The Border Collie was originally called A Working Sheepdog and was known as the shepherds companion. Border Collie is now the breed’s recognised title but you will still find that the International Sheep Dog Society’s registration cards read ‘this is to certify that The Working Sheepdog (Border Collie)is registered etc’.
The Kennel Club’s classification of a Working Sheepdog can be a cross breed, i.e. a dog that looks like a collie but has no formal registration to prove its breeding.
There are many misconceptions about this wonderful breed and many are born of a lack of knowledge and of ill informed information. There are many books and websites pouring out such information and causing confusion for both present and potential owners.
Farmers and shepherds 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 accordingly, and it is of little use if it constantly wants to use its teeth.
Also we must use common sense when we hear such derogatory remarks, for the breed that we have today was bred by those same people who are being accused of not breeding for temperament, and those shepherds were the ones who kept breeding on good lines. If we have a problem in temperament today then we must look to modern and commercialised breeding for the root of the problem, not to the ones who spent a century giving us strong gentle dogs.
Compatible breeding is essential
The shepherds who bred these dogs originally did breed for good temperament. This isn’t to say they didn’t have throwbacks but those dogs didn’t go into the gene pool.
Border Collies do make good companions I am tired of hearing rescue establishments say they don’t, and if their argument is that the more people they put off having a collie the less there will be in pet homes then what on earth are we going to do with them all. The supply by far exceeds the demand.
To state that they should all be on working homes is fine but we don’t have enough shepherds or sheep in this country to provide them all with working homes. So let’s get real. They do not thrive on being kept shut in a house with no exercise, they do not enjoy being cooped up with no exercise, they don’t like being pulled and nipped by children, they don’t like being shouted at, but what dog does enjoy any of those things? Contrary to common belief collies are very sensitive, yes even the bolshie ones. The quieter and calmer these dogs are handled the better they respond. No, they don’t want to be at the top of a high rise flat 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 really wind them up. They need a sensible low energy diet, they need teaching how to walk on a lead and they need a pack leader – not a dominant aggressive one, but one who understands them and their needs. They don’t need hours of walking every day, they just 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.
There are far too many collies in rescue and, sadly, many of them are young dogs who have been taken in to 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.
Meg, the start of our line, shepherded over a thousand sheep, we competed in nine National and one International Trial together and she slept on my bed! Her progeny has in the past competed and succeeded in other disciplines and they are also in companion homes. Bred from strong working lines they have all the qualities needed to adapt to any situation and that includes working or simply being part of a family.
Before deciding on having a Border Collie you need to ask yourself one question, “How much of myself am I prepared to give.” Border Collies are very intelligent and sensitive, being a part of your life for a game with a ball, a half hour walk or a weekly training session isn’t enough, they need to be part of your life and they need a leader who is strong, quiet, gentle and understanding. The dogs know what they need the rest is up to us.
A Simple Beauty
The Border Collie is the epitome of all we may ever desire in a dog, a friend and a partner. Honesty, integrity and loyalty are second nature to a collie and they will work until they can go no further. Yet for all their willingness to give they are not submissive, they are proud of their heritage and they do not suffer fools gladly. Look beyond the colour of the coat and the cloak they wear labelled ‘dog’, search inside and reach its soul for once there you will be trapped in a world of unbelievable love and honesty. You will have found true beauty, for the wonderful qualities within this breed are always there waiting to be unlocked and are what make it truly beautiful. Drink in its grace, speed and stamina, for rarely has so much to come together so perfectly in so small a package.
Anyone studying the pedigree sheets of the great Border Collies of this century will see a link back to the same foundation dogs. These dogs were the cream of the cream, not because they have won accolades (and not all did) but because their genetic make-up was strong enough to influence the future generations.
Good breeding it is not simply a matter of mating two dogs and expecting the desired results because they are good looking, or one or both of them has won prizes.
The genetics of at least seven generations of ancestors should be studied, as breeding for compatibility is essential but breeding for looks is not. There are now problems arising within the breed that didn’t used to exist due to people breeding with their dogs without having sufficient knowledge of the line of ancestors they have used. Hips, eyes, shoulder and temperament problems are creeping into the lines of the present day Border Collie.
Buying a puppy
You need to know as much as possible about the parents. If the stud dog is not available to be seen then you should be given contact details for the owner so you can either go to see it or find out more about it.
There are more genes influencing the litter than just the parents and grandparents; uncles and aunts also contribute to the gene pool, so information on the ancestors will help you have a better picture of the type of puppy you will be taking home with you. If you are buying a registered puppy it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are buying from compatible lines. The breeder should be able to show you the breed lines and even if you don’t know the dogs in the ancestry you will be able to see if one dog or bitch has been used too much causing inbreeding.
With regards to registration a dog can be dual registered with the KC (Kennel Club) and the ISDS (International Sheep Dog Society). Dogs registered with the KC only are not eligible for ISDS registration, but dogs registered with the ISDS may be registered with the KC. The ISDS recognises the Border Collie and Working Sheepdog as a Border Collie for their register. The KC recognises the Border Collie as a pure breed and that a Working Sheepdog may be a crossbreed.
As custodians of this remarkable breed we must think very carefully about what the future holds for it, as we may be in danger of losing the quality of breeding our ancestors have provided for us over the past century. A quality that is as precious as the very air this magnificent breed breathes if it is to retain its wonderful qualities.
The Border Collie is accused of being hyperactive, of chasing, nipping and being destructive. Are all other breeds perfect? The Border Collie as a breed is not guilty of any of these ‘sins’, but incorrect diet, management and communication are, they can cause a collie to act in a manner that has become known as the BC Syndrome.
The collie we all know and love is a sheepdog, this is what it was bred to do. Years of developing that wonderful brain, enabling these dogs to work on their own initiative, to solve problems and to give their all for man can be destroyed by careless, thoughtless breeding in a few very short years. A well bred working dog is also a wonderful companion and soul-mate.
Giving – this is what Border Collies do, this is when they are at their best and is what the old shepherds years of dedicated breeding has given us, when people say there are not going to be enough sheep in the future to keep all the dogs working don’t be tempted to believe the working brain should be watered down. Collies are doing Search and Rescue, searching for drugs, they are detecting epilepsy in humans they are doing so much good that the number of sheep in the country is not the crisis as much as the number of sheepdogs that are being bred to ignore them. We must all play our parts as custodians to make sure this wonderful breed remains what the old shepherds gave us and what the rest of the world is only just discovering, a friend, a soulmate, a workmate, a partner, a sheepdog.
Mainline Border Collie Centre does not breed commercially, we only breed to keep our own line going which is usually once in every three or five years. We are actively campaigning against puppy farming, both in farms and private homes, and we strongly believe that prolific breeding is detrimental to the future of the breed.