Crazy about col­lies

In­tel­li­gent and af­fec­tion­ate, col­lies are as at home on the sofa as they are in the field. Matthew Den­ni­son rounds up devo­tees of these won­der­ful work­ing dogs

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­tographs by Sarah Farnsworth

Matthew Den­ni­son rounds up devo­tees of these won­der­ful work­ing dogs

Above all, it’s the col­lie’s re­spon­sive­ness to hu­mans that’s so won­der­ful

Adog ac­counted for the suc­cess of a se­ries of cheap cartes-de-vis­ite— small, busi­ness card-size pho­tographs re­sem­bling post­cards— au­tho­rised for sale by Queen Vic­to­ria in 1866. The dog in ques­tion was a two-year-old smooth col­lie called Sharp. dressed all in black, five years af­ter the death of the Prince Con­sort, the griev­ing sov­er­eign—al­most smil­ing—places her gloved hand on Sharp’s neck with an ex­pres­sion of tan­gi­ble ten­der­ness. For Vic­to­ria’s sub­jects, it was a heart-warm­ing im­age and one that did much, not only for pub­lic sym­pa­thy with the reclu­sive widow, but to pop­u­larise the breed it­self.

Sharp’s grave in Home Park at Wind­sor com­mem­o­rates ‘the favourite and faith­ful Col­lie of Queen Vic­to­ria from 1866 to 1879’. He was the first of the breed Vic­to­ria kept as a pet (there had been work­ing col­lies in the royal ken­nels since the 1840s) and her fond­ness for him led her to ac­quire nearly 90 oth­ers over the course of her life.

To­day, these ca­nines still in­spire the same life­long loy­alty among their own­ers. Zanny Han­ing­ton ac­quired her first in 1964 and has since had more than 15, in­clud­ing her cur­rent red-and­white Welsh border col­lie, Roan.

Ju­dith gre­gory, pres­i­dent of the West of Eng­land Border Col­lie Club, has owned borders for more than six decades, since at­tend­ing obe­di­ence train­ing with her Jack Rus­sell as a teenager and los­ing her heart to one in the same class. She bought her first puppy in in­stal­ments with her pocket money and has spent the past 40 years breed­ing and judg­ing them: she cur­rently owns 14 black-and-white col­lies, aged be­tween 15 and three months.

David Ab­bott shares his cot­tage on the Cotswolds es­carp­ment with 13 rough col­lies. He was given his first col­lie-style dog, a Shet­land sheep­dog (a breed orig­i­nally de­scribed by Crufts as ‘minia­ture col­lies’), when he was 14.

All agree that key to the ap­peal of this group of pas­toral dogs, first used for herd­ing in Scot­land and north­ern Eng­land, is their in­tel­li­gence and sen­si­tiv­ity. ‘What I love about them is their re­spon­sive­ness, their loy­alty and their in­tel­li­gence,’ en­thuses Mrs Gre­gory, who is also a psychotherapist. ‘Border col­lies, in par­tic­u­lar, are very, very in­tel­li­gent dogs, but, above all, it’s their re­spon­sive­ness to hu­mans that’s so won­der­ful. They’re very sen­si­tive to your mood. If you’re low and a lit­tle bit sad, they’ll be­come quiet; they nuz­zle you gen­tly. Some­times, I’ve taken dogs into care homes — they’re tremen­dous ther­apy dogs.’

Mr Ab­bott agrees: ‘There’s no doubt that, when I re­turned to Bri­tain af­ter

Border col­lies are work-ori­en­tated and need a lot of men­tal stim­u­la­tion

10 ex­cit­ing years of liv­ing abroad, my dogs helped me to set­tle down again. All rough col­lies are dif­fer­ent, but they’re sen­si­tive dogs. That said, they should be calm dogs, not ner­vous or highly strung, es­pe­cially if they’re go­ing to live with chil­dren.’

To­day, the Ken­nel Club recog­nises rough, smooth, border and bearded col­lies as dis­tinct breeds. Like other pas­toral dogs as­so­ci­ated with work­ing sheep and cat­tle, they have a wa­ter­proof dou­ble coat, which, in the case of the long-haired rough and bearded col­lies, needs to be groomed daily.

Borders, in par­tic­u­lar, re­tain an in­stinct to work. ‘They’re worko­ri­en­tated and need a lot of men­tal stim­u­la­tion if they’re not to be­come bored and naughty,’ cau­tions Mrs Gre­gory, but all col­lies thrive on reg­u­lar ex­er­cise. Own­ers of both border and rough col­lies point to their ten­dency to round up fam­ily mem­bers at cer­tain mo­ments, a throw­back to their orig­i­nal pur­pose— chil­dren can of­ten find them­selves be­ing ‘herded’ dur­ing games out­doors.

