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Famous Border Collies – What Dog Breed Was Lassie?

Famous Border Collies ... What dog breed was Lassie

We all know Border Collies are amazing, but did you know that there are some famous ones out there? These dogs have been in movies and TV shows, they’ve won competitions and events, and even the past president of the United States had one! And plenty of celebrities and famous people have lived alongside Border Collies too.

Famous Border Collies – What dog breed was Lassie? Lassie, the most famous collie, is played by a Rough Collie, the original being ‘Pal’ who appeared in over 20 films in the 1940s. Other famous Border Collies include Toddy who appeared The Famous Five in the 1980s, Fly and Rex in the excellent movie Babe and more recently collies featured in Snow Dogs and Duke. Celebrities who have had (or still have) Collie companions include James Dean, Jon Bonjovi, Cheryl Cole, Tiger Woods, Megan Gale, James Franco, Selena Gomez, Ana Paquin and the Crown Princess Mary of Denmark. 

Those long, pointy ears, that boundless energy and intelligence, those distinctive black and white coats… we love admiring Border Collies whether they are famous, by the side of a celebrity or they are taking us for a walk! Let’s take a deeper look at various famous border collies past and present…

Ruswerp: The Collie Who Wouldn’t Leave His Dead Master’s Side

We can’t write an article about famous and legendary collies without starting with Ruswerp. In an amazing display of loyalty and endurance, this Border Collie stayed by the side of his dead master, Graham Nuttal, for a staggering 11 weeks enduring freezing winter conditions in the Welsh mountains.

Nuttal had booked a return ticket from Burnley to Llandrindod Wells for a day hiking in Wales with his favorite companion, Ruswerp the Collie.. but he never returned. He died in a remote part of the welsh mountains by a stream, leaving his companion to fend for himself. But – at 14 years old – Ruswerp (pronounced ‘Russup’) survived this experience and was found alive by the side of his master, although very weak from this feat of endurance.

He lived to attend his best friend’s funeral – and is immortalized in a bronze statue at Garsdale Station on the beautiful Settle to Carlisle railway line which Nuttal was instrumental in saving from closure in 1989. 

Read more on this fascinating story here.

Famous Border Collies In Movies

Border collies were bred to think fast and react quickly in order to herd the sheep away from predators. This has made them incredibly smart – and means they have often been chosen for movie roles. 

There are many famous Border Collie ‘actors’ in Hollywood, but not all of them have had the same level of fame. From Lassie to Astro to Babe, these dogs have made their mark on film and television for years. 

More recent films with Border Collies in a starring role include Snow Dogs, the Walt Disney adventure movie about an Artic challenge sled dog race, and Duke, the story of an American war veteran and his dog.  Below we explore three of the most well know collie appearances on screen.

What Breed of Dog Was Lassie?

Lassie is arguably the most famous sheepdog ‘actors’ in Hollywood. Played by the legendary ‘Pal’, a Rough Collie. The Rough Collie is a breed of medium to large size dog that has a pleasant personality, is easy to train and usually gets along fairly well with children.

This lovable pup starred in over 20 films since 1940. Lassie was a movie star that everyone grew up loving and admiring. She came from humble roots, as all stars do.

In the 1930s, Lassie was found on a farm in California by animal trainer Rudd Weatherwax. The dog had been living with sheepherders but ended up stranded when they moved away. It is unknown whether she was used to herd or if it developed after finding new owners. 

Who Played Timmy In The Famous Five?

In 1978 the famous children’s book series the Famous Five, written by author Enid Blyton, was turned into a tv series. In this program, four children go on adventures and solve mysteries in the English countryside with their lovable canine companion Timmy the dog.  This role was played by Toddy a Border Collie.  

Toddy was well trained in the use of traditional canine herding commands and performed all his own stunts. As well as appearing in the Famous Five series Toddy also appeared in other British children’s programs such as Dennis the Menace (1986) and Terry And June (1983).

Unfortunately, Toddy died when he was only seven years old after an accident. Toddy will not be forgotten for her work in bringing entertainment to children across Britain through various tv shows, thanks to his natural instincts which made him perfect for these roles.

