“No Conformation Required”

I’ve had a number of people asking me my feelings about AKC so I’ve decided to “reprint” this article. It was written a 15+ ago for a Border Collie magazine. It was before the AKC “takeover” but does explain why I’m so against AKC (or any conformation) for Border Collies. I had just subscribed to a Internet Border Collie list and realized that a few people were very actively campaigning for recognition with AKC, against the majority of “Border Collie people” that were fighting the recognition. So, I wrote the following article.

I recently subscribed to an email Border Collie list and was “taken back” by the people writing the information. There was enough information to amount to a small book, written by one person in particular that was “acting” like a leading authority on Border Collies. However, I unlike the majority of people receiving this information, knew this person and I also knew she was a NOVICE! She has a very captive audience of people knowing even less than she does and this fact unfortunately earmarked her as “the authority”. This person is in a position to influence a lot of people that are interested in Border Collies however; she is not a name you would recognize, as not only is she not a top handler and/or trainer, she has never run in Open! She doesn’t challenge herself by moving up to Open and going on the trial circuit in order to improve herself or her dogs – the reason she states – is because she can’t afford it whereas we “professional trainers” can. However, she must regard herself as a professional trainer qualified to give information to others on what it takes to train dogs. In part of her writings she was instructing people what to look for in a dog when it starts to work. She has never trained a dog to an Open level and I bet could count on one hand the dogs she has even started much less run in trials. Yet, she feels qualified to inform others how to train dogs and what’s best for the Border Collie.

She was writing pages on what would be the BC standard for AKC and what working requirements will be needed for the certification program. I can’t express adequately the difference between Pro-Novice and Open! For a person who is not an Open handler to be deciding what these dogs will work and look (!) like in the future is beyond alarming. If, while she was going on about her trialing experience, the readers had been Border Collie people “in the know” they would have immediately realized she didn’t have a clue! The people she is writing to are not “in the know”. (Many of them asked “what is the USBCHA?”) The people reading about her “accomplishments” were impressed – I wasn’t! The problem is she has a group of people listening to her viewpoint and receiving very little contradictory input. She constantly drops names and critiques all the “big shots” she knows observing what they do and don’t like in a trial dog. She went so far as to express what some of the “top handlers” want a dog to look like. I wonder if these handlers know she is implying they decide what dog to run according to what it looks like? She suggests she’s on an equal level with all the top handlers by recounting the ones she has defeated in trials. The “concept” the listeners would not grasp is she is talking about the Pro-Novice class. Most of these people, not having the exposure to trialing, would not know the difference in classes. She runs a trained dog and just happens to surpass a top handler running their year old pup and thereby suggests by innuendoes – she herself is a top handler.

I believe the foremost reason she is preaching her AKC topic is she couldn’t earn a name in the “real herding world”. You can’t counterfeit ability – and you can’t win an Open trial by telling everyone how well you run … you have to go out and demonstrate it! The people receiving this information need to know both sides of the subject. Which, by the way, is the main issue of this article….AKC recognition. Because this was the foremost topic of conversation–pages and pages typed on the E mail with her stating (falsely!) the majority of BC owners want AKC recognition. A creditable number of the people she’s addressing know next to nothing about Border Collies except what they have read and heard about how smart…etc. they were. So, this lady was considered an expert on “working” Border Collies. In essence there were very few having enough BC savvy to contradict her. When someone with obvious BC experience disagreed and did so with an intelligent and unimpeachable observation, she would become very combative. It made me wonder how frequently this goes on. We are receiving the herding magazines and assume all the people with Border Collies are receiving the same information and boy, are we ever wrong! There is a world out there we don’t know or hear about and it possibly might decide the future of our breed.

One of her remarks is what we (the people against AKC) don’t understand is that AKC is only a registry and as such does not ruin breeds – it’s the breeders that ruin the breed. If this is the case then what does it matter where the dogs are registered? They have a registry now…so why does AKC have to register them? Because it is not about papers which is all a pure registry does. It is about control, power, and money. Who gives out the judge’s license? The breed clubs or AKC? Then when these (AKC) judges decide that BC ears should be pricked (because in theory prick-eared dogs hear better) and consequently only prick-eared dogs emerge as the winners, what do you think the consequences will be? All of the potentially great working non-prick eared dogs capable of being but not yet in existence will never be. Another generic comment written (as I was reading a printout of what a BC should look like) is that there will not be a standard for Border Collies! The minute they write anything resembling a standard they will start breeding for conformation! What is the first impression you receive from the word conformation….conform….So I ask: to whose standard? They imply they will not change the Border Collie. Who do they think they are kidding? If we have tried to keep these dogs out of AKC and failed, why does anyone think that once they get control by registering them that it will be possible to stop them from changing these dogs on a whim! True, it won’t emerge that way and it won’t happen all at once but be assured it will happen. The AKC does more than just register dogs and anyone that doesn’t believe that needs to reevaluate their thinking.

Most of the people in favor of AKC recognition say it’s because they want to continue to compete in AKC sanctioned events. What has a registry to do with obedience, tracking etc.? There is nothing wrong with providing this as a service to their members but it means they do MORE than just keep records! So, don’t tell me they are just a registry! While reading all of the information being exchanged I became uncomfortable with how some of these people think. The most matter-of-course comment was AKC recognition was inevitable so they might as well go with the least offensive club expecting AKC recognition. The analogy would be: Death is inevitable so let’s commit suicide. The fact that a majority of Border Collie owners don’t want or need AKC was of no concern for them. We need to address the even larger problem of people not knowing anything about Border Collies deciding its fate. I don’t think people that own one or two BC’s really know what makes these dogs unique. Even the few that work their dogs and have been exposed to the “herding world” don’t seem to realize how perplexing herding ability can be. The people in favor of AKC will give you a spiel about “if you make an instinct test a prerequisite to register” then you would preserve the working instinct. Wrong!! You might preserve a “possible” instinct but as I have maintained in past issues we are dealing with something much more delicate and intricate than “does my dog want to chase sheep?”. The quest for people wanting the best the breed has to offer would be “are they trainable and to what level?”

