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Doing some preownership homework!

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Hey all,
I'm really interested in getting a BC. I've trained and worked with dogs for years and would not consider myself a novice. I've got a rescue mutt with me now but some day hope to get a dog who has a little more drive to do something. I would love to compete in agility, and by compete, I mean, more than trotting around with my never to be rushed little mutt tongue.gif This leads me to naturally look into more agility apt breeds. I love BCs for their intelligence and for the speed in which they learn. MY first dog was a Sheltie and I LOVED that herding brain about him. But, honestly, I can't ever seem to meet a non-neurotic BC and I'm starting to think its a part of the package. That anxious, constantly staring waiting for so much as a leaf to blow in the wind... They're kinda stressful to be around. I know they're bred for work, I really get that. And I know it takes both mental and physical work to keep a BC happy. I can do moderate activity, a house with people in it most of the day, and I'm not a novice clicker trainer etc. But part of me wonders if BCs are good at their job, because of things in their breeding that make them abnormally sensitive... Perhaps BCs are kinda like the guy from the movie "Rainman," absolutely brilliant, but not made for "normal life." Does that analogy make sense? Like their ability makes doing normal activites impossible, if not miserable for the dog. And that's where I have the problem. I want a dog I can take everywhere, to work, coffee shops, bike rides, etc. And having a constant up tight, s_shocked-15.gif <- this face staring at me--would not be something I think is fair for the dog or me. It's made me question if perhaps an Aussie or doberman would be a better pick for their reduced intensity. The thing is, we all know that agility's favorite breed is the BC and I think their must be something to that. I want to be a serious competitor, but I want a dog that can live a normal life me and my family. It probably doesn't help that the only videos online are of amped up BCs "performing."


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Hmmm, I'm probably not the best person to answer this - I have a rescue who may or may not be part border collie. But if you're mostly looking at agility border collies, then that may be why you only see neurotic ones. From what I've seen of those, they have no off switch and can be crazy. This board advocates working bred dogs, not sport bred like those agility ones. Good working bred dogs know when to be up and at 'em, but they also know when to be calm. You can certainly have a border collie leading a "normal" life. In fact, I think border collies are one of the best dogs if you want one to be a member of your family, and not just simply there. They like to be involved in everything. I'm sure you'll get better responses than mine. Welcome to the Boards and good on you for doing some research before jumping in!

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I'm not an expert like many of the people on this forum, but I just wanted to chime in that regardless of breed, for any dog to be happy, it needs stimulation, both physically and mentally. The level of stimulation ranges from dog to dog due to different drives, but for the most part, a responsible owner makes the difference between a wound-up dog and a happy dog.


My dog, Caleb, comes from a Barbie Collie breeder; she doesn't work with her dogs nor does she do agility or anything other than conformation. Even so, I am very happy Caleb doesn't have any mental issues, and aside from a few things that are fundamentally him (being too sensitive, for example), I think he leads a pretty happy life. Sure, sometimes I feel bad he's not up and bounding and sleeping his day away, but most dogs sleep quite a lot during the day, including working dogs. I remember a few people here talking about how their sheepdogs would sleep for a lot of the day and have about an hour or two of work per day, and they were pretty happy.


There are quite a few people in my neighborhood who have Border Collies, and I see them every single day, rain or shine, exercising their dogs. They're all very well-adjusted, minus one who... needs some help. I myself rotate different toys outside with Caleb, from flirt poles to Frisbees and balls, and sometimes just straight-up walking around in new places. Just something to stimulate him.


I feel like you're holding onto a lot of misconceptions about Border Collies and what people say about them: they need sheep to be happy, they're wound up tight, neurotic, and so on. But I don't think that's true at all. Do your homework if you're buying from a breeder; make sure it's a working breeder, not a conformation one. If you get a rescue dog, express to the shelter what you are looking for in a dog and they should be able to help you. Always, always pick a dog based on what you are looking for in a companion and what you want to do. Sure, looks help, but it won't make you happier than simply a dog who gets you. You seem really enthused as it is, so I think if you just work on training and obedience with your dog, you two will be very happy.


