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What was the relationship
between the Bearded
The South Russian Owtchar, and the Old English Sheepdog?
The Beardie and the Old English Sheepdog have several things in
common: both were identified by some authors as: being
sheepdogs; being used as droving dogs on cattle; having shaggy
coats; or that their breed appeared in Gainsborough's 1770
painting of the 3rd Duke of Buccleuch (John Dixon did a
mezzotint of the original painting in 1771).
What about those who said the Old English Sheepdog came from
the Bearded Collie being crossed with the Owtchar (also known as
the Russian Owtchar, the South Russian Ovtcharka, etc.)?
Rawdon Lee mentioned the Bearded in the Old English
"'Bob-tailed' Sheep Dog" section in History and Description
of The Collie or Sheep Dog in His British Varieties. London:
Horace Cox (1890). Arthur Wardle was the illustrator for this
book. Lee wrote:
"Then, running away northwards, Scotland has laid-claim
to their original possession, and in some districts the
strain survives in the "bearded sheep dog," which, however,
has not a 'bob-tail.' Classes for this variety are
occasionally met with at the local shows. I believe that the
old English sheep dog was at one time pretty equally
distributed through various parts of the kingdom, and of
late years has been most numerous in those localities where
a dog of his description was required. "
Four years later, Lee wrote A History and Description of
the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland (Non-Sporting
Division) (1894). Illustrations in that book were produced
by Arthur Wardle and R. H. Moore. Mr. Lee put forth the
following words in the section entitled "The Old English
"Of late years there has been a strong attempt to re-popularise
this quaint and representative creature, a dog that always
reminds me of one of our shaggy ancient British forefathers
we see in picture books. The collie clubs have not
acknowledged him as one of their race at all, so it has the
honour of having a club of its own formed by some few
admirers of the variety who believe there is no other dog in
existence with even half the good qualities possessed by
their special fancy.
A useful creature in his way, with a certain amount of
rugged, unpolished beauty, his disposition is often surly,
he frequently prefers a fight to his ordinary agricultural
duties, and although a faithful enough companion to his
master, is likely to be ill-tempered with strangers, and
will not stand quietly and be rebuked by others.
Possibly he is an older dog than the ordinary collie,
nor has modern fashion yet changed him so much as it has
other dogs. Reinagle's picture in the 'Sportsman's Cabinet,'
published very early in the present century, is a capital
example of what the dog is to-day, and such a one as there
pourtrayed, would now, if alive and in the flesh, take the
highest honour at any of our leading shows.
In Scotland there is an old-fashioned sheep dog of the
same sort called the 'Highland or Bearded Collie,' and
although he is by no means common, classes are sometimes
provided for him at local shows, and they usually attract a
considerable entry. I certainly agree with the author of the
'Dogs of Scotland,' when he says that the two varieties as
found in Scotland and England are identical, and if the
former is usually seen with a long tail, it is only because
his owners have refused to amputate it in order that it
might have a so-called 'bob-tail.'"
Mr. Lee was referring to D. J. Thomson Gray, author of
Dogs of Scotland. Mr. Lee included in his 1894 book, as an
example of a proper coat for the OES, an engraving of Sir
Cavendish by artist Arthur Wardle (1864-1949). There are other
drawings of Sir Cavendish seen in several other publications.
Prior to Lee's 1890 book, Hugh Dalziel, in 1879, wrote a
book entitled British Dogs: Their Varieties, History,
Characteristics, Breeding, Management, and Exhibition.
Dalziel acknowledged that several writers assisted in compiling
the book. This book was later published in three volumes between
1888 and 1897. According to Col. David Hancock, Volume 3 was
edited (1896 edition) by W. D. Drury, and this volume contained
contributions from other individuals; Dalziel had been solely
responsible for the chapters up to, and including, Chapter XXI.