What Breed Were The Dogs In Babe? 

Many productions set in the English countryside feature Border Collies even if it is just a background shot of them herding sheep or walking across a farmyard. Babe is a good example of this, and the two dogs who played important roles in the storyline of Babe, were indeed played by Border Collies.

Sky the Collie was the surrogate mother for Babe the piglet, and played the maternal nurturing role in this wonderful and thought-provoking film (available on Amazon Prime). Rex her mate, on the other hand, does not take so kindly to a pig moving in on his territory in herding sheep. I won’t give away any more spoilers, you have to watch this for yourself! 

You can read more at the link below about the actor who played Farmer Arthur Hogget and his incredible journey… as filming with the animals had a profound effect on his relationship with animals:

(We all know, that dogs belong in a loving home, and should not be used for profit… and thankfully, CGI now means many animals are spared often stressful weeks on set!)

Celebrities With Border Collies

The iconic American actor James Dean who starred in Rebel without a cause had a much-loved Border Collie named Tuck. Tuck became a famous Border Collie who could be spotted in many pictures taken on the film sets.

Tiger Woods is a big name in golf after he started playing golf when he was two years old when his dad would bring him along to the course. Tiger Woods is now considered one of the most successful golfing athletes in history. As well as a love of golf Tiger Woods has a love of animals with the Woods family having had four dogs. Taz the Border Collie joined the family on Tiger’s 30th birthday but has since sadly passed away in 2019. The family now has Bugs a Border Collie Springer Spaniel mix.  

It’s not just actors and sports personalities that are Border Collie lovers. American rock star Jon Bonjovi who is most famous for songs like Living on a Prayer and Always also owns a Border Collie.

Other celebrities who have had (or still have) a collie companion include Cheryl Cole, Megan Gale, James Franco, Selena Gomez, Ana Paquin and the Crown Princess Mary of Denmark. 

Royal Family Border Collies

In this day and age, pet dogs, especially those from working breeds, have been known to be part of some very famous families. The dog was originally bred for herding in Scotland in the 18th century but became popular across England. 

In 1860 Queen Victoria brought her three Rough collies from Balmoral Castle into London society. Queen Victoria was so fascinated by her dogs that she had a portrait painted of herself and her border collie and hung it on the walls of Buckingham Palace.  In the 19th century, the black and tan coloration in collies was very common. This is not a common in Border Collie coat colors today. 

The Crown Princess Mary of Denmark has a Border Collie called Grace. This is the second Border Collie to live at the palace as the family had another royal fury family member Ziggy, who sadly died at age 12 in 2017. 

Herding Sheep

The Border Collie is an intelligent, high-energy, good-natured breed and these traits help it to be one of the best-known herding breeds. With Border Collies having a double coat that appearance standard has recorded many colors such as Blue Merle, Sable Merle, Red Merle and even tri-colour.

These traits mean that they are often used/exploited in various ways as service dogs. ‘Sheepdogs’ in particular have an incredibly hard life, being left to live alone outside in all weather conditions, being released from their chain only to serve the farmer for profit. Tragically, some Border Collies have been killed because they could not herd sheep to the farmer’s satisfaction or become too old to perform this grueling and dangerous job.

The following example illustrates the price tag put on the head of service animals; they all deserve a loving home where they are not made to work.

Kemi Nell, the black and white Border Collie, was sold to a Scottish family at Skipton Auction Martin North Yorkshire for £10,500. Kemi’s mother Tanhill Glen has had much success in sheepdog trials including the European Nursery Championship. The previous record was held by a border collie named Meg who sold for £4000 in Aberdeenshire. Registries for Border Collies are held by the International Sheepdog society.  This can be used to research family histories for potential breeding Border Collies.

The most popular of such competitions is the World Sheepdog Trials. This event consists of a course where dogs herd 16-20 sheep or lambs, who are naturally terrified in this environment. This can be extremely stressful for both sheep and dogs, yet another example of humans using animals for ‘sport’ or entertainment.

If you are looking for Border Collie names, maybe the above can provide some inspiration? If you need more suggestions we have a full article on this topic.