Good luck!

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I am writing this while waiting for my coffee to finish brewing with my border collie curled up next to me on the couch. I have owned three and fostered numerous others and all of them have become good to live with. In the house we encourage calm, actually we insist on it. Rievaulx has traveled from the States to Spain, he has been on ferries, in hotels, stayed with friends and regularly goes to cafes and he is always good company.


That said he has quirks and if you meet him at an agility trial you would think he was an intense driven dog, bring out a ball and you get the same dog, start throwing that toy and you are in trouble. Last weekend we were competing with another "crazy" American border collie and she was exactly what you describe, and I am sure it is because her early life was completly focused on being a great agility dog that she was not taught other life skills. Both dogs look similar on the course, it was afterwards that the difference showed, she had to be crated as she was manically focused on her toy, Rievaulx just hung out with us.


You are going to get lots of good advice, about choosing a dog from those with much more knowledge than me. I just wanted to say that border collies can and do make great companions as well as competive agility dogs.


Edited as usual to correct spelling and grammar as a consequence of using an IPad!

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I will admit frankly that my puppy came from a working breeder and she has some issues.


She is rocking at agility foundations (she's not quite 9 months), moves at the speed of light and learns fast. She isn't obsessed with balls or toys, she doesn't bark mindlessly for hours on end, she doesn't need 8 billion hours of exercise a day (more like 45 minutes) and does just fine in daily life. Better than fine - she's in a lot of ways the easiest to live with dog I've ever had. She's a dream, she really and truly is.


Oh and re; Toys: She likes her balls but her access to them is limited and there is no obsession about it. They come out, she's excited and wants to play, but she'll move on and knows to leave whatever at a box near our door.

Honestly, living with her is not much different than living with any of the rest.


She is as reactive as the day is long and easily goes over thershold, and going to agility classes with a dog who reacts strongly to the presence of other dogs running and barking is a challenge. We spent the first three classes doing desensitization work. Class 4 she managed to participate really well for the whole class. We're still going to have to take this class again, because while she's rocking the agility she needs more work coping with the environment.

All of this started at about 6 months old, and at 9 months we're basically starting to see her be able to keep her brain together enough to cope with that kind of environment and she backslides pretty frequently, though never back to as bad as she was. She also definitely hates some dogs/types more than others and as we learn what will trigger her we're better at staying on top of it. It's a process, we're working on it and we'll get there.


She also wants to chase anything that moves fast, and that can sometimes send her over - dog or not - when she's stopped. It took her until about a month ago to stop trying to chase my cats, with consistent work and exposure to cats since BIRTH.

That doesn't mean every BC is reactive. It is something that crops up. So are shyness/fear issues, OCD, and noise sensitivity. Aussies, for the record, also tend toward reactivity.


I am not trying to scare you off. I do agree that you are maybe buying into the hype about them being 'not suited for every day life'. But as a breed they have some things that you should be AWARE of as possibilities, and be careful in selecting your breeder or individual dog.

**ETA:** Also wanted to say: My first agility dog is a kind of pokey little fluffy mutt. Definitely the right dog to start with, and learn with. I can't learn crap with Molly, even just doing tunnels and jump stands. Too fast for me to work my brain and keep up with her. FUN! But way, way more than I could have handled as a newbie.

Son of ETA: Good grief I can't type this late.

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Rather than continue my constant edits, I also want to add on top of this: What you see meeting a dog at an agility trial or even out and about in a place like a petstore, especially if you have your dog with you, is likely very different than what life with them is like and probably not an accurate representation of the dog all the time.

See if you can arrange to meet a BC somewhere quiet and largely neutral. A park, the owner's home, and investigate the possibility of chilling out with them around.

Too much exposure to BC through agility and flyball events really left me with the impression that I hated them. I was totally wrong, but they were overwhelming for me when they were in a setting where they were amped up. My god, the noise.