In 1903, Drury, with collaborators, authored another
British Dogs' book (entitled British Dogs: Their Points, Selection, and
Show Preparaton, London: L. Upcott Gill (1903) where Drury
acted more as an editor of Dalziel's earlier books. Why this
book was published as a "Third Edition" is unknown; likely it
was to acknowledge that it was a continuation of Dalziel's
At the beginning of this third edition, Drury stated: "With
the Collaboration of the following Specialists" regarding
certain listed breeds. But, the Old English Sheepdog was not one
of the breeds listed, and therefore, it can be assumed the
following text on page 163 was Drury's own words; they could not
have been Dalziel's words since he had already passed away.
"The Old English Sheepdog, as now recognised, is of a
pronounced type, differing considerably from other breeds;
the nearest in general appearance to him among our show dogs
is the Bearded Collie, illustrated elsewhere, and thought by
some to be identical with the variety now under
Herbert Compton authored The Twentieth Century Dog
(Non-Sporting), Vol. I, London: Grant Richards published in
1904. However, he also included the fact that he "relied upon
contributions of over five hundred experts." In a chapter
written about the "Old English Sheep-dog," he included a
paragraph from a translation by a poet named Barnabe Googe
(1540-1594). Googe translated Conrad Heresbach's Foure Bookes
of Husbandrie published in 1586. Heresbach lived from
1496-1576, but his book was first published in 1577.
Compton, on page 228, wrote that Googe's translation "gives
the following description of an 'ideal' old English sheep-dog of
that period." Compton was trying to make a connection between a
known breed (OES) from his era (early 1900s) to a canine from
the mid-to-late 1500s.
The reader can decide whether the words quoted from the
translation of more than 300 years prior would relate to any
early 20th century breed of shepherd's dog:
The shepherd's masty, that is for the folde, must neither
be so gaunt nor so swifte as the greyhound, nor so fatte nor
so heavy as the masty of the house; but verie strong, and
able to fights and follow the chase, that he may beat away
the woolfe or other beasts, and to follow the theefe, and to
recover the prey. And therefore his body should be rather
long than short and thick; in all other points he must agree
with the ban-dog. His head must be great and smooth and full
of veins; his ears great and hanging; his joints long; his
fore legs shorter than his hinder; but verie straight and
great. His claws wide, his nails hard, his heel neither
flesy nor too hard; the ridge of his back not too much
appearing, not crooked; his ribs round and well-knitte; his
shoulder points well distant; his buttocks fatte and broad.
Compton went on to comment:
"From this we may incidentally learn how our ancestors
bred their dogs for particular tasks, and understand how,
now that some of those tasks are no longer required or
possible, certain points no longer exist which were
requisite for their performance."
It is a well-established fact that Aubrey Hopwood, wrote the
first comprehensive book about the Old English Sheepdog entitled
The Old English Sheepdog
published in 1905. The book was 106 pages, and it is very
difficult to find though it may be found as an ebook on the
“At one time or another he has been claimed as the
special property of various districts, some asserting that
he was originally of Welsh extraction, others maintaining
that he hails from Suffolk, Hants, and Dorsetshire, and
others, again, that he is a descendant of the bearded collie
of Scotland. I think there can be little doubt that this
latter animal is identical with our own, and that the two
varieties trace their ancestry to a common origin. Indeed,
the only noticeable difference is in the tail, which the
bearded collie possesses and the Old English Sheep Dog does
not; and this is, generally a mere matter of amputation.”
Hopwood also wrote the Old English section for Robert
The New Book of the Dog, etc. which was published in
Hopwood's words were repeated again in Leighton's
Dogs and All About Them (1910) exactly as they appeared
in Leighton's 1907 book.
"The dog was well known in Scotland, too, under the
title of the Bearded Collie, for there is little doubt that
this last is merely a variant of the breed. He differs, in
point of fact, chiefly by reason of possessing a tail, the
amputation of which is a recognised custom in England."
J. Russell Greig authored an article in January 1913 for the Collie Folio. It was entitled "The Bearded Collie."
A portion of the
article has been retyped below:
"Dr. Johannes Caius, writing in the sixteenth century, minutely
describes the work of the Sheepdog, but unfortunately omits to give
any more than a very vague description of the dog itself. One has
frequently heard it supposed that the bearded Collie is of
comparatively recent origin, and indeed so great an authority as
Hugh Dalziel suggested that he was a cross between the Collie and
the Old English Sheepdog. Still there are many others who believed
the Bearded Collie to be one of the most ancient breeds in these
Islands, a contention which it is the author's purpose to forward.
There are two lines of evidence which support this claim
— one is furnished by the dog's natural history, the
other by his racial history.
Take them in turn. It is one of the most salient characteristics
of the dog that he breeds 'true to type'; no matter what crosses are
introduced; the typical 'Beardie' characters are predominant, and
are indelibly stamped upon the offspring. This is surely not what
one would expect in a recent, adventitiously manufactured breed
— the result of a first cross; —
and one would instance it as a proof of his antiquity and
concentration of strain.
As has been stated above, the Bobtail is by some regarded as a
possible progenitor of the 'Beardie'.
One is firmly convinced, however, that the relationship which
exists between the two breeds could be better likened to that of
cousins — i.e. they are both descendants from a
The likeness between the two breeds is remarkable, but it is
still more remarkable when one compares the working English Sheepdog
and the 'Beardie', for we must remember that the former has been
much improved since the formation of the Old English Sheepdog Club.
The author has in his possession a sketch made about twenty
years ago of Mr. Weager's Grizzle Bob and Dairy Maid
— Bobtails, which, although considered among the best
specimens of their time, bear a strong resemblance to the 'Beardie'
rather than to their successors on the show bench today.
The most noticeable difference between the two breeds is, of
course, the absence in the Bobtail of a caudal appendage. We know,
however, that this is not an infallible characteristic of the breed,
and that many a Sheepdog puppy acquires his 'bob' by means of the
Philip Reinagle's historic picture of "The Sheepdog', one of a
series of paintings, which was reproduced in the Sportsman's Cabinet
(1804) is of peculiar interest in this respect. Here we have a
presumably typical Old English Sheepdog with quite a respectable
tail, which, if shown to a Scottish shepherd today, would be
pronounced a Bearded Collie. further, in the text we are told that
'the breed is propagated and preserved with the greatest respect to
purity in the northern parts of the kingdom as well as in the
highlands of Scotland.'
Gordon James Phillips, of Glenlivet, in a letter which appeared
in the 'Live Stock Journal' for 15 November 1878, speaks of a strain
of the Bearded Collie with a tail which he describes as 'simply a
stump, generally from six to nine inches in length'. Whether this
was a true 'Beardie' indigenous to the district, or merely the
imported English bobtail, one is unable to learn.
When discussing the origin of the Collie, Dalziel remarked: 'I
think it is not improbable that the Scotch Collie may in part be
derived from the English form of Sheepdog and the Scotch Greyhound.'
But in consideration of the undoubted antiquity of the Bearded
Collie one is led to agree with Gray, and consider it just as
probable that the Scotch Collie may be derived in part from the
Scotch form of Sheepdog and the Scotch Greyhound."
Leighton's book, The Complete Book of the Dog, (1922)
may have been his own words as opposed to Hopwood's writings.
"It is not easy to determine the origin of the Old
English Sheepdog. The breed is not quite so ancient as its
name would seem to suggest. He has many points in common
with the Russian Owtchar, the largest of the European
shepherd dogs which used often to be brought to England in
the Baltic trading ships. There is the same square build of
figure, the same character of head, and the same deep, crisp
coat which under neglect hangs down in ragged ropes. In
general shape, too, he is not unlike the French sheepdog of
La Brie. The Club's description would seem to suggest that
the Poodle and the Deerhound had some share in his
composition. But whatever he came from, our English bob-tail
was established about a hundred years ago, and was
represented in the Southern Counties, notably Dorsetshire,
Hampshire and Wiltshire, as well as Essex, Suffolk, and
Wales. A variant of the breed is known in Scotland, too, as
the Bearded Collie, who differs chiefly by reason that his
coat is less woolly and that he is in possession of a tail,
the amputation of which, in the Southern variety, is a
recognized custom in England."
