The former kingdom known as Ceredigion in mid-west Wales is the birthplace of the colorful companion and useful worker known as the Cardigan Welsh Corgi.

The name Corgi is an Anglicization of the Welsh “cor gi,” a phrase sometimes translated as “dwarf dog.” Though short on leg, these ancient herding dogs have a long history as working farm dogs in the region.

Cardiganshire – as the birthplace of the breed is known today – was settled by Celts who migrated from central Europe more than 3,000 years ago. The early immigrants likely arrived in present-day Wales with a dog similar in type to both the Teckel, or Dachshund, and a form of Spitz. This dog was utilized as a ratter, as well as a guardian of family and farm.

Welsh farmers raised a variety of livestock, including large flocks of geese and poultry. Farmers used land owned by The Crown to graze their cattle, although assaults from predators and thieves in these open areas were not uncommon. The early Corgi provided protection for the herds in these spaces, and drove the larger animals through the fields and to market by nipping at the cattle’s heels to control their movement.

To expand its usefulness on the farm, the Corgi may have been crossed with various local sheepdogs. In some parts of Wales, the introduction of Spitz-type dogs by Vikings and Flemish weavers produced a divergence that would eventually become the Pembroke Welsh Corgi.

Although early livestock shows in Britain offered classes for “heelers” or “curs,” it wasn’t until 1925 that the Corgi was exhibited at a Kennel Club dog show. In 1928, both the Cardigan and Pembroke Welsh Corgis were recognized as a single breed, allowing crosses between the two. It wasn’t until 1934 that each breed was considered a separate and distinct breed.

The first club for the Cardigan was formed in the UK in 1926. The breed standard was modeled on a red and white dog, out of unregistered parents, called Bob Llwyd. This dog was an influential sire of the day and produced the breed’s first champion, Ch. Golden Arrow, in 1928.

Roberta Bole of Boston imported the first Cardigan Welsh Corgis into the United States in 1931. A red and white bitch named Ch. Megan was the breed’s first American champion.

A small group of supporters founded the breed’s AKC parent club around 1936, and in 2011 the Cardigan Welsh Corgi ranked 81st out of 173 AKC-recognized breeds.

The Cardigan Welsh Corgi’s history dates to around 1200 BC in Wales. Photo by Dan Sayers.

Long and Low

The silhouette of the Cardigan Welsh Corgi presents a well-muscled herding dog that appears twice as long as it is tall. “Low set with moderately heavy bone and deep chest” is how the General Appearance section of the breed standard defines the Cardigan’s make and shape.

Long and low best describes the body proportions of this hard-working heeler. “The ideal length/height ratio is 1.8:1 when measuring from the point of the breast bone (prosternum) to the rear of the hip (ischial tuberosity) and measuring from the ground to the point of the withers,” as dictated by the standard’s section on size, proportion, substance.

Both dogs and bitches should be between 10.5 and 12.5 inches at the withers “when standing naturally.” Dogs should ideally weigh between 30 and 38 pounds and bitches between 25 to 34 pounds. Although overall balance is more important than absolute size, “lack of balance, oversized or undersized” Cardigans possess “serious faults.”

Cardigans are examined on the table where balance and proportion may be accurately assessed. The breed is rather heavy for its size, but should nonetheless make an impression of a powerful dog, capable of both speed and endurance. Though sturdily built, the active and agile Cardigan should never appear to be coarse.

Correct proportions are especially important for a Cardigan expected to perform its intended function without fail. This herding breed possesses a moderately long and muscular neck; a long, strong body with a level topline; a moderately broad chest with a prominent breastbone; a deep brisket; well-sprung ribs extending well back; a strong, short loin with a moderate tuck-up and a definite waist; and a slightly sloping croup with a low set, fox-like brush of a tail extending well beyond the hock.

I’m All Ears

The Cardigan’s ears are unique to the breed. They are large in proportion to the head and carried erect, further increasing their prominence. The breed’s ear carriage is especially distinctive.

Moderately wide at the base, the ears are slightly rounded at their tips. “When erect, tips are slightly wide of a straight line drawn from the tip of the nose through the center of the eye,” as described by the standard.

Because correct ears help to establish type in the breed, faulty ears are regarded as a serious offense. Small or pointed ears are anathema to the Cardigan, as are high-set ears and those carried parallel. Low-set ears are likewise faulty, although the ears may lie back when the dog is in motion.

Correct expression in the breed is dependent on proper ear set and “good, strong ear leather” in mature dogs. This allows the ears to be carried in the desired erect position.

Drop ears are a disqualification in the Cardigan.

Neither Straight nor Narrow

The Cardigan Welsh Corgi’s front assembly is another breed-defining characteristic. “The correct Cardigan front is neither straight nor so crooked as to appear unsound,” according to the Forequarters section of the breed standard.

When viewed from the front, the forearms curve to accommodate a moderately broad chest that tapers towards a deep brisket. As a result, the Cardigan’s wrists are positioned “somewhat closer” than the elbows.

The Cardigan’s pasterns are strong and flexible, and the relatively large, rounded feet point slightly outward, although no more than 30 degrees from the centerline.

Strength of the front assembly is essential for this herding breed to move with ease and efficiency. A correctly made front will present close-fitting elbows, shoulders that are set well back on the ribs and a prominent forechest.

Serious faults include straight fronts, fiddle fronts and fronts that knuckle over.

Red, White and Blue

The Cardigan Welsh Corgi is as colorful as it is capable. This Welsh breed may appear in all shades of red, sable and brindle, as well as black, with or without tan points, or blue merle, with or without tan points.

White may appear as “flashing” on part or all of the neck, on the chest, legs, muzzle, belly, tip of the tail and as a blaze on the head. White on the head “should not predominate” and should never surround either eye. According to the standard, “Any color other than specified and/or body color predominantly white are disqualifications.”

In blue merle dogs, eye color may be blue – or partially blue – in one or both eyes. In any other coat color or color combination, blue eyes disqualify.

Although the Cardigan Welsh Corgi hasn’t enjoyed the popularity of its Pembroke cousin, the breed once called the “yard-long dog” nevertheless has the support of a devoted band of loyalists. This ancient breed remains a capable drover, herder and guard, as well as a skilled performance competitor and an all-around colorful companion.