For those of you shouting “It’s Lassie” you probably recognize the rough collie. These charismatic, charming, and dedicated dogs are wonderful working dogs and fantastic house pets. Read on to learn all about the background, characteristics, social behavior, care, and costs of the collie.
A beautiful example of the perfect rough collie, as an impartial judge who is definitely not the loving owner of the dog above (her name is Tippy).
1. Breed Information
This breed is objectively famous thanks to years of stardom in Hollywood. However, before rough collies made their “big break” onto the silver screen, these dogs were working with humans to help herd their livestock. Read on to learn more about this loving breed that is literally famous for saving fictional children from danger.
What’s in a Name?
The term “collie” refers to several different breeds or varieties of dogs, including the rough collie, smooth collie, bearded collie, border collie, and more. These dogs originate from Scotland, where shepherds bred them for herding sheep and other livestock.
The name “rough” collie refers to the texture of the dog’s coat. This breed has long, coarse guard hairs that protect it from inclement weather. A smooth coated collie with short hair also exists, and is considered the same breed, but a different coat type, as the rough collie.
The “rough” in rough collie refers to the dense outer coat. These long guard hairs protect the dog’s skin from rain and snow, making it essentially waterproof. Consequently, they also make it essential to blow dry the dog after a bath, or it will never fully dry!
Other Names for Collies
Historically speaking, throughout the years people have referred to collies by many different names. Some of the different variations include colly, coally, coll, colley, and more. In fact, researchers are unsure quite where the name comes from in the first place, but speculate that it refers to the Scottish word for “coal.”
Some researchers believe that the collie got its name from the dark-colored coats of certain varieties.
The Origin of the Collie
The original ancestors of the dog we know and love today came to Scotland when the Romans arrived several thousand years ago. These Roman dogs interbred with the locals to eventually produce what the Scottish would selectively breed into the collie. The first record of this breed dates back to 1800, but their popularity didn’t skyrocket until Queen Victoria obtained them.
Queen Victoria first discovered the dogs while staying in the Scottish Highlands, and soon after became quite enamored with them. These dogs later gained popularity in North America through the literary works of Albert Payson Terhune. Terhune bred collies himself, and penned many famous books about collies, including Lad: A Dog, Bruce, Buff: A Collie, and many more.
A typical illustration you might see in a book about collies.
Terhune’s works were followed shortly by those of Eric Knight, and collies hit the limelight. The famous Lassie gained her own movies and television series, and from that point on collies became a household name in North America.
What Dog Breed Group is the Collie in?
The AKC recognizes collies as part of the Herding Group. Some other members of the herding group include the Australian Shepherd, Bearded Collie, German Shepherd, Border Collie, Old English Sheepdog, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Shetland Sheepdog, and more.
The loving and high energy border collie shares the herding group with the rough collie.
The rough collie is a member of the herding group because Scottish shepherds originally used the dogs to herd their sheep. Many collies still retain these herding traits today, and some people still use collies to herd livestock. The traits required of a herding dog include intelligence, loyalty, and agility.
Male collies stand slightly taller than females, but typically by a margin of no more than a few inches. The AKC standards dictate that a male collie should stand between 24 and 26 in. tall at the shoulder, and that a female should stand between 22 and 24 in. tall.
Notice the male collie (on left) stands slightly taller than the female (on right).
As is the case with height, the AKC standards dictate that female collies should weigh slightly less than their male counterparts. Male collies should weigh anywhere between 60 and 75 lbs. while female collies should weigh between 50 and 65 lbs. or so.
According to the Collie Club of America, most collies live between 10 and 14 years. They also report that the average lifespan is about 12 years old. The high range of their lifespan is 15 or 16 yrs. This varies based on the individual’s weight, genetics, and health record.
The Different Coat Colors of the Collie
The AKC recognizes four different coat colors in rough collies. First is the sable and white color, or the “Lassie” color. Sable collies have tan or brown colored coats with white around their neck, at the tip of their tails, and often on their feet. The second is Tri-Color, which has black fur with a white ruff around the neck and tan near the head and feet.
