Corgi

Introduction to the Corgi

While many people associate the Corgi with Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth because of her fondness for the breed, there’s actually much more to these little Welsh dogs. First of all, the Corgi actually refers to two distinct breeds: the Cardigan Welsh Corgi and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Both breeds have historically been cattle herding or drover’s dogs. There has been interbreeding at times in the past, which probably explains the similarities between the dogs. Both Corgi breeds are affectionate, easy to train, and highly intelligent. They are loyal and they make excellent family dogs. The Pembroke is the more popular breed today while the Cardigan is on the British Kennel Club’s list of vulnerable native breeds, meaning that fewer than 300 puppies/dogs are registered each year in the UK.

History of the Corgi

The earliest origins for both kinds of Corgi are debated. Some Corgi histories have long reported that the dogs originated with the Celts in Wales. The Celts did keep cattle and likely had cattle herding dogs, but whether they resembled the Corgi is unknown.

The ancestors of the Cardigan probably arrived in Wales before the Pembroke, making it the older breed. There is some suggestion that the breed is descended from the Swedish Valhund, a small herding dog that accompanied Viking sailors. These dogs were known in England and contributed to developing the Lancashire Heeler, another cattle herding dog. The Swedish Valhund dogs could have interbred with the native dogs kept by the Celtic population to produce Corgi-type dogs. The time period for the Vikings and the Swedish Valhund was the 8th and 9th century AD.

Ancestors of the Pembroke appear to have arrived in Wales a little later. Their importation into Wales is attributed to Flemish weavers beginning in the 10th century who brought dogs with them. Small herding dogs from central Europe have also been suggested as a source for the Pembroke – perhaps ancestors of the Dachshund or Schipperkes.

Both breeds, the Cardigan and the Pembroke, were used to herd cattle. Their small size allowed them to nip at the heels of the cattle to urge them to move while avoiding kicks from the cows. (Dogs that do this are known as “heelers.”) Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire were historically adjoining counties in Wales. Agriculture, including raising cattle, was economically important for the region, so the Corgis fulfilled an important need – at least until farmers began to switch to sheep farming in the 19th century. At that time the short-legged little dogs proved less useful than some of the taller, more agile sheep dogs. There were some attempts to cross the Cardigan with the Welsh Sheepdog (bringing the merle gene into the breed). Cardigans were also crossed with Pembrokes at this time, which explains some of the similarities between the two breeds.

Corgis began appearing at dog shows in 1925. The breeds were judged together until 1934 when the Kennel Club in Britain recognized them as separate breeds. Pembrokes have been more popular than Cardigans since the breeds separated. In the last decade, the Cardigan has been struggling to survive in the UK. In 2013 the Pembroke was also placed on the vulnerable native breed list in the UK but the breed rebounded the next year.

The first Corgis were brought to the U.S. in 1933. The AKC first recognized Welsh Corgis (as a single breed) in 1934. The Cardigan was recognized by the AKC as a separate breed in 1935. As in the UK, the Pembroke is more popular in the U.S. than the Cardigan. Today the Pembroke Welsh Corgi is the 18th most popular breed in the United States by AKC registration statistics. The Cardigan is the 69th most popular breed in the U.S.

Corgi Health-Related Issues

If you are interested in a Corgi we encourage you to visit the parent club web sites for the breeds: the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club of America and the Cardigan Welsh Corgi Club of America. These health pages provide information about issues that are common in the breeds, rare disorders, genetic tests, and research supported by the clubs.

Corgis are dwarf breeds (achondroplastic). Although some people rant about dwarf breeds and their possible health issues, Corgis have been active, working dogs for at least 1000 years which seems to disprove some of the myths associated with dwarf breeds. That’s not to say that Corgis don’t have some health issues. All dogs can have possible health problems. A Kennel Club health survey in 2004 found that the median age at death for the Pembroke was 12 years/3 months; the median age at death for the Cardigan was 12 years/2 months. The main causes of death for both breeds were canine cancer and old age. The Pemboke did have more dogs that died from kidney failure or an obstruction of the urethra.

Pembrokes were more likely to suffer from eye problems than Cardigans. Eye problems found in Corgis include progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), usually found in dogs over six years old, and canine glaucoma – also more common in dogs that are older. Corgis can also have some musculoskeletal problems, including arthritis. Both hip and elbow dysplasia occur in both Corgi breeds.

Van Willebrand’s disease does appear in Pembrokes. Degenerative myelopathy affects both breeds. Cardigans can have issues with Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD).

Both kinds of Corgis can be prone to obesity since they usually enjoy their meals.

You can check the database for health statistics regarding the Corgi on the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) web site. (Scroll down the list of breeds to check for Cardigan and Pembroke Corgis, separately.)

As noted, both Corgi breeds tend to be long-lived.

Corgi Temperament

Today Corgis are not called upon to herd cattle as much as they once were, though they could probably still do their ancient job if necessary. They still have the energy and brains to do that work. You need to take this into consideration if you are thinking of getting one of the Corgi breeds. Corgis are very active dogs and they like to have a job to do. They are strong, athletic little dogs. They respond well to training and they enjoy activities such as agility, rally, obedience, flyball, tracking, and other dog sports. AKC and other organizations also offer herding tests if you would like to give your Corgi a chance to use his original instincts nipping at animals in a field. Many dogs really love having a chance to do what they were bred to do.

