Ultimo aggiornamento:  04.11.2019 16.11
February 3, 2013

smooth collie ... interview with cindy kilner dorsten

By  Lucio Rocco


Canine Behaviorist & Trainer, Cynologist & All-breed Historian, Founder of the AWCA (American Working Collie Association), and author of the book, "A Celebration of the Working Collie." Cindy has been involved with both Rough and Smooth Collies since 1969, and is a 40-year member of the Collie Club of America.


Is there a problem in the world today with the "smooth collie"? If so, why, and what could be the consequences?

Here in the USA, in general we appear to have some fairly good stock (conformation, temperament/disposition, soundness, numerically good numbers, intelligence, trainability, versatility, etc.) but in certain other countries such as the UK the Smooth is considered to be a “vulnerable breed” according to The Kennel Club. Their numbers are low, and I would be concerned that the breed will become caught up in a genetic bottleneck with inbreeding co-efficient too high which impacts the viability of any breed. I truly believe that the Collie clubs should do what they can to promote the variety (breed) with the dog-owning public as an all-around great companion, pet, and potential competition dog hence stirring interest in the ownership. The clubs should work together to ensure the future and healthy viability of sound dogs of both varieties (breeds) and consider allowing interbreeding of the varieties again in what essentially is the same breed. When I contacted The Kennel Club several years ago, they stated that it was up to the Collie clubs (Rough Collie Breed Council?) to petition the KC into allowing the two to be bred together in the UK.

The researchers, Donna Housley and Patrick Vent, have shown that the only genetic difference between the Rough and Smooth collies is the FGF5 gene factor that controls the length of the hair. Does it therefore make sense to speak of them as two distinct breeds?

Emphatically, no! Research indicates that since the first breed standard was written in the 1800s, and subsequent standards to that, it is stated time and time again that the Smooth Collie is the same as the Rough except for the details of coat.

Allowing the rough and smooth collies to breed could solve the problem of broadening the gene pool of the smooth variety; but the idea is opposed by many breeders of both types, including some that breed for beauty and some that breed for work. But what would be the effect on the two types if this were to be allowed?

There can be a number of distinct types within each variety in every country. This can be due to regional types and the availability of certain sires/dams or, to a lesser degree, successful kennels that have emerged with a distinctive type. This was also common centuries ago when the regional types sometimes evolved or merged to become specific breeds such as the modern Collie (Rough and Smooth), Bearded Collie, Welsh Collie, Border Collie, etc. Most kennels do not have their own distinctive type unless they have a long-term, focused breeding program and adhere to it even if it sometimes means making the occasional outcross (in dog breeder’s terms, this would mean breeding to a member of another family not related closely/however, it means an entirely different thing in the scientific world!!). Long story short, if you do not like the conformation, type, or other attributes of the potential breeding partner, don’t breed to it! It doesn’t matter whether it’s Rough or Smooth as far as I’m concerned.

Oftentimes it is said that Rough Collies are more laidback, whereas Smooths are reportedly more aggressive (that is, assertive or pushy), and perhaps even more active (medium drive, with a few being high drive). But, I’ve seen all types of personalities and drive levels in both varieties of which I’ve owned since 1969. Perhaps this is because we’ve been breeding the varieties together here in the USA since essentially the beginning.

If you examine photos or other images of Smooth Collies of a century or more, there are some that were of EXCELLENT structure, overall type, and beauty! Take a look at the Rafael Tuck vintage postcards – look at those beautiful dogs of over 100 years ago especially the Smooth Collie who could certainly beat many dogs in the show ring today!

