This section is from the book "A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland. (Non-Sporting Division)", by Rawdon Briggs Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland, Non-Sporting Division.
Of late years there has been a strong attempt to re-popularise this quaint and representative creature, a dog that always reminds me of one of our shaggy ancient British forefathers we see in picture books. The collie clubs have not acknowledged him as one of their race at all, so it has the honour of having a club of its own formed by some few admirers of the variety who believe there is no other dog in existence with even half the good qualities possessed by their special fancy.
A useful creature in his way, with a certain amount of rugged, unpolished beauty, his disposition is often surly, he frequently prefers a fight to his ordinary agricultural duties, and although a faithful enough companion to his master, is likely to be ill-tempered with strangers, and will not stand quietly and be rebuked by others.
Possibly he is an older dog than the ordinary collie, nor has modern fashion as yet changed him so much as it has other dogs. Reinagle's picture in the "Sportsman's Cabinet," published very early in the present century, is a capital example of what the dog is to-day, and such a one as there pourtrayed, would now, if alive and in the flesh, take the highest honour at any of our leading shows.
In Scotland there is an old-fashioned sheep dog of the same sort called the "Highland or Bearded Collie," and although he is by no means common, classes are sometimes provided for him at local shows, and they usually attract a considerable entry. I certainly agree with the author of the "Dogs of Scotland," when he says that the two varieties as found in Scotland and England are identical, and if the former is usually seen with a long tail, it is only because his owners have refused to amputate it in order that it might have a so-called "bob-tail".
It has been said that the variety of old English sheep dog was originally of Welsh extraction. The indigenous Welsh dog is a little smooth-coated, mirled or tortoiseshell - coloured, wall-eyed creature, smart and active for the work on the Welsh hills, where the heavy, cumbersome "bobtail" would be out of place. As proof of the alleged Welsh origin of the bob-tail, it has been adduced that Mr. R. J. Lloyd Price, at Rhiwlas, Bala, has had a strain on his estates for some generations.
So he had, but unfortunately for the argument of those who say the true Bob-tail is Welsh bred, such dogs were originally brought from the Southdowns, in Sussex, by Mr. Edward Lloyd, grandfather to the present Rhiwlas squire.
As a fact, the old English sheep dog is pretty common in almost every county in England, but is most often found as the dog of the farm in the midland and southern counties, and as assistant to the drover in the metropolitan and other cattle markets of our large centres. He is an excellent cow dog - not so good for sheep, and were the latter to turn and face him and stamp their little feet in anger at his shaggy face, as the Welsh and Scotch sheep often will do, quite as likely as not the "bob-tail" would use his teeth on the foolish creatures. In no degree has he the patience of the true collie, an attribute in which the latter excels above all others of the canine race.
One of the peculiarities of these dogs is that many of them are bred either without tails at all or with very short tails - tails ready docked in order to spare the mutilating process which their owners would have to undergo. It has been considered that these puppies born without tails are the purest bred, but this is another fallacy, for both "tails" and "no tails" are usually produced in the same litter of puppies. Then other admirers of the race say that they can tell a natural bob-tailed dog from one that has been "curtailed" by the manner in which the former "wags his hind-quarters" when pleased. He has no tail to wag, so he wags his buttocks say they. There is no doubt that the tails can now be so docked that not even the most skilful practitioner could, from outward examination, discover that such an operation has been performed.
Dr. Edwardes-Ker, of Woodbridge, Suffolk, is the great authority on the variety, he having bred and kept it for over twenty-five years, and at the same time made himself thoroughly acquainted with all the specimens to be found in his locality which, with portions of Dorchester, perhaps produces more old English sheep dogs than any other part of the kingdom. His opinion on experience as follows will no doubt be valued. He believes that "Many hundred years ago, when our island was principally primeval forest, with but few clearings, it must necessarily have been infested with wolves, bears, and the lesser British carnivorae, and to protect the flocks and herds it must have been requisite to have a large and powerful dog, able to cope with such formidable and destructive foes, able to undergo any amount of fatigue, and with a jacket to withstand all vicissitudes of weather, for his avocation was an everyday one; day and night, and in all weathers, was he watching and battling with heat and storm and marauding foes. What other dog but the old English sheep-dog possesses attributes necessary for the multifarious duties urged upon such a business?
"There we find the sagacity, the activity, the enduring strength, the dauntless courage, and the weatherproof jacket combined to such a degree in no other British dog. His origin is lost in the dim obscurity of buried centuries. To my mind his antiquity and concentration of purity of strain are fully shown in the fact, that if there be a strain of old English sheep-dog blood many generations back in any breed of dog, a typical specimen will every now and again show itself in the litter produced by utterly dissimilar breeds, no matter whether it be a retriever, lurcher, spaniel, or cur of low degree. Apparently not one drop of sheepdog blood for generations, and yet there is the unmistakable youngster - sometimes tailless, more often with a three-inch stump - brought into the world jet-black, with his characteristic white markings, and in a few weeks, chameleon-like, he gradually assumes the silvery-lilac livery of his ancient British ancestors, and makes his bow to the public as a pigeon-blue and white English sheep-dog, 'breeder and pedigree unknown.'