In a previous article about whether Corgis are hypoallergenic (spoiler alert: they are not!), we only briefly mentioned that “Corgi” is actually not an official breed by itself.
In fact, there are two distinct Corgi breeds recognized by the AKC. One is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and the other is a Cardigan Welsh Corgi. So, what’s the difference?
This post will cover the similarities and differences between the two breeds, what makes them unique enough to be recognized separately by the AKC, and a bit about the history of the breed. We’ll also touch on health problems, and tell you which one was the favorite of the late Queen Elizabeth II.
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The History of the Corgi Breed(s)
Both the Cardigan and Pembroke Welsh Corgis are very old breeds. The Cardigan Welsh Corgi dates back to around 1200 BC, whereas the Pembroke is a bit older, dating back to 1000.
In fact, Corgis even turn up in early Middle English literature. The Domesday Book was like a census of England and Wales, completed in 1086 for King William the Conquerer. It told him all he wanted to know about land ownership, and his subjects. If you think that “Domesday” sounds like “Doomsday”, you’re correct. Domesday is the Middle English spelling for the word “doomsday”.
In this book, “yard dogs” are mentioned. These “yard dogs” are dogs that measure one yard from nose to snout. And in case you haven’t already guessed, yes, we’re talking about Corgis.
In Welsh, this is “ci-llathed” or “yard-long dog”. Now the breeds are named after specific regions of Wales, specifically Cardigan and Pembrokeshire.
According to the Smithsonian Dogs handbook, Cardigan Welsh Corgis was the only type of dog kept in Welsh communities until the 1850s. The Cardigan breed is also older than the Pembroke breed, according to the book Welsh Corgis by Jill Wheeler.
The two breeds were originally listed as one “Corgi” breed in Britain’s The Kennel Club in 1925. Over the years they were then referred to as Welsh Corgis, and then declared as separate breeds (at least in Britain) in 1935.
From a breed standpoint, Cardigans are thought to possibly be related to the Teckel family of dogs, which includes Dachshunds. Pembrokes, on the other hand, are more closely related to the Spitz family of dogs, which includes many fluffy, curly-tailed Northern breeds.
Pembrokes are the more popular of the two breeds, ranking as the 10th most popular breed in 2021. They are also the favorite breed of the late Queen Elizabeth II, who raised and bred Pembroke Welsh Corgis throughout her entire life, owning over 30 of the breed. She also owned “Dorgis” which is a Dachshund-Corgi mix.
Pembroke is 11th in Stanley Coren’s The Intelligence of Dogs, 11th most popular breed in 2020 (2021?)
Physical Differences Between Cardigan and Pembroke Welsh Corgis
Both breeds can be described as “yard-long dogs”, and are both small and low to the ground. This helps them dodge cattle while also being able to nip at their ankles. Both breeds were originally used for “droving” cattle–droving is a slow type of herding. Both breeds can be described as active and obedient.
Dog height is measured to their withers, which is a fancy way of saying their shoulders. Cardigan Welsh Corgis are 10.5-12.5″ at the withers, and Pembroke Welsh Corgis are slightly shorter on average, at 10-12″.
Likewise, Cardigans are slightly heavier than Pembrokes. The average weight for Cardigan Welsh Corgis is 25-38 lbs, whereas Pembrokes average 20-26 lbs.
The differences between the two Corgi breeds are more subtle. For example, Cardigan Welsh Corgis look more “foxlike”. They have a long “fox brush” tail. Their ears are larger and more widely spaced, and their feet are rounder looking. And they have a wider skull and more fox-like head.
Cardigan Welsh Corgis have a long list of acceptable colors and markings, including white fur mixed with Black, Blue Merle, Brindle, Gray, Liver, Red, or Sable.
Comparatively, the Pembroke has a shorter tail, and sometimes are born with short tails. The rest of the breed typically has their tails docked to conform to the breed standard. They have a flatter skull, “pricked” medium sized ears. Pembroke Welsh Corgis also come in fewer color combinations than the Cardigan Welsh Corgi, including Black & Tan, Fawn, Red, Sable.
Corgi Health Issues
Corgis have a life expectancy of 12-15 years. They are a “true dwarf” breed, or achondroplastic. This means that the bones do not grow to a “normal” size, due to a genetic mutation. While this is expected, achondroplasia can cause issues with the jaw, teeth, and joints.
According to Jake Page’s book Dogs: A Natural History, Cardigan Welsh Corgis are also known to have a predisposition to hip dysplasia, progressive retinol atrophy (PRA), and other eye problems. Likewise, Pembroke Welsh Corgis are also susceptible to hip dysplasia and PRA.
If you are interested in buying a Corgi, make sure you are buying from a reputable breeder who will breed dogs less prone to these issues.
Lastly, both dog breeds are also prone to obesity, given their small stature. If you own a Corgi, be sure to keep them well-exercised and on a good diet, so that their small frame is not overwhelmed by excess weight!
Corgi Breed Comparison
To summarize what we’ve covered, here is a chart summarizing the differences: