I try not to talk politics in public since I know it's in bad taste, but last night my people watched the Westminster Dog Show. Even though I know that there is never anything completely black and white in the dog world (except maybe Border Collies), I wanted to offer some thoughts on AKC Border Collies in particular. Before I do, though, everydog should get their people to donate some money to a humane society,rescue group or animal welfare group. The pedigree commercial is right--every dog should have a home.
On to Border Collies. I'll say upfront that not everyone will agree with me on this, but really, it's my blog, so I get to say what I want to about things I think about.
It wasn't so long ago that Border Collies were not recognized by the AKC and we Border Collies mostly thought that was a good thing. See, we're bred to work and really that's the only reason we should be bred. Sure, not all of us can become the top, top working dogs and many of us excel at other kinds of things too. But, one of the reasons we have all the characteristics we do is precisely because we were bred for a particular purpose, herding livestock, and not for a particular look or for some other purpose, like playing agility or being sweet, lovely gentlepups who give the most delicate kisses in the world.
The less we are bred for working stock, the faster we lose many of the traits that make us Border Collies. That means that while people can *do* whatever they want to with the Border Collies once they have them, the only ones who should be *bred* are the ones who have proven they are great at working livestock. Although my packmates and I are wonderful in every possible way, we shouldn't be bred. Which is not to say that we shouldn't have been *born*--just that we haven't proven ourselves on livestock-- and since we haven't, we shouldn't compete in the gene pool.
There was a whole lot of debate, and there still is, about whether Border Collies should be recognized by Kennel Clubs and thus bred for a particular conformation (e.g. a particular look).
So anyway, I just watched the Border Collie judging at Westminster with my person. What you notice immediately is that none of those Border Collies look much like me and my pack. Just to remind you what we look like, here we are (ignore Renzo here):
Here are some comments from the breed standard:
Ears: Ears are of medium size, set well apart, one or both carried erect and/or semi-erect (varying from 1/4 to 3/4 of the ear erect). When semi-erect, the tips may fall forward or outward to the side. Tansy has "semi-erect" ears; I have one ear carried erect; Hamish has both ears carried erect and Rafe has zero ears carried erect. We represent all the ear types found in Border Collies
Coat: Two varieties are permissible, both having close-fitting, dense, weather resistant double coats with the top coat either straight or wavy and coarser in texture than the undercoat which is soft, short and dense. The rough variety is medium in length without being excessive. Forelegs, haunches, chest and underside are feathered and the coat on face, ears, feet, fronts of legs is short and smooth. The smooth variety is short over entire body, is usually coarser in texture than the rough variety and may have slight feathering on forelegs, haunches, chest and ruff. Neither coat type is preferred over the other. Tansy, Hamish and I are "rough" coated; Rafe and Kyzer are "smooth". Tansy and Hamish have a wavy coat; the rest of us have a straight coat. We represent most of the coat types found in Border Collies except for the really curly ones and the really fluffy, long ones.
Color: The Border Collie appears in all colors or combination of colors and/or markings. Solid color, bi-color, tri-color, merle and sable dogs are to be judged equally with no one color or pattern preferred over another. White markings may be clear white or ticked to any degree. Random white patches on the body and head are permissible but should not predominate. Color and markings are always secondary to physical evaluation and gait. Kyzer is almost entirely black; Tansy, Kyzer, Hamish and I have "ticking"; Rafe and Hamish are tri-colors (Hamish is a "red" tri-color and Rafe is a "black" tri-color). I have a "split" face. We represent a very small subset of the possible color types found in Border Collies.
What you notice in the standard is that BCs should have a lot of variety because what matters isn't what we look like, it's how we work. Our working ability is pretty hard to encode in a breed standard, though, so that's not really an important part of the package. And that's sad since it's the work that has defined us for hundreds of years.
When you look at the BCs that go to dog shows, you see little of this variety. Despite the breed standard, show Border Collies, and especially the top ones, are almost all black and white, with no ticking or merle and almost never tri-colored. They are rarely smooth-coats, and their coats are almost always the long, fluffy kind. Their ears are never pricked. The almost never have a split face and rarely have wavy or curly hair.
So, basically, there is lip-service to variety, but they are clearly being bred to look a very certain way since that's what wins at shows. Which means, they are not being bred first and foremost to be workers.
It also means that people almost never know that any of the dogs in my pack are BCs. I come about the closest to be "recognizable" to most people--but my speckles tend to throw folks off. Hamish is often thought to be part Sibe; Rafe is thought to be Rottie or Shepherd--some folks have even said that he doesn't have any border collie in him at all. Tansy has been called a cattle dog cross and we're sure that Kyzer will be seen as many things but probably rarely as a border collie.
We don't care so much about that, but I sure wish people would stop mucking around with our beauty genes and go back to focusing on our working genes.