CHAPTER VIII. THE COLLIE

The townsman who knows the shepherd's dog only as he is to be seen, out of his true element, threading his confined way through crowded streets where sheep are not, can have small appreciation of his wisdom and his sterling worth. To know him properly, one needs to see him at work in a country where sheep abound, to watch him adroitly rounding up his scattered charges on a wide-stretching moorland, gathering the wandering wethers into close order and driving them before him in unbroken company to the fold; handling the stubborn pack in a narrow lane, or holding them in a corner of a field, immobile under the spell of his vigilant eye. He is at his best as a worker, conscious of the responsibility reposed in him; a marvel of generalship, gentle, judicious, slow to anger, quick to action; the priceless helpmeet of his master—the most useful member of all the tribe of dogs.

Few dogs possess the fertile, resourceful brain of the Collie. He can be trained to perform the duties of other breeds. He makes an excellent sporting dog, and can be taught to do the work of the Pointer and the Setter, as well as that of the Water Spaniel and the Retriever. He is clever at hunting, having an excellent nose, is a good vermin-killer, and a most faithful watch, guard, and companion. Major Richardson, who for some years has been successful in training dogs to ambulance work on the field of battle, has carefully tested the abilities of various breeds in discovering wounded soldiers, and he gives to the Collie the decided preference.

It is, however, as an assistant to the flock-master the farmer, the butcher, and the drover that the Collie takes his most appropriate place in every-day life. The shepherd on his daily rounds, travelling over miles of moorland, could not well accomplish his task without his Collie's skilful aid. One such dog, knowing what is expected of him, can do work which would otherwise require the combined efforts of a score of men.

Little is known with certainty of the origin of the Collie, but his cunning and his outward appearance would seem to indicate a relationship with the wild dog. Buffon was of opinion that he was the true dog of nature, the stock and model of the whole canine species. He considered the Sheepdog superior in instinct and intelligence to all other breeds, and that, with a character in which education has comparatively little share, he is the only animal born perfectly trained for the service of man.

One of the most perfect working Collies in Scotland to-day is the old-fashioned black and white type, which is the most popular among the shepherds of Scotland. At the shows this type of dog is invariably at the top of the class. He is considered the most tractable, and is certainly the most agile. Second to this type in favour is the smooth-coated variety, a very hard, useful dog, well adapted for hill work and usually very fleet of foot. He is not so sweet in temper as the black and white, and is slow to make friends. In the Ettrick and Yarrow district the smooth is a popular sheepdog. The shepherds maintain that he climbs the hills more swiftly than the rough, and in the heavy snowstorms his clean, unfeathered legs do not collect and carry the snow. He has a fuller coat than the show specimens usually carry, but he has the same type of head, eye, and ears, only not so well developed.

Then there is the Scottish bearded, or Highland Collie, less popular still with the flock-master, a hardy-looking dog in outward style, but soft in temperament, and many of them make better cattle than sheep dogs. This dog and the Old English Sheepdog are much alike in appearance, but that the bearded is a more racy animal, with a head resembling that of the Dandie Dinmont rather than the square head of the Bobtail. The strong-limbed bearded Collie is capable of getting through a good day's work, but is not so steady nor so wise as the old-fashioned black and white, or even the smooth coated variety. He is a favourite with the butcher and drover who have sometimes a herd of troublesome cattle to handle, and he is well suited to rough and rocky ground, active in movement, and as sure-footed as the wild goat. He can endure cold and wet without discomfort, and can live on the Highland hills when others less sturdy would succumb. In the standard adopted for judging the breed, many points are given for good legs and feet, bone, body, and coat, while head and ears are not of great importance. Movement, size, and general appearance have much weight. The colour is varied in this breed. Cream-coloured specimens are not uncommon, and snow white with orange or black markings may often be seen, but the popular colour is grizzly grey. Unfortunately the coats of many are far too soft and the undercoat is frequently absent.