‘Al­ter­na­tively, you be­come a mem­ber of their pack,’ Mrs Han­ing­ton muses, ‘and, like all dogs with brains, they can be­come a hand­ful un­less you know what you’re do­ing and keep them oc­cu­pied. How­ever, the fact that they’re so in­tel­li­gent means they’re also very bid­dable.’

That qual­ity was one Queen Vic­to­ria val­ued. ‘My favourite col­lie, Noble, is al­ways down­stairs when we take our meals,’ she recorded in her jour­nal on Septem­ber 14, 1873, of a morn­ing at Bal­moral. ‘[He] was so good, Brown mak­ing him lie on a chair or couch, and he never at­tempted to come down without per­mis­sion, and even held a piece of cake in his mouth without eat­ing it, till told he might. He is the most “bid­dable” dog I ever saw, and so af­fec­tion­ate and kind; if he thinks you are not pleased with him, he puts out his paws and begs in such an af­fec­tion­ate way.’

Although Vic­to­ria owned a num­ber of white col­lies, in­clud­ing Nan­nie, given to her by Lord Hadding­ton in 1885, Snow­drop, painted by Maud Earl in 1895, and Squire, her dogs were pre­dom­i­nantly black with flashes of white or some­times tan, like Noble and Sharp.

To­day, breed stan­dards recog­nise col­lies in a num­ber of colours. Old Hemp, the dog usu­ally re­garded as the pro­gen­i­tor of modern border col­lies, that was bred in Northum­ber­land in 1893, was black and white. Although Mrs Gre­gory keeps only black-and-white border dogs, Mrs Han­ing­ton has owned vary­ing colours, in­clud­ing those with red- and blue-merle coats. A blue-merle pat­tern coat is es­pe­cially at­trac­tive in rough col­lies, as are tri­colour coats of black, tan and white.

Yet it was not Old Hemp’s coloura­tion, but his work­ing habits and tem­per­a­ment that dis­tin­guished him among border col­lies more than a cen­tury ago. ‘He flashed like a me­teor across the sheep­dog hori­zon,’ wrote his owner, be­cause Old Hemp worked vir­tu­ally in si­lence and, as if in­stinc­tively, with a fixed sense of pur­pose. This quiet, alert dili­gence is still a hall­mark of work­ing col­lies and a fea­ture of agility and obe­di­ence com­pe­ti­tions pop­u­lar for the breeds.

‘A well-trained border col­lie is un­der con­trol the whole time and al­ways alert,’ Mrs Han­ing­ton ex­plains. ‘We have very lit­tle pass­ing traf­fic here, but I al­ways know in ad­vance when a car, some walk­ers or the post­man are ap­proach­ing, be­cause of Roan’s alert­ness. It’s part of what makes these dogs such good com­pan­ions.’

Mrs Gre­gory re­mem­bers a cheer­ing story re­counted to her by an au­thor, who bought a dog from her. ‘A French bull­dog lived in a neigh­bour­ing cot­tage and the two dogs quickly be­came friends,’ she re­calls. ‘Then, one day, the bull­dog fell into a pond and, without any prompt­ing, sim­ply by in­stinct, work­ing rapidly and qui­etly, the border col­lie went into the pond and res­cued it. It was very heart-warm­ing.’

In­tel­li­gent, en­er­getic, re­spon­sive both to train­ing and to mood, border, rough and bearded col­lies re­main pop­u­lar among Bri­tish dog own­ers, although smooth-col­lie num­bers are less healthy. For the most part, their story is an in­spir­ing one for any­one con­cerned by the plight of Bri­tain’s na­tive dog breed: work­ing dogs that have suc­cess­fully—and de­servedly—made the tran­si­tion to house­hold pet.

David Ab­bott trea­sures rough col­lie Solomon’s loy­alty and in­tel­li­gence

Left and right: Zanny Han­ing­ton and her red-and­white Welsh border col­lie, Roan, who is quick to let her know about any im­pend­ing vis­its–even dur­ing nap­time. Pre­ced­ing pages: Any other breed would strug­gle to ri­val the col­lie for ab­so­lute con­cen­tra­tion

Lis­ten! Life­long devo­tee and breeder Ju­dith Gre­gory owns 14 black-and­white border col­lies, in­clud­ing Roadie, Su­gar, Pearl and Mia ( top right)

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