Type and quality can fluctuate in any breed or variety, and fads can occur with excessive emphasis or not enough emphasis on certain features (eg. excessive coat in Roughs, hard expression in many European Smooths – the eyes, stovepipe muzzles in some American dogs – all of these are not correct). This can also be impacted by the “popular sire syndrome,” the lack of good local breeding stock, or when regional types develop. Here in the USA, photos of both Roughs and Smooths showed quite a variation in type from approximately 1915 until well after WW II. Events such as WW I and WW II caused the cessation of shows, trials, and the closure of many kennels, and undoubtedly impacted the progress that could be made at the time toward breed improvement. By the mid 1950s-1960s, the breed made strides in improvement marked by the appearance of several notable and prolific producers. There was a long period of time during the early-mid 1900s when we thought the Smooth was going to completely disappear in the USA. But, a syndicate of breeders brought fresh stock over from the UK and attempts were made to revive the variety. It took some time, but the variety re-emerged. Healthy infusions of fresh Rough Collie blood appeared to help improve type. Then, along came Ch. Black Hawk of Kasan (Ch. High Man of Arrowhill ex Kasan Fine and Fancy)! This handsome and correct stud helped place the Smooth Collie on a level playing field with the Rough. Hawk was the first Smooth to take BOB (Best of Breed) over Roughs and Smooths at the Collie Club of America National, the first Smooth to earn an all-breed BIS (Best in Show), and was BOV (Best of Variety) Smooth six times at the National. He was a very special dog, regardless of variety! The type and structure is actually similar to that of the handsome Smooth in the Raphael Tuck card illustrated. Important to note for our purposes here is that Hawk is the product of Rough to Smooth breeding (sire was a Rough, and Dam was a Smooth and the pedigree is replete with R/S breeding). Hawk can be counted among some of the very best produced on our shores. For the record, his date of birth was 1966.

As an aside, it struck me as rather odd back in the late 1980s when I came across a Simon & Schuster dog book wherein it stated that Smooth Collies had Greyhound in them. Hmmmmm. Up to that time, as an all-breed historian I had never heard of that. I did know that Collies were used to breed for lurchers a (a type of dog, rather than an established breed), but Greyhound in our Collies? I didn’t believe it until I became involved with the International Collie Handbook which, at that time, was a 600+ page annual book with photos and articles of Collies truly from all around the world! Within the pages, I did start to see dogs that reminded me of a possible Greyhound interjection at some point in their long past – the head, the uncollie-like eyes and expression, the excessive tuckup, etc. Currently, if you should consider these Greyhound-like dogs that are STILL occurring primarily in Europe (many with a hard eye and expression) I would determine if the dog was correct to our standard, was a dog of good health, genetics, highly intelligent, highly trainable, athletic, had the endurance of a working dog, had the correct Collie character and if I liked him/her, or not. Then I would make my breeding decisions based on that, not on whether they were Rough or Smooth. There are also Roughs out there that have an almost foreign eye and expression – the eyes appear overly slanted, the head appears to be dished, and then there is the excessive coat and sometimes poor movement. Please be so critical as you make your selections of breeding partners. The future and viability of the breed depends on it!

Roughs and Smooths are frequently bred together here in the USA often with great success. And, even when utilized overseas if the breeder is selective as he/she should be in choosing breeding partners, very nice results can occur.

While on the subject of breeding, I’d like to direct you to a good article that talks about the female actually contributing more than the previously thought 50% of the genetics to the offspring: http://www.wicani.co.uk/breedingforafuture.htm

What some of the breeders have found is that the offspring frequently resemble the dam. Apparently the adage is true: A kennel is no better than the bitches it houses.

Now, as for trying to breed for an all-around dog, both show and work, this is another topic that has been argued for many, many years in quite a few different breeds whether working, herding, sporting, or hound. History is replete with examples of some breeders in other breeds who have tried to merge working and show lines:

- English Springer Spaniels (who are especially notorious for having field-type Springers, and the extremely different show-bred Springers)

- Border Collies (who are no longer immune to the demands of the show ring – show-bred Borders look very much different than their farm- or trial-bred cousins, are calmer, and do not seem to have the intensity of “eye” the breed to known for)

- Golden Retrievers (field-bred Goldens are very different in drive – generally higher drive – than their show-bred cousins. Also, physical appearance is quite different, and generally smaller and lighter boned)

- Australian Shepherds (actually an American breed, the farm type Aussie is MUCH different in looks and is much smaller and lighter in bone than his show-bred cousin. However, personal experience tells me that they are quite similar in personality)

Collies mid-1800s

Our Collies come from a background as a stock-keeper, as well as many other duties he was called upon to perform as an all-around farm dog. Since the beginning of dog shows in the mid-1800s, written standards of perfection were established for breeders to refer to as a guide. However, these standards did not and could not provide guidance on how to breed for a working dog. Without a means of testing the merit of this working dog’s abilities, his instincts, his trainability and his intelligence and strength of character how could they maintain the very qualities that made a Collie a Collie??? Therein lies the argument that is maintained until today across Moore's illus competitors at Colley Club's 2nd show UK oct 1886many working and sporting breeds – show dog versus working dog. Now that we have moved more towards a highly urbanized society, there is much less need for a stock dog and much less opportunity for us to test the mettle of our dogs to ensure that who they are and what they are is what we want to perpetuate for future generations. Few people live on farms or have ready access to livestock for introductions, training, testing or even trialing. However, at least we can still test, train and trial our dogs in other working or sporting dog capacities which can help demonstrate their intelligence, trainability, sound temperament/disposition, etc. Activities such as agility trials, animal-assisted therapy, obedience trials, Frisbee, carting, water rescue, etc. The Collie is one of the most, if not the most, versatile breed available!

