Ana Oliveira
Dr Ana Oliveira (DVM, University of Lisbon)
Photo of adult Collie

Collies are herding dogs that come in two varieties – the long-haired Rough Collie and its short-coated version, the Smooth Collie. Romanticised in the 1950s’ TV series Lassie, the Collie dog breed has gained popularity in the past decades as a loyal family companion with an extraordinary ability to sense when something is wrong and always ready to intervene and protect its owner.

Graceful, calm, and stable-minded, Collies are good with children and other animals. They are active dogs that excel in different sports, such as agility, obedience, and tracking, as well as other activities, including search and rescue, therapy, and assistance. Adaptable, sociable, and elegant, Collies really are the whole package.

About & History

Collies were originally herding dogs from the region of Scotland and Wales. History has it that the Romans brought herding dogs to Scotland as early as the 5th century and these dogs were then bred over the centuries for function, as they were mainly working dogs, and for looks, later when they became popular as pets.

The Scottish variety was a large and strong dog, with aggressive traits and developed to herd highland sheep. In Wales, on the other hand, the Collie was an agile and smaller dog, friendlier and bred to herd goats too. As the English started crossbreeding these two types, they achieved a nice balance between the features of the breed, which led to the two Collie varieties of today, the Rough and the Smooth Collie.

The origin of the name is disputed. Some think it comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “coll”, that means “black”, as the first Collies were mainly black. Others believe it comes from the word “càilean” and “cóilean” – the Gaelic and Irish words for “doggie”. Another theory is the name derived from the “Colley” breed of sheep that has black faces and which Collies used to herd. Conversely, the name “Collie” could also come from the Anglo-Saxon word for “useful”.

After the Industrial Revolution, when it became fashionable to own dogs as pets, Collies were crossbred with the Borzoi (or Russian Wolfhound), which gave them the long muzzle we recognise nowadays as a characteristic feature of Collies. However, it was not before Queen Victoria, who was passionate about dogs, owned a Collie, that the trend began. By then, Collies started being shown in exhibitions, the first occurring in Birmingham in 1860, and their appearance changed to resemble today’s Collie. What before was a sturdier, Border Collie-like type of dog, became today’s elegant and refined Collie. Queen Victoria is also credited for introducing the sable coat colour.

The first Collie was taken to America in 1879 and the Collie Club founded in 1886. In the UK, the first Collie Club was established in 1881. Collies became a favourite dog breed among wealthy people who owned them as pets. J. P. Morgan, the famous American financier and banker, owned a Collie. Nowadays, the Rough and Smooth Collie are considered separate breeds in the UK and Australia, although in most other countries, including the US and Canada, they are considered varieties of the same breed.


Collie Large Photo

Collies are medium-large dogs that can have four different colours:

  • Sable & White
  • Tricolour
  • Blue Merle
  • White (with a Tricolour, Sable or Blue Head)

The long-haired variety (Rough Collie) has a silky undercoat and a long, dense, and rough outercoat. It has a characteristic ruff around the neck, feathers on its legs, and an underskirt on the abdomen. Smooth Collies are short-haired, having a soft and dense undercoat and a harsher outercoat. Both have a light head, compared to the rest of the body, parallel head planes, and a well-rounded muzzle. All Collies have marks of white on the collar, chest, legs and feet, tail tip, and some on the face (blaze).

Males typically weigh between 20 and 34 kg (44-75 lb) and females between 16 and 29 kg (35-64 lb). Males are usually 55 to 61 cm tall (22-26 inches) and females 51 to 61 cm tall (21-26 inches).

Character & Temperament

Collies are sweet and good-natured dogs, with a kind and playful disposition. They are active dogs that need daily exercise and they are people-oriented, being great companions and protective of their family. They thrive best when living in a house, rather than in an apartment, but by no means are they backyard dogs. Collies need their people, to whom they want to be close. They need to be part of the family and to participate in all family-related activities.

Collies are sociable and intelligent dogs. They are eager to learn and eager to please. They can be easily trained and are adaptable to new situations. Because Collies are herding dogs, they were bred not to be nervous or aggressive. They are therefore calm and patient dogs that are good with children. Their herding instinct varies from dog to dog, though they generally get along well with other animals. They may have a tendency to nip at heels, a behaviour that should be discouraged, as well as digging and barking. Barking and digging are usually associated with boredom, loneliness or lack of training and are behaviours that may be prevented or controlled.

Compared to the Border Collie and the Australian Shepherd, Collies are much less intense. Though they are also agile and full of stamina, they are calmer and enjoy curling up on the couch close to their family. They are sensitive dogs that are known for being naturally protective and intuitive, always anticipating their owner’s needs. Collies may be shy around strangers, which is why socialisation is paramount, and due to their barking tendency, they make good watchdogs. Collies are fast and responsive, beautiful and proud.

Collies have been portrayed as the ideal dog by the authors Albert Payson Terhune in the book, Lad of Sunnybank, and Eric Knight in the novel, Lassie Come Home, later adapted to the well-known TV series, Lassie, which aired between the 1950s and 1970s. The show led to an increase in the breed’s popularity, which paved the way for unscrupulous breeding in the following years, leading to health and behavioural problems in Collies.

Collies are sporty dogs. They are good in many sports, such as dog agility, flyball, tracking, and, of course, herding. Dog sports are a good channelling for their energy. Collies have also been used as therapy and assistance dogs, as well as search and rescue dogs, activities that make use of their high sensitivity.


Photo of Collie puppy

Though Collies are highly trainable, they can be resentful of harsh treatment and are sensitive to correction. Training should therefore be performed in a gentle manner, working with the Collie’s somewhat independent manner, rather than against it.

Nonetheless, they are an easy dog to train and although some may be stubborn, they are generally adaptable and flexible dogs. Socialisation is important to prevent shyness, as Collies may be wary around strangers.


The lifespan of Collies ranges between 12 and 15 years. Some Collies may be prone to certain health problems:

Multidrug Sensitivity

Collies may have a genetic predisposition to adverse drug reactions due to a mutation in the multidrug resistance gene (MDR1 gene). Adverse reactions and toxicity are associated with neurological symptoms.

Some of these drugs are: the tranquilizer acepromazine, the cough-relieving agent and sedative butorphanol, anti-parasitic drugs (ivermectin, emodepside, selamectin, milbemycin, and moxidectin), the antibiotic erythromycin, and the chemotherapeutic agents vincristine, vinblastine, and doxorubicin.

Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA)

CEA or Collie eye defect is an inherited congenital condition related to a defect in chromosome 37. This condition may have no symptoms but it usually progresses to several stages, eventually leading to blindness. There is no treatment for CEA.

"Gray Collie Syndrome"

Canine cycle neutropenia, or “gray cycle syndrome” is a genetic disease that affects the neutrophils of Collies. Neutrophils are cells of the immune system and this condition leads to a decrease in their numbers, making the dog susceptible to infections. Puppies affected with this syndrome usually die and those surviving do not live past 2 or 3 years of age. Collies may be tested for the disease.

Bloat (Gastric Dilation Volvulus)

Because Collies are deep-chested dogs, they are prone to bloat, which occurs when their stomachs get filled with air, usually after a meal, followed by exercise. A bloated stomach may twist around itself (volvulus), cutting the blood flow.

This condition is life-threatening and veterinary care should be sought immediately, should this problem occur. Prevention is attained by feeding the dog small meals and by not allowing it to exercise after eating.

Hip Dysplasia

more common in large dogs, hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hip joint that leads to the head of the thigh bone not fitting the hip socket properly. The constant friction of these two bones causes inflammation and pain, which eventually leads to arthritis and lameness.

Some cases of hip dysplasia may be treated surgically, although most dogs with this condition are treated symptomatically with the aid of anti-inflammatory drugs.


Epilepsy is a neurological condition that may occur in Collies and its cause has not been well established. The symptoms are uncontrolled and sudden seizures that may or may not be associated with loss of consciousness. Epilepsy management is done with anti-epileptic and anticonvulsant drugs, which play an important role in reducing seizure episodes.


Collies may have food or environmental allergies. Food allergies are controlled by dietary restriction, usually by elimination of certain foods (eliminating specific foods, one at a time, and then reintroducing them in the diet to confirm they are the source of the allergy). Allergies cause itchiness and redness of the skin, making it more prone to bacterial infections.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Collies are active dogs and need daily exercise. A daily, fast-moving walk and some playtime in the yard are enough to keep up with a Collie’s exercise needs, though they will certainly enjoy some additional vigorous exercise. They are not as demanding as other Collie breeds, such as the Border Collie, but they still need physical stimulation, as well as mental!


Collies are clean dogs and do not have the typical “doggie smell” associated with some dog breeds. The long-haired version of the Collie requires more grooming than the short-haired one, as expected. Brushing twice a week is recommended for the Rough Collie, to keep its hair untangled and looking good.

As for the Smooth Collie, a weekly brushing suffices. Collies tend to shed quite a lot, according to their heat cycle. Rough Collies shed more than Smooth Collies and they also change their coat twice a year, a period during which brushing should be more frequent. Spayed dogs, however, tend to shed less.

Famous Collies

There are several Collies that became famous icons in television and a reference in popular culture:

  • Lassie, the most famous Collie of all time who became famous in the 1950s and since then has starred in many films, TV series and various books
  • Lad, the main character in Albert Payson Terhune’s novel, Lad of Sunnybank, first published in 1929
  • Jezebel, a character in the film, Marmaduke (2010)
  • Flo, a character in the 1989 film, All Dogs Go to Heaven
  • Reveille, Texas A&M University’s mascot since 1966


Common Collie cross-breeds are the following:

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