The Sheltie Family: Collie Cousins
The Sheltie history reveals the Vikings came from Norway to Shetland during the eighth and ninth centuries and brought with them the small spitz dogs that would come to have their influence on a number of herding breeds. On the Shetland Islands, farmers began crossing with mainland Collies in the 1700’s. Even later crosses during the early 20th century molded these island dogs into the modern Shetland Sheepdog we recoginze today.
The Collie Family
col·lie (n.) A medium-to-large dog of a breed originating in Scotland as a sheepdog, having a long narrow muzzle and either a long thick straight coat or a short hard flat coat, depending on the variety.
[Scots, perhaps variant of colly, like coal, from Middle English col, coal; see coal.] (At that time the most frequently seen colors were black, tan and white, black and white -without tan).
The Collie is believed to have originated in the hilly border countries of Scotland, Ireland as well as northern England. Farmers and shepherds needed a reliable, intelligent dog to guard the flock and be a companion to the family. Although Collies today are known for their beauty, these first Collies were valued for their working ability and intelligence.
Members of the Collie family include:
- Australian Cattle Dog
- Australian Kelpie
- Australian Shepherd
- Bearded Collie
- Border Collie
- English Shepherd
- McNab Shepherd
- Old English Sheepdog
- Rough Collie
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Smooth Collie
- Welsh Corgi
In the 18th century, the Collie’s natural home was in the highlands of Scotland, where they had been used for centuries as sheepdogs. Originally called a Scotch Collie, the dogs were bred with great care in order to assist their masters in the herding and guarding of their flock.
Rough Collies are larger and taller than Shelties, with males standing 22 to 26 inches tall and weighing 45 to 75 pounds. Rough Collies generally come in shades of sable, merles, and tri-coloured. They have a more pointed face and less of a stop than their Sheltie cousins due to the influence of the Borzois, but both share the same soft eyes and attentive gaze. Rough Collies, like Shelties, should be well socialized when young or could become shy.
Although no longer in great demand as a herder, today’s Collie has transferred these abilities to serving as a devoted family dog where they shows a particular affinity for small children. For many years the dog’s general popularity had placed this breed among the top twenty of the favorite dogs registered by the American Kennel Club, but currently sits 36th in popularity.
When people think of a “Lassie type” Collie, they always envision a sable (brown) and white dog with some black markings. Most folks will also cite the long white blaze down her muzzle. During the 1940′s and 1950′s, Lassie, was a famous TV series featuring a line of Rough Collies owned by Rudd Weatherwax. Over the years, his Collies appeared in multiple movies, TV series, radio programs and novels.
However, the original Lassie, from the seminal novel by Eric Knight, was described as “a beautiful tri-color Collie,” meaning she is mostly black, with the familiar white markings, and touches of sable. She is also described as having a “perfect black mask” which means she has no blaze. Indeed, people who raised Collies had always disliked the blaze and had tried for years to breed out that particular marking. It was a great blow when the Lassie films became popular and everyone began clamoring for Collies with white facial blazes. Because of this association, Collie breeders today are still partial to the “no blaze” look although it is not a penalty or fault in the show ring to have a blaze.
The qualities that make a good herding dog — trainability, adaptability, loyalty, soundness of body and character, agility, grace — are important in many areas, and contribute so much toward making the dog an outstanding companion. So, you can see where our beloved Sheltie got their good looks and people-loving personalities!