In America, rough- and smooth-coated collies are two varieties of the same breed. Is it too late to accept this idea in Europe? Have the two types diverged too far on our continent to make a union impossible?

I think that it can still be done. It would take discerning breeders making good selections to help both varieties (breeds) progress. As you know, I am a firm proponent of the all-around Collie – a Collie who is structurally sound and of good breed type, good genetic health, has retained working ability and drive, intelligence, trainability, and the famous Collie character. I don’t want a big hairy fob that has excessive coat making him so impractical and difficult to groom for the average pet owner that he is no longer popular with the general public. I also do not want a head that is too long and lean (ridiculed by some as “needle nose”), or a stovepipe muzzle with way too much out there! Moderation is key.

And, several pet peeves of mine. Breeders, please please be aware of the all important “critical periods” in a puppies life. What you do or don’t do during these formative years has a considerable impact on the future dog. Only breed intelligent, trainable Collies! Please contact me if you need more information on the critical periods, and how to manage them.

Here is a very nice illustration of a Rough and Smooth Collie that could be used to illustrate the standard and helps to demonstrate the similarities in the varieties. This is Ch. Cul Mor’s Conspirator (Rough) and Ch. Cul Mor’s Kilcullen O’Ebonwood (Smooth) from the cover of a book in my collection, The Smooth Collie, Brother to the Rough, American Smooth Collie Association (edited by Catherine Summy), c. 1967.

In Europe, many breeders of the two collie breeds often show impatience with each other and don't want to hear talk about reuniting under a single breed name, each claiming the superiority of his or her breed. Is this best for their breed. What would be the benefits of reunification?

I think it is very short-sighted not to consider reunification of the Rough and Smooth Collies into a single breed as they used to be! Here in the USA, they are simply 2 coat varieties of the same breed. This has worked very well for over 100 years!!! Geneticists state that all purebred dogs have become too inbred, and that we need to have a broader gene pool base to select from. In the UK, I understand that the Smooth Collie is now considered to be a “vulnerable breed.” In 2010 alone only 54 Smooths were registered with the UK. That is a worrisome number to me. How can you keep the breed going, and how are you going to avoid excessive inbreeding?

Here in the USA, the quality of Smooth Collies is generally at a high level. When judged at a conformation show, they have nothing to hide with that short coat and it is quite apparent what their physical merits are or are not. With the Roughs, of course you have to really get your hands into the heavy coat to feel the structure of the dog. A heavy coat can hide a lot of structural faults! Selection of breeding partners should be on the physical and mental aspects of the dog regardless of whether the dog is a Rough or Smooth.

Another pet peeve of mine, but this time related to the standard. I sometimes hear people say, “Oh, we don’t want to dink around with the standard – it shouldn’t change.” But, YES, it has changed my friends, and quite a lot over the past 130+ years! Take, for instance, color. Color was “immaterial” in the original and some subsequent standards. Who went and mucked it up by making changes? And, just who decided to start calling us Rough and Smooth Collies? Frankly, I think we should return to the name Scotch Collie although our breed did have other names prior to that even.

We’ve really come a long way in breed improvement. But the Collie remains an easily recognizable breed worldwide, and shares his wonderful and unique character and sense of humour with us!


Ch StormWind Wyldrose To The Max! CD (Companion Dog) RN (AKC Rally Novice) HIC (Herding Instinct Certified) TT (Temperament Test) CGC (Canine Good Citizen). Connor is sired by Ch Corjalin's Return to Glory, HIC (sable Smooth) ex Aamar's Rosewood Skylo Dream (blue Rough).  Connor and I were training for agility and Open (advanced) obedience, and were ready to go.  But, I was sidelined by a serious auto accident with permanent injuries precluding many activities.  And, subsequent but unrelated to my accident, Connorpulled both front tendons.  With his exuberant and high drive attitude with all things agility, Frisbee, and being the retrieving nut that he is, I have regrettably had to retire him.  He will be 10 this year.