Ultimo aggiornamento:  04.11.2019 16.11
November 30, 2012

seminar on the rough collie breed standard

By  Angela Harvey

Seminar held in Zurich on the occasion of the 110th anniversary of the Collie Club Suisse Trust


The most important thing to consider when speaking about the Breed standard is the origins of the Breed, and the Collie was bred to shepherd the hardy Black faced sheep that roamed the highlands of the British Isles, in particular the mountainous regions of Scotland and the moorland and hills of the border counties. The weather in these regions is unpredictable and notoriously changeable. The Collie would spend months alone with his human companion guarding and tending the flock, he would often be required to think for himself. He would need to be gentle but determined, and quick witted. He would need strength and flexibility, he would be required to work long hours in all weather conditions, and to this end he would need to be superbly constructed.

The Rough Collie was designed to work Sheep and Cattle, using his body to control them in preference to using his 'eye' as is typical of the Border Collie. On the wet uplands of Scotland and the rough moorland of Northern England, this type of 'body control' would be of far greater value, and so the Rough Collie was developed with a long arched neck and distinctive movement. He does not crouch when moving, he holds his head higher on the top of his long arched neck, keeping his top line level as he glides without effort, able to change direction with ease and speed. When I say that the dog uses his body to control the sheep, I am referring to the use of his shoulder to physically direct his flock.

The Breed standard has changed very little over the years since its introduction, however the Rough Collie itself has changed in many Countries, so much that it is almost beyond recognition. It is the duty of Breeders and judges to recognise these changes and return the breed to the original type. Fashion changes, but the breed should remain constant. We need to pay great attention to the true words written in the Breed Standard and we should judge the dogs set before us on merit against this standard, and we must at all times keep our integrity to the breed. This takes courage. There is or should be no such thing as 'American type' and 'English type' we need to judge all Collies against the original UK Breed standard, although in truth, the American standard is far more descriptive. We must judge them on merit against that standard and reward those who best fit the standard. There are standard collies, and there are non standard collies. Standard collies are correct to type regardless of the County in which they were bred!

General Appearance

General appearance is what separates the Rough Collie from other Shepherding breeds, it is what creates breed type, it is the all important 'first impression'.

The first truly noticeable trait is 'Impassive dignity' and we need to study and fully grasp what this entails. To have dignity means the dog should have nobility and stature, he should appear to 'own the ground upon which he stands'. To have impassive dignity means to have a quiet air of superiority, to have a calm dignity that permeates every feature. The dog should be totally balanced, every part must harmonise with the next, and the dog should give the impression he is capable of working his sheep in the highlands and rough moorland of Scotland and the Northern border counties of England. It is good to read the older versions of the Breed standard too as this will widen our understanding.

The Breed standard of 1969, when speaking of general appearance, began with the words 'The Collie should instantly appear as a dog of great beauty' and we should remember these words, even though the kennel club decided to remove this part of the standard as they feared it gave an impression of favouritism over other breeds!

I always imagine a Rough Collie, standing on top of a rocky crag, set against a backdrop of purple moorland and mountain mists. His head held proudly, ears alert, presenting a picture of wild beauty and impassive dignity. A dog of commanding size and strength, but whose gentle soul can capture the heart of man and tame the heart of the tough black faced sheep. A king of all he surveys.

This is what we should see in our minds eye, when our physical eyes meet a great example of a Collie!


This part of the standard emphasises the working capabilities, we should look for the dog who appears active and strong. Remembering he was originally bred to control sheep by use of his body strength. The collie requires substance, balance and sufficient size to enable him to control stock by this method. There should not be the slightest hint of coarseness in body or head, the Collie is a refined dog. A deep or short head would be coarse and out of balance with the required, slightly rectangular body construction. A dog whose body shape is square or too deep is cloddy, the dog must be free of cloddiness. He should not have short stumpy legs as these would detract from his elegance and dignity. Short stumpy legs create a dog that is cloddy in appearance.

Expression is most important, however it is not THE most important requirement of the standard. Unless the head is correct, true Collie expression cannot be obtained. It is therefore of great importance to study the correct head before we can truly evaluate correct expression.


A few years ago breeders often overlooked the importance of temperament in favour of head and expression, and it has taken dedication to improve this situation. There is no point whatsoever in a beautiful dog that is afraid of its shadow, or that is incapable of enjoying life to the full because it is afraid of slippery surfaces or high pitched noises.

At a recent show I was asked not to clap in appreciation of the class winner, and the excuse given to me was that 'the Collie has sensitive hearing and clapping could upset the dogs'. It is true that the collie has been developed with sensitive hearing. In the course of his shepherding work he was selected to have ears designed to pinpoint the bleat of a distressed lamb buried in snow. He would work in blizzard conditions and in raging storms where howling winds prevailed. However he is designed to help that lamb, he is not designed to run home and hide under the Shepherds table until the thunder has stopped and it is safe to go out!

