Scotch Collie

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Scotch Collie

The Scotch Collie is a medium-sized Collie dog that developed naturally over many years in Scotland. Used extensively by farmers, they were so valued for their farmyard abilities, that they were exported in large numbers to the USA and Canada in the 1800s. Traditionally working alongside sheep, they can be used to shepherd a variety of farm animals, and also come in handy when attempting to keep the number of mice and rats down in the farm’s sheds and barns.

Easy to train and hard-working, though the Scotch Collie excels on the farm, they are also known to make good family pets. They get along well with children and other dogs and enjoy their company. A breed with a high exercise demand, it is ill-advised to take on a Scotch Collie unless you have an active lifestyle and plenty of space for him to roam.

About & History

The Scotch Collie is also referred to as the ‘Old Farm Collie’, and in its native Scotland, may be called ‘Coolie’ by some. The quintessential farm dog for many years, the Scotch Collie was used by farmers to shepherd their flocks and guard their animals. Experiencing a popularity surge in the 1800s and early 1900s, many breed members were exported internationally as working animals. As their reputation on the farmyard grew, general interest became piqued, and many Scotch Collies were also seen in the show ring, as well as in households where they were kept solely as pets.

The Scotch Collie is depicted in several paintings of the early 1800s by the artists Richard Ansdell and Sir Edwin Henry Landseer. In the 1900s, the Scotch Collie was made into even more of a celebrity by a Professor Duncan who used the dogs as an entertainment act in London. It is said that Professor Duncan encouraged the dogs with morsels of food and didn’t whip or reprimand them – a detail that audiences appreciated.

The AKC officially recognised the breed in 1885 as the Scotch Collie, however, over time, they changed their Collie classifications to Smooth Collie & Rough Collie, the original Scotch Collie being pushed to the side. These new collies were probably a product of Scotch Collies breeding with the likes of the Borzoi and the Greyhound. Like the Borzoi, these newer Collies have a narrow skull – quite different from that of the Scotch Collie.

As well as the Rough and Smooth Collies, it is widely believed that the Scotch Collie formed the foundation of other well-known dog breeds, including the Australian Shepherd and the Border Collie.

Over time, as they have seemingly been replaced by their more modern Collie versions, the Scotch Collie has fallen out of favour, and is no longer recognised by many Kennel Clubs. For fear of losing the Scotch Collie to history forever, in the 1990s, there was a movement in America that focused on restoring the breed, which the Americans referred to as the ‘Old Time Farm Shepherd’. To add further confusion to the name, not long after, an additional association was formed with the aim of preserving the Scotch Collie, though they referred to the dog as the ‘Old Time Scotch Collie’. At the present time, there are thought to be around 200 Scotch Collies in existence, and the various associations are constantly on the lookout for more breed members.


Scotch Collie Large Photo

It is no surprise that the Scotch Collie bears close resemblance to the Smooth and Rough Collies of today, who descended from the Scotch Collie not too long ago. A breed that developed naturally over time in the Scottish Highlands, bred for its herding ability and personality traits rather than its looks, there is some variation of appearance within the breed. What was important to the farmers, was that the dog be of an athletic build, well-muscled and with no exaggerated features. Their double coat is of varying lengths, and colours that are similar to the modern Collie. They should have erect or semi-erect ears, keen brown eyes, a long body, a deep chest and a tucked-up abdomen.

Scotch Collies are medium-sized, with males standing between 53-61cm and females reaching heights of 46-56cm. Males will weigh around 21 to 32kg, while the smaller female weighs 18 to27kg. These are similar proportions to today’s Smooth and Rough Collies.

Character & Temperament

Most important to the breeders and owners of the Scotch Collie was their working ability. They were bred to be biddable, hardy, independent and highly trainable. It was essential that they were natural herding dogs, and also that they were defensive of their flock – always on the watch for any sign of a predator.

They possess natural hunting instincts with their ability to hunt and kill vermin welcome on any farmyard. This is an important characteristic to be aware of if attempting to home a Scotch Collie alongside smaller animals, particularly pet rodents. Playful and gentle by nature, as long as they have been introduced to children from an early age, they will get on wonderfully with them.


Photo of Scotch Collie puppy

Typically very obedient, the Scotch Collie is a keen worker and is quick to learn. As demonstrated by Professor Duncan with his ‘Marvellous Collie Dogs’, they can be trained to an incredibly high standard, capable of impressing large audiences with their repertoire of tricks.


As there is such a limited population of Scotch Collies in existence, there are no reliable health studies to quote. However, there are a number of conditions to which the Scotch Collie is likely predisposed. These include:

Collie Eye Anomaly

This is a condition of the eyes that is present at birth, inherited from parents and affects both eyes. The eye fails to develop properly and dogs are affected to varying degrees. Vets will diagnose the condition through the use of a fundoscope. A genetic test was recently developed by Cornell University and should be used to identify carriers before breeding.

MDR1 Sensitivity

Many herding dogs are sensitive to certain drugs, such as anti-parasitic medicines and antibiotics with the Scotch Collie being no exception. Due to a genetic mutation, certain drugs are not correctly metabolised in affected dogs, which can lead to neurological issues. Owners can now have their dogs tested for this condition.


Most deep-chested breeds have a tendency towards developing bloat. The word ‘bloat’ refers to the build-up of gas in the stomach and the visible ‘ballooning’ of the dog’s abdomen. In some cases, the dog’s stomach will completely rotate when bloated, referred to as a ‘gastric dilatation volvulus’ or ‘GDV’.

The aim of the veterinarian when treating these animals is to release pressure within the abdomen, stabilise the patient and then surgically correct the stomach’s position.


Abnormal electrical activity in the brain may result in seizures in some dogs. When a dog has more than one seizure, and no cause is found, they are said to suffer with epilepsy. An affected Scotch Collie may not need medication to manage the condition if they only suffer with mild epilepsy, but some breed members will need daily tablets to reduce the frequency and severity of their seizures.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Unsurprisingly, the Scotch Collie is a dog that needs plenty of exercise. A couple of long walks a day, coupled with some stimulating games like Frisbee, fetch or flyball will keep the Scotch Collie occupied and entertained. When possible, they should have access to land to roam on.

They will happily accompany their owner on long hikes or cycles and enjoy the opportunity to be in the fresh air whenever possible. This breed is not suited to an inactive household, particularly one without a garden or land, and if under-exercised, they are bound to develop bad habits, such as hyperactivity and barking tendencies.


Depending on the coat length of the Scotch Collie in question, some breed members may need weekly grooming, while other, longer-haired individuals will need more frequent grooming to prevent matts and tangles.

Famous Scotch Collies

The famed Scotch Collies that performed alongside Professor Duncan in London in the 1900s are some of the best known of the breed. It is also often said that Queen Victoria owned a Scotch Collie.


With just a couple of hundred Scotch Collies alive today, there are no popular cross-breeds with the main focus of breeders being to grow purebred Scotch Collie numbers.

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