Practically Human

A marvelous line appears in Robert Leighton’s fine book, Dogs and All About Them
: “Few dogs possess the fertile, resourceful brain of the Collie.

In part, this can be explain by recent studies that found that brain anatomy varies across dog breeds, and that at least some of this variation can be attributed to selective breeding for particular behaviors like herding, hunting, and guarding livestock. Put another way, shapes and sizes of canine brains vary by breed, and the structures within those brains also are different which helps explain what makes a Pug act like a Pug and not a Border Collie. Speaking of Border Collies, evolutionary biologist, Erin Hecht of Harvard University found that Border collies aren’t born knowing how to herd, they have to learn, but they pick up the skill quickly because their brains come prewired to do so.

Extrapolating from this knowledge makes it suspect, then, that the versatile Collie is prewired for it. The breed not only functions as a herding dog, but was successfully trained for ambulance work on the field of battle by Major Edwin Richardson during WWI. A noted dog fancier of his time, Richardson was the founder of the British War Dog School during the first World War. After working with several breeds, he found that Collies were superb in any activity that entailed seeking out and returning to a given spot; he believed this was due to generations of the sheepdog’s ancestry and being “trained outwards:” Tend after the sheep, but always return to the shepherd.

Richardson once said that the Collie “had reasoning powers that were practically human.” We don’t disagree.

Image: Collie in Watercolor by Chris Butler is available as fine art, and in home decor and lifestyle items here

4 thoughts on “Practically Human”

  1. One of my Border Collies was put in a field, with sheep far away. He had never seen a sheep before. He did a wide outrun, gathered them and drove them to me. He had zero training. I have a Collie now, he doesn’t work, but he brings much joy into my life as a companion dog.

    • We wish we could have seen that, Hunter. Just reading about it gives us goosebumps!

  2. I had a collie that could interpret the smallest hand gesture and come to my side immediately, even in a busy school hallway. She would select a student in my class when she was visiting. It would always be a child she selected who was most afraid of dogs. She went through a slow and patient process of laying on the floor next to them, then getting close enough to touch them, eventually I would see her gently and tenderly place her head on the child’s lap. She was barely breathing and was so calming that inevitably the child would reach out to touch that luxurious mane of fur. Her name suited her- Angel. She was pure magic.

    • What a truly wonderful anecdote about a special dog, Susan. Dogs like that seem touched by a higher power….

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