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Collies: A Breed Apart

Updated on March 20, 2019
James A Watkins profile image

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with three non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

My Collie: Seamus Boy
My Collie: Seamus Boy

Collies: A Breed Apart

When I was a boy, I had two collies, both named Sparky. Both of them were outside dogs, never leashed or chained; they roamed freely wherever they pleased. We all marveled at how smart they were. If one of my seven younger siblings wandered toward the road, Sparky would gently herd them away from it.

My first Sparky lived with us out in the country, surrounded by farms. With Sparky # 2, we lived on the bluff above Lake Michigan. When we would go down to the beach, he would keep the children from going out into deep water, tugging on their swimwear to pull them closer to shore.

Sparky the 2nd lived in a neighborhood full of children, and everyone on our street loved him. Unbeknownst to us, our neighbor Lady Marjorie took to feeding him steak. My grandma, who lived with us for a time, noticed he started to turn his nose up at the table scraps he used to devour. She'd say, "Sparky, you come back here and eat this food." He would sheepishly come back and slowly eat what she put in his food dish. "You can go now," she'd say, and off he'd run. Grandma said, "I swear that dog understands every word I say."

My Seamus Boy the Day We Got Him
My Seamus Boy the Day We Got Him
Our Collie Grace as a Puppy
Our Collie Grace as a Puppy
My Collie: Gracie Girl
My Collie: Gracie Girl

The Collie Breed: Characteristics

The Collie dog breed I am writing about is more precisely the Rough-Coat Scotch Collie. ‘Rough’ means it has a double coat, with inner and outer layers for weatherproofing. Like all herding dogs, they have an instinct to control the movements of other animals and children. In recognition for acts of heroism by dogs, the Kennel Ration Hero of the Year Award has been given to Collies more than any other breed.

There are three primary colors of Collies: Sable, like Lassie; Tri-Color, like the two we have now; and Blue Merle. They run about two-foot tall. Males weigh in at 60-75 pounds, females 50-65. Collies live eight to fourteen years.

Besides being brilliant, the Collie is known as a dog that aims to please its master and fit in with the family. You can see the wheels turning as he tries to understand what would be the best thing to do. They are elegant, graceful, sweet, gentle, and well mannered towards strangers and other dogs. You ought to encourage them, praise them, and love them. They thrive on love and attention. They need to belong.

My boy Seamus came from JacLyns Classical Collies in Union, Illinois, where they also raise miniature horses and pygmy goats. Our girl Grace came from Oklahoma Collies in Yukon, OK, as did Nola, whom we bought for our grandson: His first dog.

Nola: The Collie Pup We Gave Our Grandson
Nola: The Collie Pup We Gave Our Grandson
Our Collies, Seamus and Grace, with our Irish Wolfhound Ciara
Our Collies, Seamus and Grace, with our Irish Wolfhound Ciara
Seamus with our Westie Cailin (or as we call her, 'Wee One.')
Seamus with our Westie Cailin (or as we call her, 'Wee One.')
My Boyhood Collie, Sparky, with the neighbor's child
My Boyhood Collie, Sparky, with the neighbor's child
Sparky, the Collie of my Youth
Sparky, the Collie of my Youth

History of the Collie Dog

The name ‘Collie’ comes from the Celtic word for ‘useful.’ The dog breed originates in the Scottish Highlands. A Collie was exhibited at the 2nd dog show ever, which was held in Birmingham, England in 1860. One was shown at the 2nd Westminster Dog Show in New York in 1877, and two years later the first Collie was imported to America. Queen Victoria acquired a few in the 1880s, which led to the dog becoming quite popular in England.

“He is at his best as a worker, conscious of the responsibility reposed in him; a marvel of generalship, gentle, judicious, slow to anger, quick to action; the priceless helpmeet of his master—the most useful member of all the tribe of dogs.” ~ Dogs and All About Them by Robert Leighton, writing about Collies (1922)

Earliest Known Illustration of a Collie Dog: 'Shepherd's Dog' by Thomas Bewick - 1807
Earliest Known Illustration of a Collie Dog: 'Shepherd's Dog' by Thomas Bewick - 1807
Elizabeth Taylor with Pal, who played Lassie in the motion picture Lassie Come Home
Elizabeth Taylor with Pal, who played Lassie in the motion picture Lassie Come Home
Rudd Weatherwax training Pal
Rudd Weatherwax training Pal
Elizabeth Taylor and Pal in Courage of Lassie
Elizabeth Taylor and Pal in Courage of Lassie
Pal's Son played Lassie in the television program. Here he is with Timmy.
Pal's Son played Lassie in the television program. Here he is with Timmy.

Lassie

What made the Collie an American Icon were the seven motion pictures about Lassie, and the subsequent television series. Lassie Come Home was the first film, released in 1943. It was based on a novel of the same name written five years earlier by Eric Knight. Knight was born Yorkshire, where his family had collies. At age fifteen, he moved to Pennsylvania, where, as an adult, he and his wife bred collies on their farm.

In the book, Lassie is a tri-color, but in all filmed versions she is played by a sable—and a male at that. The male dog is prettier like the peacock is more beautiful than the peahen. The males have the huge mane, or ruff; larger heads and eyes, and more magnificent coat.

