The life story of the Collie is the history of pastoral life, for from the first day that man herded flocks he had a dog to help him. There is a similarity in character and appearance between the sheep and cattle dogs of all countries, which points to their common origin, while the cunning and outward look of all indicate their descent from the wild dogs of nature.
The Collie or Sheep Dog in all countries is considered superior to other dogs in instinct and intelligence, and his countenance discloses sagacity, alert eagerness, and devotion to his master. There is a great difference between the Collie of the bench shows and the old working Collie of the Highlands.
The Collie of the bench shows is a fancier’s creation; a more graceful and beautiful animal does not exist. He was produced from the old working type, but remote crossing and careful selection continued for many years has so radically changed him that he is almost a breed of his own.
The working qualities of the bench show Collie have been so sadly neglected that they are all but lost. Certainly they are not to be compared in this respect with the Collie of the hills, bred on purely utilitarian lines. In appearance, however, the bench show Collie is a much handsomer and more attractive type, for the working dog is on the nondescript order. The latter vary in size and color; some are smooth coated, some are rough; some have prick ears, others half-dropped or drop, while many have what is known as a watch eye. Some of the best workmen will weigh under forty pounds. Occasionally you will see among the shepherds large, handsome black, white, and tan specimens with fair coats, but more will be all black in color, smooth coated, and small in size. The most popular among the Scottish shepherds is the small black-and-white type with medium coats.
– The Complete Dog Book, William Bruette 1921
It’s amazing how similar the dialogue is 90 years later concerning collies bred for show and those bred for work, although in this case the cast has changed slightly from “the bench show Collie”–what we now call the Rough Collie–to the show Border Collie and the “Collie of the hills” which is the working Border Collie.
I, of course, wouldn’t agree with the assessment that the overangulated, over-coated wedge head show collie is the most graceful and beautiful of animals, I much prefer old Haig to Laund Lukeo. Even if we grant collies their unique traits compared to Border Collies, you must admit that Albert Terhune’s famous Lad, pictured left, is a far superior dog to the bench collie of the era. He has a moderate and proportional head with large gorgeous and expressive eyes.
There is no hint of the “three point” or minuscule almond shaped “oblique” eyes that are now the trademark of the show bred collie. This dog’s ears are naturally set at the side of the head, a more pleasant and friendly look to the artificially taped ears of the show version.
The head is also less severe in the taper from snout backward, there’s a good deal of mouth up front. Many show collies today have severely undershot jaws to accentuate the angle of the head by narrowing the front elevation and to make the profile more shallow.
The show collie pictured above just a few years after the death of Lad has significantly altered conformation, and none of it for the better in my opinion. Lad was an exceedingly handsome dog that a child could instantly fall in love with, I don’t see the same thing happening with the door-stop beady-eyed fashion collie.
If you look at Terhune with Lad and his other collies, you can see that they are clearly of the Old Time Farm Shepherd mold, not of the Highland Rough Collie or even the Border Collie. To create this look today you’d probably have to cross an English Shepherd with a more moderately angled Rough Collie. You can find similar looking dogs in the yellow part of the spectrum of Andy Ward’s ingenious Collie Spectrum interactive graphic.
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