Collie - Beautiful Herding Dog Breed

Collie - Beautiful Herding Dog Breed

Author WDF Staff


The Collie (or Scottish collie, as the breed is often called) is a dog breed that originated in Scotland, where this breed was primarily used as a herding dog and all-around farm dog. In the 1800s and early 1900s, their popularity and reputation as awesome farm dogs started to grow rapidly and many of them were exported internationally as working animals. They are believed to share an ancestor with Border Collies.

FUN FACT: There are two types of these dogs - the Rough Collie, with a long coat; and the Smooth Collie with a short, dense, and flat coat. The Rough Collie is a classic „Lassie“ with a rich coat, and the smooth-coated ones are easier to care for.

Breed history

Both versions of this dog - the Rough and the Smooth Collies are direct descendants from native herding-type dogs that originated in the area of both Scotland and Wales. The Scottish herding dogs were larger in their build. They were also strong and aggressive dogs, that were specifically bred to herd and protect the sheep of the highland area. The Welsh herding dogs were smaller and more agile. They were completely domesticated and friendly towards people and their main occupation was to herd goats. The English farmers and shepherds encountered these herding dogs for the first time at the Birmingham fair. They were pretty impressed with them and quickly decided to combine these two varieties of sheepdogs. The result was a mixture of short-haired and long-haired dogs.

Post the industrial revolution time, dog ownership took a different role and it became a status symbol and became “fashionable”. It is believed that the early Collies have been crossbred with the Borzoi dog breed. The crossbreeding process had the goal of creating a more "noble" head with a longer muzzle. Today the longer muzzle is considered one of the most important characteristics of the Collie breed.

The first big rise in the popularity of this breed was after Queen Victoria bought a Rough Collie. Her majesty saw one rough-haired Collie at Balmoral Castle, and she decided she must have one. Owning a Collie became more of a fashion statement and these dogs were bought as a fashion item.

Selective breeding of these dogs, mostly for show purposes, greatly changed their appearance. Up until the 1960s, these dogs were a lot taller than the modern breed as we know it today. Those early dogs were a lot more athletic and had a sturdier build. Some owners stated that those dogs could run more than 100 miles in one day.

In the UK this breed is not widely used for proper herding activities anymore. They have mostly been replaced by their cousin the Border Collie. Despite that, there has been a rise in working Collies throughout the United States of America as well as a large number of European countries. It looks like the Collies are returning to their original and ancestorial purposes as herding dogs. These dogs are also starting to be used more and more as performance dogs and competitors in dog sports such as obedience and agility.

It is also very interesting to know that the Collie Club of America was founded in 1886 and is one of the oldest breeding clubs in the USA. The Collie Club in England was the original one and was founded by Collie lovers and owners in 1881.

Unfortunately, this breeds exact origin is still a mystery. Much research has been done and still, its true origin is open for debating and speculation. Even the word "Collie" is mysterious almost as much as the breed itself. Their name has been spelled in many different and interesting ways: Coll, Coally, Coaly, and Colley. Most enthusiasts of this breed agree that the most likely origin of their name is the word "Coll" - an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning "black".

At the beginning of the 20th century the American strain of Collies, especially the rough-haired version, was in constant development. The breed remains extremely popular and mostly unchanged in England. American dog show titles were mostly won by the imported British dogs. As a direct result of the many imported dogs from the UK, the breed made huge progress in the United States of America, especially in the 20 years leading to 1920. Those dogs built a strong and sturdy foundation that was used in forming the modern-day Collie breed. Some of the greatest and most famous American kennels were also built on the foundation that the early Collies and their breeders made at that time.

FUN FACT: Some historians think that the name Collie comes from the word “Colley” - the Scottish black-faced sheep; that the Collie dog used to guard.

collie dog

Dog breed characteristics

Certainly one of the most recognizable dog breeds in the world is the Collie. They have a beautiful look and silky hair. One of their most prominent characteristics is the specific features of their head, especially the muzzle. Their muzzle is described as well-rounded, and never square. These dogs are extremely loyal and maybe one of the best and popular family pets. They should never be nervous and display any kind of aggressiveness. Although good-natured and friendly, this dog can be suspicious of strangers. The Collie makes an excellent watchdog – the dog will bark and notify that somebody is approaching but is not aggressive.

This is an old and widely recognized dog breed and there is a standard for these dogs in all major cynology associations. The two standards that we will focus on are the FCI and the AKC standards.

