Bearded Collies are best known as Beardies and they are the adorable dogs that appear in movies, TV shows and commercials because they are beautiful, agile, smart and brave. For the beginner looking to find their perfect companion or family pet, let me introduce you to this trainable breed. These dogs make great pets and friends as well as show dogs.
My sister has raised these dogs for decades and her winning show dogs are well known in the beardie community. There are few among them who don’t know how handsome Carol Scott Wathen is lid, their current winner, known professionally as Ch. Brigadoon Showstopper to Scott because his photos have graced the websites and newsletters of numerous Beardie organizations. Topper is just one of Carol’s ever-growing and waning numbers as litters will come and go and dogs will be out training, handling and showing. As cliché as it is, I always refer to their usual number of six to eight Beardies as a “herd” as they are herding dogs and it seems that in my perception she always has many more dogs than she actually has.
When I get to my sister’s, the dogs come rushing into the car lot, barking and trying to jump over the fence to see who has arrived. The dogs hop along the fence in a line on their two hind legs, looking like a chorus of Chewbacca. If you’re unfamiliar with the breed, this Star Wars reference should give you an idea of what Beardies look like, at least with their front hair pulled back like Chewbacca’s. Normally you hardly see a Beardie’s eyes.
The shaggy dog, a 2006 film, starred a Bearded Collie and the title is an apt description of this adorable, shaggy, long-haired breed. And in 2009, it played a prominent role in Hotels for dogs. Beardies look like them Dennis the threat Dog from the print cartoon. In the TV movie version, however, a Briard (French Shepherd) was chosen for its similar appearance, but with perky cropped ears.
The Beardie looks like it’s all coat. Its long coat makes the dog appear larger and heavier than it is. It’s surprising, then, that adult Beardies weigh only 40 to 60 pounds on average. Males average around 21-22 inches tall and females average just an inch smaller. A Beardie’s coat accentuates the dog’s shape and follows the natural lines of the body. From the cheeks, lower lips and under the chin, the fur increases in length towards the chest, forming the “beard”. Voila! That is a bearded Collie as defined by the American Kennel Club (AKC) guidelines.
All Beardies are born black, tan, or fawn, with or without white markings. As they mature, their color usually lightens. A baby born black can become a shade of gray, with a coat that ranges from black to slate to silver. A brown born from babies can go chocolatey to sandy. White appears on the front face as a blaze, as well as on the skull, chest and around the neck, legs and feet, and the tip of the tail.
The history of the Bearded Collie is centuries old, or at least according to one account. In this 500-year-old version, a Polish merchant, Kazimierz Grabski, traded a cargo of grain for sheep in Scotland in 1514. He brought six Polish Lowland Sheepdogs to move the sheep. Impressed by the herding ability of the Polish dogs, a Scottish shepherd traded several sheep for several dogs. Supposedly, the Polish Sheepdogs were bred with native Scottish hounds that produced the Bearded Collie.
Recent history traces the breed back to 1944 when Olive Willison of Bothkennar, Scotland bred her bay dog, Jeannie of Bothkennar. Jeannie was thought to be a Shetland Sheepdog but was actually a Bearded Collie from the 1514 Polish-Scottish line. Olive bred Jeannie with a male gray dog registered Bailie of Bothkennar. thus Bailie and Jeannie von Bothkennar became the documented founders of the modern breed in Scotland, where there are also some other registrable bloodlines.
The breed became popular in the latter half of the 20th century, evident when a Bearded Collie won Best in Show at Britain’s famous Crufts Dog Show in 1989. The breed is also a regular winner at the big American Dog Show in Westminster New York City.
The Bearded Collie is essentially a herding dog, bred to hold its own against the toughest of sheep or cows. A far cry from the spoiled family dog pictured in the shaggy dog, The Bearded Collie is a hardy and reliable working dog. The breed earned the nickname “hopping beardie” because these dogs work on hillsides in dense undergrowth and hop to see the sheep. Beardies also have a distinctive way of confronting a stubborn ewe by barking and hopping on their front legs.
For a time, the KC-registered Bearded Collie fell out of favor with herders in Wales, Scotland and elsewhere when they criticized the show breeding community for not producing truly “tough and dependable” Bearded Collies and that the show-bred dogs tend to be to develop excessive coats. Thanks to their efforts, the “Working Beardie” has survived and is gaining popularity. Herding programs have been developed in some countries, notably Sweden and the United States. Bearded Collie organizations are now encouraging breeders to emphasize herding qualities in addition to looks. These favor the training to an independent and intelligent German Shepherd. Beardies’ herding instincts and responsiveness can be assessed in non-competitive herding trials, and young Beardies who demonstrate basic herding instincts can be trained to compete in herding trials.
Of the many Bearded Collie organizations, the Working Bearded Collie Society’s mission is to preserve the working ability of unregistered working dogs from “bearded” ancestors. While this organization does not only focus on the registered Bearded Collie, they do provide information on the small population of working Beardies. It’s worth checking out their website to understand the Beardie’s instincts. Also visit the Bearded Collie Club of America website. Its mission is to achieve breed specific health issues and rescue of beardies. It provides a variety of opportunities for Beardie owners, their breeders, and everyone in the public to learn, network, and compete in the Beardie breeding and ownership process. This is a great place to start looking for a breeder and a puppy of your own.
As a pet, the Bearded Collie will require some grooming of his coat and some time to give this enthusiastic canine a good exercise, but he is a loyal companion and a gorgeous looking dog. Whether you want a trainable show dog or a herding dog or not, the Beardie is a dog that can be enjoyed on a farm or ranch where they can exercise these natural skills. Or you can keep this dog around town, where you’ll find numerous dog parks, herding training, and more. Additionally, this breed can also handle agility training and perform some amazing gymnastics tricks. So check out how you can make a Bearded Collie your top dog and family member.
(c) 2012 Elizabeth McMillian
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