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A portrait of William Youatt
from the Royal Agricultural Society of England
un-attributed to an artist.
However, we know it to be
the work of Richard Ansdell, RA.
thanks to Sarah Kellem.

William Youatt was born in Exeter, the son of a surgeon. He was educated for the ministry, and in 1810 left Devonshire and moved to London. In 1812 or 1813 he joined a veterinary practice in London, apprenticing with the veterinarian, who was not a graduate of the Royal Veterinary College and therefore not registered. Because of this, when Youatt enrolled in the College at almost 40 years of age, he was summarily dismissed without a diploma. He remained a partner in this practice, where, after 12 years the business passed into his hands.

In 1828 Youatt began to give private lectures and demonstrations to veterinary students, and later, he put his lectures into printed form and published them monthly in the Veterinarian, a professional journal.

In 1830, Youatt began writing a series of handbooks on farm animals for the Library of Useful Knowledge, and continued to produce these for ten years. These works were the equivalent of modern-day textbooks, containing a wealth of information. Youatt became highly esteemed in his chosen profession and was perhaps the most influential veterinarian of his day. Of him, Charles Darwin said, "I have generally found Youatt an accurate man, & a very sagacious man, for I knew him personally." In 1838 the Royal Agricultural Society of England was founded, and Youatt was one of the original members, and the chairman of the veterinary committee. He is credited with many rational developments in veterinary medicine.

Although he was knowledgeable in all areas of veterinary medicine, Youatt's love and specialty was dogs. He wrote The Dog in 1845. Like his other books, this formed part of the Library of Useful Knowledge. It contained sections on the various breeds and types of dogs, including The Sheep-Dog, The Drover's Dog, The Cur, and The Lurcher (all related types) and illustrations.

Although eminent and respected in the veterinarian profession, Youatt was still not a registered veterinarian. When he was nearly 70 years old, he presented at the Royal Veterinary Collage, and was handed his diploma on the spot, three years before he died.

This illustration from The Dog by William Youatt,
is labelled "The English Sheep Dog".
It shows a patterned-white sheepdog in the crouching pose
that Border Collies strike while herding sheep.

THE SHEEP-DOG by William Youatt

The origin of the sheep-dog is somewhat various; but the predominant breed is that of the intelligent and docile spaniel. Although it is now found in every civilized country in which...sheep [are] cultivated, it is not coeval with the domestication of that animal. When...pastures were ...open to the first occupant, and every shepherd had a common property in them, it was not so necessary to restrain the wandering of ...sheep, and the voice of the shepherd was usually sufficient to collect and to guide them. He preceded the flock, and they 'followed him whithersoever he went.' In process of time, however, man availed himself of the sagacity of the dog to diminish his own labour and fatigue, and this useful servitor became the guide and defender of the flock.

The sheep-dog possesses much of the same form and character in every country. The muzzle is sharp, the ears are short and erect, and the animal is covered, particularly about the neck, with thick and shaggy hair. He has usually two dew claws on each of the hind legs...These... should be cut off when the dog is young. The tail is slightly turned upwards and long, and almost as bushy as that of a fox, even in that variety whose coat is almost smooth. He is of a black colour or black prevails, mixed with gray or brown.

Professor Grognier [Louis Furcy Grognier, 1774-1837, professor and director of the School of Veterinary Surgery in Lyon, France] gives the following account of this dog as he is found in France:

The shepherd's dog... is very indifferent to caresses. [He is] possessed of much intelligence and activity to discharge the duties for which he was designed. In one or other of its varieties it is found in every part of France. Sometimes there is but a single breed, in others there are several varieties...It is the servant of man, while other breeds vary with a thousand circumstances. It has one appropriate mission, and that it discharges in the most admirable way: there is evidently a kind and wise design in this.

This account of the French sheep-dog, or of the sheep-dog everywhere, is as true as it is beautiful...everything varies and changes, but the shepherd's dog is what he ever was--the guardian of our flocks...In Great Britain, where he has principally to guide and not to guard the flock, he is comparatively a small dog. He is so in the northern and open parts of the country, where activity is principally wanted; but, in the more enclosed districts, and where strength is often needed to turn an obstinate sheep, he is crossed with some larger dog...Thus we obtain the larger sheep-dog and the drover's dog. The sagacity, forbearance, and kindness of the sheep-dog are generally retained, but from these crosses there is occasionally a degree of ferocity from which the sheep often suffer.

. . .

Instinct and education combine to fit this dog for our service. The...sheep-dog, and especially if he has the example of an older and expert one, will, almost without the teaching of the master, become everything that can be wished, obedient to every order, even to the slightest motion of the hand. There is a natural predisposition for the office he has to discharge, which it requires little trouble or skill to develop and perfect...fitted by nature for the particular duty they have to perform...This is well illustrated in the sheep-dog. If he be but with his master, he lies content, indifferent to every surrounding object, seemingly half asleep and half awake, rarely mingling with his kind, rarely courting, and generally shrinking from, the notice of a stranger; but the moment duty calls, his sleepy, listless eye, becomes brightened; he eagerly gazes on his master, inquires and comprehends all he is to do, and, springing up, gives himself to the discharge of his duty with a sagacity, and fidelity, and devotion, too rarely equalled even by man himself.

