Bearded Collies are best known as Beardies and they are the adorable dogs that appear in films, television shows and commercials because they are beautiful, agile, smart and spunky. For the novice who is beginning a search for their perfect companion or family dog, 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 among the Beardie community. There are few among them that don’t know of Carol Scott Wathen’s handsome Topper, her current winner, professionally known as Ch. Brigadoon Showstopper at Scott, since his photos have graced the websites and newsletters of numerous Beardie organizations. Topper is just one of Carol’s ever-expanding-and-diminishing numbers, since litters come and go, and dogs will be out for training, handling and for shows. Cliched as it is, I always refer to her usual number of six to eight Beardies as a “herd,” since they are herding dogs and it always seems she has many more dogs in my perception than she has in reality.
When I arrive at my sister’s home, the dogs come rushing to the auto court, barking and trying to leap the fence to see who has arrived. On their rear two legs, bouncing in a line-up along the fence, the dogs do look like a chorus of Chewbacca’s. If you are not familiar with this breed, this StarWars reference should give you an idea of what Beardies look like, at least with their front hair pulled back like Chewbacca’s. Usually you can barely 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, one played a prominent role in Hotel for Dogs. Beardies look like the Dennis the Menace dog from the print cartoon. However, in the television film version, a Briard (French Sheep Dog) was chosen for its similar look, but with perkier clipped ears.
The Beardie looks as if it is all coat. Its long coat makes the dog appear to be bigger and heavier than it is. It is surprising, therefore, that grown Beardies only weigh an average of 40 to 60 pounds. The males average around 21-22 inches tall and the females average just one inch less. A Beardie’s coat enhances the shape of the dog, following the natural lines of the body. From the cheeks, the lower lips and under the chin, the coat increases in length towards the chest, forming the “beard.” Voila! This is a bearded collie, as the American Kennel Club (AKC) guidelines define it.
All Beardies are born either black, brown or fawn, with or without white markings. As they mature, their color usually lightens. A baby born black may become a shade of gray, with a coat that ranges from black to slate to silver. A baby born brown may become chocolate to sandy. White appears on the foreface as a blaze, as well as on the skull, on the chest and around the neck, on the legs and feet, and on the tip of the tail.
The history of the Bearded Collie is centuries old, or at least by one account. In this 500-year-old version, a Polish merchant, Kazimierz Grabski, traded a shipment of grain for sheep in Scotland in 1514. He brought six Polish Lowland Sheepdogs to move the sheep. A Scottish shepherd was impressed with the herding ability of the Polish dogs and traded several sheep for several dogs. Supposedly, the Polish sheepdogs were bred with local Scottish dogs, which produced the Bearded Collie.
Recent history traces the breed to 1944, when Olive Willison of Bothkennar, Scotland, bred her brown dog, Jeannie of Bothkennar. Jeannie was considered a Shetland Sheepdog but was actually a Bearded Collie from the 1514 Polish-Scottish lineage. Olive bred Jeannie with a male grey dog, registered as Bailie of Bothkennar. thus, Bailie and Jeannie of Bothkennar became documented founders of the modern breed in Scotland, where there are a few other registrable blood lines, as well.
The breed became popular during the last half of the 20th century, highlighted when a Bearded Collie won Best in Show at the famous British Crufts Dog Show in 1989. The breed is also a regular winner at the great American Dog Show, Westminster, held in New York City.
The Bearded Collie is essentially a herding dog, bred to stand up to the toughest sheep or cow. Far from the pampered family dog depicted in The Shaggy Dog, the Bearded Collie is a hardy and reliable working dog. The breed earned the nickname “bouncing Beardie” because these dogs work in thick underbrush on hillsides and they bounce to catch sight of the sheep. Beardies also have a characteristic way of facing a stubborn ewe by barking and bouncing on their forelegs.
For a time, the KC-registered Bearded Collie fell out of favor with shepherds of Wales, Scotland and elsewhere as they criticized the show-breeding community for failing to produce truly “hardy and reliable” Bearded Collies and that the show-bred dogs tend to develop excessive coats. Due to their efforts, the “working Beardie” has survived and is becoming more popular. In some countries, especially Sweden and the United States, herding programs have been developed. Bearded Collie organizations now encourage breeders to emphasize herding qualities in addition to appearance. These favor training for an independent and intelligent sheepdog. The Beardies’ herding instincts and tractability can be assessed in noncompetitive herding tests, and young Beardies exhibiting 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 abilities of non-registered working dogs from “bearded” ancestors. While not focused solely on the registered Bearded Collie, this organization informs all about the small population of working Beardies. It is well worth visiting their site to understand the instincts of the Beardie. Also visit the website of the Bearded Collie Club of America. Its mission is to breed-specific health issues and Beardie rescue. It provides a variety of opportunities for Beardie owners, its breeders and anyone in the public to learn, connect, and compete in the Beardie breeding and ownership process. This is a great place to start your search for a breeder and a pup of your own.
As a pet, the Bearded Collie requires some care of its coat and some time to keep this enthusiastic dog well exercised, but it is a loyal companion and a magnificent looking dog. Whether you want a trainable show dog, or whether you want a herding dog or not, the Beardie is a dog that can be enjoyed on a farm or ranch, where it can exercise these natural skills. Or you can keep this dog in the city where you can find ample dog parks, herding training and more. In addition, this breed also can handle agility training and do some amazing gymnastic tricks. So check out how you can make a Bearded Collie your top dog and a member of your family.
(c) 2012 Elizabeth McMillian