This short clip shows the coloration of a sable and white collie, or the “Lassie” colored collie.
This is an example of a tri-colored collie. Notice its coat is mostly black, with brown colored markings near the face and on the legs.
The third coloration is the blue merle colored collie. Their coats are bluish-gray with white and black markings throughout. They often have tan near their face and on their legs like the tri-colored color does.
A blue merle colored collie interacting with a sable colored collie.
Though this male collie appears to be tri-colored based on the rest of his body, if you look closely at his face you will notice the merle coloration. This is a cryptic merle, where the color only appears in a few small regions on the dog.
The fourth and final collie color is the white. White collies have white coloration across nearly their entire body, but usually also have sable, tri-color, or merle color on their heads or on different parts of their body.
(Jennifer Toegel) An example of a white collie. Notice her coat is predominantly white throughout, with sable markings only on the face.
2. Breed Characteristics
This dog breed is famous for its loyalty, dedication, bravery, and family-friendly ways. We all know that the big screen can warp the true nature of some things, but when it comes to collies Hollywood is relatively spot-on. Though exceptions do exist, collies are usually loving, family-oriented dogs. Learn more about the characteristics of this breed below.
What is a Collie’s Personality and Temperament?
If you watched Lassie as a child and thought to yourself “Wow, that is such a brave, loving, loyal dog” you thought right! This breed is well known for their outstanding temperament. As far as character goes, collies have the stuff of legends.
This breed is proud and incredibly intelligent. They have graceful movements and impressive athleticism and agility. If you are looking for a loyal breed that makes a great family dog, you have found your match.
Collies are well known for their intelligence and highly expressive eyes.
They are also full of grace, exquisite grace and composure.
Can I Keep a Collie in an Apartment?
Every dog is different. Some individuals have extremely high energy levels and need large amounts of physical activity to be happy. However, though they are intelligent, many collies have laid-back temperaments and enjoy nothing more than snoozing on the couch with their family.
However, it is not advisable to keep a collie in an apartment setting if you cannot take it on extensive walks and bring it to the park for exercise. If you can maintain its physical needs, you should also ensure that you are giving your dog all the mental exercise you can. Living in an apartment can be incredibly boring for dogs, so you need to provide lots of mental stimulation to prevent potential problem behaviors like barking.
You can find some great mental exercises for your dog here and here.
Games like fetch and tug can be a great way to make sure your dog gets extra physical and mental exercise.
How Much do Collies Bark?
Speaking of barking, if your collie is bored, it will definitely bark. It will also bark if it is annoyed, hungry, bored, or wants attention. Collies are an incredibly vocal breed with a trumpeting bark that is surprisingly pleasant when it isn’t waking you up at three in the morning to tell you about the raccoon it heard outside.
However, most dogs bark, and like any dog collies bark less when they receive enough mental stimulation. If you make sure your dog isn’t bored, you can avoid potential problem behaviors like barking.
For more information about fixing problem behaviors, click here.
Are Collies Intelligent?
This breed is highly intelligent, just like most members of the herding group. This intelligence makes them easy to train. They are also eager to learn, and love bonding with their owner through the use of training and learning new things.
In fact, learning new behaviors is a great way to make sure your dog is getting all the mental stimulation that they possibly can. Toys and games are great, but learning new things is the best way to get your dog really using their brain!
For some fun tricks you can teach your dog, click here.
Is the Collie a Playful Dog?
This depends on the individual dog, but as a whole this breed is usually quite playful. Even the most stoic of dogs can’t help but give in to a game of tug when their favorite nephew comes to visit. They love to please, and in doing so, love to play!
Even otherwise lazy dogs bring a toy to their owner to initiate play. Notice the inviting paw and the shining mischief in the eyes. This collie (Tippy) prefers keep-away to actual fetch, and will run when you reach for the toy.
Even though she is playful, you can also find Tippy snoozing the day away on the couch as well.
