Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kinds of Collies: Big or Little, Something for Most Everyone

Collies come in at least three sizes and even more varieties, with each variety having unique personality traits that make it different from the other types of collies. I suspect that there is a type of Collie out there for most dog lovers.

The largest of the Collies are the Smooth Collie and the Rough Collie.

What is interesting to me is that while both varieties can occur in the same litter, some trainers actually claim that the Smooth is calmer and more trainable. Truth or fiction?

I tend to put this claim in the same column as the claims that some Labradors have different traits based on their colors. While some people will swear this is true, my experience is that when a litter of puppies share the exact same parents you will find the same variation of personality traits possible in any of the colors.

There are individual variations that you will find in any sibling group; with enough exposure to enough members of the breed one can eventually observe the same traits can be found in all the color/coat varieties. Some individuals are more trainable, more attentive, quieter, etc.

The big Collies are what I would call of average trainability; as I've said before they remind me of C students. They have a good work ethic, they may take a little longer to learn but once they learn they have a high degree of reliability with what they've learned. For example, my Jenny took over  year to predictably come when called (she was adopted as an adult and hadn't been treated well.) Now however, she has a very reliable recall and will usually listen even when something really interesting is happening, like another dog is approaching.

If you want a highly trainable, medium sized dog, the Collie family offers two rather different choices.
Arguably one of the most trainable of all dogs is the Border Collie.

The Border Collie is a high energy, high drive dog. Smart, easily bored. They are happiest when they have some kind of job to do.

Although the black and white variety are the best known, Border Collies do come in other colors, including red and white and merle. These are great dogs for competitive sports and obdience

They love to work, they learn quickly, and they seem to have an almost limitless ability to pick up new tasks.

There is another type of Collie thoguh that is of smaller build, very trainable, with a much more relaxed personality.

The Bearded Collie looks a little like a small version of an Old English Sheepdog.

The Beardie is more relaxed and easier going than the Border Collie. Not as quick as the Border but quicker than the Rough Collie, the Beardie can learn pretty much anything you want to train them for. They're popular as visitation and therapy dogs,and do well with family members of all sizes and ages.

Unlike the Border Collie which can be nippy at the heels of running small children (under the impression that they need tending like sheep) the Berdie can play with children without being too mouthy.

While it is more common to find Border Collies who are still working sheep, it is less common to find still working Beardies - however - they do excell at the work; they just have a different style of herding than the Border Collie.

One of the sweetest dogs I ever lived with was a Beardie mix whom I called Ewok. He was a gentle, sweet natured boy who never barked - he'd make a little yowling sound on rare occasions but most of the time he just quietly observed. He got along with everyone. I always suspected because of type of double coat that he had, and his yowl, that Ewok had just a little Malamute in him. He looked a lot like the Beardie pictured below, just a little darker, a little hairier - as hard as that might be to imagine.


The smallest of the Collie family is the Shetland Sheepdog. I've heard the Sheltie called the little Lassie, and the miniature Collie.

Technically the Sheltie did not descend from the Collie, rather both the Rough Collie and Sheltie share a common ancestor in an earlier Scottish Collie. 

Despite their similarity in appearance to their larger cousins, the Sheltie is usually a slightly more high strung dog -- possibly because they've been bred away from their herding origin in the States in favor of bench shows. Most Collies will settle down a bit if they have a job to do.

Although they may be sensitive natured dogs, in ever other way the Sheltie is a hardy little dog. They make excellent watch dogs, are tidy house pets, get along with children and are fairly trainable. They're also very handsome wee dogs.

Shelties are becoming more popular as therapy dogs, visitation dogs, and agility/obdience dogs. In these roles all their best qualities are called on and they prove just what a well rounded breed they are when trained properly and given a purpose.

If you fancy Collies but want a smaller package, the Shetland Sheepdog is certainly worth considering.

So there you have it, a range of Collies in a range of trainability levels and a spectrum of colors and sizes. Having lived with at least one member of each of these varieties, I can tell you that while there are some individual differences there are a few things they have in common: Loyalty, lovable, pleasing personalities, and lots of good looks, with a willingness to get along with a family and try their best to meet expectations. What dog lover doesn't appreciate those traits?

Ruby - Collie mix

P.S. 01-06-12
Since Cate was good enough to send us information about a Beardie breeder who is working to keep the breed true to its origin as a working dog I had to check out the site; I found a wonderful picture that I am sharing here...
These are Brambledale Bearded Collies - and what a lovely group they are too!
Thanks Cate for bringing this kennel to my attention.


  1. Hi: They are definitely more diverse than I realized. I hadn't realized that border collies were considered collies...

    OK, here's my collie story - when I was a kid one of our neighbors, the Mussons, had a Shetland Sheepdog which they always called a miniature collie. I can't remember its name (I know it will come to me) - when one would die, they would get a new one, always with the same name. I know that they went through more than one while I lived in Gilbertsville. Their rotating dogs and the fact that the dog took baths with Mr. Musson - in the bathtub with him, mind you - always fascinated me and made me look at them a bit differently. Their dogs were always very nice (and very clean!).

    As you've noted before, Ruby has some collie in her (let us say, 1/3 of her) - her collie/retriever mix makes her kind of a perfect dog, I think. I believe herding dogs are more attentive to their humans and Ruby certainly sticks with me when we hike. She does bark and charge seemingly aggressively (although it is all show and she is very sweet to strangers) but she's just a great all-around family dog.


