Welsh Corgi (Pembroke and Cardigan)

Welsh Corgi (Pembroke) pupWelsh Corgi (Pembroke) pup

Although usually coupled together, the Welsh Corgi (Pembroke) and the Welsh Corgi (Cardigan) are two separate breeds and not two varieties of the same breed. Originally separated by a political divide, these versatile little dogs with different backgrounds are lovable characters who can be a jack-of-all-trades.

History of the Welsh Corgi (Pembroke) and (Cardigan)

Engraving from 1586 ADEngraving from 1586 AD

Dogs were brought into Wales from two distinctly different groups. First came the Celts from Europe who settled in the more northern regions of Wales thousands of years ago. Later the sea-faring Vikings from Scandinavia arrived around 1,000 AD in specially designed craft to transport their cattle, livestock and herding dogs[4]. They settled in the coastal areas of South Pembrokeshire. An early illustration of a small dog that could be of Corgi type is the accompanying extract in 'Britannia' by Camden first published in 1586 AD.

Early Welsh (Blue) Grey Herding Dogs

Welsh Grey (blue) Herding DogWelsh Grey (blue) Herding Dog

A written history of the Welsh Grey (or blue merle) Herding dogs like the modern one pictured indicates they existed not only in Wales, but also throughout the northern parts of England 350 years ago. In his book, 'Good Men and True' Welsh Shepherd, Erwyd Howells indicates that this type of dog has genetic involvement with many modern Herding breeds like the Old English Sheepdog, Bearded Collie and the Australian Cattle Dog[5].

Welsh Corgi (Cardigan) pupWelsh Corgi (Cardigan) pup

The earliest evidence of Welsh Herding dogs was in the Laws of Hywel Dda, or Howell the Good, King of South Wales. These Laws, written in 920 AD were based on unwritten Welsh legends which placed a value on the various types of dogs according to the job they were required to perform. These Laws stated that a herdsman's droving dog was the same value as an ox[1a].

Origin of the Name 'Corgi'

Welsh Corgi (Cardigan)Welsh Corgi (Cardigan)

Although there are many versions of the origin of the name 'Corgi', it is generally accepted to have been taken from the Welsh word "Cor" meaning 'dwarf' and "ci" meaning 'dog'[1], translated to mean "a small dwarf dog". A manuscript from the 1500's says because of their sharp bark they are called 'Cyweirgyrn ynt corgwn' which means 'tuning forks for the harp'[6].

The Corgi became popular with Welsh farmers to herd cattle. They dogs were particularly adapted to work the nimble stock which grazed on the short grass of the steep mountainsides and valleys of Wales. The dog's short legs also enable it to evade the retaliatory kick when the dog moves the cow along by nipping at its heels[6].

The Political Divide

Welsh Corgi pupsWelsh Corgi pups

Coinciding with the period when different types of dogs were becoming classified, in 1536 AD Law was introduced which changed Wales forever. It split the Welsh County of Pembrokeshire from Wales' other 12 counties, demanding it not only speak English, but also be of Christian Protestant belief answerable to the King of England. This created a civil war between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants, leaving the Southern county of Pembrokeshire isolated from the remainder of Wales[2]. It appears logical that this separation gave us the two distinctly separate types of Corgi we know today.

The Welsh Corgi (Pembroke)

Welsh Corgi (Pembroke) HeelingWelsh Corgi (Pembroke) Heeling

The Pembroke Corgi shares characteristics with other Northern Spitz breeds including the Swedish Valhund which come from their Viking background. Certainly there would have also been some inter-breeding between the Pembroke and the Cardigan Corgis as both were required to drove cattle for hundreds of miles as far as the Smithfield Markets in London. As the cattle were a valuable commodity, these versatile dogs were equally able to herd the cattle by day, and protect them by night from highwaymen and robbers! Additionally, when owned by peasant farmers, these dogs made efficient rodent killers and guard dogs. But although originally developed as a Cattle dogs, during the last century the Pembroke Corgi particularly has become more popular as a pet and showdog.

The Welsh Corgi (Cardigan)

Welsh Corgi (Cardigan) HerdingWelsh Corgi (Cardigan) Herding

The Cardigan Corgi with his Roman or Celtic background, is still somewhat influenced by other early Welsh Herding Dog breeds of the counties of the more northern parts of Wales like the Welsh Grey Herding Dog pictured above. Today, his Welsh ancestry reflected by the blue merle colour still commonly seen.