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Hi there! I'm glad to see that you're doing plenty of researching before jumping into a breed!


My BC is the laziest herding dog I've ever met. I mean, really. He LOVES to go out and do things and will put the crazy face on when the frisbee comes out, but he is just as, if not more, content to just be with me and go places. Keeper comes to coffee shops, meetings, horse shows, bike rides (short due to age), pretty much any place where he is allowed, he's there. I got lucky that Keeper has NO negative reactivity whatsoever. Bikes, cars, shadows, strollers, skateboards, he couldn't care less. I can't take credit for that, that's just genetic. It is most definitely a generalization to say that all BC's are insane. I think mum24dog (and now CptJack) also mention that usually the dogs you see at trials are super high octane dogs. Some of those dogs are completely chill out when they get home, and others have been raised that way to fulfill the "my agility dog is the fastest and highest drive" contest. I know far more farm dogs than I do agility dogs, and they are all super realistic about their energy levels. They LOVE to go go go, but are most often found laying in the sun or babysitting the ranch kids when there's nothing to do.


I should say that my dog is working bred, but I specifically asked for the most laid back, people oriented pup in the litter. Boy did I get it, he's just a ham. I'm in contact with some of his littermate's owners, and one of his sisters is pretty go go go. She's in training right now as a cattle dog.


Many people will say that you completely create the type of dog that you want. CptJack is very right that some dogs will be reactive, or have high prey drive, or have other tendencies that are a little difficult and you can't avoid them. But the dog that constantly bugs you to throw the toy? They learned that. Or the one that pesters you at 4 pm for the daily run? They learned that too. Border collies absolutely have to be taught to be calm, that's a fact. But they're absolutely not the neurotic messes that you think they are!


Keeper is currently frustrated that the boarder maltese is pestering him to keep playing when he just wants to nap!

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I wouldn't talk down sport bred collies too much from the point of crazy behaviour because we don't know what they are like to live with. Most that I do know are fine away from the hyped environment of training or competition, but maybe I just know sensible owners.


I won't use my probably farm bred messed up rescue older collie as an example, but would say that with all his problems with strange dogs and people he is the best house dog.


I will talk about my 7 month old working bred pup which


Screams if other dogs are running in agility, but can concentrate enough to work at foundation work or just play in their presence. I don't put him in the position of just spectating unless I can keep within his comfort zone.


He barks if he thinks he's missing out on something but if nothing is happening he will sleep.


He tries to control the other dogs' movements sometimes but isn't allowed.


That's about all the not so good (apart from the poo eating, but that isn't breed specific).


He isn't a chaser.

He doesn't pester to play because I haven't encouraged it and he can make up his own games.

He is great with dogs and people of all ages and sizes, aided by the fact that he is from a breeder who believes good temperament is vital and he has had sensible socialisation.

He is keen and very quick to learn.

He is adaptable.

He doesn't bark when people come to the house.

He's moderately affectionate but not needy. Likes to sleep on my lap or by my feet.

He isn't destructive.

He doesn't exhibit neurotic and obsessive behaviour.

He doesn't need an excessive amount of exercise.


I could think of more.


The dog you end up with is partly raw material, partly what you do with that material and partly luck in trying to avoid adverse external influences.

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The breed has some quirks but I've never considered my dogs to be neurotic. They're intense (and will come stare at me at times) but also settle pretty well and are pretty environmentally stable. The breed is a learning curve if you're not used to intensity and drive. On the flip side, my area is in day 2 of a winter storm (read: exercise has been minimum) and my 6 y/o is curled up on the couch and the 11 m/o is quietly following me around the house. But reading the OP I got the distinct impression that you're interested in the breed more because you want to do agility and not because, well, you want the breed. If this is the case, I'd probably consider a different breed. Your descriptions of what you want and concerns made me think Lab or perhaps a spaniel or poodle.

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I had two thoughts mainly.


