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query for those who do breed....


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Reading many of the different posts in the Politics and Culture section has left me with a few questions for those who deeply believe in only breeding Border Collies for the purpose of herding/working.


PLease understand that I really haven't formed an opinion on many of these issues,in fact I've only just started thinking about a lot of this stuff...(better late than never!) I definately do not have any kind of agenda, and may in fact be a little naive in hoping to get clear picture...of course it may be a lot more simple than I think..


When you do breed a litter with the SOLE PURPOSE of bettering the working lines of the breed, are all of the pups guaranteed to be as good or better working dogs than the parents? Of course that is with the assumption that they all receive the same quality of training etc. etc.


If there are a few pups from this litter who would not be good for herding work because of temperment or physical issues, would you feel that those dogs could ethicly be sent to approved pet homes??(de-sexed of course)


Do you ask that all pups, that are not to be used expressly for continuing a particularly good line, be neutered so they won't mistakingly be bred with an inferior dog ,and therefore ensuring that approved breeders remain in control of the best working lines?


..is getting an excellent working dog "a crap shoot"??? ( who said that?)...an individual mixture of genes that just happened to come out in a very special and unique way, difficult if not immpossible to repeat( kind of like champion race horse breeding??) and if so, what about all of the other pups that have to be born along with the wonder dog...


anyway, if anyone would like to tackle this for me I would appreciate it... it's been kind of bothering me...


re-knowned for her ignorence on many subjects..



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Hi Libby,

I guess as the resident extremist in believing that working dogs bred to work stock should work stock, these are my answers to your questions. First let me say that I try to rethink them as I learn more and more about the BC in the 21st C.

IMO all those who produce pups should do so because they believe that they are producing a healthy example of a useful tool.In addition they hope that by putting together two sets of genes, the result will be better than the individuals. It is virtually impossible to be sure that the pair will "improve" the breed but that is what is hoped to happen. You can breed more surely for traits like temperament and power but you are never sure until the pup starts to show what it can do. A champion in any activity is a happy occurrence of the best mix and location of genes for that activity.

Because the genetic makeup is so complicated in what constitutes the working ability of any dog, you will always get dogs of different complexion.If you have selected carefully for work, it is usual that all the pups will work. This isn't 100% true but a good bet. Some people like more power, some like more biddability. Some lines are selected for this, some for that. Some are famous for one thing, some for another but that is a generality. Within each litter there is a variety of shades of colour.

The bottom line is that a dog is not fully developed in his style until somewhere between three and four years of age. To say that you can tell if a pup will work or not at the usual

time of sale (say three months-ish)is just impossible.Hence I say that any pup selected for work should be given the chance to work.

If at around two years old it ignores stock,or shows other undesireable traits, you have to decide what to do with it. IMO either keep it and find another outlet for its energies or sell it to someone who will. Someone who needs a tool will sell. A less pressured owner may be more flexible. BTW I have known odd cases where the dog turns on much later. But a stockperson needs the partner sooner rather than later.

Neutering is a difficult question. There has been a lot of documented evidence that some dogs "skip a generation of talent". I haven't really decided about this issue yet. Part of me says why cut short the future of a good healthy wotking line. Part of me says there are enough of them already (including successful litter mates with the same parting of genes) to take a chance. Dunno.

My personal problem comes with those who buy working dogs but never work them on stock. If and when the time comes to produce or sire a litter we all agree that it should be to at least equal the talents of the pair. But how do you know what the dogs' abilities, style or eye, power etc on stock is unless you have seen it over an extended time? So if you, in good faith, want to keep the dog and improve it as a working breed, upon what do you base your selection? If you say "it is a champion agility dog" then immediately you are already breeding for agility traits. But you can't breed for anything else of use to a working dog if you never see it expressed. The same holds true for any other activity.

I have no problem with doing other activities for fun as long as the main occupation is stockwork. Only then can I say that this style will complement that dog as a breeding choice.And only then can we make a more positive move towards the improvement of the BC as a working breed.

Now I know there are thousands of non-stock people out there who will disagree. You should listen to them too, Libby. Then read a lot and decide for yourself.



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Actually (and correct me if I'm wrong), I think the "crap-shoot" statement was made in regard to whether or not a mixed-breed dog could be a good herding dog. Given that there may be considerable variation even amongst litter mates, let alone "unrelated" members of a given breed, I would say that a mixed-breed would indeed be a bit of an unknown quantity (hence the crap-shoot) when it came to *predicting* working ability.... but that doesn't mean an individual animal might not have a better gift for it than a given pure-bred. It's just that it's (considerably) more likely to show up in the animal bred for that purpose. But there's never a guarantee that all the pups will be as good or better than the parents... there are way too many factors genetically, environmentally, developmentally, nutritionally and so on. Genetics are only part of the picture, athough a very important part of it.


