Made famous for the movie and television star Lassie, Collies are a herding dog native to Scotland and have served as sheepdogs in Great Britain and its colonies for many centuries. While Collies were initially bred as working dogs, the modern Collie primarily serves as a companion animal and show dog. The Collie comes in two different coat varieties, the rough and the smooth. In most countries, the two dogs are considered separate breeds and cannot be crossed, but in the United States both are considered to be the same breed and are allowed to interbreed. Somewhat confusingly, the term Collie is used to describe an entire group of purebred, random bred, cross bred, and landrace dogs, all of whom originally descend from working herding dogs of the British Isles. However, in America, the term Collie when used alone almost always implies one breed. The Collie was traditionally known as the Scotch Collie or Scottish Collie, both terms are still used by some kennel clubs and dog experts to distinguish it from other types of Collie. The Collie is also known as the Highland Collie, Show Collie, Lassie Collie, Lassie, and Lassie Dog.
Although there is a lot of speculation, virtually nothing is known for sure about the history of the Collie prior to the late 1800’s. Collie-type dogs originated in an era when almost nothing was written about dogs or dog breeding and in a place where almost nothing was written at all. Even the origin of the name Collie is quite contentious. It is widely believed that the name originally comes from the Anglo-Saxon word, “col,” meaning “black.” The sheep of Scottish farmers traditionally had black faces and were known as coleys, coallies, and coalleys. It is thought that the dogs that herded these sheep were first known as Coallie Dogs, which was then shorted to Collie. In recent years, some experts (especially American, Irish, and Scottish ones) have questioned this explanation. They instead claim that Collie is from the Gaelic words cailean and coilean, both of which can be roughly translated to mean, “doggie.” What is known for sure is that Collie-type dogs have been present in the British Isles for at least many hundred, and perhaps several thousand years. These dogs were especially common in Scotland, Northern England, Cumbria, and Wales, where they were tasked with herding and driving sheep.
Like its name, the exact age and origin of the Collie is a matter of great dispute, about the only thing known for sure is that the breed is very old. Unfortunately, essentially no historical or archaeological evidence has survived to support any of the current theories surrounding the origin of the breed, and of the current theories are based almost entirely on presumption. The most prevalent theory holds that the Collie descended from herding dogs brought by Roman conquerors beginning in 43 A.D. The Romans were known to have been exceptional dog breeders, and developed a number of varieties of herding dog. They also had a major presence in Britain. This theory would also account for the general similarity between the Collie and many other herding breeds found in continental Europe such as the Belgian Mallinois and the Beauceron. Unfortunately, however, a Roman origin does not take into account that other herding dogs were certainly present in Britain prior to the Roman conquest, nor does it explain the prevalence of Collies in Scotland and Ireland, which were never a part of Rome.
Many other experts, especially those in America and Celtic countries, believe that the Collie is much older. This theory holds that the Collie was actually the herding dog of the Celts, the primary pre-Roman occupants of Britain. Proponents of this theory believe that the Collie first arrived in Britain with the Celts many thousands of years ago, placing their origin between several hundred and several thousand years B.C. This would explain why Collie-type dogs were so prevalent in areas with a strong Celtic influence, but somewhat less so in traditionally English areas. It would also explain why Collies were unique to the British Isles, which to this day remains one of the last holdouts of the Celtic language and culture. The one shortfall to this theory is that it ignores the many centuries of immigration and trade that brought countless new people and animals to Britain.
