Rough Collies are without doubt one of the most attractive of the working (pastoral) dogs. They have been popular in Britain since the days of Queen Victoria, and that popularity has spread around the globe.
In more recent years this breed became well known in the television shows and films depicting the adventures of “Lassie”, a Rough Collie dog.
Collie dogs fall into two distinct divisions: those used for working and those used for showing.
The Rough Collie falls into the latter category.
The working Collie dog is almost exactly the same as those of 150 to 200 years ago.
The show Collie is very different. It is unlikely that any show Collies will work sheep like their ancestors.
Origins of Rough Collies
Rough Collies have a long history as working dogs. They originally evolved as the rough-coated working Collie of Scotland and were used for herding sheep like the other Collie types. They were typical of land dogs found in Europe, being robust, hardy, independent and with few noble characteristics. In many ways, they have a history similar to other herding types such as the German Shepherd dog up to the end of the Middle Ages.
Around the middle of the Nineteenth Century breeders noticed the potential in the rough-coated Scottish Collie as a show dog. By selective breeding they started to refine the breed by improving the coat, the dog’s stature and its colouring. The result was the magnificent dog breed that we know today as the Rough Collie.
The steps taken to refine this dog breed was done solely for exhibiting at dog shows. Although Rough Hair Collies are classed as working (pastoral) dogs, it has been a long time since they were regularly used in this way.
As the popularity of the breed increased, its development continued at a great pace. This led to a distinct divergence between those Collie dogs used for working with sheep and those intended for showing. The most prominent changes to the Rough Collie within this period were with the head, and the coat. The shape of the head became exaggerated and the quality of the coat improved significantly. In a remarkably short time, the British breeders succeeded in ennobling the breed almost beyond recognition. Many theories abounded whether Rough Collies had been cross-bred with other breeds, but in reality the dramatic changes were solely down to selective breeding.
The already impressive level of popularity experienced by Rough Collie dogs was further fuelled when Queen Victoria took a great interest in the breed. Around the turn of the 20th Century, the breed commanded extremely high prices in the export market as a direct result of this level of interest in the breed. The favour this breed has garnered has continued to the present day with registration figures for Rough Collies being one of the highest in the Pastoral Group. Registrations in the US are also similarly high.
Today’s Rough Collie is produced almost entirely as a show dog and family pet. He has certainly left his working roots behind. His refined form is free from all traces of coarseness. Early critics of the breed complained that it was becoming too elegant with it looking more like a thoroughbred than a true working dog. These criticisms were subsequently answered as breeders concentrated on producing a more solid, compact and well-balanced dog. The old, fast moving Collie dog is now not so apparent in the breed and it could be argued that some of today’s dogs are even a touch idle.
Characteristics of Rough Collies
Rough Collies are medium-sized and well-proportioned. There is a great beauty about them. They are known for their attractive, intelligent expression and impassive dignity. Their movement is graceful and distinctive. The action is light, effortless and very smooth with a reasonably long stride. Although the front feet are fairly close together, the legs do not bow out at the elbows. The hind legs are powerful and produce plenty of drive. They have a strong physical structure and are capable of high levels of activity and perseverance.
When it comes to breeding pedigree Rough Collies, the properties of the head are of great importance. The size of the head must be in proportion to the rest of the dog. The skull is flat, and when viewed from the front or side it bears a general resemblance to a well-blunted, clean wedge. It is smooth in outline and should taper gradually from the ears to the end of the Collie’s black nose. The muzzle is well-rounded and blunt without a hint of squareness. The teeth are of a good size with the lower incisors fitting closely behind the upper incisors.
The skull has a slight stop between the inside corners of the eyes. The eyes are medium sized and give a sweet, yet intelligent expression. They are almond-shaped and dark brown in colour, except in blue merles. Blue merles tend to have either one or both eyes either partly or fully blue, or blue flecked. The eyes are set at a moderately oblique angle and look quick and alert when the Collie dog is listening.
