With his distinctive silhouette and his ties to the royal family, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi is one of our most familiar canines. Here are six fun facts about this charming little dog.
Most historians believe the Pembroke’s ancestors were Spitz-type dogs of the Vikings and Scandinavian seafarers, along with small, short-legged, long-backed dogs that arrived in Wales with the invasion of the Celts. In time, the dogs interbred, and two strains of small herding dogs developed. One remained primarily in the more rugged Cardiganshire to the north, while the Spitz version, with additional contributions from other breeds, evolved into the Corgi from Pembrokeshire. By the early 20th century, the Cardigan Welsh Corgi (with a tail) and the Pembroke (without a tail) became well-established, but were grouped together as one breed at agricultural shows in the 1920s. In 1934 the Kennel Club (England) permanently split the two breeds. In the same year, the first Pembrokes were exported to the United States. The Pem became a favorite the world over, his popularity greatly propelled by Queen Elizabeth II’s passion for the breed.
Corgis are considered an “achondroplastic” (dwarf) breed due to their normal-sized bodies but short, sturdy legs. The dogs’ primary job was to herd the small Welsh cattle that grazed in unfenced pastures. Being so low to the ground, the Corgis could avoid getting kicked as they nipped at the cows’ sharp hooves. This breed is hardwired to herd, so don’t be surprised if your Corgi herds your children, pets and houseguests without your realizing it. They have become very proficient at it over time.
Although the Pembroke and the Cardigan have many differences including their size, color and shape of ears, for most people the tail is the first feature they notice: The Cardigan has one while the Pembroke does not. Most Pembroke tails are docked at a few days of age but a gene has always existed for the natural bob (no tail). Docking first began as a means of identifying the Pembrokes as working dogs, and thus avoiding a tax for their farmer-owners. Non-herding “companion” dogs were considered a luxury under tax law in the United Kingdom.
Queen Elizabeth II, along with her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, were always huge Pembroke Welsh Corgi lovers.
As a small child, Elizabeth II became enchanted with the Corgis owned by the children of the Marquess of Bath. King George VI brought home Dookie in 1933. There is a photo of then Princess Elizabeth at the age of 10, with Dookie at Balmoral. Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret, would feed Dookie from a dish held by a footman. The Queen Mother had a strict regimen for the Corgis. Each would have its own wicker basket, raised above the floor to avoid drafts. Meals were served for each dog in his own dish, the diet approved by veterinary experts, with no treats from the royal table. The dogs received two meals a day, with extra biscuits given for rewards and celebrations.
Elizabeth II has owned more than 30 Corgis since she became Queen of the Commonwealth realms in 1952.
The American Kennel Club breed standard describes the correct Pembroke coat as “Medium length; short, thick, weather-resistant undercoat with a coarser, longer outer coat … The body coat lies flat.” Although long, fluffy coats do pop up in the breed, they are considered a serious fault. While most Pembrokes are red, sable or fawn, with or without white markings, tricolors (black-white-and-tan dogs) are another attractive color pattern in the breed. Predominantly white or blue-gray dogs are serious faults.
Although Queen Elizabeth II is by far the most exalted owner of Pembrokes, the breed has also captured the hearts of the rich and famous on this side of the Atlantic. Past and present celebrity owners include former Governor of California Jerry Brown; author Stephen King; actresses Ava Gardner, Betty White, Kirstie Alley and Tallulah Willis (daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore); and food writer/TV host Alton Brown.