1. Most the BCs I know are pretty normal dogs. I do see some quirky weird behaviors and a lot of sound sensitivity in them compared to other breeds but it's not solely because they're BCs. The Belgians and aussies can also be very sound sensitive too. I do think they can be very sensitive and more prone to reactivity than a lot of breeds but I know so many that are go everywhere kind of dogs.


2. Don't get a breed just for agility. If that is your only real attraction to the breed, I'd encourage you to look into other breeds. You can have a fun, fast agility dog and it not be a border collie. I know labs, mutts, aussies, viszla, shelties, etc etc that are great agility dogs. A couple of the most impressive dogs I know personally and that have the highest level titles are retrievers. I watched a video yesterday of a viszla that took 2nd at the national championship! You do see mostly border collies but that doesn't mean other breeds can't do well.


I personally adopted a dog that is pretty talented so far but he's a mix of some sort. He's fun, fast, resilient, very straightforward, very trainable. I love him. Remember you have to live with the dog so find a dog you like! See if you can spend some time around the breeds you're interested in and see what clicks.

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Welcome to the Boards! And kudos to you for doing your research. I strongly encourage you to spend time (many hours) reading through the archives. Do a search (search box in upper right of page) for "is a BC right for me?" or similar search string. Alternately, just sit down and start reading.


I echo what others have said about getting a BC for agility - Don't. Actually, I don't recommend getting any specific breed for a specific activity UNLESS you feel it will fit into your life or you are willing to live with, and actually enjoy, the quirks.


Having said that, I feel most BCs can be a great house/family dog if it has the right temperament AND has been raised and trained appropriately. The old nature vs. nurture argument. I have owned a BC for over seven years (and have just added a second one) and have been a member of these boards for almost as long. Based on the stories posted here, I strongly believe that most (not all) problems you are concerned about are a result of poor training, poor socialization, clueless owners. Having said that, there is no perfect BC (or dog) and I think everyone has a dog(s) that needs improvement in one or more parts of their behavior. But these small quirks are usually overshadowed by the positive aspects of BC ownership. I also think most of us enjoy the challenge of working with/training our dogs to improve what we consider shortcomings in our dogs. We DON'T want push-button dogs. We like the challenge.


I strongly urge you to consider a rescue dog - not a puppy, but one anywhere from 6-9 months to 2-3 years of age. Positives for adopting an adolescent or young adult is that you will know adult size and have a good idea of temperament and toy drive. Not all BCs are toy crazy, and some can be very sensitive to the point that agility can be a challenge. If you consider a rescue dog, I would also strongly recommend to work with a breed-specific rescue group that fosters their dogs. The added insight gained from the foster mom/dad can be very important in deciding if the dog can be agility-driven and be a good family member. I have a friend who adopted an ~3 year old rescue BC female. [she is an experienced agility trainer - having competed with at least 4 Springers and also teaching agility part-time. Even though she has seen and interacted with many BCs over the years at agility trials, she never wanted a BC until she met my dog. :-) ] Anyway, her rescue BC (initially very shy) has really taken to agility, and within the space of ONE year, she has taken the dog through Novice, Open, Excellent and they are now competing at the Master's level !!

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HOW you raise a Border Collie can have a huge impact on whether or not they are reactive. If you know what to look for, you can nip unwanted behaviors in the bud. Often, with less experienced owners, they don't realize it's a problem until it's a major problem. Then they have to try to do damage control, which is never as effective.


Yes, they are a little eccentric and different, even if raised perfectly. If you can't stand to be around most Border Collies, they are not the breed for you. That said, raised properly they are wonderful dogs and I can't imagine life without them.


I personally would not buy a sport bred dog, even for sports. Get a few generations away from working dogs, and you lose the essence of what makes a Border Collie (the balance of intelligence, drive, self control, natural instincts).


I also would not buy a Border Collie for sports just because you want to win. If you loved your Sheltie, get a Sheltie. They are great at sports too. Agility will only take up a bit of your time. The rest of the day you want to be hanging out with a dog that you mesh with, not one that drives you nuts.