    1. Hi Kathy,

      Hmm, I think it is one thing to bathe with your dog...and another to let your neighbors know that you do. Not to judge :-) but if I did wash with my dog I sure wouldn't want people knowing about it. Aren't people interesting?

      I hadn't actually realized how many Collie and Collie mixes I had lived with until I wrote this; I always think of my first dog, Champ as the 'main' Collie in my life before Jenny - but in reflection I guess I've been pretty drawn to Collies and their mixes all my life. I think they mix well with other breeds - growing up for years I did have a little Collie/Shepherd/Terrier mix who was a wonderful, loving, very tolerant dog, about the size of an overgrown beagle but with long hair.

      Ruby is just lovely - her build does remind me of a Smooth Collie (with a little Lab influencing the body.) We need a new Ruby picture on here.

    2. when i was younger my collie (Sandy) wouldn't let anyone near my sister unless Sandy got petted first.

  2. Hi,

    I am on my second Beardie. I love them. Unfortunately I think too many breeders are breeding their coats overlong and too fine. It's all to do with looks and showing. I clip mine not shave, so she looks like an old fashioned type. Their personalities should be bullet proof but there are too many who are frightened of loud noises, and stuff like thunder and lightening. A British breeder is breeding her registered bitches back to unregistered working dogs. Her kennel name is Brambledale and she is based in Wales. She has an extremely interesting blog with many pictures and videos. She has had Beardies since the 1960s. Check it out.

    1. Cate,
      Thank you SO much for taking time to share your personal experience with Beardies. I think they are really lovely and under-appreciated dogs. I also appreciate the insights you have to share about the problems that poor breeding practices have led to.

      I will be looking for the blog you mention, sounds like a very interesting and informative site and I really appreciate you taking the time to mention it here. If you get a chance, I would love to see some pictures of your Beardies - you can forward them to me at my regular email - cmoslund@gmail.com
      I would really like to include more pictures on this blog of dogs who live with readers!

  3. I have a collie myself, and when i looked at the picture of the mostly white collie I called my collie and told her that the collie looks almost exactly like her brother.

    1. :-) I hope she appreciated the family resemblance!

    2. She's still sitting in my lap and putting her nose in my hand when I stop petting her.

    3. She wants to know how you can waste time on a computer when you have HER sitting right there!

  4. How did I miss this post?! (I am soooo far behind in my reading... :-0) Gorgeous photos! I still very much miss my beloved Border Collie, Lizzy. Poor thing, we never had sheep and she would have loved that. Had fabulous natural instincts and herded anything available: our ducks, our geese, the other dogs, little children... (that last was hilarious, though we never allowed her alone with little kids, just in case.) These days my Jeffie is Golden Retriever / Border Collie cross and there's just enough BC to make life interesting! :-)

    1. Sue - I am so far behind in reading...I will never catch up!
      Border Collies are too smart for me - I prefer an average dog :-)

  5. This was a nice post! One thing though, the smooth collie is actually a bit more high energy than the rough. In a litter with both smooth and rough collie puppies, the smooths are the first to climb out of the whelping box. The smooths are also a little more fearless. The roughs are a bit calmer.

    They are both VERY trainable, and being bred and raised to work with humans, they learn very quickly. Many people in my collie club do agility, rally, obedience and herding with their collies, and they excel in all of the various dog sports. Collies, both rough and smooth, are happy to run and play, but are also very good at holding down the couch. They make wonderful companions, and sadly, are often overlooked when people are choosing a pet for their families. I think the rough coat makes me people shy away, as they believe it will be too much work. But a good brushing once a week is really all that is needed to keep a rough collie's coat tangle-free. And the smooth coat variety is unknown by 85 - 90% of the population.

    Thanks for sharing all this information about the collie breeds!

    1. Collie people are generally not looking for another breed ;-) I don't think we're going to convert everyone to being Collie lovers but they certainly are a wonderful family of dogs!

    2. No, I guess not. :)
      And when a breed becomes too popular, there are always problems.

    3. Absolutely. The Collie did not fare well when it was overly popular either - real increase in health problems at that time. Things are getting better now that breeders can and do test for eye and other problems.

  6. Is this a current active site? Doesn't appear to be.

    1. I consider it current - I haven't had time to post in several months though :-)

  7. I had a beautiful Sheltie girl for 15 years and she was absolutely the BEST! She had blue merle(eyes) and beautiful sable coat. I miss her so much. Hope I can find another one as sweet as she was.

  8. My wee friend who died earlier this year, she was the runt of the litter and was a border collie/bearded collie on her fathers side and a blue marle/border collie cross on her mothers. An an unusual mix but she was amazing. She was gorgeous, funny, smart and playful. She adored children, they fascinated her. Once on holiday, a little girl really wanted to clap her but was also so shy and scared and Midi just crept up to her so slow and gentle, sat down in front of her and waggled her head from side to side. She also worked sheep and was so gentle with the lamb but oh she was terrible with the cows she would bark and growl so at them. She loved playing with a tennis ball too and one of her best friends was a cat that thought it was a dog. She was so mischievous and collected stuff, once she was staying at my uncle's and collected a load of coal all around her. Unfortunately she got ill and died at only 9. Wish i could have shared a pic with you but it didn't work.

    1. I'm sorry for your loss - sounds like Midi was an amazing dog. I love to see pictures - >cmoslund@gmail.com< if you'd like to share.