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DarnFar Ranch LLC Professional Dog Training
Changing the actions, aptitudes and attitudes of dogs and their people

Breeding To A Standard

For many years I bred herding-working line Border Collies. Below is an article I wrote about breeding to a standard. I do not oppose the showing of Border Collies in the conformation ring. However, I do oppose use of physical conformation (or titles) as the main criterion of determining breeding stock. I do not oppose the exhibiting of Border Collies in non-herding performance events such as Agility, Tracking, Obedience or Flying Disc competitions. However, I do oppose using non-herding performance (or titles there in) as the main criterion of determining breeding stock. I do not oppose the placement of Border Collies in homes where they will never see livestock. However, I do oppose the breeding of a Border Collie that has not had its herding ability assessed. After confirming that a dog is genetically, physically and mentally healthy, the breeder can proceed to the next steps of assessment as to whether the dog is worthy of breeding. That would include examination versus the desired breed type, which should include an assessment of the dog's herding ability. For, in my opinion, herding defines the breed type for a Border Collie. Simply put, it is my belief that, regardless of what endeavors a Border Collie owner may pursue with his dog, any Border Collie that is bred should have its herding ability examined and determined to be average or above for the breed. This does not sit well with folks who have little or no interest in assessing the herding ability of their breeding stock. I can understand that. It’s a whole lot of work and requires resources that are often difficult to find. However, I would ask those individuals what qualities draw them to the breed. Most people are drawn to the breed’s unique intelligence, creativity, speed, agility, willingness to work with man, desire to please, focus, work ethic and capacity to perform nearly any job it is asked to do. I will argue that the culmination of so many incredible traits in one singular breed is a result of breeding specifically for the type of herding work for which the dog was originally designed. That the breed is capable of excelling at activities that range from Search & Rescue to Canine Freestyle does not suggest that it isn’t, first, a herding breed that was designed, nearly exclusively, for herding livestock. It is that heritage that allows it to excel at all the other undertakings. Therefore, to maintain the incredible combination of qualities in the breed, I feel it is only prudent (in fact, necessary) to assess the herding working ability at each generation to reduce the chances of having a negative impact on the very exceptional character of the breed, and to ascertain that the desired qualities remain in the breed for everyone (from Agility handler to Search and Rescue professional) to enjoy. Each breed has a combination of traits that its devotees find endearing. Some are physical, others are less easy to evaluate because they can be influenced by environment. Physical qualities, such as the size or shape of the ear, can be measured. Qualities such as temperament or working ability fall into the latter. They can be tainted when the dog is managed or trained inappropriately. But, that is not an excuse for ignoring them during breeding decisions. I have not taken it upon myself to develop a standardized evaluation which, if the dog passes it, will confirm it is worthy of breeding. A quality breeder does not simply measure the ears and length of the tail, the shape of the head, the height that the dog can jump or the speed with which it completes a course. She assesses a dog as an overall representative of the breed. So, when assessing herding work, there is more than one single test that a dog must complete to demonstrate its value to the breed. Herding work is so varied. Some dogs are used on very flighty livestock that perhaps only sees a man (mounted on a horse) and dog once or twice a year. Other dogs are used on very tough stock that fight a dog every step of the way, perhaps in a stockyard or in sorting chutes. And, there are jobs for good working dogs in every direction from those extremes. So, there is not one, singular assessment for a herding dog which can be used to determine its value as a breeding animal. However, understanding the dog’s strengths and weaknesses in a working capacity are as important as understanding the dog’s strengths and weaknesses versus a physical conformation standard. There is no perfect dog. There is no perfect test to assess dogs. But, it is my opinion, that to maintain the breed-type of the Border Collie, it is critical to determine that it has a few key qualities that demonstrate it’s ability to improve (or at least maintain) the breed as a working animal. To fail in this regard is to do the breed a serious injustice. The only way to determine the herding working ability of a dog is to work it on livestock. The desire and aptitude to contain and control livestock defines herding. A dog must have this “balance” bred into it. It cannot be trained. A natural “sense” for livestock; a respect for and understanding of the “personal space” of the animals he is herding is of great value in a working dog. To train into a dog this sensibility is far more challenging than to maintain it in breeding animals. Intelligence and the ability to identify creative solutions to unique problems is also a trademark of the breed and a quality worth perpetuating. But, probably the most important trait that sets Border Collies apart from other breeds is the very fine balance between absolute obedience to authority, willingness to please and to take direction paired with independent, intelligent thought and appropriate action. For, it is this ability to intelligently disobey at very infrequent but critical times during a dog’s career that has saved the life of more than one shepherd or his sheep. Few breeds possess such a rare and valuable asset. This quality cannot be determined by looking at a dog. It can only be assessed through working, truly partnering with him. It defines the breed. So, first I make certain the dogs that I breed are genetically healthy using current screening tests. I make certain that the dog is physically healthy by employing the services of a veterinarian, feeding a high quality diet and keeping up on routine worming and vaccinations. I make certain that the dog is structurally sound. This includes examining the dog's front (shoulders, elbows, pasterns, feet) and the dog's rear (hips, knees, hocks, feet). His topline should be relatively level, a nice layback at the shoulders is a good trait, and a some length to the neck provides jumping and turning ability. A body that is a bit longer that it is tall makes for a smooth mover, something that is beneficial when working in the field. I like a dog with a smooth, long, ground covering trot (rather than a short, choppy gait). Border Collies tend to carry their heads fairly low when they move - which is not how many of the conformation-only bred dogs are built. Once the bodies are sound, I assess the temperament. A Border Collie should be mentally sound, capable, fairly brave, a willing partner that doesn't fight his handler excessively (however, one that does may be right and the handler inept!). He must have a strong work ethic. He must be clever and willing to over come challenges. He should not be shy. He should not be aggressive (towards man or other dogs). He should be fairly serious when doing his job, but still know how to have fun when he is off duty. These are good temperament traits that I want to see in the dogs that I breed. Finally, even if he is genetically, structurally and mentally fit, he must also be an asset to the breed as a herding dog. Those are my standards for breeding Border Collies. © 2005 Tammie Rogers - all rights reserved. For permission to reprint email Tammie.