PetMD Editorial
Written by:
PetMD Editorial
Published: October 16, 2008

Most people think of Lassie, a Rough Collie popularized by the eponymous television series, when they hear the term Collie. However, there are a variety of breeds that can be classified as a Collie. Originating from Scotland in the 1800s, the Collie was an intelligent and gentle herding dog, making them a fine addition for anyone who loves the outdoors or has a family today.

Physical Characteristics

The Collie's expression is its hallmark. Its refined head, well-balanced muzzle and skull, and piercing ears and eyes all exude a certain intelligence and alertness. Its gait, meanwhile, is suggestive of an effortless speed and an ability to change direction instantly, both qualities needed in herding dogs.

The Collie has two coat varieties: a smooth-coated variety with a flat and short outer coat, and a rough-coated variety with a harsh, straight and long -- more so on the ruff and mane -- outer coat. Both varieties, however, have a soft and profuse undercoat. The Collie breed also comes in four recognizable colors: sable and white, tri-color, blue merle, and white.

Personality and Temperament

The Collie is a sensitive and intelligent breed, always willing to please. And while it is gentle and mild-mannered, it can occasionally be stubborn.


The Collie can live outdoors in cool or temperate climates, but is happier indoors, as it is a very family-oriented dog. Its coat needs a thorough brushing every week to remove dead hair, and a leash-led walk or jog daily is all it requires for exercise. Herding can also provide excellent physical and mental exercise for the Collie.


This breed’s lifespan ranges between 8 to 12 years, and it is susceptible to gastric torsion, dermatomyositis, seizures, microphthalmia, Collie eye anomaly (CEA), progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), demodicosis, and other minor aliments. To identify some of these conditions, a veterinarian may run hearing, eye, and DNA tests on this breed of dog.

History and Background

The origin of the Collie is rather obscure. One of the theories about the breed's origin is that of a stock and farm dog to the Celts, the first settlers on the British Isles. Since sheepherding and guarding are two of the oldest canine duties, the Collie's ancestors may reach far back into the history of dogs.

Dog fanciers began to take interest in the breed in the early 19th century. As breeding programs progressed, the Collie not only grew larger in stature but became more refined. Queen Victoria was introduced to the breed in 1860 and entered her first Collie into her kennel. The Collie's popularity flourished under her sponsorship and the upper class, as well as dog fanciers, took a liking to the dog. In 1867, "Old Cockie" was born and is credited for many of the characteristics associated with the breed, especially those of the Rough Collie. Collies would later sport a variety of colors, including red, buff, and a few sables, while the most popular colors included black, tan and white, black and white, and what is referred to now as blue merles, originally known as "tortoise shell." "Scotch" collies, a rough-coated variety were also bred during the 1800s. And while the smooth-coated Collies were used to drive cattle or sheep, the rough-coated ones were trained as guard dogs, able to withstand all weather climates.

By 1886, English breeders set a standard for the Collie's height and weight. As American settlers began to bring Collies to the New World as sheepherders, numerous changes began to happen. Most notably, the Collie became slightly larger and heavier. Later, Albert Payson Terhune, an American author and dog breeder, increased the popularity of the breed with his collies at the Sunnybank Kennels, the lines of which can still be seen in today's Rough Collies. The Smooth Collie has not been as popular as the rough variety. But whichever the variety, the Collie is now considered an all-time favorite American breed.

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