Posts Tagged ‘bob-tail dog’

The artist and author Vero Shaw depicted a “Scotch bob-tailed sheepdog” in his Illustrated Book of the Dog (1879). In his description of the bob-tailed, rough-coated droving dogs, he claims that the breed has nothing to do with collies, but then he goes onto confound the rough-coated droving dog with the “rough-coated” (bearded-type) collie.  This rough-coated drover, as depicted above, is what an Old English sheepdog used to look like.

This dog is likely not a Scottish sheepdog at all. The rough-coated drover’s dog was common in the Lake District and the West County of England, where the dogs used on massive stock drive to market. Droving dogs had to control large flocks and herds as they traveled down roads, which is different from the gathering dogs, which bunch stock together and then bring them to the shepherd.

Some bearded collie historians have locked onto Shaw’s depiction of the “Scotch bob-tailed shepherd” and claim that the two breeds were one and the same. This is probably incorrect. Bearded collies were gathering dogs, while the rough-coated bobtails were drovers. The Highlands of Scotland are not that close to the Lake District or the West Country, where these rough-coated drovers were developed. This dog that Shaw depicted was not likely from Scotland. It was most likely an English dog.

Often, Old English sheepdog historians have responded with the fusion of their breed with the beardie in some nineteenth century accounts that they have gone down an even more spurious route. One often runs into accounts that the Old English sheepdog is derived from the South Russian Ovtcharka or the Komondor, breeds that don’t even herd. They are livestock guardian dogs, and tend to exhibit very little predatory behavior– which is the basis of droving and gathering. These dogs bond with the sheep and guard them from predators, treating the sheep as if they were their family unit.

However, one should note that there are many active herding breeds with these shaggy coats. The Schapendoes of the Netherlands, the Schafpudel of Germany, the Briard and Picardy Shepherd of France, the Bouviers (cattle dogs) from Flanders and the Ardennes, and the various rough-coated dogs that are part of the greater German herding dog  landrace.

Even those dogs, however, do not closely resemble the bob-tail in Shaw’s depiction.

Take another look at the dog.

Imagine it without the beard.

What do you see?

I see another droving breed: the Australian shepherd.

Australian shepherds, of course, are not from Australia. They developed from several different herding breeds that were brought to the Western US in the middle of the nineteenth century. Much has been written about their relationship to Pyrenean shepherds, to German “tiger dogs,” and to a Spanish breed called a Carea Leon.

Although I would certainly not want to deny any contribution from these continental breeds, which I certainly believe is there, it is also likely that the the bob-tailed droving dog played some role in its development.

Bewick depicted a smooth-coated bobtailed droving dog in his A General History of Quadrupeds (1790).

Bewick’s description of the dog goes as follows:

Is a trusty and useful servant to the farmer and grazier; and although it is not taken notice of by naturalists as a distinct race, yet it is now so generally used, especially in the North of England, and such great attention is paid inbreeding it, that we cannot help considering it as a permanent kind. In the north of England, this and the foregoing are called Coally Dogs.

They are chiefly employed in driving cattle ; in which way they are extremely useful. They are larger, stronger, and fiercer than the Shepherd’s Dog ; and their hair is smoother and shorter. They are mostly of a black and white colour; their ears are half-pricked ; and many of them are whelped with short tails, which seem as if they had been cut : these are called Self-tailed Dogs. They bite very keenly; and as they always make their attack at the heels, the cattle have no defence against them: in this way, they are more than a match for a Bull, which they quickly compel to run. Their sagacity is uncommonly great: they know their master’s fields, and are singularly attentive to the cattle that are in them. A good Dog watches, goes his rounds, and if any strange cattle should happen to appear amongst the herd, although unbidden, he quickly flies at them, and with keen bites obliges them to depart.

Similar to the Cur, is that which is commonly used in driving cattle to the slaughter: and as these Dogs have frequently to go long journies, great strength, as well as swiftness, is required for that purpose. They are therefore generally of a mixed kind, and unite in them the several qualities of the Shepherd’s Dog, the Cur, the Mastiff, and the Greyhound. Thus, by a judicious mixture of different kinds, the services of the Dog are rendered still more various and extensive, and the great purposes of domestic utility more fully answered.

This dog strongly resembles a smooth-coated Australian shepherd, and although it was being used to herd cattle to market, it was a droving dog, just like the rough-coated dogs that were being depicted a century later. Bewick made things a little confusing when he combined this bob-tailed drover with the “coalley” dog, which were gathering dogs.

The most interesting part of Bewick’s description is the discussion of the “self-tailed” dogs.  English drovers had to dock their sheepdogs to avoid a tax– at least that is the story that has been traditionally told. Some shepherds bred for natural bob-tails in their lines, a trait that exists in both Australian shepherds and Old English sheepdogs. The gene that causes anury in the Aussie has been identified, but it has not been found in the Old English sheepdog (yet). However, the Aussie shares this bob-tailed gene with the Polish lowland sheepdog, which may be origin for the rough coat in the nineteenth century bob-tailed droving dogs.

In colonial America and in the early days of the republic, massive stock drives were commonplace. Herds of cattle and flocks of sheep were marched down country lanes from homesteads in the interior to port cities, such as Philadelphia and New York. Later, when the port of New Orleans became open, Cincinnati became a major destination for herded livestock, where they were shipped down the Ohio and then the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

It is unlikely that many of these dogs were bearded, but some could have been. However, Americans likely tried to keep their dogs clean faced, simply because they were easier to care for and did not suffer in the extreme heat.

These dogs mixed with other British herding dogs, those from Germany, and later the various Iberian herders. Out of that admixture came the Australian shepherd.

However, the bearded dogs took over the bob-tailed drover type in England in the nineteenth century. They then became a fancy show dog that was bred to be quite different the collie-ish drovers. It became a fashionable pet at several times in is history as a non-working animal, and over time, it lost any similarities it might have with its probable relative in North America.

The hint to a common origin are these nineteenth century depictions, which clearly show the bob-tailed drover to be something like a bearded Australian shepherd.

If only it could be proven that the OES and Aussie share the gene for anury, then the relationship could be confirmed– at least a little.

The reason why I say this is the Pyrenean shepherd and the Carea Leon have naturally bob-tailed individuals, but even if they do, it would still not negate the possibility or even likelihood that Australian shepherds are at least partially derived from the English bob-tailed droving dog. It merely means that the Aussie has other dogs in its gene pool besides those from the British Isles, a fact I whole-heartedly accept.

But there is no denying that Shaw’s “bob-tailed sheepdog” looks like a bearded Australian shepherd. The similarity cannot be a mere coincidence.


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