A Collie is a breed of dog that was originally used for herding and guarding flocks of sheep in Scotland. Today, there are two standard types of Collie: rough (long haired) and smooth (short haired), and each can display a range of four colors (sable & white, tri-color, white, and blue merle). While the breed is instantly recognizable today thanks to Lassie, they originally looked quite different from the Collies we see today.
There are several known varieties of early Collies. The Scottish Collie was a larger dog, closer to what we know today, though more aggressive in its herding. The Welsh Collie was smaller and often domesticated as a pet in addition to its herding duties. The dogs eventually made their way to the English markets, where they were bred. There is much dispute as to the exact origin of the Collie as we know it (even the Collie Club of America admits there are some obscurities in their history), but it is thought they might have been bred with the Borzoi (a Russian Wolfhound) which would explain the shape of the head. It is unknown how much of the Borzoi actually made it into the “standard” Collie breed.
Dog ownership started to rise after the industrial revolution. Queen Victoria fell in love with the breed, and brought one in as a pet – starting the craze for Collies as a house pet. Rough Collies were slowly replaced by Border Collies as the main herding dog in the UK, though they’ve continued to flourish as “working” dogs in other countries around the world.
In 1860, Collies made their first appearance in the show ring, but were then smaller dogs with a shorter, thinner coat. When we think of a Collie, we usually think of a rather large dog with long fur – indeed, most weigh in at somewhere between 45 and 90 pounds, and are up to 26” tall at the shoulder. But early Collies were much smaller, only weighing between 25 and 40 pounds. Their long, thick coats are also likely an eventual adaptation to colder climates as this was not considered a trait of early Collies, either.
Collies made it to the United States for the first time in 1879, brought over by Americans to be show dogs. Due to their loyalty, grace and temperament, they were an instant success. They have continued to be an American favorite.