The indigenous herding dog of Wales has origins so ancient that they have become a part of folklore and its full lineage is lost in the mists of time. It is thought that the Gellgi or ‘covert hound’ may be an early ancestor. Manuscripts relating to Welsh Law dating back over 800 years mention herding dogs: “The herd-dog…that guards the stock and goes before them in the morning and comes home behind them at night” is recognisable as a forebear of the modern Welsh Sheepdog. Even then these herding dogs were so highly prized that they were regarded as worth the same as “the most important beast of the stock he guards.” The early Welsh farm dogs would have had a dual role, with protection of their owners and animals from rustlers and wild animals as important as their herding duties. Dafydd ap Gwilym, writing in the mid-1300’s, mentions visiting a farmhouse and encountering a red dog that was guarding there, which rushed out to meet him.
As British Agriculture evolved, farmers would send their stock from the mountains to be sold at the markets in England. Cattle, sheep, pigs and even geese were driven, on foot, for hundreds of miles - often over wild, open country - with their destination the fattening grounds and meat markets in the Home Counties. Just a few men and their dogs could take 300 or more cattle at a time. It was paramount to keep the herds safe and calm as their welfare was essential to the livelihood of both the drover and to the owners of the cattle back in Wales. Drovers' dogs were fundamental in this task, and had to be hardworking and resourceful, preventing stock from their mob escaping but not collecting extras from the surrounding countryside and guarding the herds at night. Some of the predominant working traits of the modern breed, such as strong guarding instincts and the inbred instinct to circle a large mob of livestock, bear witness to their ancestry. Early photographic evidence is hard to find, but a map of a Plynlimon estate, dated 1810, has an illustration of a red dog with white markings very similar to our dogs today.
Sheepdog trials, first introduced in the late 1800's, made the Scottish Border Collie very popular. Much cross breeding took place and the native Welsh type was becoming much diluted though small pockets of relatively pure stock remained. Historically there had been no record of the genealogy of these dogs and so the only evidence available as to the purity of their breeding line is their true ‘Welsh’ manner of working.
The Welsh Sheepdog Society was formed in 1997 with a view to preserving and promoting the ancient Welsh breed in its working context. It is the aim of the Society to develop the purity of the strain.