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I am 99% sure that Molly would have a bigger problem than she does if I hadn't caught on the second she started to react and started working on it. Ie: She's 9 months old and now performing okay most of the time in a group setting. Another 6 months, definitely by 2, I'm sure she'll be better than average.

I am also 99% sure that nothing I could have done in raising her to that point would have prevented her being reactive and equally confident that she's never going to be a dog who would do well in a dog park, dog day care, or taking leashed walks in urban environments. Do those things if asked/told/shown how, but enjoy them? Do them naturally as opposed to giving the trained response? No. It doesn't change her temperament.


Nurture is important, but nature does have a role.

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Re: nature - I considered the temperment of the parents when looking for a pup. How do they do with movement? How do they do with different people and other dogs? Can they "turn off" when needed? When I met my youngster's parents they struck me as keen but sensible and able to relax - IOW what I wanted in a Border Collie. Of course this isn't a guarantee that everything will be perfect but sensible parents + sensible upbringing usually = a sensible dog.

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To give the lady who bred (albeit accidentally) Molly her due - I was warned.

I met both parents and they were both good dogs - though also 4 and 5 years old. Looking at the litter Molly was exactly what I wanted. Happy, playful, fearless, willing to play tug and chase a toy, equally willing to engage with me. It's just that when the breeder said 'She's high stress/the high stress one' I thought she meant Molly was higher ENERGY, since that's what she kept going on about in her examples.

No. Looking back, I'm pretty sure she meant reactive just didn't have the word for it - or at least inclined toward BEING reactive.

And in equal fairness, I seriously doubt that by the time Molly is 2 she's going to be observably different than any other dog I own, or any really stable dog. She has come along way and FAST.


I just hate the idea that if you get a dog from a puppy and the dog has issues you messed up somewhere. Being side-eyed by my dog acting like a loon and hearing 'under socialized' while we were in the process of working with it got really, really old. Trust me, that dog was better socialized (and appropriately) than any other dog I own, or have ever owned.


Sometimes, the dog's just wired funny. Sometimes things happen beyond your control.

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I didn't say poor upbringing CAUSES issues. What I said was that correct upbringing could make the difference between a major issue vs a problem that can be managed. Come on over and meet my dog that is highly reactive by nature. I compete in trials with him. Some are at busy fairs/festivals with tons of people and he can walk right through the crowd. You would never guess how much training had to go into him to make him seem so great in public.


Dog temperaments are on a continuum. Some can have the worst upbringing ever and turn out fabulous. They are the rock solid dogs. Some can have the best upbringing ever and are still fearful and reactive. Most fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum; how stable or reactive they can be altered to a degree by their upbringing.

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No, I know you didn't. I just got caught up thinking about it and was just talking to someone saying they wanted to raise a dog from a young puppy so they could avoid issues and know the dog was going to be good with X, Y, and Z and came across as directing it more to you than I meant. I'm sorry.

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Welcome to the boards. And as others have done, I applaud you for doing your research before getting a border collie.


You've gotten a lot of good advice already, and I just want to highlight what I believe are some of the most important point that have been made:


Absolutely DO NOT get a border collie just because you want a great agility dog. Get a border collie because that's the dog you want to live with. You want to be happy living with the dog you choose. Border collies are amazing dogs (that's why we all have them and why we're so invested in them ;) ), but they're definitely not for everyone. Be sure this is the breed for you before making your decision. As others have said, there are other breeds that are also very good at agility and that may be more suited to your lifestyle and temperament.


Get to know some border collies. As others have said, observing border collies only at agility trials may not give you the best picture of what they're really like to live with. This can be both because of the intensity of the venue, and also because many -- if not most -- of the border collies you'll see at agility trials (at least very competitive ones) in the US are what we call "sporter collies", bred for agility and other sports rather than for what made the breed what it is.


