About Beardies

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 By Cris Caird, “cuCairdeil” Bearded Collies, January 2006

The Highland Collie; The ‘border’ Collie; The Scottish Mountain Collie; The Scottish Bearded Collie; The Bearded Collie; The Beardie – to name just a few of his tags!

So where did he come from? Legend would have us believe that in 1514 a ship taking grain from Poland to Scotland in exchange for Scottish sheep had on board six Polish Sheepdogs to assist in getting the new cargo on board. The dogs’ abilities so impressed a Scottish shepherd that he offered a fine horn ram and two ewes in exchange for a pair of the dogs. The basis for the Bearded Collie had arrived! 

Hogg (Ettrick Shepherd 1771-1835) had, as his favourite helper, a ‘border’ collie – a term given to sheepdogs working the border lands between Scotland and England. Mostly these dogs stood some 24-25 inches at the shoulder and were of slate hue. In the high lands there was a slightly smaller, very agile dog with reddish, slightly wavy coat. Hutchinson in his 1930 Dog Encyclopaedia suggests the crossing of the ‘border’ and high land dogs produced the Bearded Collie – a dog with the unique ability of an all-round sheepdog, which endeared him to shepherds, for he could be Header; Drover - driving a flock to the annual sales, a journey which would have taken many days to cover. He could ‘bunch’ the sheep by circling them; ‘eye’ them as we see in today’s working Kelpie and Border Collie. Whilst early Shepherds were interested in ability and gave little import to any uniformity in appearance, coat was of necessity a top priority for this must protect the dog in continual rain, mist and weeks on end of snow. An early Standard of around 1890 suggests “A Bearded Collie should have a thick skin with two coats, the under one furry and the outer one hard, strong, shaggy, unkempt. The legs covered right down to the feet, not bare as in the better-known Collie”.

Some old breeders insisted on the dogs being self-coloured like the Scottish Deerhound.   An article in Country Life Illustrated Magazine September 1898 headed “Scottish Collies” advises the Beardie was employed for deer-hunting. This may well suggest crossing with the Deerhound occurred. The article notes “…deer-hunting in the sense of running to a standstill the stag that has been stricken but is not dead, as the coadjutor of the stalker. For this purpose the collie is found not only as good ‘a deal better too’. He seems able better to carry on the chase of a single wounded stag through the herds in which he is so apt to be lost and when the wounded one breaks away from the body of the herd, the collie is often found to stick with him, where the deerhound would have been apt to go off after the rest. Of course he is a very jolly fellow the Scotch Collie, a good friend to those he knows though his greeting is apt to be a bit too rough for the taste of the passer-by of a lonely homestead…. But there is a kindly Scotch shrewdness of eye about these nice shaggy collies that the deerhound has not, and the race in these modern days, is no longer to the swift, but to the clever.”

Work and play to the clever are all one and whilst today these are his most endearing qualities, they were a headache for the farmers and butchers. Through the years as his numbers declined in the field the Beardie was seen more in the butchers’ yards. By the early 1900s the closure of the larger butchers’ yards found this dog in very short supply – a situation which was not to change for some decades.

1949 and in Scotland a Shetland Sheepdog breeder not wanting to lose an order despatches a Beardie puppy in lieu of a Sheltie! Mrs GO Willison fell in love with Jeannie’s endearing nature. It’s interesting to note that she almost turned down the offer for Baillie as a mate for Jeannie because he stood ‘only 24 inches at the shoulder’! Thanks are due to Mrs Willison and her band of dedicated breeders for their patience and determination to produce the Beardie as correctly as possible.

There is photographic evidence of Beardies being in the Southern Hemisphere towards the end of the 1800s. By 1929 THE AUSTRALIAN noted “..The bearded Collie lacks nothing in intelligence, is as hard as nails and a most reliable worker. If mustering sheep he may be relied upon for a successful muster, using his head when out of sight and working on his own initiative whilst his firm and persuasive tactics when dealing with a stubborn sheep is something to be remembered. When crossed with the Border he has left his mark and descendants of such crosses have found their way to New Zealand”. The New Zealand Border Collie Stud Register of the time has inclusions of Beardie Males and Females.

So how do we view this dog today? This is a family oriented dog with few if any vices – his only attack on an intruder would be to lick him to death! He excels in Agility; he’s a good Endurance dog and with patience and understanding from his handler, can be a great Obedience Dog. Thanks to members of The Bearded Collie Club of NSW Inc his great herding instincts are once again being brought to exhibition. He’s a consistent winner in the Show Ring. 

To sum up? He’s one of those special dogs which once you’ve lived with you never want to live without!


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