Edward Ash, recognized as one of the greatest authorities on dogs and
their history, authored Dogs: Their History and Development
(1927). In his chapter on "Sheep-Dogs," he wrote:
“To-day the sheep-dogs of the British Islands are of two
distinct types—on the one hand we have the bearded collie
and the old English sheep-dog, broad-headed, shaggy haired;
on the other, the collie and the Shetland sheep-dog, a ‘wolf
type’ comparatively narrow headed with a long and narrow
muzzle. It does not seem probable that these two types
are in any way related and though crosses may have taken
place, they have been eliminated by a return to the same
The bearded collie type is represented today on the
bench by the Old English sheep-dog—which, in the hands of
the fancier, has developed into a broad, stocky, and
remarkable massive dog.
The origin of this breed is probably identical with that
of the Russian Owtchar or Russian sheep-dog, closely related
to the bearded collie. The peculiar ‘habit’ of being born
with a short tail suggests relationship also to the cur-dog
of Bewick and Edwards, then known to be often born in the
It is difficult to say if the bearded collie was in the
distant past indigenous to Scotland, or whether at some
early age those heavily-built matted-haired dogs evolved in
some northern area of Europe and spread to Scotland.
Early writers on Scotland, Hector Boece and others, do
not suggest its existence. It is possible that they were
bred in Scotland during the eighteenth century from the
cur-dog, and quite possibly from the shepherd’s Mastie
described by Googe. The so-called Russian pointer of Edwards
or the water-dog of Taplin may have one and all lent their
In Ash's 1931 book, The Practical Dog Book, he
included as Part of Plate 39, an image taken from an engraving;
he described it in the plate listings as The Russian Owtchar.
The image seems to reflect a shortened tail. A viewer can see
how similar these breeds once were.
Look at the similarities between the outline of the dog
above when compared to the Arthur Wardle drawing of a Scottish
Bearded Collie below. This image appeared in Theo Marples book
Show Dogs c. 1914.
The above image of the Scottish Bearded Collie is also used
below as a comparison against another Wardle image of an Old English Sheepdog's tail. A viewer can see how similar these breeds
"The Scottish Bearded Collie or Sheepdog resembles the
Old English Sheepdog in the shagginess of his coat, in ears
and head, but he is a somewhat smaller dog, more snipy in
muzzle, and has the suggestion of a 'Billygoat' beard under
his jaw, with, of course, the difference that his caudal
appendage is not removed as in the case of his English
Another image of a Russian Owtchar appeared on a cigarette
card and in this image, the tail is quite apparent. Again, the
viewer can see the similarities between this breed and the
It is interesting that one book of 1930 entitled History
and Origin of All Recognized Breeds of Dogs described the
OES as follows:
"Old English Sheepdogs—Evolved from old utility dog
called the Smithfield. Exceedingly heavy coat. Amazing
intelligence and adaptable. Ideal companion and guardian of
property, and used extensively as shepherd in Canada."
Ash wrote in his 1931 book, page 163 for the chapter
entitled "Collies, Shetland Sheep-dog, Old English Sheep-dog,
Lhassa Terrier," the following:
"The Russian dog, the Owtchar, is also a Sheep-dog. A
strongly-built dog, massive and big of bone. The Russian
Pointer, which was tried in Scotland and elsewhere was also
somewhat of the type of the Old English Sheep-dog. As both
the Owtchar and Russian Pointer were introduced into this
country, it would be idle to guess how the Old English
Sheep-dog type was produced, but we may well imagine from
what evidence we have, and the illustrations of dogs of a
comparatively few years ago, that the breed is closely
related to, if it is not entirely descended from the bearded
Collie, which is yet common in northern areas of this
That the breed should have a short tail is said to have
originated from regulations on the taxing of Sheep-dogs;
that Sheep-dogs were free from a tax and that Government
officials considered a Sheep-dog a tailless dog, a matter
which is open to serious doubt. The taxation of dogs
first started in 1796."
He went on to say that:
"It was some time before the dog was sufficiently
developed to take it any distance apart from its ancestor,
the bearded Sheep-dog.”
Count Henri de Bylandt (1860-1943) wrote a book entitled
Les Races de Chiens, published in 1897. In his 1904 edition,
Bylandt included two photographs of Panmure Gordon's Beardies.
Of course, he also had numerous photographs of the Old English