Today the Border Collie reigns supreme as the dog of choice for the farmer who works stock but that was not always the case, the Border Collie was largely a twentieth century creation, developed from the collies of the Anglo-Scottish border region with a particular working style.

During much of the nineteenth century the dogs that the English named the 'Scotch Collie', a type derived primary from the collies of the Scottish Highlands were considered the superior working dog, take for example the following quote from 'A General History of Quadrupeds' by Thomas Bewick, 1807.

The Shepherd’s Dog: In those large tracts of land which, in many parts of our island, are solely appropriated to the feeding of sheep and other cattle, this sagacious animal is of the utmost importance.

Immense flocks may be seen continually ranging over those extensive wilds, as far as the eye can reach, seemingly without control: Their only guide is the shepherd, attended by his dog, the constant companion of his toils: It receives his commands, and is always prompt to execute them, it is the watchful guardian of the flock, prevents them from straggling, keeps them together, and conducts them from one part of their pasture to another; it will not suffer any strangers to mix with them, but carefully keeps off every intruder.

In driving a number of sheep to any distant part, a well-trained dog never fails to confine them to the road, watches every avenue that leads from it, where he takes his stand, threatening every delinquent. He pursues the stragglers, if any should escape; and forces them into order, without doing them the least injury. If the herdsman be at any time absent from the flock, he depends upon his dog to keep them together; and as soon as he gives the well-known signal, this faithful creature conducts them to his master, though at a considerable distance.

A painting of the original Highland “Scotch” Collie as depicted by Richard Ansdell (1815 - 1885)

This breed of dogs, at present, appears to be preserved, in the greatest purity, in the northern parts of Scotland; where its aid is highly necessary in managing the numerous herds of sheep bred in those extensive wilds.

All the collies breeds of Great Britain are smart and useful but the strain known as the Scotch Collie had a unique appearance, disposition and working style making them sought after by farmer and fancier alike. The twentieth century was not kind to them, they were replaced on many farms by Border Collies or had their working abilities ruined by breeding for kennel club conformation. John Holmes in his book 'The Famers Dog', in 1982 had this to say about these dogs.

There are several other types of Collie quite distinct from the Border Collie in that they are ‘loose-eyed’ workers. Most of these are native to Scotland and include the old fashioned Scotch Collie from which the modern show Collie is descended. Now practically extinct, I have clear recollections of several of these dogs in my youth and believe that, in my early efforts to walk, I was assisted by one. They were all easy-going, level headed dogs, useful but not flashy workers, and quite willing to lie about the place when there was nothing better to do. Personally I think it is a great pity that this type has been practically exterminated by the increasing popularity of ‘strong-eyed’ dogs. For all round farm work they were often far more use.

Professor Duncan’s Scotch Collies performed on both sides of the Atlantic from the 1890s to 1920s

Long before the kennel club became enamoured with the Scotch Collie this dog was the favourite of the Scottish farmer for his ability and intelligence. John Henry Walsh (Stonehenge) had this to say about them in 'Manual Of British Rural Sports', 1861.

There are various breeds (of sheep dog) in use throughout the United Kingdom, some smooth, but the majority more or less rough. The most distinct of these is the Scotch colley… The Scotch Colley, or Highland sheep dog, is a far more graceful animal, and his sense and intelligence are equal to any breed of dogs in the world.

You may ask: "where did this beautiful and intelligent dog go?” His descendants are among us still as the Rough Collie but this breed of dog has been bred so far from the original Scotch Collie as to hardly be recognisable as such, and their ability as farm workers was largely bred away many generations ago. As early as 1892 Scotch Collie breeders were complaining that the breed was having the intelligence bred out of it, 'The Fanciers’ Journal' of January, 1892, had this to say.

The collie’s historic sphere of utility and unique qualities and properties with which he was so liberally endowed to carry out the arduous work in that sphere are now thought of little moment in comparison with a long, refined head and semi-erect ears… That they are beautiful dogs in their way nobody can deny, but to speak of them as lovely collies is another matter, for the majority of them are no more fitted to perform the work of the old Scotch collie than is the Laird, the lion of some London drawing room.

At the height of their popularity Scotch Collies were imported to America in large numbers avocation of his Highland shepherd. There is no reason why beauty should not go hand in hand with utility, but at present unfortunately such is not the case.

There are now two classes of exhibitors —the moderates, who work quietly on the old lines, seeking to beautify and refine a working dog, and the progressives, who sacrifice utility and intelligence for beauty. At present the progressives hold the fort, and consequently the old Scotch collie is in danger of being improved off the face of the earth.

Improved off the face of the earth indeed, as the twentieth century progressed the Scotch Collie morphed into the Rough Collie of today, a breed as unsuited to farm work as any breed shown at Westminster. There were still working Scotch Collies around into the mid-twentieth century, but after the Second World War their demise was accelerated and by the 1980s they were all but gone.

At that time a few people in the United States and Canada began searching for the old Scotch Collies they remembered from their childhood, some wrote articles asking for leads to the whereabouts of any of these dogs, others took out ads in magazines asking if anybody knew where an old fashioned working Scotch Collie could be located. There are many stories of older people who remember these useful dogs from their childhood, Richard McDuffie wrote the following in 1995.

I am 62 years old. The country was full of Old Time Farm Shepherd or Farm Collie dogs when I was a boy. Some called them Shepherds, others collies but they were the same dogs. They served as family pet, guard dog, stock dog and hunting dog. After World War II people turned to specialist breeds and just neglected the old farm dogs that excelled at many things. I was always interested in the old farm dogs but like most people, took them for granted.

By the mid-1990s a few of these dogs had been located and a handful of people in the United States began breeding them, in 2010 a breed organisation was formed with a written standard and pedigree database and today the Old-Time Scotch Collie Association has more than 200 registered dogs in the US and Canada. The goals of the OTSCA is to preserve and promote this exceptional breed of dogs, they actively search for dogs that fit the breed description and encourage owners to breed in order to increase the number of dogs.

Still not one old fashioned Scotch Collie has been located in their homeland of Scotland, breeders have sent dogs from America to Europe and Japan but none have been sent home to Great Britain. Are there still old fashioned, loose-eyed working collies in some remote corner of Britain? The Old-Time Scotch Collie Association is very interested in locating any remaining Scotch Collies in their homeland, please contact them with any leads.

Dunrovins Ole Shep was one of the remnant Scotch Collies found in America in the early 1990s