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The Differences between
Pembroke and Cardigan Corgis


            “Look, a Corgi!” A phrase often used when people happen to pass by a foxy, stubby-legged, cute little dog.  Although calling any small working dog a Corgi is acceptable, these people are referring to two breeds in particular: the Pembroke Welsh Corgi and the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. In ancient Welsh, the word “Cor” meant “dwarf”, the word “cur” meant “working”, and the word, “gi” meant “dog.” Since the Pembrokes and Cardigans were the only herding dogs existing in Wales until 1800, they commonly became known as Corgis. But though these two dogs share a name, in truth, the Cardigan and the Pembroke Corgis developed as quite different canine breeds. The only similarities about the two are their foxy appearance and their origins in Wales.

            A major difference in the Pembroke and Cardigan Corgis is their ancestry. They come from different blood lines. In Richard Alice Fienne’s The Natural History of Dogs, he describes four groups of dog descendants: The Mastiff Group, the Dingo Group, the Greyhound Group, and the Northern Group.

            The Cardigans’ belong in the Mastiff Group, where their ancestors can be traced back to mountain Tibetan wolf types.  Cardigans began as scent hounds brought to the county of Cardiganshire, Wales by the Celts from central Europe as early as 1200 BC. There the scent hounds, which may have been the Basset Hound or Dachshund, were crossbred with existing Welsh heeling breeds, producing the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. When found to be too aggressive herding sheep, some Cardigans were crossbred with the Welsh Collie, which is how some today have developed a blue merle color. As time progressed, they developed their personal name, “Ci Llathaid,” meaning, “by the yard,” since their length measured about the length of a Welsh yard (40 inches). So time went by and the Cardigan Welsh Corgi bred and grew up in Cardiganshire, Wales.

            The Pembrokes’ (otherwise known as “Cwn Sodi;” Welsh for “heeling dog) belong in the Northern Group, whose ancestors can be traced back to Northern wolves who migrated around lake settlements of Hungary, Switzerland, and Russia during the Neolithic Age. There are several theories, however, of how Pembroke Welsh Corgis came into existence in Wales. One tells of a spitz-like breed arriving in Wales with the Flemish weavers from England to Wales around 1107 AD, while another tells of the Vikings of Norway bringing the spitz dogs around the ninth and tenth century on their forays to Wales. There is barely any doubt that either the Swedish Vallhund or Lundehunds were these spitz dogs who were crossbred to produce the famous dogs that grew up in the county of Pembrokeshire, Wales called Pembroke Welsh Corgis.

            The first recorded history about these small herding dogs from Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire is by King Hywel Dda, King of South Wales. He wrote a law in 920 AD prohibiting any abuse to these two breeds, since these dogs played a very important role to the poor Welsh farmers who owned them, and, in fact, were considered part of the family. Despite their different heritages, though, they did the same jobs. By day, they would work hard herding sheep and cattle in the fields. By night, the Pembrokes and Cardigans would protect their families from danger.  As later came to pass, they would serve as nannies for the children and would round up and pen the poultry, as well as driving large flocks to market.

            Although the Pembrokes and Cardigans share a very similar fox-like appearance, the fact that they have separate origins can be physically demonstrated. A major physical difference between the two breeds of canines is the tail. Pembroke Welsh Corgis do not have tails. It is not certain on how this came to be, but currently most Pembrokes are born tailless. They are docked if not. In Wales, when the Pembrokes herded the cows, the cows would often step on their tails and injure the dogs, so the farmers docked them. Now they are just docked if not born tailless to adhere to the breed standard. The Cardigans, however, do have tails. In the Cardigan breed standard, Cardigans are specifically supposed to have tails with fox-like brushes that reach well below the hock.

            Other, more minor physical differences, relate to differences in bodily proportions, such as height and weight. The ideal height of a Cardigan is 10.5 – 12.5 inches at the shoulder, whereas a Pembroke’s is 10-12 inches. In weight, the ideal Cardigan dog weight should not exceed 38 pounds and the Cardigan bitch’s should not exceed 34 pounds. But in the Pembrokes, the dog’s weight should not exceed 30 pounds and bitch’s should not exceed 25. A lot of weight differences have to do with the fact that Cardigans are bigger boned. They’re taller at the shoulders, have a longer body, and are deeper at the chest. The deeper, wider chest causes the Cardigan’s forearms to curve around the rib cage, while the Pembroke’s forearms only have a slight bend. Another difference is in their ears. The Cardigan’s ears, unlike the Pembrokes’ medium sized ears, are large and not in proportion with the head.