It's a complex question, and I certainly don't have the definitive answer. (Sigh).

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Also I wanted to ask, is there something ethicly wrong with me having a pet Border Collie? If I can offer her a stimulating healthy enviroment where she is happy, is that a lesser life compared with that of a working dog?


Also, do you feel that is it only through the breeding of proven herding lines that the Border Collie intelligence can be preserved?


trying to see through the fog....


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There's nothing ethically wrong with you having a border collie. There's nothing ethically wrong with breeders selling (or giving) border collies to educated people who want them as pets under certain circumstances.


What is ethically wrong (in my opinion) is to breed the Border collie with the express purpose of creating pet dogs. In some circles, lack of desire to work is considered a plus, since the pups are thought to be more likely to be mellow and therefore make better pets.


This sort of selection will take the breed away from what it is and make it into something else.


What is hard for people to understand -- and hard for me to articulate -- is that what happens to any single dog is of very little difference to the breed in many respects. What matters is what trends are going on in the breeding of the dogs.


For instance, let's say that your dog was a surplus working pup. Its parents were bred for work, but for whatever reason there weren't enough working situations available when that litter needed to be placed. The breeder selected you as a responsible pet owner, and you love and care for your pet well. No problem.


The problem arises when your neighbor sees your dog and simply has to have one just like it. There are no surplus working pups available at that time, or he can't take the time to search out a reputable breeder. So he goes down to the local pet shop and says, "Hey, I gotta have one of these Border collies."


Then the movie Babe is replayed on network television and 15 more people come in asking for a Border collie. So the pet store owner calls up his dog broker and orders Border collies. The dog broker calls all his puppy mills and asks for Border collies. Suddenly the puppy mills are looking for Border collies to breed.


Remember that from a strictly business sense, puppies are not a hard item to produce. If all it has to be is a Border collie, it just takes something like four months from the first demand until there are pups in the pet store -- even if no puppy mill anywhere has a breeding pair of Border collies the first day that phone call comes in.


So the first litter of Border collie pups comes into the pet shop, and sells for $1,000 each. Folk go home, raise their pups however, and remember that price tag. The bitch comes into season. Wouldn't it be neat to have a litter ourselves -- we could undersell the pet shop! So along comes a litter of $200 pups, bred with no purpose in mind other than making a little money, seeing the miracle of birth, producing pretty colors or markings, getting another puppy "just like the dad" or whatever.


When this starts happening across the country, it becomes a dangerous trend that threatens the integrity of the breed, even if knowledgable working breeders are doing the right thing and breeding good working dogs to good working bitches and making good working litters. At some point the balance in the breed tilts away from work and toward traits that are important to pet owners or other fanciers.


And when people start buying these dogs for whatever reason, it doesn't take long for market forces to work their magic and start the ramping up the production in puppy mills and back yards all over the place.


Fortunately and unfortunately, dog breeds are subject to the rules of fashion, so the demand for pet Border collies will wane as the next breed comes to the fore. There are quite a few breeders out there who offer Dobermans, Rottweillers, Chocolate Labs, and Border collies -- or some variation on these themes. These are the people who have followed the trends, and bred whatever was fashionable.


Breed integrity is a matter of population genetics, not of individual human behavior. But at the same time, human behavior has shaped and will continue to shape shape the genetics of the population of the breed. Just as many raindrops become the river, many litters become the breed. The point is to keep as many of those raindrops clean as possible.

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"....is there something ethicly wrong with me having a pet Border Collie?"


In my opinion there is nothing wrong in having a pet Border Collie even if it's from working lines (sorry Sue this is where we disagree), and good thing too otherwise we would never have gotten into herding (as a hobby not a living). As far as your pet home being a lesser life than a working home; I don't know. I think if the home gives that dog the needed mental and physical exercise, it's a good home. Now turning a dog onto herding then just dabbling "may" be difficult for some dogs. I guess it would be like showing a talented athletic child the sport they were born for and then only allow them to play a few times a year.



"Also, do you feel that is it only through the breeding of proven herding lines that the Border Collie intelligence can be preserved?"


Think of it this way. What do you feel defines this breed, is it the looks or the behaviour/intelligence? If you, as I do, feel that it's the behaviour that defines this breed then the only way for the breed to continue is by breeding for that behaviour. The most reliable way to breed for the behaviour is with proven working lines.


