White Collie

By Arthur

Although White Collie is closely related to Scotland’s Rough Collie (see separate entry) and was developed in the United States, its true origin was in Victorian England, where it briefly became the height of fashion. It is technically a sheepdog, but it is doubtful if it ever saw a sheep; its function was solely that of a high-status pet and a show dog.

Nobody can say how many pure white collies appeared as colour variants in the early days of working sheepdogs. When white puppies were born they were probably destroyed, because shepherds preferred dogs that offered a contrast with their white sheep. But at a later date, when the Rough Collie had become a fashionable pet and a glamorous show dog, this prejudice against white dogs was removed.

Two collie breeders by the names of J. and W. H. Charles, who had kennels at Wellesbourne in Warwickshire, in central England, presented a White Collie of their breeding to Queen Victoria and a second one to the Prince of Wales. The acceptance of these animals by royalty created an immediate craze for this type of dog, and a new strain of White Collies was soon on offer. It is believed that a little Samoyed had been used at some point to boost the whiteness of the coat, and judging by the appearance of Queen Victoria’s dog, this does seem very likely.

Traditionalists disliked the new colour form, but admitted that, since the White Collie was now being bred ‘purely for the fancy’, there was no good reason why it should not prosper. For a while it did indeed do so and, towards the end of the 19th century, various princesses were pictured with their exotic white dogs. This news filtered across the Atlantic and, before long, fashion-conscious American owners were delighting in their imported White Collies. From this point, the breed lost favour in England and soon disappeared, but in the United States it flourished. It quickly had its own breed club there, was treated as a distinct breed and was given separate classification at dog shows. There is even a portrait of a White Collie hanging in the White House in Washington.

The modern White Collie looks very much like a Rough Collie, having a longer, more pointed muzzle than Queen Victoria’s original dog. It is seldom totally white, usually having darker marks in the head region and sometimes on the tail.

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