The Cumberland sheepdog is an extinct dog breed posited to be an early relative of the Border Collie and Australian Shepherd. Although little information exists in regards to this breeds early history or usage it was said to be the favorite breed of Lancelot Edward Lowther, 6th Earl of Lonsdale, and that the breed had been in his family for more than a hundred years. For reasons as of yet unknown the breed began to fall out of favor toward the end of the 19th century and by the beginning of the 20th century the majority of existing members were being referred to as Border Collies and in fact may have been absorbed into the latter breed.
One reason for the Cumberland Sheepdogs possible absorption into the Border Collie may relate to its region of prominence. Throughout the early and mid part of the 19th century the Cumberland Sheepdog was primarily found in the Peak District, an upland area in central and northern England, lying mainly in northern Derbyshire, but also covering parts of Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Staffordshire, and South and West Yorkshire; and in and around the Cheviot Hills, a range of rolling hills straddling the England–Scotland border between Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. The latter border area being the homeland of the later Border Collie and no doubt the reasoning behind its name, as during this time dogs where typically named for either the purpose they served or the area they came from. Thus it highly likely that any droving dog or Collie-type known to be common along the Scottish English borders would have come to be known as a Border Collie.
There is almost no mention of the Cumberland Sheep Dog in the popular written works of this period dealing with dog breeds. The only reference to a sheepdog from Cumberland describes the dog as an exceptionally intelligent dog with superb herding abilities and comes from William Youatt, a 19th century veterinarian by trade and probably one of that centuries most knowledgeable and respected authors, who wrote in his work, The Dog-A nineteenth-century dog-lovers' manual, a combination of the essential and the esoteric (1852) that:
“A butcher and cattle-dealer, who resided about nine miles from Alston, in Cumberland, bought a dog of a drover. The butcher was accustomed to purchase sheep and kind in the vicinity, which, when fattened, he drove to Alston market and sold. In these excursions he was frequently astonished at the peculiar sagacity of his dog, and at the more than common readiness and dexterity with which he managed the cattle; until at length he troubled himself very little about the matter, but, riding carelessly along, used to amuse himself with observing how adroitly the dog acquitted himself of his charge. At length, so convinced was he of his sagacity, as well as fidelity, that he laid a wager that he would in trust the dog with a number of sheep and oxen, and let him drive them alone and unattended to Alston market. It was stipulated that no one should be within sight or hearing who had the least control over the dog, nor was any spectator to interfere. This extraordinary animal, however, proceeded with his business in the most steady and dexterous manner; and, although he had frequently to drive his charge through other herds that were grazing, he did not lose one; but, conducting them to the very yard to which he was used to drive them when with his master, he significantly delivered them up to the person appointed to receive them by barking at his door. When the path which he travelled lay through grounds in which others were grazing, he would run forward, stop his own drove, and then, chasing the others away, collect his scattered charge, and proceed.”
Again for reasons as of yet unknown, the late Lord Lonsdale is said to have recognized that his beloved breed was on the verge of total extinction and in order to preserve his bloodlines outcrossed all of his remaining Cumberland Sheepdogs with German Shepherd Dogs in 1899. It should be noted that the German Shepherd Dog of this time had very little to do with the modern version of the breed and the name was applied to describe any dog used for the purpose of herding and protecting sheep. These dogs were probably larger guardian breeds used to protect the early flocks from wolves and other predators with just enough working ability thrown in to make them competent droving dogs. The modern version of the breed, the German Shepherd Dog we know today, was in 1899, just beginning to be developed by Captain Max Emil Friedrich von Stephanitz.
From this point (1899), the history seems to have been wiped clean and no real mention of the Cumberland Sheepdog is made until the absence of them is noted in a book by Clifford LB Hubbord, Dogs In Britain, A Description of All Native Breeds and Most Foreign Breeds in Britain (1948):
“Not much is heard of this breed nowadays although it has been in the north of England for a very considerable time. From the Peak district to the Cheviots, particularly on the eastern side, the Cumberland Sheepdog has been known as a fine working breed. The late Lord Lonsdale was a great admirer of the breed and owned many in his time. Cumberland Sheepdogs had been in his family for more than a hundred years, and it is certain that no man did as much as he for the breed. He had tried hard to save it from extinction, but in 1899 had to outcross with the German Shepherd Dog; this rescued the race for the time being but a few years ago Lord Lonsdale had disbanded his kennel and given his Cumberlands to farmer friends around Lowther. Cumberland farmers have entered this breed in Sheepdog Trials for at least sixty-five years, indeed, many of the so-called Border Collies which have won awards have really been Cumberland Sheepdogs.
“In general the breed is much like the Welsh Sheepdog and old working Collie types, and works quietly, quickly and low-to-ground. The head is rather broad and flat, tapering to a muzzle of medium length, with ears falling over to the front or semi-erect and rather small. The body is fairly long and extremely lithe, with light though muscular legs and a low-set tail carried at the trail. The coat is fairly heavy and quite dense, and coloured black with white blaze, chest, feet and tip of tail. In height it is about 20 inches, and its weight ranges from 40-50 pounds.”
The above description of the physical attributes and working style of the Cumberland Sheepdog could just as easily be applied to describe the modern Border Collie, which is itself a dog about 20 inches in height (modern breed standard calls for males to be 19-22 inches tall), featuring a black coat trimmed on the chest, feet, and tip of tail with white. Additionally the working style described also mirrors that of the modern Border Collie which is known for being a working breed with a ‘strong-eye’; meaning that it typically works in a silent but intense fashion with its front shoulders low to the ground using its eyes to control livestock by staring them down. Whether or not the modern Border Collie is in fact one in the same as the now extinct Cumberland Sheepdog we may never know, but the overlapping areas of development and similar working style and appearance lend credence to the theory that there is definitely a connection between the two.