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ALTHOUGH the “Scotch collie dog,” as he is so often called, has for many generations been one of the favourite varieties of the canine race, his fondest admirers of fifty years ago could scarcely have expected him to have achieved the popularity which he possesses at the present time, and has held for some fifteen years or more. He may share with the sprightly fox terrier the distinction of being the favourite dog of the people of the latter part of the nineteenth century. The St. Bernard has his admirers, so has the foxhound, but as neither is so suitable as a companion—the one on account of the size, the other for a variety of reasons, the collie and the fox terrier are likely to retain their good reputation for many years to come. The sheep dog is usually called a “collie”; in reality a “collie" is an obsolete name for “such sheep as have black faces and legs,” says the Agricultural Dictionary, published in 1743, where it is spelled “colley,” as it is sometimes even nowadays. As a fact, there is no rule for spelling the word, and as “colley" in many parts of the country is the name of a small fresh-water fish, the loach, the spelling “collie" for a sheep dog I take to be best.
Shakespeare uses the word in one or two instances
with the meaning of dark or black, thus— Brief as the lightning in the collied night.
The word collie is derived from the Anglo-Saxon “col,” black, so the black-faced sheep of the North came to be called “colleys,” and the dog that drove or preceded them came to be a colley dog. In due course the word dog was dropped, so, by easy transformation, “colley”—grown out of use as applied to the sheep—was adopted as a euphonious word for a variety of the dog, and so remains to this day. Bewick, the great wood engraver, calls this dog the “coaly.”
But before Bewick gave us his charming illustrations the sheep dog or “shepherd's hound,” Canis pastoralis, was held in esteem, and in the sixteenth century duly described by Dr. Caius. He says:
Our shepherd's dog is not huge, and vast, and big, but of an indifferent stature and growth, because it has not to deal with the bloodthirsty wolf, since there be none in England. This dog, either at the hearing of his master's voice, or at the wagging of his fist, or at his shrill and hoarse whistling and hissing, bringeth the wandering wethers and stray sheep into the self-same place where the master's will and work is to have them, whereby the shepherd reapeth the benefit, namely, that with little labour and no toil of moving his feet, he may rule and guide his flock according to his own desire, either to have them go forward or stand still, or to draw backward, or to turn this way, or take that way. For it is not in England as it is in France, as it is in Flanders, as it is in Syria, as it is in Tartary, where the sheep follow the shepherd, for here in our country the shepherd followeth the sheep, and sometimes the straying sheep, when no dog runs before them, nor goeth about and beside them, gather themselves into a flock, when they hear the shepherd whistle, for fear of the dog (as I imagine), remembering that (if unreasoning creatures may be reported to have memory) the dog commonly runneth out at his master's warrant, which is his whistle. This have we oftentimes marked when we have taken our journey from town to town; when we have heard a shepherd whistle, we have reined in our horse and stood still a space to see the proof and trial of this matter. Furthermore, with the dog doth the shepherd take the sheep to slaughter, and to be healed if they be sick, and no hurt or harm is done by the dogs to the simple Creature.
The above is one of the oldest records we have of the working of sheep dogs, and it is interesting because it almost exactly corresponds with their duty at the present day.
It must not be forgotten that the sheep dogs of other countries, and probably in England when wolves and other wild beasts abounded, are and were much more ferocious and powerful creatures than our collies. The so-called Pyrenean guard dog we often see on our show benches, is a dog some one hundred and twenty pounds weight and more, roughish in coat, and with a docility of expression quite in keeping with the pastoral duties he has to perform, and with strength sufficient to grapple with a wolf successfully. However, the largest type of foreign sheep dog I have met was one said to be from Thibet, and which was purchased from a traveller by a firm of live-stock importers in London, Messrs. Willson and Co., of Goodge-street, London, W. This was, perhaps, as tall a dog as I ever saw, measuring at the shoulders 33% inches, and built proportionately. It was pale fawn in colour, with a close thick coat, inclined to be shaggy rather than smooth; his face was as kindly in expression as anyone would wish to see, and his appearance was not contrary to his nature, for he was a most affectionate dog. It was said at the time I had this dog brought to me, in 1892, that a similar animal was to be seen at the Jardin des Plantes, in Paris. This big dog is alluded to here in order to show what I have stated, that in other countries less civilized than our own, and where the flocks are likely to be disturbed by the attacks of various ferocious animals, the sheep dogs are of such a character as to be able to do full justice to their charges in the way of protection.