There are a few other possibilities as to the origin of Collie-type dogs, though they are considerably less discussed. It is possible that the Collies first came to Britain with the first farmers, a very mysterious collection of peoples who were eventually conquered or displaced by the Celts. So little is known about them and their lives that it is virtually impossible judge this possibility. It is also possible that the Collie was the herding dog of the Angles, Saxons, and/or Jutes who colonized England in massive numbers. This seems unlikely due to the Collie’s later distribution, but would explain the similarities between Collies and Franco-Germanic herding breeds. Finally, it is quite possible that Viking raiders brought the first Collie to Britain, on their voyages of conquest and plundering. Vikings were considerably more influential in Scotland, Wales, and Northern England than other areas, and ruled parts of those regions for many years. The Vikings were known to have brought their herding dogs with them to Britain, where their descendants became the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, the Shetland Sheepdog, and the Lancashire Heeler. However, known Viking herding dogs are significantly different from Collies, and Viking/Scandinavian raiding and settlement in Britain lasted from the 790’s to the 1470’s, probably (though not definitely) after the Collie’s origin. The truth of the Collie’s origin is likely a combination of all these theories combined. The Celts likely brought their herding dogs with them to Britain, where they were likely mixed with whatever earlier dogs remained. The Romans almost definitely brought their dogs as well, where they were heavily crossed with Celtic dogs. This mixture of Roman and Celtic dogs likely forms the bulk of the Collie’s ancestry. It is also a near certainty that Germanic and Viking dogs were crossed with these early Collies, creating a more modern dog. The speed of Collie-type dogs was enhanced by the countless crosses made between these dogs and Greyhounds, which also likely played a large role in development of the Collie.
However and whenever the Collie first developed, it long had one purpose, to herd and drive sheep. For many centuries, Collies tirelessly served their masters by rounding up sheep and moving them where they needed to go, picking up stragglers along the way. Collies were bred with one thing in mind, working ability, although closely related traits such as intelligence and trainability were also fostered. Collies achieved a near-legendary reputation for their herding abilities, and working Collie-type dogs have never been supplanted in their native land. Appearance mattered only to the extent that it impacted working ability. This remained the case until the mid-1800’s. Until that time, Collies were not a breed in the modern sense, but rather a type. At one point there were dozens of distinct Collie varieties found throughout the United Kingdom, most of which would be considered landraces. Although most were similar in terms of body proportion, size, temperament, and working ability, they varied greatly in terms of coat, color, ears, and face. Although found throughout the United Kingdom Collie-type dogs were most prevalent in Wales, Scotland, and Northern England, particularly the Border Region. Several types of Collies were kept in Scotland, and these dogs were collectively known as Scotch Collies or Scottish Collies. At least as early as the 1600’s, Scotch Collies were found with both smooth and rough coats. Of these Scottish varieties, perhaps the most famous was the Highland Collie, said to be somewhat larger and longer coated than other types.
Beginning in the late 1700’s, English Foxhound breeders began to form clubs dedicated to their sport and started keeping studbooks to promote the better breeding of their animals. This led to the first kennel clubs and dog shows. By the Middle of the 19th Century, pure bred dogs and exhibitions of them were massively popular in the United Kingdom, especially with the middle and upper classes. Movements began to standardize and pedigree most of the native British breeds. The Collie was not initially a part of this craze as the shepherds who kept these dogs had absolutely no use for dog shows whatsoever (at least until the coming of herding trials). Some Collies did make their way to early dog shows, and as early as 1860 a dog show in Birmingham had a generic class for “Scotch Sheep-Dogs.” The Collie may very well have remained a loose collection of landraces were it not for the fancy of one woman, Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria was one of the most influential of all British Monarchs, especially in the realm of popular culture and taste. Whatever she admired or favored was soon to gain great popularity by association. The Queen first noticed the breed while visiting Balmoral Castle in Scotland. She quickly became a breed fancier and subsequently kept a number of the dogs throughout the 1860’s and beyond. The Queen inspired a large number of Collie fanciers (most of whom were not farmers) to standardize the breed and turn it into a show dog.