It's interesting for me to listen to these discussions since I've really always been of the opinion that you only breed for the instinct (I'm of this opinion for all working breeds). This was true when we got our first BC (from working lines) that was to only be a pet. We had him neutered early since we were never going to work him on stock and therefore would never breed him.



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Bill and Mark give some great answers.


As a non-breeder, non-sheep-owner, I'll add something... there is nothing wrong with owning a border collie as a pet, especially if you've rescued it. I always swore that I would never own border collies, because I'd read that it was unfair to the dogs to keep them as house dogs. Then I basically had one delivered onto my doorstep, and had to face the choice of adopting him or sending him to the animal shelter--not a tough decision.


Even the best breeder will produce pups that aren't necessarily going to be great working dogs. If the breeder doesn't "cull" (read "kill") pups that don't have great working characteristics, those dogs have to go somewhere. I think most breeders who are serious about maintaining the working ability of the breed require spay/neuter clauses when they sell pups into non-working households. I don't think there is anything wrong with supporting those breeders by buying a dog from them.


I suppose it is possible to argue that we should cull (kill) all non-working border collies, to protect the breed, and that by rescuing unwanted dogs, we are indirectly encouraging or supporting bad breeders. That seems a bit over the top to me. If you aren't going to be that stringent, then there will, alas, always be border collies looking for homes, and it will always be a good thing if you can give one a good home.


However, I will also add that I find the adage that first you get a border collie and then you get sheep is more true than anyone can imagine--I have worked my guys on sheep a couple of times, and am looking for a regular training opportunity--I would never have imagined such a thing before I got them.


Which somehow pleases me immensely.


Cheers, MR

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Can I just add one (I think uncontentious) thing...I don't understand the concept of culling a pup because it lacks the talent to work. You don't know if that talent is there until the dog is at least 4 or 5 months (on average) and can be up to years. I have said elsewhere and I still think that the pup should be given the chance to see what it can do. Then when the talent is assessable the final decision should be made.

It isn't wrong in any way to keep a BC as a pet...I have one! He is from show lines and wasn't quite "beautiful" enough for some the breeder to keep. But I did go to lines other than working ones for him. The chances of getting good pet quality are much greater.

Don't forget in all this that here in France we have just one breed club, not two as the US has split the BC neatly. We are perhaps equally if not more concerned to keep our lines identifiable but we do insist that every BC registered as pedigree has to pass a working test so you know that ALL registered BC's can work...even sports dogs......even a little bit!! So we tend to be stricter in selection and who gets to pass them on to the next generation or we will find ourselves with a swamp of middle of the road BC's, all of which can "sort of" work.Because we can't differentiate easily between good and bad (these tests are almost never looked at by buyers) we try to be precise about passing on the working lines to the working people.

So don't get in a twizzle about it. My advice would be to go to a rescue or show breeder of good repute vis a vis health. Do ask all the right questions!! But think again if you ever want pups.


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As a very infrequent breeder (2 litters in 7 years)- I agree with what Bill & Mark have said.


Even in the best bred working litters, there are no guarantees that all pups will work, let alone that they will be as good as their parents. In fact, I think in most litters, you are lucky to break even on talent- its only when you find the right "nick", a term that means a fantastic cross, that you will see improvements in talents across the litter. A "nick" also will carry over the next generations, at least in consistently producing similar talents.


Ideally, I do agree that all working bred pups should have a chance to work- but not for their own happiness or well being but simply for the breeders information. If you are breeding working dogs but only a small percentage get to show their stuff, you won't really know what you are producing- even if you have one or two great individuals- if they are the exception you'll never know if the other siblings aren't worked as well.


However, I see nothing ethically wrong with selling working bred pups as pets so long as they are neutered. I prefer, and have done so, to sell older pups or young adults that were not fantastic workers to pet homes. Not only will they have a good life, be altered, etc- but at that age I will have a good idea of their personality, they will have had some training and will be housebroken, are at least good enough to herd for fun if the people are interested, and I can place them far more appropriately than I could sell a pup to a first time Border Collie owner or perhaps sell a pup that did not fit the personality or lifestyle of its owners. I have never found that the dogs I sold as pets at older ages to be unhappy or unmanageable because of their working breeding, quite on the contrary- every pup/young dog I've placed in this manner has become a part of the family and succeeded in other venues. I don't require that they are neutered- I neuter them myself before they go.