The Collie should not be nervous, nor should he be aggressive. He is a sensitive dog who thinks before he acts, he is intelligent, but he is not nervous. He is a barker by nature and for good reason. A silent dog is normally a killer. The wolf hunts silently, he does not bark to alert prey to his approach. The Collie barks during his work, he speaks to his Sheep telling them he is 'here to help'! Therefore we cannot expect our dogs to be silent, we should expect them to be sensitive, but we should also expect them to be gentle and calm when adult.

Head and Skull

There was a saying many years ago, 'A good Collie should be like a good woman, he should have the head of a lady' The 'head of a lady' indicates his head should never appear heavy, coarse or clumsy.

Head properties are of great importance, because they help to separate one breed from the next. The head should follow the lines of a well blunted clean WEDGE ... this means the head should NEVER be triangular. The skull must be flat and lie in a straight parallel line with the fore-face. The skull must not rise in a sloping fashion against the line of the muzzle and the muzzle should not be wavy along the top line, nor should it drop away at the end.

The stop is very important, it should not be deep or even well defined. This part of the standard is very clear and is not open to muddled interpretation. The Breed standard asks for a SLIGHT stop. Perceptible means 'perceived by the mind or senses' and to be perceived by the senses means the stop should not be obvious or easily discernible, it should not be so immediately noticeable as to become a feature of the head. We should recognise there is a stop but it should be slight. A deep stops gives extra depth to the head, but the standard says that depth of skull should never be excessive. A deep stop creates a triangle instead of a wedge. The head must harmonise with the body, and the body should be slightly longer than the height at the withers, giving a rectangular shape. The head should therefore also be rectangular with a well blunted end to the muzzle and strong underjaw. Today we see many weak under jaws, wavy profiles, wide skulls and deep stops. The head should be essentially dignified to harmonise with the overall appearance. A deep stops creates a coarse look. The Breed standard of 1950 actually included the following words regarding the stop 'not prominent'. We must remember the head is of great importance, but we should learn to know and reward the correct head, rather than a head we regard as being 'pretty' or 'fashionable' but that does not actually fit the standard. Many of to-days judges and exhibitors have become accustomed to seeing a shorter head with deeper stop, and because they are accustomed to seeing this shorter head, they consider the correct head to be too long in muzzle. Please remember when measuring length of head that the correctly placed stop is the centre of balance, and the skull must be measured from the stop to the occipital bone. We also need to remember that the standard is describing a fully mature Collie, and heads need time to mature. The flat well filled skull is not formed only of bone, it is formed of muscle. As the head matures and muscle develops the stop will deepen and a long stop will often become cleaner, the skull will widen and flatten as the muscle fills in. Consequently, a slightly long stop on a junior dog might be perfect when he is three years old. On the other hand, a perfect stop on a nine month old puppy might be far too deep when he is adult. Likewise a skull that is perfect on a very young dog, risks being too wide and coarse when adult. Always consider the age of the dog and its level of maturity and ask yourself, is this correct for the age of the dog? Under-jaw is very important as it give finish to the ideal wedge shape of the correct head, it also provides a strong base for the teeth. The collie would be required to use his jaw during his work, he would pull young sheep out of ditches for instance. He will often show this natural instinct by gently pulling on our clothes, it is a natural action for him. The collie should have a tight lip line that follows the top line of the muzzle. A sagging lip line is much more reminiscent of a Gun Dog.


Again, to fully understand the term 'giving sweet expression' we must return to the origins of the breed. A Shepherd when choosing his companion would of necessity want him to be sweet in nature. The soul of the dog is in his eyes. Beauty comes from within, and expression comes not only from the size, shape, colour and placement of the eyes, it also shines from the soul. The collie was chosen to live with his master, often alone for many weeks and months. No Shepherd would choose a dog with a mean eye, rather he would look for the sweet gentle natured dog, and this nature would be reflected in his expression. Sweetness does not therefore mean 'pretty' or 'sugary' and we need to remember that true Collie expression is also described as being full of intelligence, plus the dog should express himself as being alert and quick to respond. Dignity should also be reflected in the true expression, because dignity is a key requirement in the general appearance of this breed. Remember, that old Shepherd would look into the eyes to find the soul of the dog and to discover that certain quality of spirit needed to do the job. When looking for a clear understanding of what is required of a sweet expression, we must remember the original purpose and not allow this to become corrupted, the Collie is not designed to illustrate Chocolate boxes!

The eyes must also sit obliquely into the cheeks and for this reason the cheeks must be smooth and clean without flare and without prominent bones around the eye sockets. This eye placement allows optimal vision and gives dignity to the expression. Sometimes we see a very small deeply set eye and some breeders and judges favour this type of eye. Have they considered why the eye is deeply set? It is because the eye socket is deformed preventing the eye from sitting correctly in the socket! If the eye cannot fully move into the socket it can create pressure on the brain. We should guard against such exaggerations and consider the health of the breed over fashion at all times. The Breed Standard says, 'eyes never too small'.


Please let us remember the function of the Collie ear is to catch sound, not to muffle it. The ears should sit on top of the skull and be one third tipped. So why do we see so many Collies with ears tipped by two thirds and placed like handle bars on either side of the skull? This totally ruins the sweet alert intelligent outlook of the Collie. It also indicates that the skull is either too wide or falls away at the sides. The correct skull creates a platform on which the ears can sit.