When I was doing my research 35 years ago, the breed hadn't been fractured as radically as it is today. Most people didn't even know what border collies were and most of them were still being primarily bred for their working (i.e livestock herding) ability. But some were being bred for obedience competition, and they were already starting to have a different temperament than the working dogs. Even though I started out wanting to do competitive obedience, I quickly realized that I didn't want to live with the temperaments I was seeing in those dogs and looked for working lines.


Now there's a multiplicity of reasons border collies are being bred: for livestock work, for show (the Barbie collies), for sports, for pets and for fancy colors. Only one of these reason, preserving the working ability of the breed, is the one that will maintain it's integrity and temperament. And those dogs can excel in a variety of settings because they'll generally have the sound temperaments necessary for them to be good working dogs. But with that ability does come the need to recognize that there are breed characteristics that will require some accommodations on your part as well. I came across this site a few days ago, and it does a good job of explaining some of the things that make border collies challenging for many people. http://bordercollietrustgb.homestead.com/New_Site/Rehoming/The_Border_Collie.html


Some have suggested that you look to rescue for a dog. That's a great idea, but I'll go a step further and suggest that you might want to volunteer for a border collie rescue as part of your goal to gain familiarity with the breed. Rescues get a variety of dogs with a variety of issues and temperaments. Better yet, foster some dogs. You'll be able to get a feel for what it's like to live with them.


I very clearly remember an obedience competitor with border collies who I shadowed for a while when I was deciding saying to me after she'd gotten to know me that not everyone was a border collie person, but that she believed that I was. Decide if you're a border collie person rather than if a border collie is what you want. If you can say yes to the former, then the latter will fall into place.

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I would like to add another vote to getting a breed you love not a breed that is good at a sport just because they are good at it. I did get my dogs with the intent to do agility, but if they don't do well or couldn't compete for some reason I would love them just the same. It is because I love the breed for their brains, beauty, and they're a dog breed that fit into my lifestyle of always wanting to do things with my dog. They are always there and ready to go do anything or just hang out while I watch TV.


If you click with a sheltie there is no reason not to get a sheltie. They do great in their agility group! My agility trainer decided after her first border collie that she was NOT a border collie person. She now competes with Belgian Malanois(sp?), because she clicks with them better. She enjoys training and working with them far more than she ever did with her border collie, and says that she will never go back. Her current dog is placed very high in the local agility circle and her retired Belgian even went to nationals! There is no reason to force yourself into getting a dog you won't really be 110% happy with in the end.

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HEy all,

Thanks for the response. As a clarification, I don't want a second sheltie for other reasons. They tend to be too heavily coated for my taste and its difficult to maintain as the dog ages... I also want a dog who is bigger than a sheltie but not too big (like a GSD) because I like hiking a lot and being bigger would have benefited my sheltie. But being small enough to carry if need be is also a good thing for me...


Any dog I get will be a companion first, but I have a serious interest in agility and and active life, so those are major considerations. An agility failure lives at my house now and probably would love a comrade :P


On an odd note. I KNOW,-- for sure, 100%,--- all my love and support,--that many great BCs are not registered with the AKC. Does this limit the way those of you who do obedience/agility? Most of the shows in the area are AKC sponsored, do you have to travel some distance for events that will allow your dogs to compete? The only other option I see would to be AKC register with a mix breed registration which requires a spay or neuter proof.

Thanks for the insight it's been great info!

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the AKC does allow dogs to be registered with them for purposes of competing in agility. My mixed breed fluffy mutt was registered with them before I decided I was done giving them my money for anything. They just have to be spayed/neutered. I think the program is called Canine Partners or something.


That said, I mostly do NADAC, as it's actually more prevalent in my immediate area.

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You can register unregistered purebreds as well as mixed breed through the AKC as long as they are neutered. I think even for unregistered purebreds you'd have to spay or neuter. I am not sure though as I've never done it and my current dog came to me neutered from the shelter.


That said, there's a lot of other organizations out there. We do mostly USDAA agility. I've never actually done AKC at all. NADAC, CPE are other big organizations. UKC also has agility but theirs is a bit weird.


Might want to look into Australian cattle dogs as well as Aussies and BCs.

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