dogs worked. Nowadays, there are fewer people in need of a working dog, but we shouldn't forget why the collie came to be the way it is. Their thick coat facilitated work, where they would often work in freezing or stormy conditions. 

Just like our modern breed standard, shepherd's dogs were described as having a long, arched neck, deep chest, and muscular thighs which supported his work. In recent years, some things have been omitted from our breed standard which have always been breed hallmarks, including the upwards swirl at the end of the tail.

It seems that during this time, shepherd's dogs were multi-purpose sheepdogs. Whereas now we split different herding breeds into groups, such as drovers (who would move stock over many miles), and loose vs strong eyed dogs, descriptions in the mid-1800s describe shepherd's dogs working in different ways. It seems they were capable of working both with their master and also independently. They were even said to be able to work cattle as well as sheep. Indeed, they were said to be able to perform all tasks except guarding the flock from wolves.

In their words

1854 - The Farmer's Dictionary

'​The Scotch shepherd’s dog, or colly. Characters: ears partly erect, head rather pointed, shaggy coat, and thick tail. To this animal large flocks are safely intrusted without any shepherd. He is also capable of managing cattle with great nicety.'

In their words

1872 - The Dogs of the British Islands, J. H. Walsh

​'The Scotch Colley, or Highland sheep dog, is, in our opinion, a far more graceful animal, and in sense and intelligence equals any breed of dogs in the world. The rough or shaggy-coated colley is the most choice description; for his impenetrable warm thick coat is a good protection to him when his duty calls him to face the storms and mists and snows of the wild mountains, especially when the stragglers of his flock have been covered by the snowdrifts, and he goes in search of them with his master...


His legs (especially the hind legs, from the hocks) are bare, that is, not feathered... His neck is long, and rather arched ; his shoulders are set well back, and are very powerful. The elbow is well let down ; the fore arm is short; the ankles or pasterns are long, and rather small for his size; and the feet are round, arched, and have excellent thick hard soles. The chest is deep, but rather narrow: he is broad over his back; his loins arc well arched ; the hips are wide ; his thighs are muscular, and he is inclined to go rather wide behind. The tail is very bushy and large, and carried up when he is in motion ; and when he is controlling his excitement it is turned over his back.'

James Hogg, a Scottish novelist from the late 1700s - early 1800s, was a fan of the Scottish shepherd's dog, writing many works involving them. He also wrote about his own dogs in great detail, showing the great love he had for his collies, who he treated as valued family members. He was so enthusiastic about their applications that he once wrote: 'without the shepherd's dog, the whole of the open mountainous land in Scotland would not be worth a sixpence.'

In his opinion, his best dog was a black dog named Sirrah. In 1818 he wrote a letter describing a night in which he was tending to 700 lambs, when they broke, ran and scattered into three groups. He lost sight of them, so called out to his dog: 'Sirrah, my man, they're away', but wasn't able to see him in the darkness either. He spent hours with another shepherd looking for them, covering miles each and finding no trace. Eventually, they both decided to return home and inform their employer that they had lost the whole flock. However, on their way home they found Sirrah with the flock - he was tired and looked like he needed a break, but was steadfast in keeping them in check! 

Hogg seems to have also enjoyed the temperament of the shepherd's dog. Sirrah might have been his best working dog, but of one of his sons he wrote: 'Though not nearly so valuable a dog [as Sirrah], he was a far more interesting one. He had three times more humour and whim; and though exceedingly docile, his bravest acts were mostly tinctured with a grain of stupidity, which showed his reasoning faculty to be laughably obtuse.' 

The importance of this personality is clear, as Hogg would spend a lot of time alone except for the company of his sheepdog. 

In their words

1824 - The Shepherd's Calendar, James Hogg

'Without the shepherd's dog, the whole of the open mountainous land in Scotland would not be worth a sixpence. It would require more hands to manage a stock of sheep, gather them from the hills, force them into houses and folds, and drive them to markets, than the profits of the whole stock were capable of maintaining.'

The shepherd's dog was always a working breed, however in the late 1800s, exhibitions became much more common. 

Black and tan seemed to be a popular colour in the show ring in the late 1800s. Examples are Ch Wolf and Ch Rutland.  Many a book (quoted above in this page) mentioned this. However could this be an example of what we would later come to know as the working/show split? The following, written by H. Dalziel in 1881, reveals a lot about this belief that black and tan was the most prized colour.

'Some years ago, when the "Field" was the only paper reporting dog shows, constant descriptions of colleys, with beautiful jet black coats and rich orange tan markings were given; and in advertisements and elsewhere we still occasionally hear the reverberation of the silly sing-song. What stronger incentive could there be to dealers to offer half-bred Gordon setters as pure colleys, when the leading journal was teaching the public such a false lesson, and thereby creating a demand for the graceful mongrels with thin coats, "soft as a lady's hand," feathered legs, draggle tails, saddle-flap ears, and a rich mahogany coloured kissing spot on each cheek, that have been so plentiful ever since.