At home Corgis are usually good with children and other pets, though it’s helpful if you can raise your Corgi with other animals from the time s/he’s a puppy. You do need to use care if you have caged pets such as bunnies. You will have to train your Corgi that Mr. Fluffy is not to be exterminated. As a herding breed, Corgis tend to be bossy. Even living with larger dogs, Corgis often take charge and herd the group. They are usually happy to herd small children as well, especially if they are running or seem disorganized. If you don’t like this behavior you need to correct your Corgi from the start before it escalates into your Corgi nipping at your child’s heels to herd him. It’s cute when a puppy does it but it will hurt later when your adult Corgi is biting at your child’s heels.

Corgis usually make good watchdogs. They will bark as needed to alert you that something is wrong. Otherwise you may need to curb extra barking so your Corgi doesn’t become too enthusiastic with his warnings.

When you get to know a Corgi, expect him or her to be affectionate, loyal, and very smart.

Corgi Grooming

In appearance the Corgis look similar until you know the differences. The Pembroke is 10-12 inches tall at the shoulder. The Cardigan is 10.5-12.15 inches tall at the shoulder. Male Pembrokes weight up to 30 pounds; females up to 28 pounds. Male Cardigans weigh 30-38 pounds; females weigh 25-34 pounds. Both breeds have coats that are water-resistant. Cardigans are a little longer-bodied than the Pembroke. The head of the Cardigan is a little larger than the Pembroke. Cardigans have their natural long tail. The Pembroke is either naturally bob-tailed or the tail is banded/docked shortly after birth so they have a short tail. So, the Cardigan is a little larger and heavier than the Pembroke and has a tail. That’s how to quickly tell the difference.

The Cardigan comes in a number of colors and markings such as black & white, blue merle & white, brindle & white, red & white, and sable & white, with or without markings. Pembrokes can be fawn, sable, red, black and tan with or without white markings.

Corgis are double-coated. They have a soft, dense undercoat with a coarser coat on top. Their coat is water-resistant and it’s good about repelling things like leaves and small materials picked up in the yard. You can use a medium or wide-tooth comb and a brush to groom your Corgi once or twice a week. Bathe as needed. Corgis are generally considered to be a wash-and-wear dog, meaning they don’t require much grooming.

However, Corgis do shed – heavily – in the spring/early summer and fall. At this time you can expect your dog to literally shed tufts of fur. Forget about dog hair. You will be picking up clumps of fur. You can help things along by combing/brushing daily during this time and giving your dog a regular bath to help loosen and remove the dead hair.

Corgis are not clipped.

DO check ears regularly for mites, excess earwax, and other problems. Keep the ears dry and clean as needed to avoid ear infections.

Trim your Corgi’s nails regularly.

Brush your dog’s teeth regularly and have your veterinarian check them when you visit to prevent problems from developing.

Corgi Fun Facts

  • Queen Elizabeth’s association with the Corgi is real. The Queen has had Corgis since she was a child in the 1930s. She has bred more than 10 generations of Pembrokes and has personally owned more than 30 Corgis.
  • “Corgi” is said to mean “dwarf dog” in Welsh.
  • According to some sources, the Cardigan Corgi – or at least its ancestors – was brought to Wales by the Celts http://corgicare.com/welsh-corgi-history-and-lore/ some time around 1200 BC.

Common Corgi Mixes

Here are some Corgi mixes we found online: Labrador/Corgi, Corgi/Australian Shepherd, Corgi/German Shepherd, Husky/Corgi, Corgi/Dalmatian, Beagle/Corgi, Shiba Inu/Corgi, Corgi/Chihuahua.

Corgi FAQ’s

What is a Corgi Life Expectancy?

Corgis (both breeds) have a median lifespan over over 12 years. In the United States Corgis typically live 12 to 13 years.

Are Corgis easy to train?

Yes, Corgis are very intelligent and considered easy to train. They are often eager to please. In the book The Intelligence of Dogs, the Pembroke is ranked 11th and the Cardigan is ranked 26th in working intelligence – both rated Excellent for their understanding of new commands and obeying first commands.

Do Corgis shed a lot of hair?

Yes, Corgis shed, especially in the spring and fall when they are losing their old, dead hair and growing in their new coat. At these times you should plan on brushing your dog more and giving a few extra baths to help loosen the dead hair. Keep the vacuum cleaner handy.

Do Corgis make good apartment pets?

Yes, Corgis can make good apartment pets, provided you can give your dog enough exercise each day. While they will bark to give an alarm, they don’t usually become problem barkers. They are a medium-sized dog, easily trained. Corgis usually have good manners and they like people and other dogs. If you can make sure your Corgi gets regular daily exercise we think this breed would make a good pet for someone living in an apartment.

Are Corgis good with Children?

Yes, Corgis are known for liking children, even though they may try to herd them at times. Historically, in Wales, Corgis were given the task of guarding children at times. That’s how reliable they were considered around kids. As always, it’s a good idea to supervise when dogs and children are together but we think Corgis are a good breed if you have children.

 

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta is a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine Dog News. She's also the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com Award winner for 2013. In addition, she's written Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Healthy and Happy.

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