These early fanciers used the Collies that they most favored in their breeding programs. Most of their dogs are thought to have been Highland Collies, but other types of Scottish Collie were certainly used as well. It is generally accepted that these early breeders also mixed in Irish, English, and Welsh Collie lines. The most influential early Collie was named Trefoil. This Irish-born Galway Collie is the ancestor of almost all modern pure-bred Collies. Another very prominent early Collie was the English-born Old Cockie. The resulting dogs were somewhat more standardized, but it was felt that they were not refined enough. It is thought that early Collie breeders mixed their dogs with other breeds, but the extent to which this occurred and how many other dogs were used is debated. There is near universal agreement that at least one outcross was made to a Borzoi to refine the Collie’s face, and most think that this occurred several times. The modern Collie’s narrow face was the result. It has been suggested that other breeds may have been used as well, but what breeds is not clear.
By the end of the 1800’s, these breeders had successfully created a more standardized and refined dog, as well as one that was substantially more well-suited to life as an urban companion. The size of the breed was also significantly increased. However, the dog had lost a great deal of its working ability and Scotch Collies from show lines were rarely if ever used by serious farmers. However, British farmers continued to use their own types of Collies, many of which developed into modern day breeds and landraces: the Border Collie, Bearded Collie, Farm Collie, and Welsh Sheepdog, along with many now-extinct types such as the Rutherford, Smithfield, and Cumberland Sheepdog. Around the same time that the Collie was being standardized, the breed was also used to alter the Shetland Sheepdog. Originally a Spitz-type dog similar to a Swedish Valhund or Pomeranian, so much Collie blood was added that the diminutive herder became virtually a miniature Collie.
Collies have a very long history outside of Britain. Collie-type dogs were first brought to America in the 1600’s, where they served as sheep herding dogs. Collies of one type or another became the predominant herding dogs in America by the time of American independence, though other breeds were also used in that country. American Collies became more generalized than their British cousins, and were used to herd cattle, goats, pigs, and other livestock as much as, if not more than, sheep. By adapting British stock to American conditions and introducing Spanish, Australian, German, and French herding dog blood, American farmers developed their own set of Collie breeds; the English Shepherd, Australian Shepherd, and Blue Lacy. Collies were also imported to Australia and New Zealand from a very early time, where they became an absolutely essential part of both countries’ economies which are heavily reliant on wool production. Australians and New Zealanders crossed many different Collie types with each other and the Dingo, Australia’s native wild/feral dog. Breeders in these countries strongly desired dogs that could work on their own and those with incredible stamina. They developed a third set of Collie breeds: the Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog, Australian Kelpie, Koolie, and New Zealand Huntaway.
American Collies would remain primarily in use as working dogs for a few decades after their British counterparts. Eventually, the dog show craze would reach American shores and forever change the breed from a strictly working animal to that of a show and companion animal. The dog show craze greatly enhanced the desire to obtain pure-bred show Collies. The first such dog was imported to the United States from England in 1879, but was quickly followed by many others. Long known in America as a type if not a true breed, Collies were one of the first breeds registered with the newly formed American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1885. Many early American importers of pedigreed Collies were incredibly wealthy and influential Eastern businessmen and their wives. This elite group formed the Collie Club of America (CCA) in 1886 to promote and protect the breeding of this dog, becoming one of the very first breed specific clubs in America. At the start of the 20th Century, the Collie was very popular with America’s wealthiest families among the most prominent of which was J.P. Morgan. Almost all American Collies descend from British imports between 1879 and WWI, but it is possible that a few older American lines may have been introduced as well. In 1914, the United Kennel Club (UKC) also granted full recognition to the Collie. The UKC gave the breed the official name of Scotch Collie, and did not change it to Collie until 1991.
