Wovember Words: Man's best friend

I was thinking that in all this talk of wool, sheep, sheep products and those involved with those, that we are forgetting someone very important..the sheep dog!

Time is short and I can’t obviously celebrate every breed, but after stumbling across this picture on the Internet Archive, I felt we must take a brief moment to say hello to this fellow.

Image from page 131 of "The new book of the dog : a comprehensive natural history of British dogs and their foreign relatives, with chapters on law, breeding, kennel management, and veterinary treatment" (1911)


I wanted to share this fantastic description of the breed from The Dogs of Scotland from 1891 (Full text is here) and just what makes it so well suited to being a sheep dog, despite what, a first, might sound like a bit of a dressing down regarding it’s looks!

The Highland or bearded collie is quite a different animal from the common collie, although their duties are similar […] A big, rough, “tousy” looking tyke, with a coat not unlike a doormat, the texture of the hair hard and fibry, and the ears hanging too close to the head, is a rough and ready description of this dog. The breed is a familiar one to us. Its origins unknown. That the dog belongs to mountainous country and a cold climate his dense, shaggy, and harsh coat testifies […]
A very interesting letter on this variety appeared in the Live Stock Journal of November 15th, 1878. The writer, Mr Gordon James Phillips, Glenlivet, describes the breed…

“The animal itself is about the size of an ordinary collie, but a good deal deeper chested. It is thicker in skin; it is also flatter in the forehead. Altogether the head would be somewhat repulsive looking if it were not relieved by the beautiful dark brown eyes. Its greatest peculiarity in form is its tail, which is simply a stump, generally from 6 to 9 inches in length.
That the animal is Scottish in origin, owning to it’s resemblance to other Scottish animals, is apparent, if we compare it with the Scots Terrier, which it resembles much in colour – a dark grey. At all events, the black-and-tan collie, now common throughout Scotland, would be much more at home in the southern part of the island than in the north. It cannot endure the same amount of cold. In the winter it has a great inclination to get near the fire and is generally shivering; whereas rough-coated collie seldom draws to the fire, but seems to be at home amongst the drift and snow. It is finely adapted for hill climbing, owing to the strength of its limbs and depth of its chest. Shepherds have an idea – which on the whole is not a bad one – that it was intended by nature to be specially a sheep dog, owing to its short tail, which does not let it turn so swiftly as it would otherwise so if gifted with the long tail of his brother collie.
To understand this it is necessary to know that when shepherds send a dog to hunt sheep they desire it to take a wide circle round, not to dash in among them. The black-and-tan collie must be trained to do this, but the rough-coated one must make a wider sweep owing to the stump.
Perhaps better proof exists of it being specially a sheepdog when we consider its aptitude for driving. Shepherds state that they can safely trust 200-300 sheep to the sagacity of this valuable dog, which does not hurry or push, but drives them as coolly and as cautiously as if his master were present. Another proof is that this dog will not follow game. The black-and-tan collie, if it sees a hare, will dart away after it at utmost speed. Most dogs will do so, but it is different for the rough coated collie. If a hare starts amongst it’s feet, it will simply look after it with a scared-like look at then move on it’s way again.”



Complained about for being rough and repulsive, but for the brown eyed variety (though later we are told that yellow eyes make the dog look objectionable!), AND praised for being singular as a herding and driving dog – he still manages to put that poor “black-and-tan” dog to shame a bit there, doesn’t he?

Many people keep beardies as family pets, but they do have quite a long history as a working dog, though the modern breed we know today is thought to have been founded in the mid-1940s. Hardy, reliable and able to withstand harsh conditions, I have seen for myself their eagerness with the job at hand – choosing to get on with the task rather than make friends. Alas they are more commonly bred now to be show dogs – grooming out their rough, wavy coats!

It’s resilient and ability to cope with the hilly  and inclement Scottish terrain is perhaps why I have seen this dog used in Shetland, but does anyone else use Bearded collies? Leave a comment and tell us about your sheepdog.

Image from page 131 of "The new book of the dog : a comprehensive natural history of British dogs and their foreign relatives, with chapters on law, breeding, kennel management, and veterinary treatment" (1911)