History of Corgis


(Image via the American Kennel Club)

Andrew Golby, Writer

The Welsh Corgi  is a small type of herding dog that originated in Wales. Sometimes known as a Corgi, two separate breeds are recognised: the Pembroke Welsh Corgi and the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. Historically, the Pembroke has been attributed to the influx of dogs alongside Flemish weavers from around the 10th century, while the Cardigan is attributed to the dogs brought with Norse settlers, in particular a common ancestor of the Swedish Vallhund. A certain degree of interbreeding between the two types has been suggested to explain the similarities between the two. The Pembroke is the more popular breed of the two, but still appears on The Kennel Club’s list of Vulnerable dog breeds of the United Kingdom.

There are physical differences between the two types. According to the breed standards, the Cardigan is larger overall, both in weight and in height. Traditionally, the tails were of different shapes, but docking had previously been used. The Pembroke Welsh Corgi gained in popularity because the Queen has personally owned more than 30 Pembrokes or Corgi-Dachshund crosses, known as dorgis.

Welsh Corgis have historically been used as herding dogs, specifically for cattle. They are of the type of herding dog referred to as “heelers,” meaning that they would nip at the heels of the larger animals to keep them on the move. Both Pembrokeshire and Cardigan originated in historically agricultural areas of Wales. The combination of their low height off the ground and innate agility of Welsh Corgis would allow them to avoid the hooves of cattle. The term “Corgi” means either cur dog or dwarf dog in the Welsh language, which was not intended as an insult to the dog’s size, rather as a purely descriptive term. There is also a folk legend that says Corgis were a gift from the woodland fairies, and that the breed’s markings were left on its coat by fairy harnesses and saddles. 

The Cardigan Welsh Corgi has been attributed to the influences of Nordic settlers in the region. Dogs of similar dimensions exist in modern Scandinavia, called the Swedish Vallhund, and it is claimed by some historians that these two breeds share a common ancestor. Farmers in Cardiganshire began to switch from cattle to sheep in the late 19th century, but the existing breed was unsuited to working with the sheep flocks. The dog began to be crossed with the Welsh Sheepdog, and this is the source of the merle color pattern in the breed. The subsequent similarities between the two types of Welsh Corgis have been attributed to cross-breeding between the two, or simply selected breeding from farmers who wished to have the Cardigan variety appear closer in nature to the Pembroke breed.

Princess Elizabeth was then given a Pembroke Corgi of her own, named Susan, for her 18th birthday in 1944. She had a strong connection to the dog, which was hidden under rugs in the Royal Carriage following her wedding to Prince Philip. Susan became the progenitor of all the Corgis owned by the Royal Household since. The Queen has bred ten generations of dogs from Susan, owning personally more than 30 of the dogs which were either pure-bred Pembroke Welsh Corgis or crossbreed Corgi/Dachshunds called Dorgis.

Corgis have also appeared on screen, stage and in novels. Corgis as characters were incorporated into the storybook fantasies Corgiville Fair, The Great Corgiville Kidnapping, and Corgiville Christmas of American author and illustrator Tasha Tudor. In 1963, a Corgi was featured in the Walt Disney film Little Dog Lost, which led to an increase in popularity for the breed within the United States. A theatrical adaptation took place of Welsh author Roald Dahl’s The BFG, which toured the UK in 1991, requiring several different Corgis to perform on stage as those of Queen Elizabeth. The Queen’s Corgi is a Belgian animated film depicting the Queen’s Corgis. This is why Corgis are known as the best pet.