Getting the desired size and shape of the ears on Rough Collies has proved one of the more difficult breeding challenges. Ideally, they should be relatively small, semierect, and situated so they are neither too close together on the top of the skull, nor too much at the side of the head. When the Rough Collie dog is calm, the ears should be carried thrown back. When alert, they should be forward and semierect with approximately two thirds to three quarters of their length standing erect and the top third to a quarter tipping forward naturally below the horizontal.
The body of the Rough Collie may seem slightly long when compared to its height, however, the back is firm and has a slight rise over the loins. The neck is both muscular and powerful. The chest is deep and fairly broad behind the shoulders with the ribs being well-sprung. Male Rough Collies tend to be 56 to 61 cm (22 to 24 inches) high, and weigh 20.5 to 29.5 kg (45 to 65 lb). The bitches are 51 to 56 cm (20 to 22 inches) high and weigh 18 to 25 kg (40 to 55 lb). In the US, the breed tends to be slightly larger with the dogs being 27 to 34 kg (60 to 75 lb) and the bitches 22.5 to 29.5 kg (50 to 65 lb).
The forequarters are sloped and well-angled. The forelegs are straight and robust, having a moderate amount of bone. The hind legs are muscular at the thighs and more sinewy below. The stifles are well bent and the hocks are powerful. The feet of Rough Collie dogs are oval with well-padded soles. The toes are arched and close together. The hind feet are slightly less arched.
The tail is long and has bone reaching to the hock joint at least. When a Rough Collie is calm, it will be carried low in a scimitar shape with a slight upward swirl at the tip. When the dog is excited it may be carried higher, but not over the back.
Another noticeable trait of the Rough Collie is its coat. This consists of a thick, abundant under coat combined with a long, straight outer coat which is harsh to the touch. There is also a rare smooth coated variety of the Collie known as the Smooth Collie. The kennel clubs of some countries will show the Rough and Smooth Collies under the same standard as the only real difference is in the coat.
In Britain, there are three recognised colours of coat. They are: sable and white, tricolour and blue merle. In the U.S.A., white is also allowed. Sable is any shade from light gold to rich mahogany or shaded sable, but with no hint of light straw or cream colours. Tricolour is predominantly black with rich tan markings about the legs and head. Blue merle is mostly clear, silvery blue, splashed and marbled with black.
All Rough Collies typically have white markings characteristic of this dog breed. They are as part of the collar, in full or partly; as a shirt extending to the legs and feet; at the tip of the tail; and as a blaze on the muzzle, skull or possibly both.
Rough Collies as Show Dogs
The Rough Collie was originally developed as a show dog. He is, therefore, an easy dog to exhibit. He is attentive in the ring and always willing to please his handler. Rough Collies are always a great draw at shows and as a breed they enjoy being admired. They will often attract a significant ringside audience wherever they appear.
This is a breed that will repay the attention they receive in grooming. A beautifully groomed dog in full coat is always a source of admiration. Seeing a ring full of these dogs in their subtle colour variations from light gold to silvery blue to black and tan (and white in the U.S.) is a truly marvellous sight.
Owning a Rough Collie
As house pets, Rough Hair Collies have always had a good following. They do make wonderful pets and household companions. They have a friendly temperament, yet, like most of the breeds whose origins come from herding and protecting livestock, they also make good guards.
As can be expected of a dog with a long, thick coat, they do require a significant amount of grooming. Being a working dog at heart, they do have a healthy appetite, although nothing like some of the larger breeds. They are amenable to training and discipline, but are not easily cowed. Like all working dogs they need to get sufficient exercise to prevent them from getting overweight. A fat Rough Collie is not a pleasant sight!
By nature Rough Collies are dogs of the fields and open country. It is in these surroundings that they are at their happiest. However, they do fit in well to modern living conditions, and will be perfectly content in a small house or apartment, provided that they get sufficient exercise and opportunity to stretch their legs.