THE MODERN BEARDED COLLIE

By Denise Barley (ca. 2001)

This working title that I was given begs the question of whether there really is a "modern" as opposed to "old-fashioned" type of Beardie. Since the term "old-fashioned" does appear often in judging critiques, there must be something to be said on this issue, so let us consider the history and development of the breed.

HISTORY

This is an old British breed, a humble herder and drover only occasionally documented in past centuries. Towards the end of the nineteenth century interest in Beardies as show dogs began to grow. A Standard was published in "Dogs of Scotland" by D. J. Thomson Gray in 1891, and another more like the modern standard was written by Mrs. Hall Walker in an article that appeared in "Our Dogs" on 17th.

December 1898. The breed was first classified at the SKC show of 1897, and the President of the Club, H. Panmure Gordon, was a Beardie enthusiast who owned several. The first World War caused a hiatus in the progress of the breed, but by the end of the 20’s Beardies were once again being seen regularly in the show-ring, promoted particularly by Mrs. Cameron Miller who bred many litters of her Balmacneil line, but unfortunately parted with very few, and her line seemed to die out with her. The photo of her "Balmacneil Jock" shows a plainly-marked and very handsome dog who could fit well into the modern show-ring.

Once more the Bearded Collie faded from view, with none being registered from 1939 till 1948. There were plenty around, but they were out on the farms getting on with their work, unnoticed by all but their appreciative shepherds. The next revival of the breed, from which all the modern strains have developed, came about because in 1944 a lady called Mrs. Willison ordered a Shetland Sheepdog puppy from Scotland and got a brown Beardie by mistake. This little bitch, who was not registered with the Kennel Club until 1948, was Jeannie of Bothkennar, and the slate male who joined her, met by accident on a beach near Brighton, was registered as Bailie of Bothkennar in 1950. The blood of these two runs through all the modern registered strains, mixed with another 8 outcross foundation dogs brought in over the next 20 years.

During the 50’s Mrs. Willison’s Bothkennar breeding dominated the ring, but other breeders such as Suzanne Moorhouse (Willowmead) and Mary Partridge (Wishanger) were also becoming established, and the breed was allocated C. C.’s for the first time in 1959. During the sixties other great kennels, many of them still producing today, came into existence: Beagold, Brambledale, Broadholme, Cannamoor, Charncroft, Davealex, Edenborough, Osmart, Scapafield, Tambora, and Westernisles. Meanwhile Beardies unrelated to the show strains continued to be bred and worked on farms all over Britain, and kennels such as Bredon and Sallen have done their best to use these bloodlines and maintain the working lines. The breed is well-established all round the globe, with many breed clubs in Europe, America, Canada and Australia.

Nowadays the world of the Bearded Collie is a diverse one with many successful breeders and big turnouts at the championship shows, where Beardies are so numerous that the onlookers could be forgiven for assuming they are bred in large numbers. Thankfully, however, relatively few Beardies are produced each year and indeed during the 90’s annual registrations gradually dropped from nearly 2,000 in 1989 to 1,119 in 1998, less than half of those produced in the more established Working and Pastoral breeds. It seems that owners of Bearded Collies are nearly all convinced that our dogs are so outstanding that they just HAVE to be shown!

CHARACTERISTICS

So what IS a Bearded Collie? And is the modern Beardie essentially the same animal that appealed to Mr. Panmure Gordon, Mrs. Cameron Miller and Mrs. Willison? I would say roughly yes.

A Beardie is a medium-sized, intelligent working dog, bred to think independently, work with guts and enthusiasm (necessary attributes when dealing with hill sheep and cattle), and show stamina and fortitude in the face of physical challenges. There is an unusual degree of sweetness built into the Beardie personality too, more than one might expect in such a tough worker. The need for independent thought leads to a very "aware" and reactive temperament. Beardies notice everything, and like to make their own minds up. The conformation still has to be that of a dog who can go out and work on a hillside or cover long miles driving stock, so heartroom, balance and soundness are still of high importance.

Coats have lengthened, partly through breeding choices and partly through more careful grooming and maintenance, but the shaggy, layered coat is still the preferred type for most breeders. One does observe, however, that some judges appear to view sheer length of coat as some kind of mark of excellence, which is a dangerous trend in what should always be an active outdoor breed. There were always specimens with over-long coats, even among the foundation stock, and Scottish shepherds dealt with any problems by shearing their Beardies along with the sheep each year. Markings have assumed greater importance in recent years, in the constant pursuit of the "glamour" that exhibitors hope will mark out a winner. More disturbingly, perhaps, some finer points of type are getting harder to find – skulls are getting weaker (the correct type being broad and flat), ears longer, and barrelled ribs, upright shoulders and short bodies seem more common than they used to be. Very pale eyes, short legs and faulty mouths are remarked on in judging critiques. An unfortunate side-effect of the long coat is that judges not sufficiently familiar with the Standard easily lose sight of the correct type and body construction. However, one also notices how often all-rounder judges exclaim that they get great pleasure from judging Beardies because of the depth of quality and soundness in the breed.