... I quote from memory, and therefore not literally, but I believe it was "Idstone," in one of the charming papers he used to contribute to the "Field," who told the story of the Scotch shepherd on the hill side falling in love with his Gordon setters, and saying he would "like a cross o' yin o' them wi' his colley, for they would throw unco braw whalps." Oh! "Idstone!"  "Idstone!" how could you let my countryman draw the white feather over your eyes so? The "pawky auld carle" had ulterior designs on your whisky flask, and was not unmindful of the proverb, "Love me, love my dog;" but a shepherd who would make such a pro-position in earnest is not fit to take care of a hirsel.

Further, in reference to this question of colour, I, for my part, put aside, as purely fanciful and with facts all against them, the opinions given in both the earlier and last edition of "Dogs of the British Islands." In the former I find it stated that colours are various "sometimes sandy or of various mixed greys, some of which are singularly beautiful and picturesque. There is generally a very fine white line down the forehead, not amounting to a blaze as in the spaniel."

...In the recently issued edition of his work, "Stonehenge" has swept his pages clean of all such trumpery, recognising that the extraordinary intelligence really possessed by the colley needs not the embellishments of Munchausenism, ... Yet on the subject of colour I have "a crow to pluck" with him, presumptuous as it may be to "beard the lion in his den," as it were, and attack the king of canine writers in his very castle. He says: "a good deal of white is met with in some strains, and sometimes the tan is altogether absent, but, coeteris paribus*, a black and tan colour without much white is highly preferred."


Now, this gives the impression that the black and tan has some superiority over those with white, which is not the case; neither, as stated by "Stonehenge," are black and tan colleys the most commonly met with. That such is the case at shows I freely grant, but there a large number owe the colour to the setter cross, although in some cases this may be rather remote; but in the pastoral districts of Scotland and the North of England my own observations, confirmed by reference to numerous friends, convince me that black-white-and-tan colleys are the most numerous, and ... coeteris paribus, I say those with a white ring, or almost a ring, round the neck, a white chest, a white end to the tail, and a good broad dash of white down the forehead and face are greatly to be preferred. That black and white colleys have been long recognised, the following advertisement, which appeared in the "Edinburgh Evening Courant" of 20th January, 1806, bears witness: "There was lost in Princess-street, on Saturday, the 28th Dec. last, a black and white rough colley or shepherd's dog."

I do not, however, rest my argument entirely either on my own observation nor upon the terms of an old advertisement. The ploughman-poet of Scotland had plenty of opportunities, and may be allowed to have been a capable observer, and of his own colley he says:

His breast was white, his toozie back
Weel clad wi' coat o' glossy black.

Strong as I consider the evidence of Burns in my favour, I have still my trump card to play, ... No less an authority than Dr. Gordon Stables says "the best dogs are tricoloured, black on the body, with tan points, and white collar and chest and forearms, and at times a blaze up the face and white tip to tail."

I have no prejudice against the black and tan, but much prefer the tricolour, and I consider the white ring round the neck very characteristic of the breed, and indeed it seems not improbable that this very usual distinctive mark gave the name of colley to the breed.' 

*The latin phrase 'coeteris paribus' translates to 'all else being equal', a phrase still used commonly in the dog breeding community.

In this passage, Dalziel clearly describes that although black and tan was in vogue in the show ring, it wasn't accurate to say that it was the most common colour, as the majority of working dogs had what we now know as 'traditional collie white markings'. He argues that the reason black and tan was such a common show colour, was due to cross breeding with the Gordon Setter. Because newspapers were giving these black and tan dogs such a spotlight, it incentivised the breeding of more, and perpetuated a cycle in which these dogs had become popular with an unknowledgeable public, and aggressively marketed (their coats being described as 'soft as a lady's hand').

This passage is one of the oldest references to a show/working separation I have found for the breed. It also gives us an interesting case study of how priorities within showing and breeding differ, and the effect that has on the breed. 

These discussions seem like a more modern invention, but they were already happening back in the late 1880s. 

In their words

1892 - Francis Walton Outlook Publishing Company, Inc., Alfred Emanuel Smith

'I hold, therefore, that a pointer or a collie not trained for field work is unfitted for breeding, it matters not how perfect either of them may be in those excellences of conformation which the judges examine and reckon when awarding prizes in the bench shows.'

The late 1880s gave us the first champion collies. These would go on to form a blueprint for the modern breed, and our modern dogs can often be traced back to them. The most famous collie of the time is perhaps Trefoil, being the most prolific sire in the breed's history. Every collie in the world is descended from Trefoil.

Below are some photos of notable collies. You can read in-depth profiles on them using the buttons below [IN PROGRESS]

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