Mr. James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, living in his early days among the sheep and their quadruped attendants, and an accurate observer of nature, as well an exquisite poet, gives some anecdotes of the colley, (the Highland term for sheep-dog).

. . .

A shepherd, in one of his excursions over the Grampian Hills to collect his scattered flock, took with him (as is a frequent practice, to initiate them in their future business) one of his children about four years old. After traversing his pastures for a while, attended by his dog, he was compelled to ascend a summit at some distance. As the ascent was too great for the child, he left him at the bottom, with strict injunctions not to move from the place. Scarcely, however, had he gained the height, when one of the Scotch mists, of frequent occurrence, suddenly came on, and almost changed the day to night. He returned to seek his child, but was unable to find him, and concluded a long and fruitless search by coming distracted to his cottage. His poor dog also was missing in the general confusion. On the next morning by daylight he renewed his search, but again he came back without his child. He found, however, that during his absence his dog had been home, and, on receiving his allowance of food, instantly departed. For four successive days the shepherd continued his search with the same bad fortune, the dog as readily coming for his meal and departing. Struck by this singular circumstance, he determined to follow the dog, who departed as usual with his piece of cake. The animal led the way to a cataract at some distance from the spot where the child had been left. It was a rugged and almost perpendicular descent which the dog took, and he disappeared in a cave, the mouth of which was almost on a level with the torrent. The shepherd with difficulty followed; but, on entering the cavern, what were his emotions when he beheld the infant eating the cake which the dog had just brought to him, while the faithful animal stood by, eyeing his young charge with the utmost complacency! From the situation in which the child was found, it appeared that he had wandered to the brink of the precipice, and then either fallen or scrambled down, the torrent preventing his re-ascent. The dog by means of his scent had traced him to the spot, and afterwards prevented him from starving by giving up a part, or, perhaps, the whole of his own daily allowance. He appears never to have quitted the child night or day, except for food, as he was seen running at full speed to and from the cottage.

Mr. Hogg says, and very truly, that a single shepherd and his dog will accomplish more in gathering a flock of sheep from a Highland farm than twenty shepherds could do without dogs...Well may the shepherd feel an interest in his dog; he it is indeed that earns the family bread, of which he is himself content with the smallest morsel: always grateful, and always ready to exert his utmost abilities in his master's interests. Neither hunger, fatigue, nor the worst treatment will drive him from his side, and he will follow him through every hardship without murmur or repining. If one of them is obliged to change masters, it is sometimes long before he will acknowledge the new owner, or condescend to work for him with the willingness that he did for his former lord; but, if he once acknowledges him, he continues attached to him until death.

We will add another story of the colley, and proceed. It illustrates the memory of the dog. A shepherd was employed in bringing up some mountain sheep from Westmoreland, and took with him a young sheep-dog who had never made the journey before. From his assistant being ignorant of the ground, he experienced great difficulty in having the flock stopped at the various roads and lanes he passed in their way to the neighbourhood of London.

In the next year the same shepherd, accompanied by the same dog, brought up another flock for the gentlemen who had had the former one. On being questioned how he had got on, he said much better than the year before, as his dog now knew the road, and had kept the sheep from going up any of the lanes or turnings that had given the shepherd so much trouble on his former journey. The distance could not have been less than 400 miles.

. . .

In the care of sheep, each dog not only supplies the place of two or three men, but, as is seen in the foregoing pages, renders such assistance as cannot be obtained from any other source.

Another illustration from The Dog by William Youatt shows "The Scotch Sheep Dog".
This dog resembles the rough collie when it started to be bred for show.
The implication is that there were dogs around in the 18th and early 19th centuries that resembled this breed,
and were likely used in breeding the early rough collies.

THE DROVER'S DOG by William Youatt

[The Drover's Dog] bears considerable resemblance to the sheep-dog, and has usually the same prevailing black or brown colour. He possesses all the docility of the sheep-dog, with more courage, and sometimes a degree of ferocity, exercised without just cause upon his charge, while he is in his turn cruelly used by a brutal master.

There is a valuable cross between the colley and the drover's dog in Westmoreland, and a larger and stronger breed is cultivated in Lincolnshire; indeed it is necessary there, where oxen as well as sheep are usually consigned to the dog's care. A good drover's dog is worth a considerable sum; but the breed is too frequently and injudiciously crossed at the fancy of the owner. Some drovers' dogs are as much like setters, lurchers, and hounds, as they are to the original breed.

