The Cardigan Welsh Corgi is one of the oldest dog breeds from the British Isles. It reportedly came to the Welsh high country now known as Cardiganshire with the warrior Celts from central Europe in about 1200 B.C. The village of Bronant in Mid-Cardiganshire became a stronghold of those early Celts, who prized their dogs for their vigilance, intelligence, guarding ability and companionability. Corgis also were especially adept at flushing out game. The most highly valued occupation of this stout breed came hundreds of years later, but still hundreds of years ago, when the British Crown owned virtually all land and poor tenant farmers were only allowed to fence off a few acres surrounding their home for personal use. The rest of the land was “common,” where farmers could graze their cattle – the primary source of their income – on such pasture as they could secure. Competition for farmland was fierce. The little Cardigan Welsh Corgi was trained to do exactly the opposite of what herding dogs do: it was taught to nip at the heels of its owner’s cattle and drive them far afield. It also would drive neighboring cattle off of land its owners wanted to graze. Either way, the Corgi’s tasks was the same: a whistle from its owner would send the dog off to find and nip at cattle, regardless of who they belonged to, and it would persist in the chase endlessly, as long as he heard that whistle. The Cardigan’s low-slung body type, with disproportionately short legs and a long body, made it particularly skilled at darting between and avoiding the well-aimed kicks of angry cattle, classifying it as a “heeler.” When the task was accomplished to the owner’s satisfaction, he would give a shrill, long whistle of a different tone, and the dog would reliably return.
Despite the absence of official stud books, the Celts and then their early Welsh descendants bred their dogs with meticulous care. No breeding was consummated without focused and selective consideration of the attributes of both sire and dam, to ensure that the offspring would be proficient workers. Once the crown lands were divided and sold to the tenant farmers, fences were put up surrounding large properties, and the need for the Cardigan Welsh Corgi as a cattle-nipper waned. Some of the hill farmers still kept Corgis as guardians and companions, but that was a luxury few could afford. The original Corgis of Mid-Cardiganshire became exceedingly rare and were replaced by the red herder and the brindle herder.
Eventually, the remaining Corgis were crossed with the red herder, which proved an unsuccessful cross. However, the cross of the Corgi and the brindle herder was successful in retaining the structure and stamina of the Corgi but adding the color and slightly finer coat of the brindle herder. Today’s Cardigan Welsh Corgi descends from the old Bronant Corgi with the slight infusion of brindle herder blood. Today’s heelers descend from that original cross, which was then crossed with the Collie.
In England, the Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis were considered one breed divided into two types and were allowed to interbreed until 1927, when the Crufts Kennel Club listed them as two distinct types. In 1934, they were fully recognized as two separate breeds. Mrs. Robert Bole, of Boston, Massachusetts, imported the first pair of Cardigan Welsh Corgis to the United States in June 1931. The breed was admitted to American Kennel Club registration in 1935 as a member of the Herding Group. Corgi’s are described as being tough-as-nails and a big dog in a little dog’s body.
The breed has an average life expectancy of between 12 and 15 years. Breed health concerns may include glaucoma, intervertebral disk disease, progressive retinal atrophy and obesity. This is a particularly hearty breed.