I don't put much store on judging "temperament" for herding at a young age. I've seen bold pups turn into stockdog weenies, and have had shy pups turn strong workers. One of my pups is a sound/visually sensitive weenie off of stock, but when she works she is oblivious to all but sheep. She looks very good now, but at the same time, she's very young and that temperament issue may manifest itself later- which is why its important to see how these dogs do over the long run before breeding them. My big fear with this pup is that one day she will get spooked on a big outrun and bolt- if that sort of issue appeared- and so far she shows no signs of doing that- even as talented as I think she is- that would be the kind of temperament issue that would exclude her from breeding for me. But I won't fault her right now for being a silly pup and I certainly wouldn't give her up to a pet home because she's got some temperament quirks.


I don't think getting a good dog is a "crap shoot" .. getting a GREAT dog probably is more of a gamble- its hard to really find that right mix of talents that makes a dog good at everything, rather than a dog that excels at one thing but has trouble in an area. I read that Maccrae said of his Nan that she wasn't really great at anything but she was good at everything and that was why she was a great dog. Many of our dogs may excel at certain herding skills, but finding the dog that consistently performs all of those skills well can be hard. I have a dog that has a great gather, is very reliable on her out work and will always bring me what I send her for- tough cows, flightly sheep, etc. But her drive is less than impressive. She likes to hold stock,but doesn't like to push them away. She can be trained to do those things, but she'll never excel at that because she's hardwired to do things a certain way. That is the kind of variable you will find within working lines- which is why its so important to always be making breeding judgements based on working ability. Once you throw more variables into the mix- like color and good looks- you may still occasionally get exceptional working individuals, but the overall consistency of ability will suffer.



J. Green


Las Vegas,NV

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You've gotten some very astute, thoughtful and well-considered answers... I can only add a small bit (pretty much in agreement with what's been said so far)...


Where I see problems for my clients and patients with BC-as-pet situations is in those who do not keep their BC mentally stimulated and physically excersised - in whatever way. I also have to advise many people that a BC is NOT the dog for them - in fact, I rarely recommend the breed as an appropriate one, since *most* people have no idea what they're getting into (as someone pointed out in a different thread - most people DON'T want a smart dog - they only think they do.) In fairness, though, I will say that some people DO 'get it' about what this is going to be like, and many people who discover to their suprise that this is NOT what they were expecting, do indeed rise to the occasion, if slightly belatedly, and find ways to keep their BC happy and stimulated. I don't know that that constitutes a "lesser" life... different, certainly, but my personal take is that intelligence confers options, so this is not a breed wherein every individual dog can only be happy at one task in the universe. As a whole, the breed is meant to herd. On an individual basis, I feel a given dog can be very happy at different tasks and in a variety of situations.


Herding is a complex task, and as others have illustrated in this thread, it does require MANY different skills and talents to do it well. If you employ those talents in another way besides herding, they're still employed, and the dog still has an outlet for its natural drives. I see nothing wrong with that.


The reason we have breeds is that we are selecting for certain traits, so we breed like-talented animals together to magnify the traits in following generations. This is why I think that out-crossing (breeding BC to something else) would be likley to diminish the herding ability of the offspring, and trying to get a good herding dog in that way would be highly unpredictable. By the same token, puppy-milling (which has "ruined" many breeds by the introduction of large numbers of indifferently-bred pups and caused untold misery for countless dogs and a great many owners as well) is a significant threat to the genetic well-being of the breed as a whole - not because of out-crossing but because selection toward valued traits - intelligence, soundness, stable temperament, herding ability, etc - is absent, as is selecting away from undesirable traits. In a puppy mill, all they want is live puppies, perferably cute (though many go through brokers and are bought sight unseen via internet and other sources), which can be sold with a "purebred" tag on them.


So, that was a long-winded way to say that I do think that the only way intelligence, soundness and other BC traits will be maintained is to breed judiciously - not that every breeder has to be part of a professional kennel situation, more that it should be CAREFULLY considered before undertaken. But there ARE going to be puppies who don't love the work or who do love it but love other things as well, and who don't have working homes as options, and these either need to have good homes of be euthanised (guess which one I prefer?)


So, no, I don't think it wrong to have a BC and not work it on sheep, and yes, I do think that if the traits the BC is known for are to be maintained, we have to breed for them - which means breeding for working dogs.


As a BTW, good point that even temperament-testing a litter is not a sure-fire prediction of the pup's working ability later in life... too much goes into being good at herding to know for sure that young, I think (although I do think that temperament testing has some utility... having done temperament testing on two litters from which I have pups, and seeing how the littermates turned out, I can say in both cases the temperament test helped me select the right pup from the litter. However, it wasn't so much predictive of how each pup would turn out, more it was an assist to ME in selecting from the array.) Sometimes you just have to wait and see how that particular array of inborn traits ends up gelling together.


