Attractive, intelligent, sporty and empathetic: the long-haired Collie – made famous through the TV dog “Lassie” – is one of the world's most well-known dog breeds. With its elegant appearance and many positive characteristics, these former Scottish herding dogs make ideal family dogs.
For long-haired Collies – also known as Rough Collies or Scottish Sheepdogs – there are two independent standards: one from Britain and one from the US. However, only the British type is recognised as an independent breed by the Fédération Cynologique International (FCI). American long-haired Collies are bred according to the standard of the American Kennel Club (AKC).
Although the American standard differs from the British version on a few points, both lineages are essentially very similar. Both share the Collie's loveable, affable nature. Certain differences mainly emerge in terms of appearance, with the American type considered somewhat larger and stronger. In addition, the American standard accepts more fur colours than the British one. Further noteworthy differences will be highlighted in the following text.
The American TV dog Lassie conquered the hearts of viewers in a flash and made Rough Collies one of the most in-demand family dogs in the world. The combination of its incredible beauty and friendly, almost sacrificial nature has won this breed many fans around the globe to this very day.
A perfect family dog?
Indeed, Collies are willing to learn and are of above-average intelligence. They notably master many commands instantly and willingly subordinate to their family pack. They love being with their human family and don't like to leave their side. Their affectionate manner, loyalty, good nature and love of children means they tick all the boxes for life as family dogs. At the same time, their empathetic nature makes them very sensitive to the moods of their people. As a result, sensitive Rough Collies are unsettled if their caregiver shows excessive severity or has uncontrolled mood swings.
Sensitive souls in need of harmony
If you take a Rough Collie into your home, you should be aware that these dogs need as much love and attention as they themselves like to give. Collies very much need harmony and enjoy the whole family being together. They are definitely not cut out for long periods of solitude or even being kept in a kennel. These affectionate dogs are equally ill-suited to being watchdogs. Although they are rather cautious towards strangers, they are so good-natured that they would let potential intruders flee without a second thought. However, when it comes to protecting their family, Rough Collies are more than able to courageously stand by their loved ones.
Are Rough Collies of a nervous disposition?
Although it is explicitly stated in the FCI standard, in which the British Collie lineage is listed under number 156 – group 1 “Sheepdogs and Cattle Dogs”, section 1 “Sheepdogs” – that pedigree Rough Collies may not be of a shy or nervous nature, the irresponsibility of profit-motivated breeders focused on quantity has produced many dogs that do behave in a shy or nervous manner. Thanks to the commitment of many trustworthy breeders who are aware of their responsibility for this special, lovable breed, Collies in recent years have reverted back to being the steady dogs that used to be deployed for herding.
The huge popularity of Rough Collies is not least down to their extraordinary beauty. With their long, narrow snout, abundant silky fur and light, elegant gait, they almost seem aristocratic. It's no surprise that the British Royal Family, starting with Queen Victoria, was quick to acquire a liking for this imposing pedigree breed.
Abundant coat in typical Collie colours
The long, flat fur makes a big impression and looks very voluminous mixed with the soft, thick undercoat. The distinct mane and ruff also fit with the noble image of these pedigree dogs. Three colours are permitted in the British lineage recognised by the FCI:
Tricolour (black and white with tan)
In the American Kennel Club, which sets the standard for the American lineage, white Collies are also accepted. They only have the sable, tricolour or blue merle colouring typical of Collies on their head, and the rest of the fur is pure white. Black Collies, which have no markings other than a narrow white collar, are nowadays not included in either the British or the American standard. They have not been bred or exhibited for decades and have now largely vanished from the scene.
Height and Weight
Rough Collies are medium-sized dogs, with males reaching a height of 56 to 61cm and females 51 to 56cm. Depending on their size, they weigh between 18 and 25kg, making them comparatively lightweight. American Collies are somewhat bigger at a height of up to 66cm. The difference in body weight is most striking, since American Collies can weigh up to 34kg. Their physique is rather more substantial than that of British Rough Collies. To complement this, the head is slightly wider and sturdier.