After the political divide, the Welsh people became more affluent, making money from wool, coal and iron as well as cattle. As many farms were situated down sides of mountains with marshy valleys in between, the Cardigan was originally bred with large round feet to cope with these swamps. Today the Cardigan is still used as a Herding Dog with his short legged structure allowing the flying hooves of cattle to go over his flattish skull, leaving the dog unscathed[6].

The Welsh Corgis become Pure Breeds

Princess Elizabeth 1936Princess Elizabeth 1936

The First Welsh Corgi Club was formed in 1925 and but not recognised as two separate pure breeds by the Kennel Club in 1934. Meanwhile in 1933, the Duke of York, later to become King George VI, purchased a Pembroke Corgi, Rozavel Golden Eagle who became adored by his two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret. Twenty years later, by the time Elizabeth became Queen of England, the Pembroke Corgi was entrenched in the Royal household, and are still the Queen's favourites today. But because the Cardigans did not receive Royal patronage, they never reached the heights of popularity of their Pembroke cousins.

The History of Welsh Corgis in Australia

Thelma GrayThelma Gray

In 1934, the same year the Corgi's were first recognised as a breed by the Kennel Club UK, two Pembroke Corgi's arrived in Australia. That year Mr Nish and his mother came here together with Rozavel Ranger and Rozavel Pipkin both bred by Thelma Gray. These two imports were then bred under the 'Benfro' prefix. By 1985, another 350 Pembrokes had arrived here. However, it was 1954 when Cardigans first were imported. Then Mr & Mrs W J Lewis immigrated to Western Australia from the UK, together with a team of 5 Cardigans plus progeny from a pair of British imports from to New Zealand. Their 'Lewdux' prefix would soon become well known in Cardigans throughout Australia[3].

No history of the Corgi would be complete without mention of Mrs Thelma Gray who spent the final years of her life in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. Although she owned other breeds later in her life, her Rozavel prefix is synonymous with Corgis. She not only lobbied the Kennel Club UK in the first instance to recognise the Corgi as a pure breed, she bred many Champion Pembroke Corgis. She was also responsible for the Royal family's Corgi connection. A Senior judge at the Kennel Club (UK), among her prestigious judging appointments was the selection of Best in Show at Crufts in 1975. Surely one of the most famous dog entities to become an Australian!

Welsh Corgis (Cardigan) coloursWelsh Corgis (Cardigan) colours

Comparison between the Welsh Corgi (Pembroke) and (Cardigan)

The Pembroke and the Cardigan differ in the following ways:

  • Size - the height of the Pembroke can be less than the Cardigan. Also the Pembroke has a specified weight
  • Body Proportions - the Pembroke's body is moderate in length whereas the Cardigan's body is longer in proportion to the height
  • Tail - the Pembroke can have a bob-tail or be docked when permissible but the Cardigan always has a long, un-docked tail
  • Feet - The Pembroke has oval, fairly short neat feet, but the Cardigan's feet are round and large for the size of the dog, well knuckled with strong nails
  • Colours - the Pembroke can only come in red, sable, fawn, or black and tan, with or without white markings, but the Cardigan can also come in merle or brindle as illustrated
Welsh Corgi (Pembroke) Welsh Corgi (Cardigan)
Welsh Corgi (Pembroke)Welsh Corgi (Pembroke) Welsh Corgis (Cardigan)Welsh Corgis (Cardigan)
Size Height - Around  25-30 cms (10-12 ins) at shoulder, but weighing 10-12 kgs (22-26 lbs) for dogs or 9-11 kgs (20-24 lbs) for bitches Height ideally 30 cms (12 ins) at shoulders with no specified weight.
Colour The the self colours of red, sable, fawn, or black and tan or tricolour with white markings on legs, brisket and neck. Acceptable colours are red, sable, blue merle, brindle, tri colour with brindle points and tri colour with red points. White markings on the legs and feet, head, chest, neck and tail tip.
General Appearance A low set, strong, sturdily built dog giving impression of substance and stamina in a small space. Long in proportion to height, terminating in fox-like brush, set in line with body.

Welsh Corgi (Pembroke)Welsh Corgi (Pembroke)

Welsh Corgi (Cardigan)Welsh Corgi (Cardigan)
Head Shape Head fox like in shape and appearance so the skull to foreface ratio is 5 to 3 Head foxy in shape and appearance so skull to foreface ratio is 5 as to 3

Wide and flat between ears

Wide and flat between ears but slightly domed above the eyes
Stop Moderate Moderate
Foreface The muzzle tapers moderately towards nose, the underjaw is strong and the nose is black.

