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What Is A Collie?

There are several very popular dog breeds in the UK that are types of collies, and most of us could name at least a couple of collie breeds without much trouble if put on the spot. However, if asked to explain what a collie is or what makes a certain type of dog a collie but not another, many people would draw a blank.

In this article we will explain in more detail what makes a dog a collie, where collies come from, and what collie dog breeds have in common with each other. Read on to learn more about collie dog types.

What makes a collie a collie?

The term “collie” is one that is widely understood within dog circles, but not one that has a specifically formally defined meaning or usage in dog registries and showing oversight bodies like the Kennel Club in the UK.

The Kennel Club divides dog breeds up into larger group collectives reflecting shared traits and origins, and dogs of the collie type fall into the pastoral grouping, a group that contains many different types of farm dogs and herding and livestock dog types.

All collies have herding dog origins, which is what unites dogs of the collie type, and this includes both deliberately created and developed dog breeds as well as landrace dogs, which are dogs that evolved largely naturally without significant human intervention into distinctive localised dog types found within specific regions.

Collies actually originated in the UK, in the North of England, Scottish borders and Scotland, and are now hugely popular all over the world. Some collie breeds have also been developed outside of the UK and very well established in their home countries too.

Collie dogs of all different breeds and types retain strong working instincts and the desire to herd, and dogs of the collie type are still widely used all over the world for working herding roles today. However, the vast majority of collies in the UK are now kept as pets and companions, but even collies bred from many generations of pet dogs display the core collie traits of herding ability and high energy levels.

Working and show type collies

Within the collie definition as a whole, many collie owners, breeders and enthusiasts and people who work collies make a further distinction between working and show-type collies. A collie of any breed that has a current or distant working history may be defined as either a show type collie or a working type collie, depending on the traits they were bred for, the physical appearance they possess and the skills they display.

Some collie breeders specialise in breeding show-standard collies and others working-type collies, but within breed registration and showing circles, dogs of any specified collie breed are grouped together, whether they be working or show type dogs.

Certain collie breeds are more commonly bred and kept for working roles than others, like the Border collie, but a Border collie (or any other collie breed) may still be described as a show-type collie if that is what they were bred and developed for.


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Collie intelligence

Dogs of the collie type tend to be highly intelligent dogs that really need a job to do or a role to perform to give them something to focus their mental abilities on. Whilst the intelligence of dogs of the collie type varies from breed to breed, collies as a whole have a high level of working intelligence, the ability to learn and execute a wide range of commands under pressure and at high speed, and the tenacity and determination to see the job through without getting bored or tired out.

The Border collie is in fact the world’s smartest dog breed in terms of working ability, as determined by Stanley Coren’s ranking of the intelligence of dogs. Border collies can generally be expected to understand and learn a command with under five repetitions of it needed, and execute the command reliably 95% of the time.

Collie temperament traits

The temperament and core traits of individual dogs can of course be highly variable, even within specific breeds and types. However, there are several traits that the vast majority of collies, regardless of their origins or working history, tend to share.

As mentioned, collies are really intelligent dogs as a whole, and this is paired with high energy levels and bags of endurance. It would be hard to overstate how much exercise some collie breeds need, to the point that it can be difficult to provide for this within the average working suburban household.

Collies also possess a strong instinctive urge to herd without being taught to do so, and they tend to have a strong prey drive too.

In terms of trainability, collies are highly capable of learning a lot of skills and commands, but their high intelligence can sometimes make training harder rather than easier! Dogs that pick up new skills very quickly can also pick up bad habits and poor direction too, as well as learning through observation of other dogs.

Training a collie requires a forward-thinking, adaptive owner that can harness all of the collie’s core traits and get the best out of them, retaining their attention and avoiding boredom.

Popular collie dog breeds

There are a significant number of different collie breeds worldwide, some of which are barely ever seen in the UK and some of which are not recognised as dog breeds in the UK in their own right at all.

Some of the best-known and most popular collie dog breeds in the UK include the Border collie, Bearded collie, Welsh collie, and Old English sheepdog.

Even within these four examples there is a lot of variance in terms of appearance, histories and core traits, and within the collie type as a whole there is a lot of variety between dogs – so if you have decided that a collie is the right dog type for you, there are lots of different options to consider when it comes to narrowing down your selection to a specific breed that is a good fit.


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