            Other differences in the Cardigan and Pembroke relate to coat color, show disqualifications and attitude. Cardigans have a wide range of coat color, while in the Pembroke’s breed standard, they’re only allowed a few in dog shows. Cardigans may be any shade of red, sable or brindle, as well as being black, gray, or marbled with bits of white. The Pembrokes, however, are only allowed to be red, sable, fawn, black and tan with bits of white. When it comes to disqualifications in dog shows, Pembrokes have none specifically listed, while Cardigans have a few: 1) Blue eyes or partially blue eyes in any other coat other than blue merle. 2) Drop ears. 3) Nose other than solid black other than blue merles. 4) Any coat color other than specified. 5) Body color predominantly white. And lastly temper. Surprisingly, the two breeds share a rather similar temper. But when compared, a Pembroke has a very bold personality, while a Cardigan’s personality is more placid.

            Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis both share a recent history, where, at first, people couldn’t figure out the differences. In 1925, these breeds both made their first official appearance at the English Kennel Club together under the name, “Welsh Corgi.” Rose, a Pembroke, won third place overall under that breed category, “Welsh Corgi.” Later in December 1925, the first Corgi Club was founded in Carmathen, Pembrokeshire, Wales. There, the breed standard was written up for the Corgi, but listed traits of Pembrokes that the Cardigans could not match. In 1926, due to the preference of Pembrokes in the club, the Cardigan lover branched out and formed their own Cardigan club in Wales. In 1928, the Kennel Club of the UK officially recognized these two breeds and gave them champion status, but, mistakenly, listed them both as Welsh Corgis. Rose was the first one registered. In 1931, a rule was passed in the UK stating that docking of Pembroke Corgis’ tails was prohibited, so that the two breeds would seem more alike. But to the judges of the dog shows, they still physically weren’t. Judges started showing preference for whichever breed was their favorite, and in Corgi shows they would always give the award to their favorite breed. Finally, in 1934, the Kennel Club of the UK gave the Pembrokes and Cardigans separate status and abolished the tail docking rule.

Meanwhile, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi was being introduced to someone who would bring the breed future fame and glory. Mrs. Thelma Gray, owner of the Pembroke Rozavel Red Dragon and founder of the Welsh Corgi League in England, introduced Pembroke puppies to the Duke of York, later King George IV. The Duke gave them to his daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Ever since, the royal family favors and keeps as pets their beloved Pembroke Welsh Corgis, of whom Queen Elizabeth II is very proud. The publicity of her pets increased their popularity all over the world, especially in British or formerly British dominated areas, leaving the Cardigan to sit in the Pembroke’s shadow.

Although they were never quite as popular, the Cardigans were the first to arrive in the United States. The first dogs, Cassie and Cando, arrived there in June 1931 with their owner, Mrs. Robert Bole. Three years later, the first Pembroke, Little Madam, arrived in the United States with her owner, Mrs. Lewis. That same year she was registered with the American Kennel Club under Pembroke Welsh Corgi. In 1935, Blodwen of Robinscroft was registered as the first Cardigan in the American Kennel Club. A year later, both the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club and the Cardigan Welsh Corgi Club held their first meetings. In 1949, Uncle Sam was the first corgi to win all-breed Best in Show in the US under the breed category, “Pembroke Welsh Corgi.” To this day, the Pembroke ranks 26th in the American Kennel Club out of one-hundred-fifty breeds, and the Cardigan ranks 85th.

  Altogether, even though the common preference and use of the Pembrokes and Cardigans was in Wales, they arrived from different areas of Europe at different times, and had bloodlines that were derived from different ancestors. Today that difference in origin can be seen through differences in their individual physical appearances, temperaments, and histories. Despite the similarity in name, Pembrokes and Cardigans are entirely separate breeds, and should therefore be treated so. 


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