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Breed Priorities – The Bearded Collie

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330 – November/December, 2014

By Nikki Riggsbee


The Bearded Collie is a member of the growing and diverse herding group that includes dogs of many sizes, shapes, coats, and colors depending on where they were developed and the type of herding job they were bred for. The Beardie hales from Scotland and was known earlier by other names, such as the Highland Collie. Its background includes other European working breeds such as Polish Sheepdogs and Komondor.

In anticipating a breed priorities survey on the Bearded Collie, I was concerned about producing the outlines because of the coat. The coat lies fairly flat, however, so that topline, neck, portions of the head, and overall proportions can be seen. On a suggestion, I added a hint of the front of the rear leg and the stifle.

Nonetheless, the most problems that the breed experts had with the survey were with the outlines. Some were concerned about placing the dogs based only on what they could see. While one cannot see enough to fully evaluate the dogs, one can get an impression of which outlines are more correct than others. Other participants didn’t like the quality of the dogs represented by the outlines.

AKC Bearded Collie breeder-judges plus the parent club approved mentors were invited to take the breed priority survey. Forty-four experts were contacted, and twenty-six agreed to participate, evenly split between the judges and the mentors. By the deadline, seventeen completed surveys were returned.

The Beardie experts had been in the breed for over thirty-five years on average. Those who judge averaged nearly nineteen years doing so. Most of the judges have officiated at their national specialty and have judged other Beardie specialties as well.

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The experts ranked a list of desirable features from the breed standard, from most important to least important. Below is the result, in sequence, by the average of the rankings.

1. Balance of good reach in forequarters with strong drive in hindquarters

2. Back level

3. Approximate ratio of 5 to 4 (length to height)

4. Length of the back from the length of ribcage, not the loin

5. Medium-sized

6. Body long and lean

7. Strength and agility

8. Shoulder blade approximates right angle (with upper arm)

9. Bright inquiring expression

10. Chest deep, reaching at least to elbows

11. Muscular thighs with well-bent stifles

12. Muzzle strong, full, equal in length to distance between stop and occiput

13. Double coat with undercoat soft, furry, close; outer coat flat, harsh, strong

14. Medium-length coat follows the natural lines of the body, allows plenty of daylight under the body

15. Tail set low

16. The typical beard

The greatest agreement was the placing of “The typical beard” last. Next, with more than three-quarters concurring, had “Tail set low” next to last. Seventy-percent thought similarly about “Balance of good reach in forequarters with strong drive in hindquarters” (1st) and “Medium-length coat follows the natural lines of the body, allows plenty of daylight under the body” (13th).

Nearly as many agreed on “Double coat with undercoat soft, furry, close; outer coat flat, harsh, strong” (13th) followed by “Chest deep, reaching at least to elbows” (10th). Three other virtues had majorities concur: “Back level” (2nd), “Shoulder blade approximates right angle (with upper arm)” (8th), and “Muzzle strong, full, equal in length to distance between stop and occiput” (12th).

Most of the other items had a strong plurality (eight of the seventeen), except for “Bright inquiring expression” (9th). “Expression” was placed all over, although nearly a third put it in the top quartile.

Many features without majority agreement were bi-polar, with about eight having one opinion, but another good-sized group having a definite other one. Those with the biggest “rump” groups were “Length of the back from the length of ribcage, not the loin” (4th) and “Strength and agility” (7th). “Medium-sized” (5th) had three clustered opinions, the biggest plurality on the top quartile, a smaller group just above midpoint, and the rest on the bottom.

It was interesting that of the nine virtues with a majority, six were among the seven characteristics with the lowest average ranks.

“Balance of reach and drive” (1st) was almost two-and-a-half points above second place, emphasizing its importance. “Approximate ratio of 5 to 4 (length to height)” (3rd) and “Length of the back from the length of ribcage, not the loin” (4th) were less than a tenth of a point apart.


The experts also prioritized a list of faults, directly or derived from the standard. Below is that list, ranked from the most serious fault to the least serious.

1. Aggression

2. Shyness

3. Flat or steep croup

4. Length of back from length of loin

5. Snipy muzzle

6. Height over or under the ideal

7. Lacking spring of ribs

8. Hocks not low

8. Eyes round or protruding

10. Excessively long, silky coat

11. Trimmed or sculptured coat

12. Tail carried beyond vertical line

13. White hair on the body behind the shoulder or surrounding the eyes

14. Coat so profuse as to obscure natural lines of the body

15. Eye color does not tone with the coat color

16. Not shown in a natural stance

There was much greater agreement on the faults – majorities on thirteen items – compared to virtues, with majorities on nine features.

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As with the virtues, the largest agreement, all but one survey, was on last place, “Not shown in a natural stance.” Next most popular was “Aggression” (1st), followed by “Flat or steep croup” (3rd), and then by “Shyness” (2nd). Seventy-percent concurred on “Coat so profuse as to obscure natural lines of body” (14th), followed by “Length of back from length of loin” (4th), “Snipy muzzle” (5th), and “Excessively long, silky coat” (10th).

Nearly sixty-percent had similar opinions on “Hocks not low” (tied at 8th), “Eyes round or protruding” (tied at 8th), and “Eye color does not tone with the coat color” (15th). The smallest majorities agreed on “Lacking spring of ribs” (7th) and “Tail carried beyond vertical line” (12th).

Some faults had bi-polar rankings. Seven put “Height over or under the ideal” (6th) towards the top, while five put it towards the bottom. While “Eyes round or protruding” (8th) had a majority place it above average, six put it well below average. A plurality had “White hair on the body behind the shoulder or surrounding the eyes” (13th) in the last quartile, but the rest ranked it all over.

