Old Shep and His Origins

Excerpt from A Lifetime with the Working Collie
by Arthur Allen, published 1979

“Most older people who grew up on a farm have wonderful memories of an old Collie dog called “Shep”. He had an uncanny, inborn ability to handle sheep and cattle. Shep was a broad-headed, short nosed dog with a sharp eye, a keen ear, and a shaggy black coat which was touched here and there with a bit of white and tan.

Shep was capable and accomplished, a constant companion and dependable friend, a guardian with a deep sense of propriety; he performed all of the livestock chores faithfully. It didn’t make any difference to Shep whether he was asked to fetch the cows, herd the sheep, bring up the horses, put the old sow back under the fence, or simply chase the chickens out of the yard or garden. He seemed to understand everything he was told to do; and he did his work with the zest of a trouper playing before a packed house.

Somehow, about 3/4 a century ago (1900), the old Sheps seemed to disappear. People say that through careless breeding the old dog and his talents were dissipated and lost. As young folks listen to the tales old-timer’s relate, they often make it plain, with a wink, that they think his mind has slipped a bit, that the passing of the years has created a halo for a canine creature which could never have existed.

Old Shep was real; the old-timer’s stories of his accomplishments are not dreams.

The name “Shep”, of course, identifies his clan. This name came logically by right of his relationship to one of the oldest and most illustrious family trees in dogdom; it is a password for working dogs and links him with the dogs of the shepherds of the world. “Shep” is, of course, a contraction of the term “Shepherd’s Dog”…

Shep came to us from Britain as early as 1800. This, of course, makes his arrival timed to the basis of need. The importation of the Merino, Leicester and Cotswald sheep was bringing about improvement and expansion of our own sheep industry.

In the early days Britain provided three types of working dogs for our livestock industry. One mentioned about 1844 was a large, black and tan dog with a shaggy coat and heavy build which went under the name of “English Working Colley.”

The second type was a naturally bob-tailed dog with a heavy, shaggy coat and a lumbering gait. At the time he was brought into our country he was known as the “Drover’s Dog” or the “Butcher’s Dog”. Like a Judas goat his purpose in life was to take the lambs to the slaughter.

The third type came from Scotland and was called Sheep Dog or Colley. In the 1870s, Randall, in talking of all sheep dogs, wrote under the subject “Scotch Sheep Dog or Colley”:

“The light, active, sagacious Collie admits of no superior, scarcely an equal, where it is his business merely to manage his flock and not to defend it from beast larger than himself. The sagacity of the shepherd’s dog is wonderful; and if I had not seen so much myself, I could hardly credit all we read about them.”