Get to Know the Collie: Symbol of Love and Loyalty

There's a reason people love Lassie: Collies are brave, loyal, and beautiful -- they also like to bark.

Last Updated on June 23, 2022 by Carolyn Coile

Few breeds have captured America’s heart as has the Collie. Through movies, stories and television, the breed came to embody bravery, loyalty and beauty — and a tendency to bark, especially if you find yourself in a well.

But the Collie comes by his love of the bark honestly, as the dog has used his voice to help herd sheep.

More interesting things about Collies:

  • The Collie originated in Scotland in the 19th century. They were called Scotch Collies and came in both rough and smooth coats. The rough-coated dogs stayed out with the flocks to guard them. The smooth-coated ones drove sheep from place to place.
  • The AKC now divides the breed into two varieties, Rough and Smooth. Varieties are shown separately but can interbreed. The Rough variety is much more popular than the Smooth variety.
  • The breed became popular with dog fanciers when Queen Victoria obtained one in 1860. The queen had many dogs, but her Collies were her favorites.
  • They were one of the earliest breeds to receive AKC recognition.
  • In the 1920s and ’30s, author Albert Payson Terhune attracted American pet owners to the breed through his stories of his Sunnybank Collies. Sunnybank was a real place, and the Sunnybank Collies were an actual line of successful show Collies. Sunnybank is currently the site of an annual Collie gathering.

  • Lassie movies and television series cemented the breed’s reputation as a family dog.
  • Today’s Collie has a much longer and narrower head than the original working farm collie. It has distinctive semi-prick ears, in which the tip is bent forward. The coat is generally either sable (red), black and tan, or merle, usually either with white trim or on a white background. Merles should never be bred to other merles because one quarter of the puppies (on average) will be “double merles,” which are more likely to have visual or hearing problems.

  • The Collie is in the AKC Herding group.
  • Despite being shown at the Westminster Kennel Club show since 1879, only one Collie, a Rough, has ever won Best in Show there, back in 1929. Only six (all Roughs) have ever won the group there, the most recent in 1941 (at that time the Herding group was part of the Working group). Overall, Collies, especially Smooths, are not one of the more winning show dog breeds.
  • Collies compete in herding trials but have a more laid-back style of herding, and don’t do as well as the more active herding breeds.
  • A Collie named Reveille is the official mascot of Texas A&M University.
  • Bobby the Wonder Dog was a Collie who became a national celebrity when he was lost on vacation and journeyed 2,800 miles from Indiana to Oregon in 1923. It took him six months.

  • The book Lassie, Come Home was written in 1938. It was released as a movie in 1943. The dog who played Lassie was a male Collie named Pal who almost didn’t get the part because he wasn’t a show dog. Initially hired as Lassie’s stunt double, he gave such a convincing and emotional performance in his first scene that he took over the part. [Check out our interview with Timmy from TV’s “Lassie.”]
  • Owners include Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon B. Johnson, Chuck Norris, Mark Harmon, Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman, Sir Walter Scott, Albert Payson Terhune, Queen Victoria, Jim Reeves and Cecil Hepworth.

  • Collies were among the top 10 most popular AKC breeds in the 1880s and 1890s. It was the most popular breed in America between 1900 and 1910. It remained in the top 10 breeds for seven decades of the 20th century. The 1980s were the first decade in which they dropped from the top 10.
  • Collies are currently the 35th most popular AKC breed, down slightly from 32nd a decade ago.

Do you own a Collie? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.

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