There were well over two points separating the second- and third-placed faults, definitely putting the temperament issues as the most serious. More than three points were between fifteenth and sixteenth places, confirming that “Not natural stance” was the least serious, in addition to its having the greatest agreement.

One more survey would break the tie at eighth between “Hocks not low” and “Eyes round or protruding.” Tenth place “Excessively long, silky coat” was close behind the tied faults.

“Length in rib cage” was fourth as a virtue, the same rank as “Length of loin” as a fault. “Medium-sized” was fifth as a virtue and “Height over/under ideal” sixth as a fault. Coat virtues and faults were below the midpoint in both lists.


The outlines, six dogs and six bitches, were traced from photos of real dogs, so none is ideal. Bearded Collies are usually stacked in full profile, which is helpful. But the long coat can make outlining or seeing some parts of the dogs difficult or impossible.

The experts were asked to place the class of six dogs from first through fourth based on quality, to do the same with the class of bitches, and then pick one as best of breed. As mentioned above, several participants had complaints about judging the outlines. But most did as well as they could with what they could see.

The dog with the best average placement was Bearded Collie “E.” Those who placed him first said “though I do not like the head planes, he appears to be the longest, hocks are low, shoulders back further, topline straight, depth of chest, good rear angulation,” “the only one with the correct head, I wouldn’t place any other,” “acceptable shoulders, balanced head,” “best length, topline, withers, would like more neck,” “correct breed type and proportions, length of back and neck, balanced head,” and “best proportions for the 5:4 ratio, consistent curves, neck flow into shoulders, good rib length, low tail set.”

The dog with the next best average placement was Beardie “B.” Experts who selected him as best male commented “more fitted coat, moderation, most correct,” “equal skull to muzzle, level back, outline of curves, balanced angulation, proper length of legs and body,” “most balanced, proportioned 5:4,” “proportions, head structure,” “balance, masculine,” and “very correct proportions, proper coat length without excessive grooming, balanced front and rear angles.”

The bitch with the best average placement was Beardie “W.” Comments from those who placed her first included “level topline, balanced angles front and rear, arch of neck, nice forechest, could be longer,” “abundant coats of others bury their outlines,” “parallel head planes, long muzzle, plenty of forechest, shoulders well laid back, and chest deep,” “well-proportioned, nice low hocks, good length of coat,” and “well-balanced.”

Second best average placement among the bitches was Beardie “V.” Reasons for liking her were “falls off in croup and hocks not straight, but better head and front,” “proper head, nice front, level topline,” “strong feminine head, good length of body, well angled,” “balanced, looks like a bitch,” and “absolutely beautiful bitch with the best proportions and very balanced angles, looks a little sickle hocked but this may be the coat.”

Best of Breed was a bit harder. Dog “E” had the best average placement of all twelve. Dogs “E” and “B” and bitches “W” and “V” were all placed first six times, more than any others. Bitch “V” was selected BOB by four experts, more than any others. Dogs “A” and “E” and bitch “W” were named BOB on three surveys each. So BOB is your call.

All outlines were placed first by at least one expert except for dog “F” and bitch “Y.” All the outlines, including the favorites, were unplaced by at least one expert.

Essential Characteristics

The experts were asked to specify four to six essential characteristics that a good Bearded Collie must have, that they look for when evaluating dogs. Most often named was movement followed very closely by good reach and drive and temperament. Expression was also important as was good shoulder layback, balanced angles, and a 5 to 4 proportion of length to height.


The Bearded Collie experts included the following comments that they wanted students of their breed to remember when evaluating it.

•They are becoming a Generic Show Dog; judge by the standard.

•When you look into the eyes of a Beardie, you should see their soul.

•Type includes being able to herd; it also means expression (soft and affectionate); and being a clown one minute and a serious thinker the next.

•Important are sound temperament and structure, good reach and drive.

•The parent club has made excessive trimming and/or sculpturing a serious fault; excuse any Beardie with a sculpted coat.

•Always look under the coat with your hands for the working herding dog. It isn’t a barking, foolish clown.

•Do not be fooled by excesses in coat or structure. The breed had to work long days in very steep and rugged terrain in all types of weather. Everything in moderation.

•If it can’t move, it can’t herd. Gait should be effortless, paws lifted only enough to clear the ground.

•Our illustrated standard is one of the best.

•Prefer long over short in body and rib cage, but not loin.

•Bone is medium; the dogs are lean; this must be felt.

•Temperament, movement, and a proper double coat are necessities for the job.

•Shyness, skittishness, and sound sensitivity could be a problem; don’t reward a dog that backs away from you.

•This is the longest breed in the herding group.

•All four colors are equal; there should be no color bias.

•The bright, inquiring expression is a hallmark of the breed so eye placement and shape are important.

•Check for length of leg which affects the efficiency of the dog.

Thanks so much to the Bearded Collie experts who participated in this effort and shared their knowledge.

Nikki Riggsbee is approved to judge all Sporting, Hound, and Working breeds and eleven breeds in other groups. She has been active in both all-breed and specialty clubs. She is an award-winning author of four books and multiple articles, including the Breed Priorities series.

She began showing dogs in 1980 with Norwegian Elkhounds and Great Danes. Under the affix McEmn, she has owned and bred over thirty champions, with many more produced from her dogs. In addition to conformation, Nikki has also exhibited and titled Great Danes in obedience. Her website is

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Posted by on Nov 26 2014. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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