In all seven movies, Lassie is played by a remarkable actor named Pal (1940-1958), who started out in Hollywood as a stunt dog. Pal was owned and trained by Rudd Weatherwax. After he became famous, Pal, in character as Lassie, went on the road and toured America many times, making personal appearances before thrilled audiences in department stores, fairs, and rodeos. He is one of only three dogs with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Pal’s son, and then grandson, played Lassie on the television program, which would run 20 years and feature 352 episodes. Who can forget that haunting theme song, ‘The Whistler.” It was left up to Pal during the casting call to pick the actor who played the little boy Timmy.

On the list of "The 100 Icons of the 20th Century" Lassie is the only animal.

Gracie Girl: Our Collie Dog
Gracie Girl: Our Collie Dog
Our Collies: Seamus and Grace
Our Collies: Seamus and Grace
Seamus and Grace Love Each Other
Seamus and Grace Love Each Other
Seamus with Ivey, the Collie Pup belonging to our neighbor. LuAnne Bartnicki.
Seamus with Ivey, the Collie Pup belonging to our neighbor. LuAnne Bartnicki.
My Seamus Boy
My Seamus Boy
Nola, the day our grandson took her home
Nola, the day our grandson took her home

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    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      3 weeks ago from Chicago

      Paula ~ I appreciate you coming by to read my article on Collies. As you might imagine, it was a joy to put together. Our daughter, who lives up in Grand Forks, North Dakota, has a border collie named Ruckus. I do hear they are supposed to be the smartest dog breed. I like the way you put it, "much of the time, he was smarter, kinder, more loyal & had more sense than most humans."

      I am sorry you lost your husband and had to undergo heart surgery and became unable to care for Taz. You did a wonderful thing for him by placing him in a loving home where he works and herds on a farm. What could be more perfect.

      I'm glad you loved my article. Thanks for saying so. God Bless You.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 

      3 weeks ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      James....I was the proud Mom of a beautiful, "genius" Border Collie...."Taz." I could brag about him all day. The joy he brought my late husband and I was incredible. I swear, there were times I wanted to think he was a "human" hiding in a dog's costume! (Except that much of the time, he was smarter, kinder, more loyal & had more sense than most humans!!)

      Sadly, I still feel heartache over having to surrender him to another family of very nice, loving people. After my husband passed away & I had open heart surgery, I had no choice (for Taz's sake and his health & happiness, to give him up) I had to face that I was unable to care for such an active, lively and rambunctious animal. He was accustomed to long walks, and running on the beach and swimming with my husband almost daily. As you know, border collies are "working" stiffs....they must have a full-time job. The couple who happily adopted him, keep in touch with me and give me updates, which I appreciate so much. He is loved, active, happy and living the good life on a farm, where he works everyday and "herds" as his nature insists that he do. At Christmas time, his new parents sent me a picture of Taz and His "buddy" the greyhound, visiting Santa!! LOL I wrote a hub about border collies. I love this article of yours. Peace, Paula

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      3 weeks ago from Chicago

      Linda Chechar ~ Thank you for reading my article. I appreciate your comments, which I enjoyed reading. My father used to have a pair of Shelties as well. You are right, they are like mini Collies. I am glad to hear you liked my writing and photos.

    • lindacee profile image

      Linda Chechar 

      3 weeks ago from Arizona

      I had always loved Collies. I watched every Lassie episode when I was a child. I wanted a Collie but I couldn't have a large dog in a rental unit. However I adopted two Shelties. They're simply mini versions of Collies. Spanky and Opus were wonderful dogs. I enjoyed your article and photos!

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      5 months ago from Chicago

      Aurelio Locsin ~ Thank you very much for taking the time to come by and read my article. I am glad you liked it. And you are welcome.

    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      5 months ago from Orange County, CA

      I've always liked collies. And I did not know anyting about them until you article. Thank you.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      6 months ago from Chicago

      Dianna Mendez ~ Thank you for coming by to visit. I appreciate your correspondence. Yes, we miss our dearly departed, even if they were dogs. I think back to the lyrics of Mr Bojangles: "His dog up and died. Up and died. After 20 years he still grieves."

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 months ago

      We used to have a sweet collie ten years back and we miss him still today. I enjoyed your pictures and sharing from your personal experience.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      7 months ago from Chicago

      Cynthia Taggart ~ I'll bet you do miss Blanca. Last week I heard Mr. Bojangles on the radio while I was working out and was struck by that passage where he sings, "His dog up and died, up and died. And after twenty years he still grieves."

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      7 months ago from Chicago

      Ellison Hartley ~ You are quite welcome. I am glad you enjoyed the pictures. Thank you for taking the time to come over and read my article.

    • James A Watkins profile imageAUTHOR

      James A Watkins 

      7 months ago from Chicago

      T ~ You are most welcome. Thanks for reading it. And you are quite witty. :-)

    • cynthtggt profile image

      Cynthia Taggart 

      7 months ago from New York, NY

      Well, I love Collies, but my dog was a Samoyed - and he watched over us like a hawk when we were kids. When my brother went out into the street as a toddler, he pulled him back by grabbing his diaper with his teeth, and dragged him back to the curb. Smart dog!

      Blanca was his name. Miss him.

    • Ellison Hartley profile image

      Ellison Hartley 

      7 months ago from Maryland, USA

      Love the photos in this article, they are so great! Thanks for sharing them!

    • tsadjatko profile image

      7 months ago from now on

      Thanks for sharing this James! I love dogs and have had several different breeds but never a Collie. Your dog is awesome. I gravitate toward breeds that don’t need a lot of grooming but Collies are so beautiful it’s worth it.

      You know what you get when you cross a collie with a trumpet?

      A Lassie who plays brassie!

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