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Norwich Bulletin - 5/22/2005

Lassie

My favorite television character growing up was definitely Lassie, that perfect, smart, loyal and beautiful Collie that was always there in the nick of time to protect Timmy or, maybe more importantly, the herd. Although I have never owned a Collie (its all that hair that put me off), I have always admired and appreciated their good looks and intelligence.

For centuries the collies have worked as herders and drovers of Sheep in their native Scotland and Northern England. The breed is rarely aggressive by nature and bonds closely to its people. The breed is excellent in judging character and situations and is often classified as a thinking dog - a dog that can figure out what has to be done to protect its own and then works out how to do it.

The word "coll" is an Anglo-Saxon word that means black, which was one of the main colors that Collies came in the beginning (black and white). There are two types of Collies - the rough coated (Lassie) type, which specialized in herding and the larger, smooth (short coated) type, which worked as drovers and performed water rescues. Around 1867 the Sable color was introduced and shortly after that, Queen Victoria became entranced with the breed, which made them quickly fashionable with the aristocracy and upper class.

The Collie was first shown in America in 1877 and their popularity started rising even back then. With almost human traits, they are super loving dogs and even though they are all not Lassie, they certainly have the potential to be. All they need is the training as they are natural protectors of their herds and their humans. If you can get through the grooming of the longer haired version of the dog, Collies make great family pets. In general they are very easy to train as they are eager to please - in fact, many collie owners boast that after three months of age, it takes only a couple of weeks to housebreak your Collie pup! Now, that's my kind of dog.

Of course, you need to remember, that the Collie is a herding dog and they will consider their children part of their flock. They are great babysitters, always watching and alert to make sure the children do not get hurt. They are also great with other animals, although I would suspect cats would probably not appreciate being "herded" together as various times of the day because the dog needed to count that they were all still in the house!

While the rough Collie has traditionally been the Collie of choice, smooth Collies are gaining in popularity in recent years because of the amount of grooming that is necessary in the longer haired variety. You need to be willing to brush out ears, armpits, and the backs of legs each night and a very thorough all around grooming at least once a week, in order to keep your smooth Collie looking sharp. On the other hand, you just need to do a regular brushing with the shorter coats and it is certainly less time consuming.

As great as Collies are as family dogs, you need to be prepared to have a dog who wants to be a working part of the family and will not sit quietly in a corner. Also, the breed tends to have a high, shrill bark that is necessary while herding sheep, but not always welcome in a home type setting. They are definitely a breed that will bark to warn their humans as to possible danger, but what is perceived as danger to your dog, may just be the garbage truck going down the street.

Collies need stimulation - they thrive on obedience competitions, agility workouts, herding trials and therapy work. They need to be needed and you must be willing to spend the time it takes to allow your pet to be everything it can be.

As with every breed, there are specific health problems that should be discussed with the breeder or the rescue organization - Collie Eye Anomaly, retinal atrophy, autoimmune disorders, thyroid problems and, bloat, are all sensitivities that need to be questioned when you go to see a collie pup. These are all good reasons not to buy a puppy from a pet store. Please log onto www.collieclubofamerica.com for more on this breed. This site also has information on rescues.

Through the years the Collie has definitely earned the title, Man's best friend. It is a remarkable breed for the right people.

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