Many good points from Bill, Mark, MR, JGreen and others, sorry my 2 cents' worth turned out so long. Complicated issue, many sides to it, and the fact that you asked about it at all, Libby, indicates that you're not as 'ignorant' as you say.... :rolleyes:

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Originally posted by Smokjbc:

I read that Maccrae said of his Nan that she wasn't really great at anything but she was good at everything and that was why she was a great dog.

That's a brilliant quote, actually. The versatile dogs are my most favourite. My little bitch will put her all into anything I ask her to do, which is why she is the finest of all my dogs.


Orginally posted by AK dog doc:

since *most* people have no idea what they're getting into (as someone pointed out in a different thread - most people DON'T want a smart dog - they only think they do.)

This really is true. We get a lot of applications, and a vast majority of them have no idea what living with a border collie is like and it's easy to tell they wouldn't want to live with one if they did. We always tell people that if we suggest a different breed for them to not be offended, and to not let pride make a decision for them that they and the dog will regret.


This is the problem with breeding "pet" border collies - people think they have a border collie when in fact they don't, if and when the breed has been dumbed down to cater to their needs.


Pet homes are fine for border collies if the owners are willing and able to make the necessary efforts to accomodate the dog. It's not easy, but for some of us who are devoted to our dogs and to making them happy, it can be done.




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I think that about covers all the colours of opinion and all are well explained and justified.

Just one last small thing...one of the biggest differences between me and some others is that I just don't think that you can say that you are using a working-bred BC's unique characteristics fully in any other activity than herding. I define a BC by many criteria including sound temperament and biddability, speed and endurance (what constitutes intelligence is a whole other issue)FOR A STARTER but I also hold that a good BC ( which we are all trying to breed) has to have balance, eye, power, a natural desire to run out in a respectful arc (I mean one which just contains the stock but doesn't rattle it...an instinct to know where that is) around the stock and bring it back firmly/positively but without gripping.I want to see a dog which will face down a ram when challenged and which knows precisely how to turn it around by reducing or increasing the pressure he puts on the animal. And from which angle.

Now that is what I call a good BC and I suggest that none of the above is useful in any other activity. Indeed, what is useful in agility or obedience can also be found in other breeds and do not define the BC. It's just that BC's have them in abundance!! It is the traits above which DO define the BC and are the ones I seek to promote and to hope for in my (very few!!) pups.

I don't feel happy never knowing whether I have succeeded and I want to know so that I am sure I am breeding a useful, if not always, better BC.

Imagine if Alasdair McRae's Nan had been sold as an obedience dog. She would probably have done very well but what a shame not to have concentrated on herding with her.

I do disagree with the notion that BC's should be bred for versatility. I do feel that weakens them in every area and you end up with a dog which is mediocre in every field although it is fun for the owner if s/he doesn't want to excel in any of them. I don't think that the exception proves the rule here...one or two dogs may have but I know of only two British dogs which have won major herding titles and also done well nationally in other activities.

I think you have to decide what you want in a dog and how flexible you are. Who knows...we may be talking to a future national herding/agility/obedience champion!!


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Originally posted by Sue in France:

I do disagree with the notion that BC's should be bred for versatility. I do feel that weakens them in every area and you end up with a dog which is mediocre in every field although it is fun for the owner if s/he doesn't want to excel in any of them.

Sue, the major communication problem here seems to be that you don't understand that no one here is advocating breeding border collies "for versatility."


People are advocating staying true to the breed's heritage and breeding for working ability ... but acknowledging that border collies ARE by nature versatile precisely because of what goes into breeding a good working dog. Therefore, even if a working breddog goes to a pet home, if that pet home can keep him stimulated and active with other activities, it's okay for the dog.


No one has suggested breeding away from working ability to create a more versatile dog sport breed. The only person who has advocated breeding AWAY from working heritage, so far, has been you!!



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Oh dear, I certainly don't want to go down this road again. Perhaps I didn't say what I meant clearly enough, for which I apologise.

I meant that I don't like to see the dogs bred with the concentration of their appreciation (as shown by pet/activity owners) on the fact that the dog can be versatile/used for anything. I don't define the BC that way. I want people to appreciate them for their herding abilities which is what we all say we ae breeding for anyway. I don't see versatility as a defining factor or even to be appreciated...just a nice bonus really...when talking about BC's.

Please also note, while we are being precise, that my earlier discussion was about looking at the issue, not doing it. It is something quite current here in France and I was not aware that it was such a difficult subject in the US. I explained that we have only one register and things are getting confused here.


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