3. Social Behavior
Another high point to this breed’s reputation is their loving and social nature. They are notorious for their friendliness towards children. However, you should always approach a dog with caution, no matter what the breed, and never pet a dog or allow your child to pet a dog without asking first. Always remember that each dog is different, and no dog conforms 100% to breed standards.
Are Collies Friendly with Other Dogs?
As long as you socialize them properly when they are puppies, collies are usually quite friendly towards other dogs. However, as we discussed above, every dog is different. Some collies can behave aggressively towards other dogs if they believe that the dog is a threat to their owner.
With that said, for the most part this breed is friendly and outgoing with other dogs.
In this video, you see a collie engage in friendly interaction with a Shetland Sheepdog, another member of the herding group. Notice how well-behaved and friendly the dog is. Her behavior is a reflection of her previous training combined with the breed standard.
Are Collies Friendly with Cats?
Just like with their social behavior towards dogs, collies are friendly as long as they are properly socialized with other animals early on. If your dog is older and has never met a cat, they might react with greater interest and potential conflict than if they had been socialized with cats and other animals at an early age.
However, the breed is a whole was originally bred to interact safely with livestock. If collies killed the shepherd’s sheep, that would defeat the purpose of herding them and keeping them safe! For this reason, it is usually easier to socialize these dogs with other types of animals. You should always remember to supervise your dog while it is interacting with other animals.
Because collies were originally bred to interact safely with livestock, they tend to be easier to socialize with other animals. As you can see, with properly early socialization this collie is calm and friendly towards the young goose. Unfortunately, the goose does not return the favor as an adult, despite our best efforts at socialization.
Are Collies Friendly with Children?
These dogs are famous for their friendly disposition towards young humans! Even though collies are gentle dogs and usually love children, you should Always supervise your children when they interact with dogs. No matter how apparently friendly or calm your dog is, you should never allow any child to grab or pull at their ears, tail, feet, or any other sensitive area.
For more information on helping your dog interact well with your children, click here.
Are Collies Friendly with Strangers?
If you want any dog to be friendly with strangers, you need to make sure that you socialize the dog when they are young. If you have an adult dog who is nervous with strangers, counter conditioning works well to help your dog become more comfortable with people. Counter conditioning is the process where you make something potentially scary a little less scary by associating it with good things, like yummy treats.
The breed as a whole is generally comfortable with strangers, but they aren’t dopey climb in a stranger’s lap like a golden retriever. As livestock herding dogs and guardians, this breed originally had to have a keen eye for potential dangers. If a stranger seems menacing, they know to alert their owner and keep a watchful eye. However, in a household setting this breed typically has good manners with even the most menacing of strangers as long as their owner tells them so, and the dog is well trained.
4. Collie Care
The key to a long lived and healthy dog is ensuring you care for them properly. If you provide them with proper nutrition, grooming, training, and mental stimulation, you can make sure your dog lives a happy, healthy life. Read on to learn about how to care for a collie below.
What Do I Feed My Collie?
When you are searching for a dog food, you want to choose a brand that gives your dog high-quality protein. Ensure that protein is present in at least the first two ingredients. While many pet owners use grain-free dog foods, the FDA is currently investigating a correlation between grain-free diets and increased risk of heart problems.
To learn all about canine nutrition and the various dog food brands, click here.
You should also choose high-quality treats for your collie. The best treats have meat as the first ingredient as well, just like in dog foods. You can give your dog treats that are high in carbs, but you should only feed them sparingly to avoid obesity. You can choose from a variety of different dog treats. When in doubt, a few pieces of unseasoned boiled chicken breast always make a great training treat as well!
Good quality dog treats help maintain your pup’s attention during training session, and they keep your dog engaged and motivated!
Do Collies Shed?
If you have to ask this question, chances are you’ve never met a collie in person! Yes, collies do shed. They have a lot of hair, and they shed their dense undercoat twice per year. However, the one upside to this shedding is that it usually occurs all at once, and outside of that time they do not drop hair very frequently.