The muzzle tapers moderately towards nose, the underjaw is strong and the nose is black.
Mouth Normal scissors bite Normal scissors bite
Eyes The round, medium sized eyes should be brown, blending with colour of coat The medium sized eyes are rather widely set with the corners clearly defined. The eyes and their rims should be dark, or blend with coat, except in blue merles where one or both eyes may be pale blue, blue or blue flecked.
Ears The pricked, medium sized ears should be slightly rounded at the tips. A straight line from the tips of the ears should pass through the centre of the eye to the tip of the nose. The erect ears should be proportionately rather large to size of dog, and slightly rounded at the tips. They are moderately wide at base, and set about 9 cms (3 &1/2; ins) apart, and well back so that they can be laid flat along neck. The ears should be carried so that the tips should be slightly wide of straight line drawn from tip of nose through centre of eyes.
Neck Fairly long Muscular and well developed

Welsh Corgi (Pembroke)Welsh Corgi (Pembroke)

Welsh Corgi (Cardigan)Welsh Corgi (Cardigan)
Forequarters Shoulders well laid with the elbows close to the sides. The short forelegs, although moulded around the chest, should be as straight as possible and have ample bone carried through the straight pasterns down to the feet. Shoulders well laid and the elbows close to the sides. Although the legs are short, the body should be well clear of the ground. But the strong bone of the short forearms should be slightly bowed to mould round the chest and carried through the straight pasterns down to feet which may be turned slightly outwards.
Feet Oval, tight, with short nails. Round, tight, rather large

The oval body fairly long with a deep brisket and well sprung ribs. Viewed from above the waist is clearly defined. The chest should be moderately broad with prominent forechest.

The pear shaped body is of medium length and not short coupled. Viewed from above the body should taper slightly. The chest should be broad and deep, and well let down between forelegs.
Hindquarters The short, strong, well angulated hindlegs have  muscular thighs and second thighs. The strong bone carried down to feet to the vertical hocks. The short, strong and flexible hindlegs should have well angulated stifles. There should be ample bone carried through the straight hocks right down to feet.
Welsh Corgi Pembroke (Tri-colour)Welsh Corgi Pembroke (Tri-colour) Welsh Corgi (Cardigan)Welsh Corgi (Cardigan)
Tail If not born a natural bob-tail, the traditionally short tail is docked when laws permit. If undocked, the tail is set in line with topline and carried above topline when moving or alert. The moderately long tail is like a fox's brush and set on in line with the body. It should be carried low when standing but may be lifted a little above body when moving, but not curled over back.
Gait Free and active with the forelegs moving well forward, in unison with thrusting action of hindlegs. Free and active with the elbows fitting close to sides. The forelegs reach well forward in unison with thrusting action of hindlegs.
Coat Medium length, straight with dense undercoat, never soft, wavy or wiry. Medium or short and of hard texture. Weatherproof, with good undercoat. Preferably straight.

References and Further Reading

[1] C.L.Hubbard, 'Working Dogs of the World' Published by Sidwick and Jackson Ltd, London 1947 Chapter 2 Pastoral Dogs, No 46 The Welsh Corgi Page 142

[1a] Ibid., Chapter 2 Pastoral Dogs Ancient Welsh Laws codified by Hywel Dda, Gwentian Code Book II, Chapter XXI, Clauses 13-14, Page 143.

[2] A Brief History of Wales by Tim Lambert

[3] John Johnston 'Corgis in Australia' published by Pumpkin Books, Queensland ISBN 0 9590647 0 2 Pembrokes 'The Imports' Page 53 The Cardigan Story Page 76

[4] E Forsyth-Forrest 'Welsh Corgis' Published by Ernest Benn Ltd 1955 Chapter 2, 'Root and Branch' Page 21

[5] Bill Robertson 'Origins of the Australian Kelpie' self published by Bill and Kerry Robertson 2015, Ballan Victoria Australia ISBN 87806945330 Chapter 14, 'The Welsh Grey' Pages 83 - 86.

[6] Thelma Gray, 'The Cardigan Welsh Corgi - a Yard-long dog' Published by National Dog Newspaper Special Supplement, (Windsor NSW) August 1979 Page 15