The Victorian Collie Myth

The prevailing creation myth among show Collie enthusiasts is that Queen Victoria’s infatuation with the breed set the ball in motion, elevating the humble farm dog to aristocratic splendor.

Queen Victoria saw her first Collies in the 1860’s, and she enthusiastically began to sponsor them, causing a marked surge in the breed’s popularity. It was at this point that Collies split from other sheepherding breeds, like Border Collies.
– “Did You Know
It was in the [eighteen] sixties, whilst Her late Majesty Queen Victoria–a great lover of animals–was on a visit to Scotland that she became enamored of the faithfulness, sagacity, and devotion of the Collie, which led to a member of this meritorious race being recognized as worthy of a place amongst her collection of much cherished canine pets.This episode marked the epoch of the Collie’s day and gave it the impetus that assured its destiny. from that time forward its popularity grew rapidly and, for many subsequent years, it flourished not only as the animated ornament which served to complete the out-of-doors equipment of the leaders of fashion but, as that of the fashionable household pet of the majority of dog lovers.

The Collieby O.P. Bennett, 1924

The above analysis is bullshit. Complete fabrication. Utterly untrue.

1. Queen Victoria’s first exposure to the Collie came at least twenty years before the fraudulent breed history suggests.

2. The 1860s marked a low point in the Queen’s popularity and trend setting influence, an entirely un-conducive condition to spur wide adoption of the Collie and the myriad other breeds she is credited with obsessing over.

3. No marked surge even occurred in Collie popularity as a result of the Queen’s supposed patronage.

4. The Queen’s kennels seemed to have played no part in the British show collie world, rather a few collie breeders were in on the ground floor of the newly formed kennel and breed clubs which were founded around the birth of the dog show.

5. The Monarchy did play a tangential role in encouraging dog shows (along with numerous other venues of agricultural and technological comparison and improvement), but it was Prince Albert–not the Queen–who sponsored the foundational event of the era: The Great Exhibition of 1851.

And while impossible to prove to any satisfaction, Queen Victoria is credited with the popularization of keeping pets, especially dogs among the English commoners and elite alike.

6. The split between the Lassie/show collie and the Border Collie was in the works long before Queen Victoria or any show or trial judge ever laid eyes on a dog. Placing the date at the 1860s is a matter of conjecture, not of reality. Attributing the split specifically to the Queen or even to dog shows is a case of the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy.

7. The “favorite” collies owned by Queen Victoria were not show Collies, or even Lassie collies. It’s doubtful Queen Victoria even owned a show collie as a personal pet. The collies she loved and was infatuated with were most certainly not show collies, and all the evidence I’ve found suggests that they were, in fact, Border Collies. The lasting legacy of the Queen’s Collie breeding program is very hard to flush out.

This week, I’ll delve into each of these issues to show how the Collie’s creation myth is utterly void of truth. Not a single element of the story is accurate.

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.