Seasonal shedding also means you do not have to get their coat trimmed. Their unique coat type is also very resilient to weather, and that means you do not have to bathe them quite as frequently as you might need to wash a non-shedding dog. When your collie is shedding, you want to make sure that you groom them properly to prevent matting and tangles in their coats.
How Do I Groom a Collie?
When shedding season rolls around, you’re going to need a few tools to help you work out all that loose undercoat. While many pet owners swear by the Furminator for removing loose hair, a collie’s coat is simply too dense for the original Furminator. Frankly, you’ll be sitting there for hours trying to work through that long coat, trust me, I’ve done it!
Don’t fret! The original Furminator might not do the trick, but they do offer another shedding rake that works wonders. The Furminator Grooming Rake has wide, rotating teeth that work much more efficiently in your collie’s dense coat. Truly, it is a life saver!
How Should I Train My Collie?
You should only train your collie using positive reinforcement methods. Positive reinforcement helps you build a bond with your dog and creates a history of positive outcomes for both that specific behavior and for training sessions as a whole. Training your dog is also a great way to make sure they are getting enough mental exercise.
This short video shows a basic training session with a young puppy using positive reinforcement training. Notice the puppy’s relaxed demeanor and calm interactions.
Conversely, you should avoid using punishment with any animal. Punishment breaks down the relationship you have with your animal. It can also cause undesired associations and other behavioral issues. For example, if you use punishment on a dog who jumps on guests, they can inadvertently associate guests with punishment and potentially become aggressive towards strangers.
Do Collies Have any Specific Health Issues?
While this breed is overall quite healthy, they do have two primary health issues that you should watch out for. Eye problems, and ivermectin sensitivity.
Collie Eye Anomaly
One genetic disease that these dogs can carry is Collie Eye Anomaly, or CEA. CEA can result in blindness or loss of vision. Because it is genetic, you can test a dog for the CEA gene to ensure their offspring will not carry it. You should always ensure your breeder tests their dog for CEA and also certifies the puppies through a veterinary ophthalmologist.
MDR1 Multidrug Sensitivity
Some collies also carry a mutated MDR1 gene. This mutation causes the dogs to have an increased sensitivity to Ivermectin, which is the primary drug used in heartworm prevention. Because of this, you should always test your collie for the MDR1 gene, or use an alternate heartworm medication. You can test your collie for Ivermectin sensitivity through a study with Washington State University.
Several other breeds are also susceptible to Ivermectin sensitivity, including Australian Shepherds, Whippets, and some other herding breeds.
As is the case with many large breeds of dogs, collies are sometimes prone to hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is caused by bone abnormalities in the hip and can result in lameness or arthritis. However, through selective breeding this abnormality is quite rare in collies, especially when compared to other breeds of similar size.
Some of the most susceptible breeds include German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, and more.
5. Collie Cost
Like any other pet, you shouldn’t commit to an animal that you can’t care for. Though this breed is typically quite healthy and hardy, and dog can wrack up a few expensive vet bills. Whether you accidentally left dark chocolate on the counter and end up with an emergency room bill or you left the dog for too long and it ruined your expensive rug, any dog can cost you money!
Even the most well-behaved dogs can occasionally wreak havoc! Every dog gets bored sometimes, and younger dogs are especially prone to mischief.
How Much Does it Cost to Care for a Collie?
Several primary factors go into the normal cost of caring for a collie, but the most important are a good quality dog food and plenty of mentally stimulating toys and activities. Most dog food bags cost about $50, and usually last around a month for a single dog, depending on the size and activity level.
In food alone you can expect to spend about $600 or $700 per year on food costs. You must also provide a variety of chews, treats, and toys for your dog. These can add up quickly, so you can estimate about $400 or $500 per year, depending on the dog. In addition to these costs you should also anticipate spending additional money on vet bills, and it would be smart to plan on $400 or $500 worth of vet bills per year in case of emergencies.
However, if all goes well, this breed is relatively low maintenance once you have all your supplies. You don’t have to shell out thousands on haircuts every month or purchase designer handbags to carry your dog around in. Most collies are healthy and hardy, as long as you care for them properly.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.