The ancestors of all Collie varieties originate from Scotland, where they are proved to have helped to herd sheep from as early as the 13th century. These Scottish sheepdogs have black-faced sheep previously known as “Colleys” to thank for their name. The origin of the breed presumably dates back to the Roman era, when native British herding dogs crossed with the cattle dogs of Roman troops that invaded the British Isles in the 5th century.
Herding dogs in the Scottish Highlands
Due to their island location, these herding dogs lived in isolation from the rest of the world for a long time. Scottish sheep breeders kept the dogs on remote farms in the midst of the vast landscape of the Scottish Highlands and upland moors, breeding them solely for the purpose of herding sheep. The typical Collie colouration came about through the breeders' wish to make the dogs visible from far away and easier to spot in the Highlands and moors.
The path to official pedigree status
The path to official pedigree dog status only started in 1840 when fans in Britain founded the first Collie club and the dogs were recognised as an independent breed. Collies were primarily made popular by Queen Victoria, who discovered the breed in Balmoral, Scotland. She was so fascinated by these intelligent, good-natured and attractive dogs that she became a patron of the Collie breed from then onward. She gave Collies as gifts to diplomats and aristocrats across the whole of Europe. She also allowed her own beloved Collie called Gypsy to be buried in the park of Windsor Castle in 1868.
Independent lineage in America and Australia
These former robust herding dogs gradually transformed into in-demand exhibition and companion dogs. Collies reached America and Australia in the 19th century with British migrants, where individual lineages independent of the British standard developed. As a a result, the Rough Collie is the progenitor of the Cattle Dog and Kelpie, both Australian herding dogs, whilst in America an individual standard was devised for the American Rough Collie.
Negative consequences of the Lassie boom
As is often the case, the Rough Collie boom that accompanied the success of the American TV series “Lassie” had several negative side effects. In the hope of earning a quick buck, irresponsible breeders focused on quantity over quality bred dogs without official paperwork or health examinations. The consequences were behavioural problems like excessive shyness and nervousness, as well as genetically-triggered hereditary diseases, some of which the breed partly still suffers from to this day.
Breeding and health of Rough Collies
Nowadays, many responsible breeders focus increasingly on a more primal and robust type of Collie. Thanks to knowledge of genetic factors and related tests, it has been possible to reduce breed-specific diseases. Scrupulous breeders who are registered with pedigree dog associations and breed according to the FCI standard compile stud books and are subject to strict breeding provisions that help to combat genetic defects, improve health and enhance breed-specific characteristics.
Typical Collie diseases
Amongst other things, special emphasis is placed on the still common MDR1 defect, which leads to hypersensitivity towards certain medications. Hence, substances that on their own appear harmless can cause vomiting, movement disorders and even death amongst affected animals. Examinations have determined that 76% of Rough Collies carry at least one allele with this genetic defect. Nowadays, genetic tests can determine whether an animal is affected or not.
Another typical Collie disease is what is known as Collie eye anomaly, which can lead to slightly impaired vision or even blindness. Collie puppies are also affected relatively often by the muscle disease dermatomyositis. Pairing two merle coloured cats, which can cause the offspring to be deaf or blind, is now forbidden in many countries.
Why you should only buy your puppy from responsible breeders
One look at the illness list for Collies shows how important it is to keep in mind the seriousness of the breeder and the pedigree of the animals they breed. You definitely won't find a healthy puppy that has undergone all required tests and vaccinations and been brought up and socialised in a species-appropriate manner in a newspaper ad or on Internet markets. A good way of finding responsible breeders is to contact your country's official breeding association for pedigree dogs.
Which breeder is right for me?
The list of breeders is often rather long when it comes to popular dogs like Rough Collies. So how do I find the right breeder? In order to find out, you should at first speak to some breeders on the phone and schedule individual appointments. Dedicate time to purchasing your new four-legged family member! You don't just buy a puppy on a whim – after all, a dog is a friend for life, therefore should be chosen carefully. Find out in the following paragraph what criteria the breeder should fulfil and what you should look out for during your first meeting.
