Breeders of purebred dogs speak a language all their own. Wherever they gather, at dog shows, seminars or in chat rooms, words and phrases are used that have very narrow definitions. Their usage makes it difficult for a novice to fully participate in the conversation, and all but impossible for the general public to follow along.

Much of the breeder’s language is derived from domesticated livestock or veterinary science. Veterans who’ve spent a lifetime perfecting their own family of purebreds use agricultural and medical terms with confidence. When noted breed authorities get together, the dialog that results can effortlessly span the broadest topics, although the words spoken will often have the narrowest of definitions.

Those words are quite often derived from the breed standards. As guide for both breeder and judge, the standard describes those characteristics of make, shape and behavior that define a breed, distinguishing it from all the rest. Distinctions between breeds can be subtle, so standards use very specific words to illustrate singular traits. These buzzwords become part of every breeder’s dog show dialect, guiding both conversations with peers and decisions made in the whelping box.

The Rough Collie. Photo by Dan Sayers.

The Rough Collie is universally recognized today thanks to two fictional characters. In 1919, Albert Payson Terhune’s first novel, “Lad: A Dog,” was published. The best-selling collection of stories about a Rough Collie living in a wooded kingdom captured the imagination of early 20th-century readers. In the 1940s, a series of MGM films based on the novel, “Lassie Come Home” – about a Collie’s long journey to be reunited with the family forced to sell her – appealed to moviegoers’ sense of loyalty, honor and devotion. Both Lad and Lassie embodied the bravery and nobility that resonated with a post-war public, and ever since the breed has been cast as an icon to the finer qualities of both man and beast.

A Harmonious Character

The Collie is a lithe, strong, responsive, active dog, carrying no useless timber, standing naturally straight and firm,” according to the General Character section of the AKC breed standard. Fit as a soldier, the breed is a natural athlete, possessing a harmony of proportion and a balance of parts that combines to create a “proud picture.” With great flexibility and grace, the breed is capable of working tirelessly and with great style. No effort is wasted when all parts are working together.

It is interesting to note that the standard refers to the breed’s general “character” as opposed to its “appearance.” The choice of language clearly references the breed’s required intelligence as well as its desired quickness, overall balance and physical strength.


The Collie doesn’t exist without its trademark head. The standard states, “The head properties are of great importance” and “Expression is one of the most important points in considering the relative value of Collies.” Though difficult, if not impossible to define, both expression and character are qualities essential for establishing type in any breed, particularly so with Collies.

A chiseled foreface, arched eyebrows and a slight stop work in consort to create the desired forward-looking expression. Parallel planes, equal in length with only a slight stop, characterize the light, smooth and clean head. Described in the standard as a “well-blunted lean wedge,” the look is “classic Collie” and defines the breed that has entertained millions for nearly a century.

An “intelligent inquisitiveness,” accentuated by an exceptional pair of ears and eyes that are clear and bright, is typical of the breed. Medium-sized, almond-shaped eyes are always dark – except in Blue Merles – and set within a flat skull. When alert, the Collie’s ears are raised with the tip breaking about one-fourth the distance from the end. The desired expression is created only when muzzle, skull, eyes and ears are in complete harmony.

According to the standard, “The Collie cannot be judged properly until its expression has been carefully evaluated.”

The Right Fit

Like many celebrities of stage and screen, the Rough Collie is as well-known for its luxurious hair as for its recognizable face. Its “crowning glory” is how the standard describes the proper coat of the rough variety.

An extravagant mane perfectly frames the smooth face, and a weather-resistant coat shows just enough leg to keep the paparazzi interested. As glorious as any custom-tailored ulster, the well-fitting coat of correct texture is the ideal wrap to showcase the breed’s powerful profile.

Athlete turned actor, the breed has enjoyed one of the longest-running careers of any matinee idol. From farmer to film buff, admirers will no doubt continue to celebrate the breed best known for its leading roles and loyal disposition. For the Collie, beauty has always been as beauty does.