Beginning in the 1930’s, the Collie rose to a position of great prominence in America. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, an American Collie breeder named Albert Payson Terhune wrote a series of short stories and novels about dogs, most of which were inspired by his own dogs. Terhune’s works became quite popular and did much to enhance the breed’s exposure in the United States and cause Collie numbers to grow. However, Terhune’s impact could not compete with that of Eric Knight. In 1938, Knight published a short story about an intelligent and loyal Collie entitled, “Lassie Come Home.” The story became so popular it was quickly turned into a novel. In 1943, “Lassie Come Home” was turned into a major motion picture. Starring a Rough Collie, the film version of Lassie became immensely successful and was soon followed up by seven other features. A television show soon followed, which lasted for 19 seasons. Most of the numerous plots involving Lassie have the dog heroically rescuing someone in trouble. Lassie became an American movie icon, as well as a symbol of loyalty and courage. The character remains very popular. A Lassie movie was released as late as 2006, and other television programs ran in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Although the character of Lassie was always a female, the dog was always played by a male. This decision was made because male rough Collies retain a longer summer coat which looks better on screen. The first Lassie was played by a dog named Pal, and all subsequent American movies and television shows have starred Pal’s descendants, which are still acting to this day. Lassie is one of only three animals to have been awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the others being legendary German Shepherds Strongheart and Rin Tin Tin.
In America, no dog breed is as associated with a fictional character as the Collie, particularly the rough variety. In that country, Collies are frequently referred to as Lassies or Lassie Dogs. Largely as a result of Lassie, the popularity of the Collie soared in the United States. From the 1930’s until the 1970’s, the Collie was one of the most popular of all breeds in America. These dogs became one of America’s favorite family companions, and were a ubiquitous sight in suburban areas. The popularity of the Collie was also probably aided by the familiarity that many Americans who moved from rural areas had with English Shepherds and other Collie-type dogs. Not only did Lassie greatly increase the Collie’s popularity, but also tremendously impacted Collie breeding preferences. Lassie was a Rough Collie, and that variety greatly predominated in America as a result. Although a tri-color Collie was present in the book, the film version was sable and white and because everyone wanted to own Lassie, sable and white became by far the most common color among American Collies. Lassie also had a very distinctive white blaze on her face, this marking also became very popular with American fanciers. Because show breeders wanted to distinguish their dogs from Lassie, for a number of years such blazes were greatly disfavored and penalized in the show ring. A practice that is only now starting to relent as Lassie-mania has faded to a great degree.
Until very recently, the Smooth Collie and Rough Collie were almost universally considered the same breed. Although rarely practiced, the two varieties could interbreed freely and produce pedigreed offspring. In most of the world, there has been a movement to formally separate the two breeds. Almost all countries have formally separated the two varieties, although this was done very recently. For example, in the United Kingdom, the breeds were not separated until 1993. As is the case with a number of other dogs, American canine organizations have been very reluctant to separate the Collie into multiple breeds. As of 2010, Rough and Smooth Collies are considered the same breed with identical standards other than coat. There is currently no strong sentiment in the United States to divide the Collie into two breeds, and this will probably not take place in the foreseeable future.
The first Lassie television series ended in 1973. Without as much regular exposure, the Collie’s popularity has subsided slightly. This was exaggerated by changing times and the introduction of new breeds which became that eras fashionable breed to own. This drop was never too far, however, and Lassie will forever remain an enduring icon, and less famous Collies had earned many thousands of fanciers across the United States. The breed went from being one of the most popular dogs in America to merely a popular one and in 2010 ranked 38th out of 167 total breeds in terms of AKC registrations. Although universally thought of as a herding dog, the modern Collie is very rarely used for that purpose. Other Collie breeds such as the Border Collie, Australian Kelpie, and English Shepherd have almost entirely taken that role. Collies have found a number of other jobs at which they are well-suited. Collies have excelled as search-and-rescue dogs, assistance dogs for the disabled, seeing-eye dogs, therapy dogs, and police dogs. This breed also regularly competes at the highest levels of obedience and agility competitions, as well as virtually every dog sport to include Frisbee and fly ball. Though the breed retains some working ability, the vast majority of Collies in America and across the world are now companion animals, a task at which this breed excels.
