Sometimes referred to as the Corgi with the tail (being one of two “Welsh” Corgis, the other, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, without a prominent tail), the Cardigan Welsh Corgis draws it roots from the earliest herding breeds of dogs. Welsh folklore holds that the Cardigan Welsh Corgi is the “enchanted” dog of the Fay (the Welsh variety of fairies); used by fairies and elves to pull their coaches and serve as the steeds for their warriors. It is said that those who have an understanding heart and a sharp eye can see the faint fairy saddle on the back of a Cardigan Welsh Corgi and the harness marks on their shoulders.
Known informally as Cardigans, Cardigan Welsh Corgis, as the name implies, begin their history with the Corgis proper. Though thought to be Cousins, the Cardigan and the Pembroke are actually two distinct lines, with Pembrokes descending from the Norse, Spitz type dog and Cardigans from the Teckel family of dogs (the same family of dogs that produced the Dachshund) that arrived with the Celts moving from Central Europe. Indeed the Cardigan’s presence in Wales precedes that of the Pembrokes by centuries, and the first Welsh Corgis were amongst the earliest domestic breeds of dog anywhere in the British Isles.
Though some believe the Corgi originally arrived in Wales either in 8th with the Vikings or the 11th century with the Flemish; most authorities on the subject, including both W. Lloyd Thomas and Clifford Hubbard (considered amongst breeders and clubs alike as histories premier chroniclers of the Corgi), maintain that the first Corgis to lay their paws upon Welsh soil did so in the 12th century BCE as loyal dogs of the Celts. Such vast historical, genetic and anthropologic evidence exists to support the latter theory that the others are considered almost preposterous. Indeed, the word “Corgi” is thought to derive from the Celtic word for dog: “Concho”.
The confusion may arise because, as mentioned, the Pembroke and Cardigan come from two separate lines of dogs: the Pembroke’s history can be traced to the 11th century, when weavers from Belgium (the Flemish) began to immigrate to the region to meet expanding Medieval Britain’s need for the craft. Premier Flemish practitioners of the craft were actually paid by the Monarch at the time, Henry the 1st, to move to Wales. These Flemish weavers brought with them their own Spitz-type dogs (the ancestors of the present-day Schipperkes and Pomeranians); dogs that were crossed bred with the original Corgi to produce what is known today as the Pembroke Welsh Corgi.
The Corgis who arrived with the Celts (ancestors the to the modern Cardigan) in Wales in the 12th century BCE were brought for their versatile abilities in herding. As herding dogs Cardigan Welsh Corgis were used “nippers”, using their small size and agility to dart amongst the herd of animals and correct the path of wandering beasts by nipping at their heels. As herding at the time primarily involved cattle, the small size of the Cardigan allowed them to easily dodge the kicks of larger bovine. Their acute senses also allowed them to serve as an early warning for predators.
After the influx of the Flemish Corgis (forbearers of the Pembroke Welsh Corgis) a fair amount of interbreeding occurred. Though some Pembroke Welsh Corgis became popular amongst British nobility, both Medieval and Renaissance era Britain didn’t have a modern concept of a “middle class” or a “family dog”, and so the Cardigan remained in Wales amongst the flocks and people with whom it was familiar. It was here in Wales that the type picked up the "Cardigan" prefix; more specifically Bronant, a small village in the very heart of the Cardiganshire hills. The only place in Wales where until about 1870 no other dog breed but the Corgi could to be found. Therefore, the original Corgi was sometimes also referred to as the Bronant Corgi or Cardiganshire Corgi. The latter sticking and becoming shortened over the years into what we have today, the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. It was not until the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century that an economic stratum was created of those rich enough to keep pets (who weren’t gentry). While many preferred the royal flavor of the Pembroke, the Cardigan also became a popular British pet on account of its affection and loyal attitude.
On account of their growing popularity as a breed, beginning in 1925 both types of Corgi (Pembroke and Cardigan) found themselves being exhibited Kennel Club (UK) shows of the time. Unfortunately, however, the Kennel Club did not consider the two types to be separate breeds and instead kept them together in its studbook as one single breed which allowed the two types to be crossed. This created considerable frustration among the fanciers of both breeds as judges of the time were known to more subjective than objective at dog shows by have a preference for one breed or the other. Thereby creating a situation where a perfect specimen of either type would rank lowly at one show and highly at another based on the whimsical preferences of the official in charge. In response to this the English Cardigan Welsh Corgi Association was founded in 1926 to lobby the cause for recognition as a distinct breed. It would take another nine years of lobbying and complaining by the club and fanciers alike before the Kennel Club corrected the error and separated the two breeds in 1934.
A Mrs. Roberta Bole of Boston imported the first pair of Cardigans to the United States in June of 1931. She would also be instrumental in the foundation of the Cardigan Welsh Corgi Club of America (CWCCA) in 1935. Coupled with pressure from two other Bostonians, Mr. Hubbard and Mr. Thomas, the breed was admitted for American Kennel Club (AKC) registration in 1935. The pressure on the AKC was helped by the aforementioned decision of the English Kennel Club the year prior in admitting both the Cardigan and the Pembroke Welsh Corgis as separate breeds. Reflecting the levels of popularity in the two Corgis breeds, in the first years of admissions 250 Pembroke Welsh Corgis were registered in the AKC compared to only 59 Cardigans.
Another notable breeder of the time, Marcia Lopemen, who bred under the "Kencia" prefix in recounting her memories of Mrs. Bole and her own involvement with the foundation of the club wrote in the CWCCA Handbook of 1975 that:
“One of my earliest memories was a meeting in the early 1940's with Mrs. Bole, Mrs. Peter Jay, Kendrick Lopeman and myself at the Hollenden Hotel in Cleveland. Although we had a corner table, there was an orchestra and the "Old Red Head," Arthur Godfrey, was performing and Mrs. Bole with her back to the stage could care less, but my husband who was one of the gentleman's greatest admirers was trying to catch the act and concentrate on our deliberations. Well, we did make future plans and decided as a nucleus club to bring our breed to the forefront and some recognition. Our club consisted then of the officers - Kendrick Lopeman as president; Mrs. Peter Jay as vice president; me as secretary-treasurer; and Mrs. Bole as Chairman of the Board of Directors; the other board members being the aforementioned officers.
"Mrs. Bole who was well versed not only in art and music but also in genetics was determined that the breed not be commercialized and in consequence inferior specimens be bred. We decided to start a breeding schedule and to place only the quality animals in the hands of prospective owners who would exhibit them or breed conscientiously. To do this we would give, without papers, the less promising pups to farmers for use on farms or to owners for pets.
"Lest I forget to mention it, Mrs Bole was adamant that no dogs with a poor disposition be used for breeding or exhibited. Also, she felt that since the breed was a working dog, there should be no alteration of its coat - no cutting of whiskers, no stripping or clipping or coloring of coat and certainly no fabrication of quality by Novocain in tails, etc. We believed that in so doing, we might make the limelight for the moment, but it would be detrimental as the end result.”
Even after the foundation of the club and its acceptance by the AKC, the Cardigan Welsh Corgi remained a relatively rare breed. Entering the 1940’s the Cardigan was dealt a setback with the entry of the United States into World War II as a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941; a time that marked the low point for many breeds, as war time rationing made necessities tough to come by and the keeping of dog was in most cases viewed as an unnecessary burden. With the cessation of the war and just as the Cardigan Welsh Corgi was on the rebound, it was dealt yet another nearly lethal blow when the breeds main advocate and the woman responsible for its presence in America, Mrs. Bole passed away due to a severe stroke in 1950. The breeds fortune would once again be reversed in the 1960’s, a time of expansion as new breeders entered the scene, understanding as show judges became accustomed to the breed and the time of the breeds highest popularity in the United States. The post club years as told by Mary Nelms (Brymore, in the 1976 CWCCA Year Book:
“…After Mrs. Bole's death, the Cardigan stock became even more scattered. Some of Mrs. Bole's Cardigans went to Mrs. Marcia Lopeman in up-state New York; some to her niece, Mrs. Peter Jay in Maryland; some to Dr. Peterson of Virginia; and to Mr. W. B. French in Georgia.
"Fortunately, at about this time, new enthusiasts entered the scene. Dr. Peterson was breeding his Bole stock and they were being handled in the show ring by Mrs. Margaret Douglas… In Philadelphia, Mr. Joseph Frutchey was breeding and showing. In Minnesota, Mr. George Reed had formed a nucleus of breeders and exhibitors. In the far west, in California, Mrs. Genevieve Anderson was a pioneer breeder and a dedicated missionary for the breed. Her friend, Mrs. Marguerite Farley, bred the first American blue merle, Ch. Farlesdale Silver Pay Day, in 1952. Things were definitely looking up, but judges, in the main, ignored us; professional handlers avoided us. And indeed the Cardigan ring, in the late 1950's showed what may politely be called "diversity of type". With the exception of Mrs. Douglas, we had no large scale breeders. And for the occasional litter, the stud used was, in most cases, the handiest. For over a decade no fresh stock had been brought in from Great Britain.
"Then in 1957, Mr. Hal Nelson imported a tricolor bitch, Kentwood Dilys, from Miss Sonnica Godden. At about the same time Mrs. Michael Pym brought in Ch. Parmel Bryn. Bryn was bred by the Parkinsons, and was the son of the great Eng. Ch. Kentwood Cymro, whom he once beat in the ring. When Mrs. Pym bought him he had just won the Breed at Crufts. But these two imports looked lonely in the American Cardigan show ring.
"They were so different from all the others. The judges didn't seem to know what to do with them, so they placed them alternately at the top and at the bottom of their classes. The difference in appearance led to careless talk about "an American type", a concept that would have spelled disaster for the Cardigan in the States.
"At this critical and dangerous point in Cardigan history, rescue appeared in the form of Mrs. Pym, herself an Englishwoman and a lady who never does anything by halves. Her heart was in the breed, and the situation frightened and annoyed her. So in 1962 she went to Great Britain and chose eleven Cardigans for breeding stock, bringing eight of them back with her in the Queen Mary, to the delight and edification of passengers and crew. Subsequently, some of these were given to other breeders in various parts of the country to improve the bloodlines.
"In the meantime, Mr. Nelson's Dilys, now a champion, had not been idle. Bred the first time to Kentwood Helgi, she produced a daughter who was subsequently bred to a Swansea stud, Ch. Swansea Punch. From this litter came Ch. Lord Jim's Lucky Domino, one of our truly greats, winner of groups, of Westminster (and of 5 National Specialties - ed. note). When bred back to his grandmother, Dilys, he sired two of the outstanding dogs in American Cardigan history: Ch. Springdale Droednoeth, and Ch. Domino's Beau Jester. Dr. Ed McGough took his Ch. Springdale Droednoeth all the way to the top, to win the first Best in Show award at an all breed show in the history of American Cardigans.”
Recently however, and especially over the last two decades the Welsh Corgis has seen a decided decline in global popularity; supplanted by the growing demand for other smaller breeds like the Shihtsu, small toy breeds like the Chihuahua, and crossbreeds like the Labradoodle. Both breeds of the Welsh Corgi have recently been placed on the “vulnerable list” kept by the English Kennel Club; to be considered vulnerable a breed sees less than 100 purebred puppies registered with the Kennel Club in a given year. Such low levels are considered dangerous from a genetic standpoint, for at least 300 puppies a year are needed to guarantee sufficient diversity within the gene pool to promulgate a healthy population. Although it is nowhere close to being the not the most popular dog. In the United States times have been somewhat more forgiving with the breed sitting in 84th position out of a possible 167 breeds according to AKC registration statistics for 2010. This, however, is a drop of three positions from its seat in 81st place 10 years earlier.
In the Cardigan Welsh Corgi, overall balance is more important than absolute size. Both males and females should be from 10.5 to 12.5 inches tall at the withers when standing naturally. Although no official weight standard is given, member of this breed will typically weigh between 25 and 30 pounds. They carry their weight on a long, low frame chiefly characterized by their bottle-brush tail and upright ears. Indeed, the old American Kennel Club standard called it an "Alsatian on short legs". The current AKC Standard describes the breed as "...a small, sturdy but powerful dog capable of endurance and speed".
The coat of the Cardigan comes in a variety of colors, shades and patterns: brindle (which gives a wood grain effect), red (brown or golden), sable (with black hair tips), blue merle (black and grey marbled) and black.Eye color varies in accordance with the coloring of the dog.White flashings are common on the neck as a partial or full collar. These markings can also appear on the chest, legs, muzzle, the tip of the tail and the blaze. Freckles (known as ticking) is also common. The white flashing on the blaze of the head is known as the “Irish Pattern”.
Cardigans have short legs with round feet that turn slightly outward. Their deep set chest dips in the front, but is kept well clear of the hindquarters.
The history of the Cardigan as a working dog has equipped the animal with a remarkable ability to learn new tasks easily. They are, as a result, easily trainable: both on account of their intellect and their ability to maintain concentration for long periods of time. Cardigans can be trained merely to be no-nonsense pets, or can be trained to compete in a variety of events; agility trials, obedience, showmanship, flyball, tracking, and herding event.
Cardigans are an extremely friendly breed, and mix well with other dogs and even other animals (including cats and birds). Not an aggressive breed (unless they feel threatened or are protecting their family), Cardigans are also renowned for their gentleness with children. Still, as with all breeds of dog it is up to the parents to ensure that play between dogs and smaller children or other dogs is closely supervised to prevent the dog from acting out if it is placed in a situation where the dog feels it is being hurt and/or needs to defend itself.
Cardigans also serve as excellent watchdogs: their loyalty to their owners will result in them barking to raise the alarm at the approach of a stranger; behavior that typically will not subside until the dog is satisfied his family is in no danger.
Cardigans do require regular exercise, though due to their smaller size it can be something as simple as a long walk or a vigorous play time; that said, these activities should be performed daily. Cardigans are an energetic breed but not prone to misbehaving once properly trained.
As herders, Cardigans were used as “nippers” (nipping the heels of a larger animal to herd the creature) and can develop the tendency among humans. This trait, however, can be easily corrected with the proper balance of Alpha establishment and reward.
Cardigans can live happily in virtually any environment, from rural farm to big city apartment, as long as they have access to exercise and loving owners.
Cardigans are extremely heavy shedders; as a result not only is weekly grooming a must, but owners can expect loose hair to drop about the household routinely. This medium-length all-weather coat is, though, easy to brush, and Cardigans are not averse to grooming. They are also diligent self-cleaners, and so while a certain amount of cleaning is inevitable, close attention is not required.
As the Cardigans coat is an all-weather coat, it is advisable to use protein rich shampoos and conditioners when bathing the dog. Owners can expect the Cardigans coat to be shed fully twice a year – this does not occur, however, en masse. The coat is naturally water resistant, so excessive bathing of the animal is not recommended. An owner is advised to fully bathe a Cardigan once every three to four months.
The upright ears of the Cardigan can attract bacteria and so should be periodically cleaned to avoid malodor. The nails should also be periodically clipped.
A well-attended Cardigan Welsh Corgi can expect to live from 12 to 15 years. One of the healthier breeds of dogs, the main conditions that can affect the quality of a Cardigans life are progressive retinal atrophy, glaucoma and back disorders, as well as hip dysplasia. Cardigans can also gain weight quickly, so a proper diet is essential for good health. An improper diet can also lead to kidney stones, to which Cardigans are particularly susceptible.
As progressive retinal atrophy is a genetic regressive disease, the potential risk can be avoided if the proper breeder with the proper genetic screening is chosen.
A 2005 study by the UK Kennel Club found that the most common cause of death in the breed were cancer(28.3%), old age(24.6%) and neurological disorders(15.2%).
Cardigan Welsh Corgis may also develop the following:
Other disorders have been reported sporadically, and may be inherited in this breed: