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A Brief History of the Collie

This is a brief history meant for the layman. It is not a comprehensive history as there are plenty of these. What is lacking is a history that is simple and easy to follow. Hopefully this will provide that for you. References are provided where they were used. I appologize for any inaccuracies that this history may contain

Origins of the Name:

At one time, the name was pronounced “coally” but, in the recorded history of the breed, was only spelled that way early on by some people attempting to render Northern Scottish pronunciation. (1) The origin of the name is not certain. There are many conflicting ideas about how the name came to be “Collie”. Here is a list of some possibilities of the origin of the Collie name:

  1. Coll – This means black in Anglo-Saxon (2)
  2. Colley – A breed of black-faced sheep in ancient Scotland (2)
  3. Coally – It is thought the original Collies were predominantly black (3)
  4. Coaly – a variation on Coally (4)
  5. Collie – A name describing the white band around the neck suggesting a collar (4)
  6. Collie – Gaelic for “useful” (5)
  7. Cuilean – Gealic for whelp or puppy (4)

The early Collies were called “cur” by local Scotsmen perhaps starting the saying “Mangy Cur” for a poor looking dog.(4)


There is much conjecture and little facts about ancient Collie history. I am going to separate out fact from Conjecture.


Sheepdogs were used to tend flocks in the time of the Romans. When armies marched, they tended to bring some dogs with them for companionship.(2) It is believed that Romans brought Collie-like dogs with them when they invaded England. These may have been bred with Scottish sheepdogs to start the Collie breed.(6) Possibly this occurred around the 5th century AD (8).

It is believed that the Deerhound, Collie and Scottish Terrier have the same ancestry (4). Possibly smooth collies originated from an infusion of Mastiff blood (7)


The modern Collie comes from a combination of Scottish and Northern English stock dogs mixed with some hunting breeds. No one is sure which ones started the breed. It is known that a variety of dog known as a “Golden Morray” was part of the early breeding. These were small, mostly black and white dogs weighing 25 to 35 pounds. Shepherds would breed these dogs for intelligence by keeping the runts and destroying the other pups. They believed the runts to be smarter than the rest. Those with longer coats were given to manor lords as gifts and are the predecessor of the modern Collie. (1)

Sheepdogs of the Scottish border were added to the mix. They were larger, with a stronger muzzle and shorter coats. Later, other breeds were interbred. Irish Setters were bred with Collies to add height, weight and straighter legs. They also contributed to the Sable color. Labrador Retrievers were interbred but it is not certain what this added to the Collie breed.(1) They were crossed with the Gordon Setter to increase the tan color and the Borzoi to increase length of head. (2)

A dog called a “ban dog” was bred into the Collie line. It resembled the current Collie in the characteristics of its head. The shepherds kept breeding the “ban dog” into the Collie which caused coats of various lengths, eventually creating the Smooth Collie. In the 1880s, Smooth Collies were purposely bred back into the Rough Collie line and the modern Collie took its final shape. For a while, Collies would be born with a bob tail. It is believed that this was from the “ban dog”. (1)

The smooth collie was primarily a drover's dog, driving sheep and cattle to market instead of guarding them in a pasture. (9)

In 1860, Queen Victoria was impressed by the beauty and intelligence of the Collie breed. She visited Scotland and brought several back to England with her. Before creating a breed standard, several varieties were created. The following all stem from the same beginning:

  • Rough Collies
  • Smooth Collies
  • Border Collies
  • Bearded Collies

Collies moved into the US in 1878 when the first American Collies were shown at Westminster. Just before 1900, interest increased in the United States and many of England's best Collies were imported to the US and serious breeding started.(6)

One of the most famous Collie breeders was Albert Payson Terhune. In the 1920s he started writing stories about the Collies he bred. While most of these stories are out of print, there are several still available. These are wonderful stories and should be read by everyone, Collie lover or not. The only book regularly re-published is Lad, A Dog. (6)

Some interesting trivia about Collies:

  1. American Collies tend to be larger than English Collies. (6)
  2. Written about by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales - “Ran Coll, our doggie and Talbot and Cerlond.” (2)
  3. The first record of a Smooth Collie winning a show was in 1872 (2)
  4. The first record writing about the modern Collie is by Dr. John Caius in 1570. He wrote about the beauty, loyalty and intelligence of the breed. It is certain the breed did not look anything like it does today. (4)
  5. Collies were used in South Africa by ostrich breeders to drive the birds to camp for plucking their feathers.(4)
  6. Smooth collies are used as assistance dogs for physically handicapped people (10)
  7. There was a breeding ban during World War 2 that almost ended the smooth collie line.(11)
  8. The Smooth Collie is considered to be part of the Rough Collie breed in the US and Canada but a separate breed in the United Kingdom and Australia. It was considered the same breed until 1993 but now cannot interbreed with Rough Collies in the UK and Australia. (8)
  9. That during the first or second world war, the military attempted to train collies as protection and attack dogs? More than 90% failed. They just wanted to be friendly.(12)
  10. President Calvin Coolidge owned several collies: They were named Boston Beans , Rob Roy, Prudence Prim and Bessie.(12)
  11. President Lyndon Johnson owned a collie named Blanco.(12)
  12. President Herbert Hoover owned a collie named Glen.(12)


  1. Collie Club of America, The Complete Collie, New York: Howell Book House Inc., 1962
  2. Osborne, Margaret, The Popular Collie, New York: Arco Publishing Company, Inc., 1962
  3. Roos, Bobbee, Collie Concept, Colorado: Alpine Publications, Inc., 1988
  4. Lewis, Rebecca, Guide to Owning a Collie, New Jersey, T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 1995
  5. Moore, Samantha, Collie, Interpet Publishing, 2000
  6. McCarty, Diane, Collies, New Jersey: T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 1995
  7. Buzzle.com (www.buzzle.com/articles/collie-dog-breed-origin-history.htm)
  8. Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smooth_Collie)
  9. Collie Club of Canada (www.collieclubofcanada.com/history.html)
  10. K-9 web (www.k9web.com/dog-faqs/breeds/collies.html)
  11. Collie Net (www.collienet.com/smoothcollie_history.htm)
  12. Codybear Collies (www.codybearcollies.com/trivia.htm)