Thanks to the tremendous fame of Lassie, the Collie is one of the world’s most recognizable dogs. Collies are seen as the prototypical breed for Collie-type dogs, as well as sheep dogs in general. Although the coat varieties of the two dogs are quite different in appearance, the standards for both varieties are otherwise identical. The modern Collie is somewhat larger than its ancestors. Male Collies generally stand between 24 and 26 inches tall at the shoulder and weight between 60 and 75 pounds. The slightly smaller females generally stand between 22 and 24 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh between 50 and 65 pounds. This breed’s body is often obscured by its coat, but underneath is a fit and lean dog. The modern Collie is well-muscled but most are noticeably less athletic than some other similar breeds. The Collie should be a very well-proportioned dog, with no feature seeming disproportionately large or small. The tail of the Collie is quite long with a slight curve roughly two-thirds of the way down. When resting, the Collie typically holds it tail low, but carries is it high but never over the body when in motion or excited.
The head and face of the Collie are considered some of the breed’s most important characteristics as they differentiate the breed from many similar dogs. The most fitting description of the Collie’s face would be refined. The Collie’s head should be proportional to the dog’s body, but is quite narrow. The shape of the head should form a blunt wedge, which transitions very smoothly into the muzzle. The muzzle and head should form two parallel lines of equal length. The muzzle itself is quite long and tapered, sometimes to an exaggerated extent. The eyes of this breed are almond-shaped and ideally medium-in-size, but are often quite small. Most Collies have dark brown in color, but blue merle dogs often have one or two blue eyes. The small and narrow ears of the Collie are some of the most expressive of any dog. When at rest, the ears fold forwards but slightly to the sides. When a Collie is at attention, the lower three-quarters of its ears stand straight erect while the top third remains folded down. The ears of many Collie puppies do not have the ideal fold from birth, but this can be corrected with tape or other non-surgical procedures. The overall expression of a Collie is one of kindness, attentiveness, and intelligence.
Collies come in two coat varieties, rough and smooth. Both varieties are double-coated, meaning that they have a short, dense undercoat beneath the outer coat. The considerably rarer Smooth Collies have an outer coat that is short, hard, dense, and flat. The more popular Rough Collies have a very straight coat that is harsh to the touch. This coat is very dense. Rough Collies have a very pronounced mane and frill around the neck, as well as heavy feathering on the backs of the legs and tail. The cost is significantly shorter and smoother on the face, ears, and fronts of the legs.
Both Collie varieties are found in four color varieties: sable/sable and white, tri-color, blue merle/blue merle and white, and white. Sable/sable and white Collies are also sometimes called Lassie Collies. These dogs range in color from light gold to rich mahogany, often with some darker shading. Sable Collies have substantial white markings, normally including a full or partial white collar, chest, legs, feet, and tail tip. These dogs often also have a white blaze on the face or the back of the skull. Tri-color Collies are predominantly black in color, but with rich tan markings on the face and legs. Tri-color Collies share the same white markings with sable/sable and white dogs. Blue merle dogs have mottled blue-grey and black markings. Blue merle Collies sometimes have the tan markings of tri-color Collies but not always. Such dogs share the white markings of the other colors although they are often somewhat less pronounced. White Collies are primarily white in color, but preferably have a few sable, tri-color, or blue merle markings, especially on the head and face. Although all four colors are equally acceptable in the show ring, they are not equally common. White Collies are considerably less common among American dogs of both coat varieties. The other three colors are roughly equally common among Smooth Collies, but due to Lassie’s influence sable/sable and white Collies is by far the most commonly found color among Rough Collies.
Although well-known for its looks, the Collie is perhaps even more famous for its temperament. Collies are known for their loving and loyal natures. Collies are an incredibly people-oriented breed. This dog likes to be around its family constantly and is generally unhappy when not in their presence. Collies have been known to suffer severe separation anxiety and do very poorly when kept outside alone. Those who have to leave a dog alone for long periods on a regular basis should seriously reconsider acquiring a Collie. Many breed members are fawningly affectionate while others are slightly more reserved. Almost all Collies form incredibly intense bonds with their families, and this breed is world-famous for its devotion and loyalty. Partially as a result, many Collies become one family dogs and are relatively aloof with outsiders. Many other Collies are extremely pleased to see anyone and must be trained not to jump up and lick faces. Although not necessarily a warm greeter, Collies should not show any human aggression whatsoever, even to strangers. Collies are usually accepting of strangers, but proper socialization is very important to prevent them from becoming excessively timid around them.
