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 the collie at the early part of this century, the Rev. W. Bingley, in his "British Quadrupeds," gives us an animal almost identical in type with what we have now. The illustration in the "Sportsman's Cabinet' is an excellent specimen of the old English sheep dog, rough and hard in coat, tail "semi-bob," or maybe it has been cut, and with light-coloured eyes, that the artist, Reinagle, may have intended to represent "wall' or "china" eyes, a feature often found in this strain of dog, and one that is not supposed to be any detriment to him on the show bench.
There is no doubt that our collie or sheep dog is one of the most useful of the canine race, and within the last quarter of a century, he has likewise been made ornamental. The farmer and agriculturist can keep him without paying a licence to the State, as is the case with most other dogs, but care ought to be taken that the "unlicensed" sheep dog does not kill a rabbit or a hare, or assist his owner at a day's ferreting, else he at once becomes less distinctive, and, according to the working of the law, seven shillings and sixpence ought to be paid for the honour and pleasure of keeping him.
Although now as much a fancy dog as a worker, and the two qualifications have not yet been combined to any great extent, the collie is still numerous in the north of England and Wales, where the sheep are small, wild, and active, and the shepherd seldom leaves home without his dog or dogs at his heels. There is a story told of a tourist making inquiry as to the number of persons who attended the little church in one of the mountainous portions of the Cumberland lake district. "Why," was the reply, "t' last Sunday thar war ten cur dogs liggin' in 't porch an' the churchyard," the inference to be deduced from the answer being that there were ten worshippers on the day in question, as each would be attended by his sheep dog - " cur," as he is usually locally known.
Such continued association between man and dog naturally tends to increase the sagacity and good sense of the latter, and so the shepherd's dog comes to be the most sensible of all dogs, but the animal kept for exhibition in this respect does not, as a rule, approach his working cousins. Stories of the former could be mentioned without number.
There is that of the Cumberland sheep-stealer hanged at Carlisle. Accompanied by a sheep dog, he, in the daytime, frequented certain farms. Selecting sheep here and there, he pointed such out to his dog. At night the two went near the places, the dog was sent into the fields and drove out the sheep already chosen, which his dishonest master converted into mutton and then disposed of. Dogs have been known to drive sheep for many miles by themselves, and to distinguish between those that belonged to their master's flock and those of a neighbour's. The homing instinct is strong in the collie. A farmer friend of mine says a collie that belonged to him found its way from Norfolk back into Scotland.
Hutchinson, in his "Dog Breaking," gives the following, which may be taken as being reliable as the names of the parties are given: "The late Mr. John Bowstead, of Beck Bank, near Penrith, was in the habit of going every year into the Highlands of Scotland to purchase sheep, and in due course a man named James Johnston, who acted as shepherd for Mr. Boustead, was despatched to bring the sheep home. Many years ago, before railways became general, the sheep had to travel the greater part, if not the whole, of the way on foot, from two to three weeks being occupied on the journey, so that it was quite necessary for the shepherd to be provided with a good collie dog. On one of these occasions old Jimmy Johnston set off accompanied by his dog Yarrow, but whilst gathering up his sheep amongst the hills of Sutherland or Caithness, the two northernmost counties of Scotland, by some means or other he had the misfortune to lose his dog, and never saw him again during the rest of the journey. Some little time afterwards, however, while Mr. Bow-stead's eldest son was standing by the kitchen fire, 'Yarrow' suddenly came running into the house, and wagging his tail jumped up at him, evidently delighted at having reached home again, young Mr. Bowstead being equally pleased to see the lost dog once more, as it was a great favourite with him".
As to the sagacity of the show collie, Mr. Rum-ball, of Birmingham, a well-known admirer of the breed, had a good-looking specimen that could play cards with considerable success. The common game of "Nap" was the one at which the dog excelled, and, indeed, he became so proficient as to be able to hold his own with anyone whom his owner challenged. I believe he played the game best when under the orders of Mr. F. Hinks, the well-known breeder of bull terriers, the sign by which it knew what cards to take, being a slight and almost imperceptible snap of the fingers. This dog, after being tried by a would-be purchaser, was sold to him for £25, on account of these accomplishments at cards.
There was a troupe of remarkably clever performing collies at the Westminster Aquarium, London, towards the close of 1893. These were all handsome sable and white dogs, doubtless bred from bench winners. After, going through various leaping feats, walking whilst erect on their hind legs, on rolling barrels, skipping, etc, one of them pushed on to the stage a fire escape. This was placed against the wall of a house supposed to be on fire. A child in its night-dress rushed out of the window and down the escape; the dog then ascended the ladder, went in at the window, and shortly re-appeared with a dummy baby in its mouth, with which it descended and placed in safety. The dog fell over on its side, evidently dead either through the smoke and fire or of its exertions. It was then placed on a stretcher, and eventually two other collies came on to the scene pushing an ambulance in front of them. The "fireman's' dead dog was placed thereon, and, to the tune of the "Dead March" from the orchestra, the curtain fell as the ambulance was being wheeled off the stage. The trainer of the dogs, "Professor' Duncan, had done his work well, and, throughout, the performance was one of the best of its kind I ever saw.