As in any other breed, we can produce a variety of temperaments, some even nervous and cowardly, but the typical Beardie temperament is overpoweringly friendly, willing, forgiving and bursting with enthusiasm for every aspect of life. They are marvellously entertaining and companionable dogs, fond of human company and not normally given to aggression, although many show the herding "nip" when excited which is not the same thing. Some can be irritating barkers, since this trait was always an important part of their working style, but good management and training will usually reduce this to a minimum. In my suburban home, my seven Beardies bark a lot less than the single Golden Retriever and GSD living either side of me.

They aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and before taking one into your home you really have to ask yourself whether you can live with all the mud, moisture and undergrowth that the coat will bring in after every walk; whether you really want a dog that reacts to EVERYTHING going on around him; whether you can bear to regularly apologise to passers-by in previously smart suits who have just fought off the attentions of an ecstatically bouncing Beardie who just knew they really wanted him round their necks; whether you have the time to groom your Beardie properly; whether you are willing to spend the next 14 years being bounced at, barked at and chivvied along to get out there and enjoy life. Don’t be fooled by those calm poses, those glamorous flowing coats, those pristinely gleaming white legs that you see in all the show pictures. Ten minutes after that picture was taken, whateverbeardie you saw would have been sloshing through puddles, chasing rabbits, filling his trousers up with a million twisty bits of twig and rolling in horse manure, as mine do every day. Then he would be a REAL Beardie. If you like that idea, then welcome to our world!

I love working with Beardies, and in the past have done so in all the disciplines – Obedience, Agility, Working Trials, Mountain Rescue, Conformation – in the 1980’s I worked a dog called Bob (Quinbury Stormdrifter at Runival CDEx) in every one of these concurrently, winning Best of Breed at Crufts with him while he was also working as Mountain Rescue dog in the Scottish Highlands. I thoroughly appreciate their enthusiasm, their joie-de-vivre and their desire to communicate. As a working dog they are tremendously rewarding providing you handle them in a suitable fashion: they don’t do well with aggressive or confrontational handling, and they like to be given a good reason for everything. If you ask a Beardie nicely, he will give you the world. Several Beardies have qualified at Working Trials, some right up to WDEx and TDEx, and although we have only one Obedience Champion in the breed (Jeni Wiggins’ Ob. Ch. Scapa, who gained her title in 1969), more recently John Taylor has won two Obedience tickets with Pipadene Keepsake. Many Beardies compete in Agility and there are still plenty of Beardies out working on the farms as they have always done, including many from modern show lines. In America, competitive herding is a popular activity for Beardie owners, but in Britain there are few opportunities to let the dogs express their natural instincts.

BEARDIES IN THE SHOW RING

The modern show Beardie is a very attractive exhibit, often selected by Group judges for his sound, reachy movement and glorious coat. In 1999, 6 different beardies won the Pastoral Group at championship shows: Ch. Potterdale Prophet, Ch. Chanderly Magic Sensation for Razkal, Ch. Moonhill Does It In Style, Ch. Coalacre Lampoon, Ch. Otterswish Bernadette and Otterswish O’Connor.</p><p> </p><p>The pre-eminent kennel over the last 20 years has been the Potterdale line of Mike and Janet Lewis, who have bred 26 UK champions and numerous more overseas ones. Their line, begun in the mid 70’s, drew on the blood of Wishanger, Osmart, Davealex and Willowmead, via Blumberg, Pepperland, Tamevalley and Orora. From three outstanding Beardies that they bought in – Ch. Pepperland Lyric John at Potterdale, Ch. Blumberg Hadriana at Potterdale and Ch. Tamevalley Easter Song of Potterdale with judicious outcrosses, notably to Ch. Orora’s Frank, they created a new classic blend that still produces consistent winners. Ten of those twenty-six champions were sold outright, and one, Ch. Potterdale Classic of Moonhill (Frank x Easter Song) took her owner Brenda White to the dizzy heights of Best in Show at Crufts in 1989. Their Ch. Potterdale Prophet, the Top Dog all-breeds in the UK in 2000, has amassed at the championship shows 39 C. C.’s, numerous Group 1’s, all-breed Best in Shows and RBIS. He is now the second-highest winning Beardie of all time after Ch. Potterdale Privilege (43 C. C.’s).

The list of modern kennels producing good, sound and typey Beardies is so large that I fear to try to name them all in case I miss any out. My own award for Long Service and Good Conduct in the breed would have to go to Suzanne Moorhouse, who started winning C. C.’s with her Willowmead Beardies back in 1959, and 41 years and 16 UK champions later is still out there, still campaigning, still winning!

Have these dogs come a long way from the Beardies of old? A painting by Philip Reinagle, published in the "Sportman’s Cabinet" of 1804, shows a rangy brown Beardie of a type still produced by some kennels today. The 1937 illustrations by K. F. Barker for the book "Owd Bob" show a Beardie which would certainly not be out of place in today’s showring, so long as he had the chance to grow the hair on his undersides – the length of coat round his shoulders and his big white colour suggest a classic modern show type. The Beardies I worked as Mountain rescue dogs were from modern show lines, and a pup I bred from two Potterdale champions is a much valued (and loved) stock worker at a farm near here. A Beardie’s still a Beardie, for a’ that…….