Collies are extremely alert and very vocal, making them an excellent watch dog. Very few dogs of this size make as poor of a guard dog as a Collie, as the vast majority of breed members will either warmly greet an intruder or run in fear from them. Collies are known as family dogs, and when well-socialized most are excellent with children with whom they form very close bonds. As a breed, Collies are very gentle with children, but also incredibly playful. Collie puppies may not be the best housemates for very young children as they have a tendency to bowl over toddlers with their exuberance. Some Collies also have a tendency to herd children which on occasion leads to mild heel nipping, but that can be trained away. Collies are not a good fit for families that offer experience tension such as shouting and fighting. This breed is so emotionally sensitive that breed members often become neurotic or physically ill if regularly subjected to interfamilial strife.
The Collie is very well-regarded with other animals. This breed was bred to work in close tandem with other dogs, and generally gets along very well with them. . In particular, Collies show low levels of dog aggression, and those dog aggression problems that do develop tend to be mild. Most Collies would greatly prefer to share their lives with at least one other canine friend, especially if that friend is another Collie. Serving for centuries as a herdsman, the Collie is very good with other animals. While all dogs need to be properly socialized with non-canine creatures, Collies take to this quickly. Most Collies would not intentionally harm an animal with which they are familiar, and many are careful to avoid accidental injury as well. This breed has a natural tendency to herd other creatures, which if left unchecked can seriously annoy a cat or horse.
The Collie is an incredibly trainable breed. Although the modern Collie has lost some of its working drive and abilities, the breed remains highly intelligent. This dog is also very motivated to please and trains quickly. With the possible exception of some aggression training and advanced scent tracking, there is essentially no task at which a Collie is incapable of learning. Owners essentially have no excuse for not having a well-trained Collie. Harsh and correction-based training techniques are not necessary for Collies, and are actually counterproductive. The super-sensitive Collie is confused and frightened by jerking and similar techniques, and often does not how to react. This motivated breed responds much better to praise, and many Collies will do anything for a treat. Some Collies have a slightly stubborn streak, but these dogs will still train quite well with extra patience.
Although most herding dogs are extremely energetic and require a tremendous amount of exercise, this is considerably less true of Collies. Sometimes described as a couch potato, most Collies are comparatively relaxed. This dog definitely needs thorough daily exercise, and a potty walk or two will not satisfy a Collie. However, an average family willing to make a dedicated effort will probably be able to meet this breed’s needs. While most Collies will be satisfied with long walks, these dogs prefer to run and make excellent jogging companions. It is absolutely imperative that Collie owners do get their dogs the exercise that they need; otherwise, Collies have a tendency to become destructive and hyperactive, and a strong tendency to become excessively vocal. Once a Collie has an outlet provided for its energy, most of these dogs will be quite calm and relaxed. Although no longer a workaholic, the modern Collie greatly prefers to have a job, and breed members love running through an agility course or perhaps herding some sheep. Just because modern Collies don’t need hours of exercise every day to stay happy doesn’t mean that they are not capable of long hours of play. This breed is an excellent fit for families who enjoy activities such as hiking but do not necessarily get the opportunity to do so on a frequent basis.
Collies are renowned for being very well-mannered and clean. Most Collies are incredibly fastidious and hate getting dirty. While it may happen on occasion, Collies are not especially likely to track mud and dirt into the home. Collies are also regarded as being one of the easiest of all dogs to housebreak. Similarly, Collies are known for not chewing very much. This breed tends to chew softly, even its toys, and is more likely to carry something around in its mouth than destroy it.
