Monday, September 28, 2009

A History Lesson of Sorts

For me, this thread on the Border Collie Boards hit particularly close to home, and I was compelled to post a blog about it.

First, a little background for those who don't know...

I began showing dogs in AKC conformation when I was ten years old, starting with a Belgian Tervuren and ending with Brittanys. For years, I was completely wrapped up in the AKC world (I refuse to call it "ACK"... I have many good friends that are ethical, awesome people who love their dogs as DOGS first, not just because they are pretty, or some nonsense like that) and competed successfully, achieving national rankings, at the highest levels of conformation shows. I also dabbled a bit in performance events with my Brittanys, and got to see what a good working "field" dog was like by attending hunt tests and field trials. I have always had a great appreciation for seeing a dog do what it was bred to do, and well. Even competing in conformation, I knew that there were more important things to a dog than just having good structure, lots of coat, or whatever. I doubt that you could find more than a few (ethical) people in the AKC world that would dispute that.

A few years ago, after three years of dreaming and research (and additional experience with BC rescue), I bought my first Border Collie from a rather well-known show/versatility breeder. Cedar is half ISDS working lines, and half British show lines. To tell you the truth, the working side of her pedigree appealed to me more as I have always preferred the look of the working Border Collie. I thought I could have it both ways.... a pretty dog that could work. (Un)fortunately, what I got was a dog that wasn't really bred for (or good at) either stockwork or conformation show stuff. I can't say specifically that her show bloodlines are what made her the way she is... that would be unfair. As Sheepkelpie pointed out, poor stockwork is not specific to show line dogs :). However, I do believe that the way she was bred definitely has an effect on how she works.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love my girl... she is the most amazing dog I've ever had the pleasure to be around. We are so bonded that we can almost read each others thoughts. She is fabulous at obedience and agility, and is a wonderful pet. Most importantly, she has been my introduction to something that has become perhaps my biggest passion: stockwork. I have faith that she will end up being a “useful dog” on stock someday, but we have certainly gone through a lot. Granted, a lot of our problems are totally my (newbie) fault, but she is not the best, or most natural dog on sheep. She tends to be tight, reactive, slicey, and panics easily.... but she always tries to figure out what I want. There have been many times that I wanted to just give up because it didn't seem worth it to struggle this much over something that we may never be good at. It is interesting to look back and see how far we've come since we started, because it's pretty amazing. She is basically a different dog now than she was, and our relationship has completely changed for the better.

My intentions with her were to do primarily performance stuff (agility and obedience, and I wanted to "try" herding, HAHA) and maybe do some showing on the side. I had done some research into the ABCA/AKC debate, and, I suppose understandably, originally sided pretty much with the AKC as the idea of a "versatile" dog appealed to me greatly. I honestly did not know any better; as far as I knew, AKC registered dogs were the best way to go.

What I didn't 'get' at that time that I understand now, is that the working dogs do not need to be bred for conformation specifically, because in order to do their jobs well, they have to be functional both physically and mentally. Living proof of this is SO apparent that it's freaking [b]maddening[/b] that I didn't get it before; the majority of working-bred dogs that I've been around are much more functionally built and sane than show-bred Border Collies. And they also are able to do what they've been bred to do for centuries.

Anyways....when my girl was a little over a year old, I emailed her breeder and asked who in my area would be a good person to take her to see how she would do on sheep. I was curious to see what she'd do. Her breeder told me that Patrick (Shannahan) would be a good person to contact, and he led me to Dianne Deal. Five minutes into our first lesson and I was hooked... even though Cedar was kind of scary.... gripping and panicked (she was NOT like the “bounce bounce bark!” fluffballs...). I got to see several other (working line) dogs work that night, and thought that it was the most amazing and beautiful thing that I had ever seen. By my second lesson, I knew that I would never own another Border Collie that was not working bred. What I was seeing just felt “right” to me.

Since it first caught my interest, I have completely immersed myself in the sport, and read everything that I could get my hands on. I have attended numerous lessons (several times a week) and trials (just to watch, so far) and tried to learn as much as I could about everything relating to sheepdogs. I also joined this board, but have felt too inexperienced to post much thus far. I should say that have learned SO much by reading these discussions, though. I must say that I do appreciate the honesty of a lot of the people on here. I do try to stay away from drama... my life is full of enough of it already! :)
I learned pretty quickly that the working crowd is (pretty much) all opposed to anything to do with the AKC, and since my girl holds AKC papers, I try not to bring up her background. Thankfully, most people don't ask.

I would hate to think that people would judge me and/or my dog based on where she came from. Yes, she has been called a “Barbie”-- to my face, no less. It should be all about the work, right? So far, everyone has been SO great at helping us get on our way. Even though I am still incredibly new and awkward at this “sheepdog thing,” I love this sport more than anything I have ever done with dogs. The amount of training, work, natural talent, partnership, and TRUST that goes into molding a great working dog is so amazing. I can't even eloquently put into words how great I think it is. I guess, basically, I am completely in awe of this breed, and the dedicated people that campaign for the “true” Border Collie.

... and now Moss, my first working line pup, is ready to go to Dianne's for training :D


JoeC said...

good ready baby, I think Cedar rules and will punch anyone in the crotch who says otherwise.

sheepkelpie said...

I have one small "issue" with your post. You cannot absolutely say that Cedar's issues on sheep are because she has show blood lines. Trust me, this I know. There are so many many many working bred dogs that cannot tow the line, and they have no show lines in them. And, in the end, it isn't your dog's breeding, it's your dog's work. You needn't defend your dog's papers.

EllieC said...

Oh, I know that. But, I will argue that NOT breeding her specifically for that probably didn't help, and that her parents probably passed some of their issues down to her ;)

I'll go back and edit to make that part more clear...

satansflaminghairplugs said...

I wouldn't take, as gospel, what anonymous strangers on the internet say.

I only recognize one ( 1 ) (Solo Uno!) single name in that discussion who has ever competed successfully at high levels in a big USBCHA Trial.

Interesting that with the USBCHA Finals going, there were hardly any discussions about it on "the boards". There was, however, a lively discussion about shopping for pet lizards.
The "boards" didn't seem very interested in the ultimate competition for working sheepdogs in North America.

Except for "Ask the Expert,the BC boards are a time-waster, at best, a buzzing nest of wrathful busy-bodies, at worst,
unless you are lizard-shopping.
For myself, I'm not interested in hearing some of the best open handlers in our sport (including a respected judge at this year's Finals!) ripped to pieces by anonymous "authorities" who wouldn't know what end of a crook to hold in the unlikely event they were ever to be seen standing at the post.

With the exception of "Ask the Expert" What little time I've spent reading "the boards" would would have been better spent working dogs.

Thanks. I've been wanting to get this off my chest ever since that now disappeared thread pretty much cleared the boards of respectable handlers.

Mean people suck.

SprinklerBandit said...

I know nothing about herding sheep (though quite a lot about herding beagles), but I think your dogs are smart and gorgeous. For what that's worth...

Also, I read message boards. Some things are helpful. Some things are not. You just have to sift out what's useful, and be amused by the rest.

Emma Rose said...

I enjoyed your post. I really want to try sheepherding with my dog. We had her instinct tested and couldn't believe our eyes. She was so happy. I want to share that with her. Your post has made me more determined to find someplace that will teach us!