Let’s use the concept of levels to do an illustration. Let’s say an instinct test is a level one and we will progress to a level ten for an open trial dog. How many generations of level one dogs bred to level ones would it take to obliterate the ability to have a level ten? No one knows and I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever want to find out. You must realize practically none of these people will ever take their dogs past a level one and yet will be breeding and bragging “my dog passed his AKC herding test”. Compared to what these dogs are capable of, this “test” should be considered a travesty. You will have the people unable to cut it in the authentic Border Collie trial world being the “big shots” in the AKC world. To say “my dog is a show champion and exhibits instinct” is mockery. It means nothing. I can give you a list of “other AKC herding breeds” that claim to have herding instinct. I challenge AKC to take their best Herding Excellent Champion and run against a Border Collie on an open course, with no fences and with sheep that have not been trained to walk the course. I had one high ranking AKC official tell me they didn’t appreciate going to farms to trial inasmuch as it was wet and dirty. She much preferred a covered indoor arena. Does this give you an idea of what AKC is looking for in a “herding dog”?

I want to give an example of what I am trying to express. Lets say you have 100 (50 black and 50 white) horses and decide to evaluate which one of these is the fastest by having a race. Then someone arbitrarily says only the black ones are permitted to enter the race. So, when the race is over DO you have the FASTEST horse or do you have the FASTEST black horse? YOU DO NOT KNOW!!! Now if you had raced all the horses, black and white, and a black one happened to win…. you would have the fastest horse that happened to be black. It isn’t difficult to understand the more conditions you impose the more you restrict the possibility of getting the best. (What would happen if you carried our example even further and said only black horses with four white feet?) This is something that can not be said enough….you can not (I repeat NOT) breed for appearance (and that means putting ANY stipulation on what a dog looks like) and keep an honorable standard of work. To restate the obvious: it is not possible to breed for anything except working ability and keep integrity in your work. If for any reason you insert a criteria other than work in your breeding program, you will dilute the working ability.

I also want to refute the E mail people’s remarks about working dogs having so many genetic problems because of this breeding program. #1. Take a look at the problems in the other 150+ AKC breeds (and they don’t even have work to fall back on). #2. I said you breed FIRST for work and then cull unsound etc. I didn’t say you don’t cull! Big difference!!

I try to explain this to people when they see some of my working dogs and comment that “they would make a champion in the show ring”. They work and they just happen to be good looking (i.e….our horse example…fast and happens to be black not the other way around.) You can’t race half of the herd and pronounce you have the fastest one!! Most of our dogs are out of a female that if you saw her you would never say “Oh a Border Collie.” She is a Tri-colored, smooth-coated, prick-eared bitch that “look-wise” the first thing that would come to mind is a Kelpie. One of her daughters is a red,Tri-colored extremely rough coated, prick-eared bitch that doesn’t look a thing like her mother. So, which standard would you use if you weren’t going on working ability? These two dogs have the same standard – WORK! How can you draft a standard on a breed that is any color, size, ear set, height, weight and anything else you might possibly add? I don’t care how many times they repeat we will keep an “open stud book and a loose standard”. Make no mistake, politics will take over and then slowly but surely they will start breeding…black horses with white feet.

Another criticism drafted by the E mail person was we “herding people” prompted this by boosting these dogs into popularity. The way we achieved this was by selling dogs to people desiring to do obedience. According to her, our primary motive for this was to make money on the obedience people. So, now that they possess them, it’s only natural they want to show AKC. Well, my evaluation of that is if we were “out to make money” we would be thrilled that AKC is going to recognize these dogs. This would mean that not only would we make more money on the puppies we sell but the market for those pups would explode with new potential customers. This would rally into an increase in the number of possible students wanting lessons which translates into more people becoming interested in the magazine. (Jeez …. we might even make a profit at that!) We have done nothing except fight this “take-over”, so where does it seem to her that we “herding people” just want to make money? Why do we fight it so hard? I think the cover of the last issue said it best it’s “not an issue of black or white but an issue of right or wrong”. BECAUSE IT IS NOT THE BEST THING FOR THE BREED!

Often I wonder if they will figure out that the reason Border Collies excel at their obedience is whereas they were being bred to work, they still have minds. If they start breeding outside noted working lines and in essence start “their own lines” using customary AKC standards, they will end up with a dog that is not unlike the other 150 + breeds that AKC already represents. Then, once again, they will have to go outside the AKC to find another dog that has not been ruined. This will be necessary in order to get one with enough smarts to compete in obedience. I know I’ve been seeing quite a few Jack Russell Terriers in movies and commercials …. wonder if these are next on the hit list? (As a footnote: AKC has since registered Jack Russell’s … again against the majority of owners wishes.)

I would like to end with a suggestion. These dogs were originated and bred for one thing and one thing only ….WORKING ABILITY. If they are to be bred for anything else they will cease to be Border Collies and become something totally different. I say if AKC wants to register a dog that happens to look like a Border Collie, but is not….DO NOT CALL THEM BORDER COLLIES! Name them something else because they will not be Border Collies. Call them American Collies or anything but don’t call them what they are not!



Candy Kennedy