Although considered a quintessentially Scottish breed, it's possible that the bearded collie's ancestors originally came from Poland. However, that's a matter of conjecture, according to the Bearded Collie Club of America. There's no argument that bearded collie-type canines aided Scottish farmers for centuries in herding sheep and driving livestock to market.
Breed aficionado and historian Mrs. G.O. Willison, writing in the 1940s, speculated that the breed traces back to the early 16th century, when Roman herders brought three sheepdogs from Poland to Scotland. However, other breed historians doubt that scenario. Even if three Polish sheepdogs did influence the development of what is now known as the bearded collie, there is no question that most of the original beardie types hailed from Scotland.
Other Central European Ancestry
If you delve back far enough, it's likely that the bearded collie descended from the Komondor, the ancient sheep dog of Hungary. That breed, in turn, descends from a Russian sheepdog known as the Aftscharka, brought to central Europe by the Huns. The modern Komondor doesn't resemble the beardie, which is probably a good thing. The Komondor's unique coat features hundreds of long cords, which serve as protection from the elements and attack by wolves and other sheep predators.
Gainsborough's Bearded Collie
In 1771, artist Thomas Gainsborough, famous for "The Blue Boy," included a bearded collie in his portrait of the Duke of Buccleigh. The following year, equally prominent artist Joshua Reynolds included two bearded collies -- perhaps one portrayed in the Gainsborough -- in another portrait of the Duke's family. Not only are these the first recorded paintings of these dogs, but it also shows that bearded collies experienced canine social mobility, moving up the class ladder from farm dog to aristocratic pet.
Collie is the Scottish word for sheepdog, so that's the root of the name for the "Lassie" type collie, the border collie and others. Bearded collies are distinguished by their facial hair, extending from beneath the cheeks to under the mouth. Like other collies, the beardie evolved over time, as opposed to some of the more modern breeds in which human "engineering" led to breed development. Farmers bred dogs for herding and working ability, not appearance. A British Kennel Club standard for the bearded collie did not appear until the late 19th century, while American Kennel Club recognition did not occur until 1976.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.