Indications of a responsible breeder:
The breeder asks in-depth questions about you and your living situation. After all, they want their puppies to be in responsible and loving hands.
The breeder voluntarily shows you the breeding site and the mother. The father often doesn't live with the breeder, but they will at least have a photo to show you.
You are only allowed to visit the puppies once they have reached the age of five weeks (only then have they received their first protective vaccination).
The dogs and puppies come across as cheery and healthy. They have sufficient outdoor access and live in a bright, well-maintained environment.
The breeder speaks lovingly to their dogs. The puppies and mother trust one another and are curious about the new guest.
The breeder can give you precise information on the puppies and their quirks.
The breeder doesn't force you to make a purchase, but rather welcomes you taking your time and wishing to make a second visit.
The breeder sells their dogs at an appropriate price (pedigree dogs aren't a bargain!).
The puppies have been vaccinated, dewormed and microchipped, and have all required paperwork.
The breeder provides you with all kinds of information on keeping your dog and its diet. They also be available with advice after the purchase.
A good breeder will be able to give you a lot of information on their dogs' diet. From experience, they will know best what their dogs receive well, what they need and what they find tasty. It's therefore recommended to first continue to give the puppy the same food as the Collie breeder. Gradually as your puppy becomes a young dog and its requirements change, you switch its food to “adult dog food” and reduce the number of meals per day.
Which food is right for adult Rough Collies?
Contrary to the sales strategies of some manufacturers that want to persuade customers to buy food specially attuned to Collies, there are actually no requirements linked to a specific breed. Being related to wolves, all dogs are carnivores and have a digestive tract adapted to eating meat. Needs are based less on the breed than individual factors such as age, weight and activity level. Although all dogs need plenty of high-quality meat and vegetables, minerals, vitamins and other nutrients, the quantity and composition in which these are required depends on the individual criteria listed above.
Pay attention to the ingredients
In order to find out your dog's exact nutritional requirements, you can take advice from your vet or a canine nutrition expert. It's important that you only give your dog food if you know what ingredients it contains and are convinced they are of good quality. If you cook food yourself or follow the BARF method, this is definitely easier than purchasing ready-made food mixes. However, taking a look at the packaging does give information about the origin and quality of the ingredients too.
Keeping a Rough Collie and doing sport together
Although most Rough Collies nowadays no longer work as herding dogs and live as family and companion dogs, they still have a significant need for exercise and you as the owner must absolutely be able to meet this. Thanks to their high level of intelligence, quick comprehension and mobility, Rough Collies are excellent candidates for dog sport. Be it agility, obedience, dog dancing or tracking work, dog sport is both a wonderful opportunity to keep your Rough Collie fit and also encourages trust and a close connection between the two of you at the same time. If dog sport is still not enough, intelligent and versatile Rough Collies are also suitable for training as rescue, guide or guard dogs.
Less is more when it comes to grooming
In comparison to the time required for exercise and activity, grooming a Rough Collie is a manageable task and much less time-consuming than often expected. It is more than sufficient to thoroughly brush your dog every two weeks and make sure that the fur behind the ears and on the legs isn't felting. Too frequent brushing would lead to your Collie losing too much fur from its important undercoat, which protects it from cold windy weather.
Are Rough Collies also suitable for dog novices?
Thanks to their affable and adaptable nature, Rough Collies are extremely straightforward dogs that can also bring joy to first-time owners. However, this doesn't mean that these dogs simply tag along. Just like other dogs, Rough Collies also need consistent training and lots of attention from their owner. If you're interested in getting a Rough Collie, you and your family should be able to dedicate enough time to the dog. Find out about appropriate dog training and grant your dog the outdoor access that it needs. Going for a walk once a day definitely won't meet its requirements. Along with long walks through the woods or park, you should give your dog the chance to play a part in your life. Collies don't like being alone and are happiest being involved with everything – thanks to their pleasant, people-loving character, this thankfully won't prove an issue almost anywhere you go.
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