There is one behavioral problem for which Collies are very well-known. This breed is very vocal, and can be very loud. Even the best trained and exercised Collie will still bark a great deal more than most other dogs. Collies that are untrained or unexercised will probably bark constantly, sometimes for hours without stopping. Otherwise a generally good citizen, Collies have been responsible for more than a few noise complaints, especially in urban or closely-packed suburban environments.
In general, the two Collie varieties are very similar in terms of temperament. This is especially true of American dogs which still interbreed. Some fanciers claim that there are some differences between the two types. Smooth Collies are thought to be somewhat more outgoing and friendly, while Rough Collies are seen as being slightly more introverted and likely to develop timidity issues. Smooth Collies are also believed to be more energetic and to possess higher exercise requirements than their Rough counterparts. Smooth Collies also may retain more herding instincts and working drive. Owners should be aware that these differences are minor, and many fanciers don’t see any difference at all.
The biggest difference between the two Collie varieties deals with grooming. Smooth Collies only need a hard brushing once every week or two. Rough Collies need to be brushed much more frequently, a process which can be quite time consuming. It is not a common practice to have a Rough Collie shaved, but many owners choose to do so to keep the dog cool. The Collie may need some trimming down around its head and feet. This can be done at home by some owners choose to have it done professionally. Collies should be bathed as infrequently as possible, as bathing removes natural oils and this dog is inherently clean otherwise.
Collies do shed, and they shed a great deal. Both Collie varieties will cover your furniture, clothing, and carpets with dog hair, but the problem is greatly exaggerated with the Rough variety. Collies shed all year long, but this becomes very pronounced when the seasons change. Two or three times a year, Collies become intense shedders, and some almost leave a trail of hair wherever they go. Allergy sufferers and those who simply hate the thought of cleaning up dog hair would probably be best suited with another breed.
Collies are considered to be a healthy breed, and many consider them to be very healthy. Collies suffer from fewer genetically inherited diseases than many other dogs and suffer from lower rates of many common problems than many other breeds. This dog was bred for many centuries strictly for working ability, and unhealthy animals would not have been allowed to breed. Additionally, the Collie does not have the exaggerated features that cause health problems in many breeds. In more recent times, the Collie has benefitted from an extremely proactive breed club. The CCA was one of the first AKC parent clubs to form a health organization, The Collie Health Foundation, which has become a model for other clubs and the AKC itself to follow. Collie breeders were also among the first to begin genetically screening their dogs for health problems. This does not mean the health problems have been eliminated from the Collie, but it does mean that breeders have substantially reduced their occurrence. Partially as a result of their good health, Collies tend to lead very long live for a dog of this size. Barring injury, Collies have a very predictable life expectancy of 12 to 14 years, but it is far from unheard of for a Collie to reach an age of 15 or 16.
Collies are known to suffer from eye problems, in particular a disease unique to related breeds known as Collie Eye Anomaly or CEA. Collie Eye Anomaly remains quite common in the breed, but breeders have increasingly reduced its occurrence. CEA can range in severity, some dogs only have mild pigment differences, others a few blood vessel malformations, and some have complete retinal detachment. In severe cases, the dog is left completely blind, but the vast majority of cases result in mild or no impairment. This condition is detectable by six weeks of age and does not worsen as the dog ages. At one point, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, an incurable condition typified of worsening vision and eventual blindness was also very common in Collies. However, genetic testing and responsible breeding have greatly reduced its occurrence in American Collie lines.
Collies and a few related breeds are also very sensitive to certain drugs. Although this sensitivity is well-known among veterinarians it is important to make sure your vet is aware of it. The most common drugs that Collies may be allergic to include Ivermectin, commonly used in heartworm preventatives, and Immodium, a common over-the-counter human medication. As with human allergies, the severity of the reaction depends on the individual dog. Some allergic Collies will get an upset stomach or perhaps vomit if they ingest one of these drugs, and others may go into anaphylactic shock and die.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in this breed it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
Although many of them occur at reduced rates, the following conditions have been identified in Collies: