Unlike some dog breeds, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi does not have a traceable breed history. Its origins are obscured by tales and folklore and even contain ties to the wee folk of the British Isles. According to legend, two children tending their family's cattle on royal lands found a pair of puppies, which they thought were foxes. When they brought the puppies home, they were told the dogs were a gift from the fairies. Welsh legends tell us that the fairies would use the little dogs to pull their carriages or as mounts for them to ride into battle. If you look, you can still see the marks of the fairy saddle on their shoulders (especially pronounced in the sable color). As the little puppies that the children brought home grew, they learned to help their humans watch over their cattle, a task to become a responsibility for their descendants for the centuries to follow.
That's the legend. The more commonly accepted theory traces back to Scandinavian raiders bringing their dogs with them to the British Isles, possibly as far back as the 9th or 10th century. The Swedish Vallhund is seen to bear many similarities to today's Pembroke Welsh Corgi and is presumed to have been bred with native Welsh dogs. Any of the offspring that expressed cattle herding/driving traits were no doubt selectively bred to enhance that skill. It is also thought that the dogs brought over with Flemish weavers, who settled in Pembrokeshire, South Wales in the 12th century, were bred with the local cattle dogs adding the Spitz characteristics that the Pembroke Welsh Corgi expresses today.
Since much truth is often found in legends, it is also told that the Pembroke’s tail was docked so as not to confuse it with the fox. The most probable reason for docking Pembrokes are that the Pembroke had a naturally occurring bob-tail and since many pups in a litter would be born with natural bobtails, the others were docked, for the sake of uniformity.
The name of the breed is as difficult to nail down as is its origin. One school combines the Welsh word "cor" which means "to watch over or gather" with "gi", a form of the Welsh word for dog. This was certainly a responsibility of these small cattle herders and homestead guardians. Another ascribes the word corgi as the Celtic word for dog and that the Norman invaders thereafter referred to any local dog as a "cur" or mongrel. Finally, legend pops up again with the interpretation that the word "cor" means "dwarf". Combine that with the Welsh form for dog "gi" and you have "dog of the dwarfs or "dwarf dog". For many years Corgis (both breeds) were referred to as either 'Ci-llathed' meaning "yard long dog" (we're talking a Welsh yard here) or as 'Ci Sawdlo' due to its nature of nipping at cattle's heels.
The breed was first officially exhibited as the Welsh Corgi in England in 1925 and was eligible to compete for challenge certificates in 1927. Both Pembrokes and Cardigans were shown in the same classes as one breed until 1934, when the Kennel Club (British) separated the two breeds. The first Pembrokes registered with the AKC appeared in 1934. Pembrokes were first exhibited in the U.S. in 1936.
Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of England, is a longtime Pembroke fancier. In 1933 her father, then the Duke of York (later King George VI), purchased a Pembroke puppy (Rozavel Golden Eagle)as a playmate for his daughters Elizabeth and Margaret. Queen Elizabeth's interest in the breed has continued throughout her life, and several lovely Pembrokes still grace Buckingham Palace. Her Majesty's interest in the breed, coupled with the appearance of a Pembroke family on the cover of Farm Journal and the Disney film "Little Dog Lost", helped fuel America's love affair with the Pembroke Welsh Corgi.
The Queen and her Corgis (courtesy of Sky News (Great Britain))
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi is recognized by the American Kennel (AKC), United Kennel Club (UKC), the Kennel Club (Great Britain, KC), the FCI, the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) and many other kennel clubs throughout the world.
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Corgi History and Folklore