A "Yard-long dog"

by Thelma Gray

THE HEELER. The Yard-long dog (Ci-Llathed). Long, long before yards became metres in his native land, the Cardigan Corgi was designed to measure 36 inches from nose-tip to tail-tip. As long ago as the mid-sixteenth century, an ancient Welsh book referred to the "Korgi ne gostoc" Welsh for "Corgi or curre dog".

Also, in a sixteenth century manuscript there is a comment on the sharp bark of the Corgi. "Cyweirgyrn ynt y corgwn", which translated, means "These dogs are as tuning-keys for the harp".

That the Cardigan Corgis, or "Cardies" as they are often known, are an ancient breed has been well established. Whence, we wonder, have these lovely dogs acquired their unique characteristics? And what are these? Firstly, this breed is endowed with quite extraordinary intelligence. While they are cattle dogs by design, through instinct heeling up rough steers and, if required, mountain ponies, the breed adapts itself to modern times. Cardigans love to work, and will rapidly learn obedience competition exercises, or, in the home, enjoy performing all manner of tricks both useful and amusing.

Amusing is a good word to use because the "Cardie" has a remarkable sense of humour. On the whole, I would not say that this is a marked characteristic of his Pembrokeshire relation, and it is one thing that separates the two types. The Cardie has a real sense of fun. You can laugh at him, or with him, and he will join with you. A Pembroke Corgi can feel hurt and will slink away in high dudgeon in a situation during which a Cardigan will behave like a clown.

It has always been difficult to assess the relationship between the two types of Corgi. That there is an association is well-known and beyond dispute. It was inevitable, in the early days before the types/breeds were recognised by the English Kennel Club, that some inter-breeding took place. After all, farmers, struggling to make a livelihood on small farms on bleak Welsh hillsides, wanted a dog that could work and it mattered little if it had a tail or was tailless. What is remarkable is that, in the main, so little cross breeding took place and that the two types were kept distinct.

A bar sinister in the shape of a Welsh Collie undoubtedly was responsible for the occasional fluffy-coated specimens that, even today, pop up from time to time in Pembroke and Cardigan litters, from generations of forebears with perfect coats.

The small amount of inter-breeding that took place between Pembroke and Cardigan Corgis pretty nearly all of it well before 1930 has left its legacy and occasionally we see Cardigans, albeit they have a tail like a fox, that is reminiscent of Pembroke ancestry and can be criticised for having small pointed ears and straight front legs. These dogs, foreign in type, are happily becoming fewer and fewer and all of us who have known the Cardi since its introduction to the dog show scene, must agree that type is rapidly becoming much more fixed and that the improvement in breed type is very marked.

The Cardi character differs somewhat from the Pembroke being more placid and less excitable. In fact, this characteristic which pet owners agree gives the breed particular appeal, is often a handicap in the show ring, it being generally conceded that the average Cardigan does not show the same alertness or use its ears as well as does the Pembroke Corgi.

It is truly fascinating to see the Cardigan at work. Gone is the diffident attitude displayed at shows. The whole impression is of a live-wire animal. It is time to fetch the cows to the byre for milking. Leaping over the tufty grass, the Cardi shows an amazing turn of speed for a dog with such little thick, short legs.

Why have a short-legged dog? Surely one with more length of leg could run faster? Possible though debatable, but your high-of-the-ground dog might quickly be killed or injured by a kick from a cow, maddened by the nipping, yapping dog at its heels.

The way in which the Cardi has been developed as a very low-to-ground dog was no accident. The wise old Welsh farmers wanted their heeler that way, so that the flying hooves went over his head and left him unscathed. For the same reason they wanted the head just right a flattish skull, never domed.

While so many farms were situated in the hills or down the sides of mountains, there were some in the marshy valleys. So the Cardigan feet should be of a completely different shape to the Pembroke feet. Cardi feet are round, big for the size of the dog, well knuckled up with strong nails. Sadly, one often sees Cardigan feet on Pembrokes and many judges fail to appreciate that this is a bad fault. Pembroke feet are neither round nor hare-shaped, but are almost oval, fairly small and neat, with the two centre toes slightly elongated.

Other marked differences? Judges should appreciate that the typical Cardigan ears are quite large for the size of the dog, carried outwards and never upright on top of the head, and distinctly rounded at the tips. Pembroke type ears, which should never be tiny, pointed or of spitz type, are smaller and not as wide as the Cardi ears. There are subtle differences in head, too. The Cardi has a trifle more stop, the head is stronger overall and the muzzle a little heavier. The body is longer. The front legs are usually heavier boned and should be slightly bowed in opposition to the requirements for the Pembroke, whose breed standard requires them to be as straight as possible.

Finally, there is the tail. Pems, if not born tailless, are docked short. The Cardi has a lovely, thick brush, which ideally should be set on fairly low, this tail-set calling for a nice, sloping croup. A high set tail, on a square croup, is usually badly carried. A gay or curly tail is extremely unattractive.

Because, for a number of different reasons the Pembroke Corgi was brought to the notice of dog-loving public some time before the Cardigan type was promoted, the breed suffered a severe handicap since the public, having accepted the Pembrokes, seemed to dub the Cardigans as "funny" Corgis; they were, well, different to the Pembrokes.

I have always thought that it was a very great pity that the two breeds were named as they have been. Granted that the vanguard were to be known as Welsh Corgis (Pembroke), I believe it was a great mistake to call the other type Welsh Corgis (Cardigan). As "Johnny Come Latelys" they became the poor relations. Had they been recognised by quite another name, the whole position would, I believe, have been different.

Had they become known as Welsh Cattle dogs, or as Welsh Heelers, I believe that their unique and endearing characteristics would have carried them to fame in the world of dogs long since.

As it is, they have had to make their way on their own merits and a slow, uphill way it has been. But all the signs are there. The Cardigan Corgi is increasingly recognised for what he is the rugged friend of the Welsh farmer, the ideal family dog.


The Cardigan Welsh Corgi Association of N.S.W. 1986 Year Book

Originally written by Thelma Gray for the Cardigan Welsh Corgi Association of N.S.W. special supplement in the august 1979, National Dog.


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