FCI standard

The standard that the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) put in place for these dogs describes them as dogs of great beauty and also the standard mentions that these dogs seem to have impassive dignity. They are in Group 1 (Sheepdogs and Cattle Dogs (except Swiss Cattle Dogs)), Section 1 Sheepdogs. Even though these dogs were bred and used for centuries as working dogs, the modern breed has no working trial. The standard also states that the ideal height for the male Collie is 56 - 61 cm (22-24 in) and 51 - 56 cm (20-22 in) for the females. The Collie breed was officially registered by the FCI on the 13th of April 1955.

lassie dog scottish collie

Grooming and care

These dogs are famous for their abundant coat that is quite long. Because of their long coat, Collies should be groomed daily or every other day to prevent mats and tangles. During shedding time, some extra grooming is required. They shed throughout the year and blow coat twice a year. The rest is just basic care - brush their teeth a couple of times a week and trim their nails if they don’t wear them out naturally.

The Collie - colors

These dogs come in a variety of colors – sable (think Lassie), tricolor (black with white markings and tan shadings), blue merle, and white (predominately white with markings). Often, they have white markings, especially around the neck and down the chest. All white Collies, preferably with some color markings, are being seen more frequently, and this color is believed to be associated with some health problems.

Training and socialization

Collies are incredibly intelligent, gracious, hard-working dogs. They are highly trainable and are eager to learn. Usually, they will overcome quickly any task they are given. The Collie breed is best described as “sweet”, friendly. These dogs love to be around people and have a strong desire to please. Collie's motto is “There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” Collies are sensitive, loyal, and can foresee their owners’ needs. 

They do need exercise, but nothing much – a few longer walks, and some ball throwing through the day will be enough. Like most herding dogs, Collies do well at such canine sports as herding trials, agility, obedience, and lure coursing. Like any other dog, this dog also needs early socialization to grow into a well-rounded dog. When they are frustrated, bored, or left alone for too long, this dog might bark excessively. This can be prevented by keeping them mentally occupied with some tasks. A "Quiet" command should be a part of every Collie's training program.

scottish collie lassie

Collie and children

These dogs are usually excellent companions and playing partners for the kids. They are gentle and careful when interacting with small children, but they are somewhat large. Accidents can happen so you should always keep an eye on when your dog is playing with children. These dogs enjoy engaging in all sorts of games and because they have a fairly good amount of energy, they can keep up with the children’s pace of playing for hours and not get tired. They are also instinctively protective of small children.

Collie and other animals

They tend to get along with everyone, including children and other animals, and thus they are one of the favorite breeds among people with large families. They are usually very friendly and with good socialization, you will make sure that your Collie can have a lot of dog friends. They tend to get along well with other animals as well, although it would be best if they were raised together and your dog is used to them from the start.

Health problems

The Collie is a very healthy breed, but, like all the others, this breed is also prone to some health conditions. The important thing to know is that hip dysplasia is not a noticeable concern. Some of the conditions Collies are prone to are: Collie Eye Anomaly – an eye condition present at birth, inherited from both parents and affects both eyes. Collie Eye Anomaly causes the eye to fail to develop properly and dogs are affected to varying degrees, even to blindness; Dermatomyositis - an inherited autoimmune skin disorder that causes lesions and muscle problems; Collie Nose or nasal solar dermatitis which is a condition in which the skin of nose peels, oozes, and may lose color. Another condition is MDR1 Sensitivity – causes dogs to be sensitive to certain drugs, such as anti-parasitic medicines and antibiotics. This condition is common among herding dogs. Bloat, epilepsy, allergies are also something your dog can be prone to.


The Collie became popular when people fell in love with Lassie, a fictional dog created by Eric Knight in his novel. Soon, there was a successful movie and a television show about Lassie, which was describing the heroic dog in action. Eric Knight’s fictional dog character of Lassie was played by a Rough Collie named Pal in the 1943 movie - Lassie Come Home. Soon, the character of Lassie was featured on toys, clothes, comic books, etc.

rough collie on grass

Also, Queen Victoria visited her Scotland estate in 1860 and was amazed by Collies’ good looks and gentle temperament so she decided to bring a few of them back to England.

FUN FACT: A Scotch Collie called Jean was the first canine to become a movie star.

Collie breeders

The Collies’ popularity caused unethical breeders to breed these dogs excessively, with no regard for temperament, health, or conformation, so if you are buying a Collie puppy, make sure to find a reputable Collie breeder who has no problem with showing health clearances for both puppy’s parents. Ask the breeder all the questions you might have about this breed and try to make sure that this is the breed that will suit you and your lifestyle. Responsible breeders will have no problem answering all your questions. We recommend that you search for breeders on the World Dog Finder website or check with your national cynology association.


World Dog Finder team

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