Understanding the breed helps in training and management but with that knowledge must come an understanding of the breed’s ancestry and of the commitment of the shepherds who cared enough to breed only the best. For without them and their knowledge the Border Collie as we know it today would not exist. On the History of the Breed link you will find a fascinating account of how our ancestors gave us not just a breed but a legacy that is worth every effort needed to secure the future of the Border Collie.
There are many misconceptions about this wonderful breed and many are born of a lack of knowledge and of ill informed information which can cause confusion for both present and potential owners.
The shepherds who bred our foundation dogs did not breed purely for work ability and with little regard for temperament. What many people don’t realise when they give out this misrepresentation is that a good sheepdog must be able to handle the most truculent ewe and be able to switch in a second to a kind gentle mentor when moving new born lambs. It must be able to judge each flock or individual sheep and handle them, or it, accordingly, and it is of little use if it constantly wants to use its teeth. Thus the aim of breeding is to provide strong gentle dogs. Border Collies do make good companions but they are not ‘pets’ they are pack dogs and need to be occupied and given a position and boundaries within the human family as this is now the dog’s pack. Maybe in an ideal world they should all be working sheep but the supply by far exceeds the demand and we don’t have enough shepherds or sheep in this country to provide them all with working homes. They do not thrive on being kept shut in a house with no exercise, they don’t like being pulled and pinched by children, they don’t like being shouted at, but what dog does enjoy any of those things? Border Collies are very sensitive – even the boisterous ones, and the quieter and calmer these dogs are handled the better they respond. The top floor of a high rise flat is not the home for them but neither is the answer to buy an acre of land and let them run wild on it. They need parenting, they need to be loved, they need to belong and they need both mental and physical boundaries.
They don’t have to be doing agility or any other of the disciplines. Collies were around long before these events were ever thought of and they survived. In fact if not handled correctly some of the disciplines can wind them up making them become over stimulated. They need a sensible low energy diet, they need teaching how to walk on a lead and they need a pack leader (the canine equivalent of the parent figure) –not a dominant aggressive one, but one who understands them and their needs. They don’t need hours of walking every day, but they do need a sensible walk, some quiet and constructive mental stimulation and a quiet time to themselves where they can rest and actually enjoy their own company. Dogs are perfectly capable of being content and quiet if we allow them to be. They don’t need lots of toys, in fact free access to too many toys can over stimulate them. There are far too many collies in rescue and, sadly, many of them are young dogs who have been taken into rescue because their owners can’t cope with them. This is not the fault of the breed and in many cases nor is it the fault of the owner, but a mixture of poor advice and training techniques that wind collies up rather than teach them patience.
The Kennel Club has a breed standard for the Border Collie for the purpose of the show ring but the only real criteria is that its physique is capable of doing the job it was bred to do. The shepherds’ breed standard is somewhat different to that of the show ring:
‘A Collie should be of supple spine, not too long and not too short, strong back quarters, a keen but gentle eye, strong in leg, intelligent, not too big, able to turn a ram but with a kind and gentle temperament equal to lambing, and trustworthy with children, colour is of little importance other than a guide to ancestors and character, although a darker dog will have more stealth but a lighter dog can be better to locate in inclement weather.’
So it doesn’t matter what colour a collie is or what texture its coat, what matters is that it has been bred conscientiously and with a regard to preserving its working instincts. For a well bred collie from working lines is a Border Collie, if it isn’t physically or mentally capable of doing the job it was originally bred to do then it is no longer an intelligent thinking sheepdog it merely looks like one.
“A man who looks into a collie’s eye to receive an icy stare is but a fool. Be at one with man’s best friend and through his eyes you will see his very soul”
© Barbara Sykes MBCC
In 1873 the first recorded sheep dog trials were held in Bala, North Wales, but it was not until some 33 years later that The International Sheep Dog Society (ISDS) was formed, following a meeting of English and Scottish sheepmen in 1906. Shortly afterwards the first International Trials were held in Gullane, Scotland and, except during the war years, have continued to be an annual event.
Now over 100 years later, the ISDS has well over 6000 members from all over the World.