Neck and Forequarters

To fully understand the correct structure of the Collie one must study diagrams showing correct angulation. It is possible to teach oneself how to recognise correct balance and angles by forming imaginary lines against the dog when judging. This is shown and explained in detail during the coarse of my seminar but cannot be fully explained in this brief written article. The neck is very important and is a major contributing factor in creating the desired look of dignity, it also helps to create the true characteristic movement that is a feature of the breed. Therefore the long well arched neck of the Collie is of paramount importance. It enables the Collie to keep the chest and vital organs clear of flying hooves when working.

The neck should be muscular and strong. Bone should be moderate and strong, it should not 'consist' of thick undercoat and fat! Forelegs should be straight and muscular, if the feet turn inwards the chest is likely to be too round and if the feet turn outwards the chest is likely to be too narrow. The key to good front construction is an oval rib cage. The forequarters are not connected to the backbone or ribs by bone, they are connected by muscle. If the ribs are round the shoulders cannot sit comfortably against the rib cage and the dog will flap his elbows when moving, losing power and causing him to tire easily.

Body and Hindquarters

Many judges appear to measure the length of body from the point of the shoulder, however this is totally incorrect. The body is correctly measured from the point of fore-chest (sternum) measuring from the point of shoulder is pointless if the shoulder is too straight as the back will be over long. A long back created by an upright shoulder would be highly undesirable in a dog whose original function was to herd sheep by the use of his shoulder, and especially when working on uneven terrain! A correctly constructed dog that is correctly exercised is able to develop a strong musculature, however a badly constructed dog, even when correctly exercised, will be less likely to develop muscle and will be inclined to fat and loose flesh.

Do not mistake a dog with sickle hocks for a dog with hocks that are well let down and powerful. The two are very different but the sickle hock is a common feature of many Rough Collies today. Remember the hock should be strong and powerful, the hock that stands curved under the body lacks power and strength.

The Collie is not a square dog, but neither is her a long dog, he is dog with perfect anatomical balance. His length of neck from occipital bone to his point of shoulder, his depth of chest from the point of shoulder to elbow, and his length of leg, should all be equal in length. His body should be slightly longer when measured from sternum to buttocks, than his height from the point of shoulder to the ground. The head should stand proudly on long well arched neck, the ears should be placed in front of the line of the fore-chest, and his hind feet should be placed behind the line of the buttocks to balance him.

Feet and tail

Imagine what it would be like to run along a pebble beach without your shoes, and then run the same beach wearing well constructed trainers. The correct foot would be essential to the working dog. A dog with good feet almost invariably has correct bone!

Let us not make any excuses for short tails, the Collies tail should reach at least to the hock joint. It is allowable for an excited dog to lift his tail when moving but the Collie should not curl his tail over his back like a Spitz breed. He will use his long tail as a rudder when turning and for balance.


Movement is a distinct characteristic of the breed and absolute soundness is essential. The collie shows his working roots through his unique movement. He moves with his front feet striking the ground on the middle line, he is a single tracker. The standard itself does not mention this fact, however the old books on the Breed all mention it, and it is essentially the least tiring form of movement. He should never swing his elbows out (indicating a round rib cage) he should not plait, cross or roll. His top line should remain level. Think of a Swan swimming up stream, we can see him move with perfect grace but beneath the water his legs are working. This is how it should appear with the moving Collie. His top line should remain level but the legs are moving. He should never appear to be using any excess energy, his movements should be harmonious and light, without any effort. He should be able to change direction upon a small coin! The hocks must remain parallel from the joint to the ground when moving at a slow trot, however with speed the feet converge and move on a single middle line, in harmony with the front feet. If the Collie were moving at a fast trot along damp sand, there should be only one set of foot prints! In the correctly moving Collie, we should easily see two triangles of light, the first is formed between the front feet and a second triangle of light is formed between the hind feet. The dog below perfectly demonstrates correct Breed movement. One can see how fluid his movements are and how his feet hardly touch the ground!

Lastly I will mention colour as there seems to be some argument on what constitutes the correct white patterning in the Collie. The Breed standard does not say that small white body patches are undesirable, it does not mention them at all. It did not mention them in the 1969 Breed standard either when a list of faults was given. However it does give us a list of 'favourable' white markings. Some judges and breeders believe that white is not allowed up the inside of the thigh, however the standard says the legs can be white. It does not say that only the front legs can be white, it says the legs can be white! Why should we want to change this? It also says that predominantly white is highly undesirable. Predominantly simply means more than 50% and therefore a Collie with more than 50% of its body white, is highly undesirable. However, it is good to remember, the Breed standard also states a Blue Merle Collie with a slate grey coat, large black patches, or a rusty tinge to the top or undercoat, a Sable that is cream or straw coloured, a Tricolour with a rusty tinge to the top coat, are also highly undesirable. Many judges will forgive these things, but would not place a Collie with white along the thigh (permissible in the standard) or having a small white body marking (not mentioned in the standard and has never been listed as a fault).

Perhaps it is time to get our priorities right!