Rough collie latest breed on brink of being declared at risk as numbers decline

The rough collie faces an uncertain future following a steep decline in the breed’s popularity to record their lowest numbers in more than 75 years.

The breed is now close to being classed as “at risk” by The Kennel Club, which monitors breeds with declining numbers in the UK.

Lassie often comes to mind when people think of the rough collie thanks to the novel that began in the 1940s followed by the films, television series, radio programmes, animation and comic books.

At the height of the breed’s popularity in 1979, there were more than 8,000 annual puppy registrations, placing them in the top 10 breeds in the UK.

Last year there were less than 500 rough collie puppies born, a 25% decrease since 2021 and a steep 94% decline since their heyday.

This is the lowest recorded number for the breed since the 1940s, and if the decline continues they will be placed on The Kennel Club’s “at watch” list, which monitors breeds with between 300 and 450 puppy registrations a year.

Those with less than 300 puppy births annually are recorded on the organisation’s “vulnerable native breeds” list – devised to highlight those British and Irish native breeds which could be at risk of disappearing.

Carole Smedley, chair of the Rough Collie Breed Council, said: “We are very concerned to see this wonderful and majestic breed fall in popularity.

“I’ve spent my life surrounded by rough collies who have enjoyed long, healthy lives and I can confirm their friendly, happy temperament, but each year their popularity is decreasing.

“Of course, no breed will suit everyone, but for the right owner, who can provide the right space and environment, they have so much love to give and they adore children.

Crufts 2016
A rough collie at Crufts in 2016 (Joe Giddens/PA)

“It is such a shame that some of our most native historic and recognisable breeds are continuing to drop in popularity and we hope that more people will become aware of the range of breeds out there and responsibly select the right one for them.”

In 2022, there were more vulnerable breeds recorded than ever before, as both the shaggy-coated bearded collie and the distinctive miniature bull terrier were placed on the list while the Bedlington terrier, bullmastiff, Irish terrier, Norfolk terrier, and parson russell terrier were added to the “at watch” list.

There are now 34 vulnerable native breeds and a further eight classed as “at watch”.

The Yorkshire terrier, once the number one breed in the UK during the 1970s but has since seen its popularity wane, recorded just 495 puppy births last year.

The Kennel Club’s campaign to Save the Forgotten Breeds aims to remind people about the large number of British and Irish native breeds, particularly those that are seeing a decline in numbers and face a real danger of disappearing altogether.

The campaign has previously seen breeds such as the Pembroke Welsh corgi bounce back from the brink of extinction.