The Collie was bred to be a herding and working dog, not for guarding but instead to manage, drive and herd livestock to market. Their exact origin in unknown, but they are believed to have arrived in the British Isles with the Romans about 2,000 years ago. The breed we know today probably originated in Scotland and Northern England, centuries ago. Pride of ownership of these working dogs took priority over written records, so the precise origin of the breed will never be known. Dog fanciers took interest in the breed in the early nineteenth century and began keeping records of pedigrees and promoting the breed.
In 1860, the first classes for “Scotch Sheep Dogs” were offered at only the second dog show ever held in England, that of the Birmingham Dog Society. Both varieties of Collies competed in the same classes. In 1867, Old Cockie was born. He is said to have stamped the characteristic type into the Rough Collie and also to have introduced the genetic factors that led to the development of the sable coat color that is so popular in the breed. The smooth-coated Collie is said to descend from a dog called Trefoil, who was born in 1873. On a visit to Scotland, Queen Victoria was captivated by the Collie and enthusiastically sponsored them in both varieties, creating a surge in the popularity of the breed in the 1860s and 1870s. The breed standard in England was fixed in 1886.
It is thought that the Borzoi was crossed with the Collie at some point in its history, contributing to its elegant silhouette, long legs and unusually slender muzzle. In May 1877, the first Collies were shown in the United States, at the second show of the Westminster Kennel Club in New York. The following year, several Collies imported from Queen Victoria’s Royal Balmoral Kennel were entered at Westminster, causing great interest and much ado. Thereafter, Collies became prized as possessions of the rich and famous in this country. The well-known financier, J. P. Morgan, established a fashionable kennel and imported dogs from England at exorbitant prices. Almost a half-century later, the tables turned. The Collie became highly sought-after in Japan, and American breeders exported some of their best dogs. A bit later, at the start of the 20th century, Queen Alexandra (who preferred the Rough Collies) began breeding and exhibiting her dogs, which revived their popularity.
The Collie Club of America was organized in 1886 and remains very active in promoting the interests of the breed. The fame of the Rough Collie reached its greatest heights when it was chosen to star in the sentimental “Lassie” films. There were seven of these films, between 1943 and 1951, followed by a long-running television series that began in 1954 and ran for twenty years. Today’s Collie is no longer in demand as a herding dog and has transferred its skills to becoming an intelligent and devoted companion, with a particular affinity for children. Elegant in appearance, loyal and affectionate in all actions, self-appointed guardian of all he can see or hear, the Collie is deemed the ideal family companion by its many admirers.