Collie: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Sable rough Collie
The Collie is sweet, loyal and alert.

 Getty Images

Just like the faithful and courageous canine character Lassie, the noble Collie is intelligent, alert, and completely devoted to its family. Gentle and sweet, this majestic breed is a friend to all and is known for being an exceptional family dog.

The Collie comes in two coat varieties. The rough Collie (with a coat like Lassie) is more common and the most recognizable. The rough Collie’s double coat is its crowning glory. The outer coat consists of straight, harsh hair that forms an impressive mane and frills. The undercoat is soft and furry. The rough Collie’s face and the lower parts of the legs are smooth.

The smooth Collie has a short double coat that is about the same length all over the body. Smooth Collies are exactly the same as rough Collies in every other way except coat length, so they are a great choice for people who love the breed but aren’t up for intensive grooming regimes. 

Breed Overview

Group: Herding

Weight: 50 to 75 pounds

Height: 22 to 26 inches tall at the shoulder

Coat: Rough: The outercoat is straight, harsh, and abundant; the undercoat is soft and furry; smooth on the face and lower legs. Smooth: A short, hard, dense, flat outercoat, with an abundance of soft and furry undercoat.

Color: Sable and white, tri-color, blue merle, or white.

Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

Characteristics of the Collie

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level Medium
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark High
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Collie

Collies originated in the Highlands of Scotland, where they were largely used to herd sheep and as hardworking farm dogs. The ancestors of the Collie are thought to have come to Scotland by way of the Romans as far back as the 1st century. The Collie as we know it today, however, became standardized in the early 1800s.

This breed's popularity exploded after Queen Victoria, a steadfast dog lover, became besotted with Collies after a visit to the Scottish Highlands in the 1860s. Whatever the queen loves, the people love, too, and members of Queen Victoria’s court, as well as her British subjects, began to favor Collies as fashionable pets.                                                                                        

The Collie is instantly recognizable to almost everyone thanks to the beloved character of Lassie, faithful companion and hero dog. The Lassie enterprise began in 1940 with the first book, Lassie Come-Home, which was written by English author Eric Knight. The Lassie book series inspired films in the 1940s and a long-running television series (1954 to 1973), as well as comic books, toys, animated series, and more. Although the character of Lassie was female, a male sable and white rough Collie named Pal played the part in the first movie, Lassie Come Home(1943). 

Although Lassie was fictional, Collies do, in fact, possess many of the qualities that made her beloved by generations of dog lovers. They are intelligent, fast learners, calm yet alert to any signs of danger, and are wonderful companions for children. 

Collie and girl in the 1950s or 1960s
Collies have been beloved childhood companions for generations. Getty Images 
Tommy Rettig with Lassie and puppies
Tommy Rettig played opposite Lassie from 1954 to 1957..  Getty Images
Collies Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City in February 1957
Collies wait at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City in February 1957. Getty Images 

Collie Care

The Collie’s coat requires no trimming. Although rough Collie’s need more brushing than smooth Collies, caring for the coat is not overwhelming. Collie’s are naturally clean and have very little doggie odor.

A thorough brushing out of the rough Collie coat once a week or even every other week will keep tangles and mats from forming. Brushing the smooth Collie at least weekly is also a good idea to cut down on shedding hair, but the process will be considerably quicker for the smooth.

Both the rough Collie and smooth Collie shed. More frequent brushing can help remove hair so not as much ends up on your clothes and furniture. 

Like most herding breeds, Collies are highly intelligent and exceedingly trainable. However, the right training approach is key. Collie’s are quite sensitive so harsh training methods will backfire, causing the dog to shut down. The good news is, Collie’s innately want to please you. Positive techniques, like clicker training, using plenty of tasty treats and praise will give you the best results.

With enough daily exercise, Collies are happy to relax in the house. Provide daily walks, opportunities for off-leash running and games of fetch in the yard. They will usually also enjoy activities like hiking or dog sports too.

Rough Collie with Collie puppy
Collie puppies are quick learners.  Getty Images
Collie running with ball
Collies love to run and play, and many excel at dog sports and activities.  Getty Images
Blue merle Collie
Rough Collies should be brushed out completely every week or two. Getty Images 

Common Health Problems

Like most purebred dogs, Collies are prone to developing certain inherited health disorders. Although they are generally considered a healthy and hardy breed, certain genetic health issues that have been identified in the Collie. These include:

Tests are available for Collie eye anomaly, progressive retinal atrophy and the MDR1 gene mutation.

Diet and Nutrition

Prevent your Collie from becoming overweight by feeding measured meals (twice daily) rather than leaving food out all the time (known as free feeding).

Keeping your Collie at a healthy weight may help prevent the development of joint disorders like hip and elbow dysplasia, as well as other health problems like diabetes.

Because Collies may be prone to bloat, avoid feeding too much in one meal or allowing your Collie to eat too quickly.

Check with your breeder or veterinarian for a recommendation of a nutritious food for your Collie, as well as how much to feed.

Pros
  • Intelligent and easy to train

  • Devoted family companion

  • Good with kids and pets

Cons
  • Cannot be left alone for long periods

  • Some are problem barkers

  • Moderate amount of shedding

Where to Adopt or Buy a Collie

If you have your heart set on a Collie puppy, look for an ethical breeder. The Collie Club of America, which is the national parent club for the breed in the United States, is a good place to start.

Responsible Collie breeders mate selectively, so you will likely have to wait a bit for a puppy. If you like the idea of adopting, search out Collie-specific rescue groups or check your local animal shelter. 

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you like the Collie, you might also like these breeds: 

Otherwise, check out all of our other dog breed articles to help you find the perfect dog for you and your family.