During my freshman year at college, a classmate frequently shared stories about her family’s dog back home. The house pet she described was a shaggy sheepdog with an overabundance of energy and an over-the-top personality. The year was 1979, and my friend said her dog, named Jack, was a Bearded Collie.
The Beardie, as fanciers like to refer to the breed, has been known by many names through the years. Mountain Scotch Collie, Loch Collie and Hairy Moued Collie are just a few of the appellations given to the hardworking shepherd, bred for centuries in the Scottish Highlands and in the border country between Scotland and England.
Much of what is known about the history of the breed falls in the category of speculation.
According to the Bearded Collie Club of America, the breed’s origin is as mysterious as a hillside shrouded in a cold and penetrating mist. “All that can really be said is that over the years a longhaired, hairy-faced dog developed in Scotland, valued for its hardiness and its ability to work sheep and cattle.”
In her book, “The Uncommon Dog Breeds,” published in 1975 by Arco Publishing Company, Kathryn Braund writes of the movement of cattle and sheep all over the world during the Middle Ages. “In the early 1500s, a Polish shipmaster, Kazimiez Brabaski, sailed to Scotland to trade grain for sheep. He carried on his ship six Polish sheepdogs, using them to bring sheep onto his ship and then to tend and protect the flock on the voyage home.”
Braund notes that three of the ship’s dogs, Polish Lowland Sheepdogs, perhaps, remained behind, possibly contributing their genes to the creation of today’s Bearded Collie. Unfortunately, no record of the crosses has been found, so the breed’s genesis remains a mystery to be revealed by future historians. “Until then, the mysterious secrets of his past lie locked behind the Bearded Collie’s beautiful, expressive, wistful eyes.”
So effective were these dogs at bringing sheep out of the rocky Scottish hillside that they remained largely a side note at dog shows during the 19th century. According to the BCCA, “The first show at which the breed was classified, however, is thought to be the 1897 Edinburgh show of the Scottish Kennel Club. In that show a separate class was provided for working dogs, where the entry was confined to shepherds and drovers.”
Interest in the Bearded Collie remained relatively constant in the early years of the 20th century, and a breed standard was written in 1912. The two World Wars greatly suspended enthusiasm for the breed, and according to the BCCA, “the last Beardie for nearly nine years was registered in 1938.”
In 1944, Mrs. G. O. Willison of Middlesex purchased a puppy that revived interest in the Beardie as a show dog. Jeannie of Bothkennar, had “such wonderful temperament and extraordinary intelligence,” according to Braund, that she was registered that same year and later produced puppies that revived interest in the breed among conformation enthusiasts.
According to the BCCA, “the first Bearded Collie Challenge Certificate and BOB were awarded to Ch. Beauty Queen of Bothkennar at Crufts as recently as 1959.” Thirty years later, Ch. Potterdale Classic of Moonhill was awarded Best in Show at Britain’s largest all-breed dog show.
Imports to the U.S. began in 1962, and the breed parent club was formed seven years later. AKC recognition in the Working Group was granted in 1977, followed by a move to the newly formed Herding Group in 1983.
Interest in the Bearded Collie has remained steady ever since, as demonstrated by 2012 registrations that placed it 117th of the 175 recognized breeds.
Long and Lithe
“The Bearded Collie is hardy and active, with an aura of strength and agility characteristic of a real working dog,” according to the Characteristics section of the AKC breed standard. To perform its intended work without erring, its body is longer than that of similar breeds and its movement is ground-covering.
The Beardie’s body is longer than it is high. Measurements “approximate a ratio of five to four, length measured from point of chest to point of buttocks, height measured at the highest point of the withers.” The length of its back is the result of its ribcage length, rather than a long loin.
The parent club’s “Illustrated Breed Standard” addresses the breed’s rectangular proportions. “With the exception of the short-legged Corgis, the Beardie is the longest-bodied of the Herding breeds in proportion.” The breed is never square or cobby, and proper proportion is not due to a shortness of leg.
Medium in size, with substantial (but not heavy) bone and powerful muscling, the Beardie moves with good front reach and a powerful rear drive. “Movement is free, supple and powerful,” according to the standard’s section on gait. Likewise, it is “lithe and flexible to enable the dog to make the sharp turns and sudden stops required of a sheepdog.”
The Bearded Collie appears effortless on the move, with a rather elongated form that facilitates the breed’s far-reaching movement.
A Bright Inquiring Expression
“A bright inquiring expression is a distinctive feature of the breed,” reads the standard’s General Appearance section. One look into the Beardie’s eyes, and it’s easy to see that the breed is an intelligent and optimistic worker.
In an AKC Gazette article titled, “Beardie Heads,” columnist Jo Parker describes the various features of the head as being important to both type and function. “The eyes contribute greatly to true Beardie expression. The color generally harmonizes with the coat color…[they] should be somewhat oval…[and] correctly set eyes not only enhance expression but also they give the Beardie a wider range of view. Eyesight is important to a Herding dog.”
The Bearded Collie is a working sheepdog in possession of a “stable and self-confident” character revealed through “large, expressive, soft and affectionate” eyes.
A Coat of Many Colors
Long hair on the cheeks and under the chin gives the Bearded Collie its name. The breed’s double coat is comprised of a “soft, furry and close” undercoat and an outer coat that is “flat, harsh, strong and shaggy, free from wooliness and curl, although a slight wave is permissible.”
The protective coat of the body falls to either side without an artificial part. Dogs should be presented in the show ring “as naturally as is consistent with good grooming but the coat must not be trimmed in any way.” As directed by the standard, “An excessively long, silky coat or one which has been trimmed in any way must be severely penalized.”
Four coat colors are acceptable: black, brown, blue and fawn. Parker introduces the science of the breed’s coloration in a column titled, “Beardie Coat Colors,” In which she states, “Genetically, there are just two basic colors in Beardies, black and brown. Anything else results from modifications of these colors or from factors added to them. Black is the dominant color and brown is recessive to it. Blue and fawn are the results of a modifying dilution factor which dilutes black to blue and brown to fawn. This factor is recessive.
Each color is subject to a “greying” that transforms the color shortly after birth. “It is very important to accurately determine color at birth, as it can be difficult if not impossible to distinguish later on,” cautions Parker. “Blacks and browns can become lighter than blues and fawns.” Most Beardies will lighten between 10 and 18 months of age.
The Bearded Collie is a self-colored breed, with the nose, eye rims and lips the same color as the coat. Likewise, eye color harmonizes with the coat. According to the standard’s section on eyes, “In a born blue or fawn, the distinctively lighter eyes are correct and must not be penalized.”
A white pattern is expressed through separately inherited face and body markings. The standard identifies the allowable white areas as “on the foreface, as a blaze, on the skull, on the tip of the tail, on the chest, legs and feet, and around the neck.” White should not be present on the body behind the shoulder, nor on the face surrounding either eye. According to the breed standard, tan markings may also appear and are acceptable “on the eyebrows, inside the ears, on the cheeks, under the root of the tail, and on the legs where the white joins the main color.”
Colorful in coat as well as in character, the lively and lovable Beardie is one breed that enjoys hard work, and playing even harder.