Collies are one of the most loved breeds of dog, made popular by Queen Victoria, and famous by the Television series ‘Lassie’. And to all accounts, the way Lassie is portrayed is not too different from a real Collie – as they are very intelligent, sensitive and protective of their families.
Male adults reach a height of 24 to 26 inches, and females a height of 22 to 24 inches. Males weigh 60 to 75 pounds at maturity, and females 50 – 65 pounds.
It is thought that ancestors of the Collie were brought to Great Britain during the reign and rule of the Roman Empire. The Roman dogs would have been interbred with local dogs, and herding dogs would have been bred to manage the huge amount of livestock in the hills and fields. Scottish sheepdogs were large and aggressive, whereas Welsh sheepdogs were smaller, faster and friendlier. The English breeders crossed these with their own sheepdogs to get different types.
Queen Victoria met a Collie on one of her trips to her Scottish home of Balmoral castle and fell in love with the breed. She brought some back with her to England, and they became very popular as a fashionable pet. She even entered a couple of collies in the Westminster Dog Show in 1878, which made the Americans get interested in them. Today they are not generally used for herding in the UK, as the Border Collie is more popular as a working dog, but in the US and in Europe they are still used in some areas as working dogs.
Like the portrayal of the Collie in ‘Lassie’, they are very gentle in temperament and great with children. They are protective of their owners, intelligent, and have an uncanny sense of when something is wrong. Eager to please, they are easy to train, and they also adapt well to different living styles. They love to be with their family and make great companion dogs.
The Collie has a very well-proportioned body, with an intelligent face and a graceful bearing. The head looks like a wedge, with a long muzzle, which may be there because of a cross with a Russian wolfhound, the Borzoi, although historians cannot say for sure. The rough collie has a beautiful long-haired coat, although there are also smooth variations.
Adapting well to different lifestyles, the Collie does well so long as she has enough daily exercise. An apartment is probably not going to be enough room for her though, as she is a large dog and needs to have some space. She should not really be kept outside because she loves to be with people, but she can be OK out there so long as it is a cool climate. Collies are sensitive to the heat because of their thick coat, so should have shade and water available in hot weather. If they are left alone for too long they might bark a lot.
Collies are known for their friendliness, and are great with kids – they enjoy active play and are affectionate and gentle. They aren’t aggressive with strangers, but do tend to be protective and watchful, especially over children. They bark at strangers, but some can be trained not to bark. Other pets will be fine with a Collie, as they are gentle with all of them – although they do still possess a herding instinct so may try and herd pets or children.
A weekly brushing is important – especially with Rough Collies, to prevent matting. Spayed females will shed a large amount once a year. Otherwise they shed three months after their heat cycle. Males shed around the time of their birthday. So they may need some extra brushing at these times. Grooming should be given regularly – usually every 6 to 8 weeks, and their coat might need to be trimmed from time to time. Their nails should be trimmed once a month, and their teeth brushed two or three times a week. Their ears should also be cleaned and checked for signs of infection regularly.
This breed is eager to please, intelligent, and trains easily – they have been used as search and rescue dogs and service dogs because of these traits. They are sensitive, so do best with positive and rewarding training, otherwise they can become edgy. Besides basic obedience, they also do well in agility competitions, herding, and barn hunting. They may nip at heels in play, but aren’t generally aggressive. They can be trained to be “quiet” and stop barking.
Regular daily exercise is important for Collies, as they are quite active. A fenced in medium sized yard is ideal for them to run around in, and they can be taught to play fetch. But they are quite adaptable and happy to relax with their families too.
Collies can be fed a good quality kibble by itself, or in combination with wet canned food. Make sure that the main ingredient in the dog food that you buy is meat, and be aware that cheaper food may contain more fillers. Feeding your dog a raw diet can be very good, although some do better on it than others. But if you are giving them raw meat, be aware that it carries a risk of Salmonella and other hazards, and also make sure that they are getting the vitamins and minerals they need.
Start off by feeding your puppy whatever their breeder was feeding them, and then transition to new food over two weeks, so that their stomach doesn’t get upset. From 8 weeks of age they should be given 4 meals a day, then 3 meals a day when they get to around 4 months old. Once they are 6 months old you can transition them to two meals a day. Collie puppies are classed in the medium range for dog food.
If your Collie is allergic to some food in her diet it will probably show by her itching, scratching, getting sick or having diarrhoea. If this happens it might be good to try an elimination diet along with some allergy medication if your vet recommends it. Organic food can also reduce the amount of potential allergens since there are fewer additives. Table scraps can be given but may cause stomach upset, and rich or heavily seasoned food should be avoided.
Recommended daily feeding amount: 2-3 cups of high quality food, divided into one or two meals a day.
Take into account how much activity they get, and their metabolism, when you figure out how much food to give them – as it does vary for individual dogs. Don’t exercise your Collie for 2 hours after feeding him or he may be at risk from bloat, which is where too much air enters the stomach and it twists and cuts off blood supply to vital organs. Some Collies may be fine with one meal a day, whereas others do better with two – so it is best to see what fits your dog.
Common Health Concerns
Some Collies are born with a genetic mutation that makes them sensitive to multiple drugs. It is now possible to test your Collie with the MDR1 test for this gene – and might be well worth your doing, since it is estimated that 3 out of 4 Collies in the US have this mutation. They are known to be sensitive to anti-parasitic drugs, anti-diarrhoeals, and anti-cancer drugs. If they are treated with one of these, there is a risk of death.
Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) is another breed-specific condition, and breeders should check all their puppies as well as their breeding parents for this condition. There is no treatment for it, and it can lead to blindness. Collie Nose is another health issue that can affect them, and is usually related to sunlight – where too much sun can make their nose peel and develop cancer if it’s not treated. Another eye disease they are prone to is Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) where they start by losing their night vision, and then progress to losing their day vision as well. However they can do well with vision loss if they are used to the home they are living in.
Collies are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Collies in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don’t see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward a Collie rescue.