Stories are told of the docility and sagacity of the drover's dog even more surprising than any that are related of the sheep-dog. The Ettrick Shepherd says, that a Mr. Steel, butcher in Peebles, had such implicit dependence on the attention of his dog to his orders, that whenever he put a lot of sheep before her, he took a pride in leaving them entirely to her, and either remained to take a glass with the farmer of whom he had made the purchase, or travelled another road to look after bargains or business. At one time, however, he chanced to commit a drove to her charge, at a place called Willenslee, without attending to her condition, which he certainly ought to have done. This farm is about five miles from Peebles, over wild hills, and there is no regularly defined path to it. Whether Mr. Steel chose another road is uncertain; but, on coming home late in the evening, he was surprised to hear that his faithful animal had not made her appearance with her flock. He and his son instantly prepared to set out by different paths in search of her; but, on going into the street, there was she with the flock, and not one of the sheep missing; she, however, was carrying a young pup in her mouth. She had been taken in travail on those hills; and how the poor beast had contrived to manage the sheep in her state of suffering is beyond human calculation, for her road lay through sheep-pastures the whole way. Her master's heart smote him when he saw what she had suffered and effected; but she was nothing daunted; and, having deposited her young one in a place of safety, she again set out at full speed to the hills, and brought another and another little one, until she had removed her whole litter one by one; the last, however, was dead.

Mr. Blaine [Delabere Blane, the veterinarian that Youatt apprenticed with and partnered] relates as extraordinary an instance of intelligence, but not mingled, like the former, with natural affection. A butcher and cattle-dealer, who resided about nine miles from Alston, in Cumberland, bought a dog off a drover. The butcher was accustomed to purchase sheep and kine in the vicinity, which, when fattened, he drove to Alston market and sold. In these excursions he was frequently astonished at the peculiar sagacity of his dog, and at the more than common readiness and dexterity with which he managed the cattle; until at length he troubled himself very little about the matter, but, riding carelessly along, used to amuse himself with observing how adroitly the dog acquitted himself of his charge. At length, so convinced was he of his sagacity, as well as fidelity, that he laid a wager that he would intrust the dog with a number of sheep and oxen, and let him drive them alone and unattended to Alston market. It was stipulated that no one should be within sight or hearing who had the least control over the dog, nor was any spectator to interfere. This extraordinary animal, however, proceeded with his business in the most steady and dexterous manner; and, although he had frequently to drive his charge through other herds that were grazing, he did not lose one; but, conducting them to the very yard to which he was used to drive them when with his master, he significantly delivered them up to the person appointed to receive them by barking at his door. When the path which he travelled lay through grounds in which others were grazing, he would run forward, stop his own drove, and then, chasing the others away, collect his scattered charge, and proceed.

THE CUR by William Youatt

[The Cur] is the sheep-dog crossed with the terrier. He has long and somewhat deservedly obtained a very bad name, as a bully and a coward; and certainly his habit of barking at everything that passes, and flying at the heels of the horse, renders him often a very dangerous nuisance: he is, however, in a manner necessary to the cottager; he is a faithful defender of his humble dwelling...All day long he will lie upon his master's clothes seemingly asleep, but giving immediate warning of the approach of a supposed marauder. He has a propensity, when at home, to fly at every horse and every strange dog; and of young game of every kind there is not a more ruthless destroyer than the village cur.

Mr. Hogg draws the following curious parallel between the sheep-dog and the cur:

An exceedingly good sheep-dog attends to nothing but the particular branch of business to which he is bred...whereas a very indifferent cur bred about the house...will often put the more noble breed to disgrace in these little services. If some one calls out that the cows are in the corn or the hens in the garden, the house colley [cur] needs no other hint, but runs and turns them out. The shepherd's dog knows not what is astir, and if he is called out in a hurry for such work, all that he will do is to run to the hill...to see that no sheep are running away...

THE LURCHER by William Youatt

This dog was originally a cross between the greyhound and the shepherd's dog, retaining all the speed and fondness for the chanse belonging to one, and the superior intelligence and readiness for any knd of work which the latter possessed...

The lurcher is a dog seldom found in the possession of honourable sportsman. The farmer may breed him for his general usefulness, for driving his cattle, and guarding his premises, and occasionally coursing the hare...In a rabbit-warren this dog is peculiarly destructive. His scent enables him to follow them silently and swiftly. He darts unexpectedly upon them, and, being trained to bring his prey to his master, one of these dogs will often in one night supply the poacher with rabbits and other game worth more money than he could earn by two days' hard labour.

[The information for this article came from several sources, including an article written in 1900 by Sir Ernest Clarke in the Dictionaly of National Biography, edited by Sidney Lee; and Veterinary Medicine: An Illustrated History by Robert H. Dunlop and David J. Williams (Mosby--Yearbook Inc., St. Louis, Missouri, 1996.]

Copyright 2008 by Carole L. Presberg



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Last modified: July 11, 2013