I was sitting at lunch with some friends and we were (surprise!) talking dogs. We have a mutual acquaintance that for lack of a better word dabbles in working dogs. She has a couple of Aussies and a couple of Border Collies. She has trialed a couple of times, and when she takes lessons it’s every couple of months. She wants to do the dogs but has other things that are more important. She can’t find the time to go to clinics or read books, magazines etc. I have no problem with that. There are only so many hours in the day and we can’t all be as obsessive about working dogs as I am (Good thing!) If you want to make working dogs a hobby and just do it part-time and enjoy yourself I think that’s great for owners and dogs.
However; when I was informed she was breeding one of her Border Collies was when I became annoyed. Just because you own a female does not mean you should breed her!!! If you decide to get into breeding dogs then you need to spend time understanding the qualities that make that breed special. I’m confounded as to what motivates people like this. If I owned another breed of dog and had never put any time and effort into researching that breed, I would concede that fact. I wouldn’t have a problem acknowledging that I personally did not have enough information to determine what to breed for (that’s why my Jack Russell is neutered). Consequently it would never cross my mind to breed. She doesn’t have a clue what makes a skillful working dog yet she feels competent to determine what male would “compliment” her bitch. To make matters worse, this female isn’t working for her; she’s so soft she quits her frequently. At one point in time the woman was trying to find a home for her. She was going to give her away for free if the people would spay her. However; she wanted money if they wouldn’t spay. Is that because she was a quality bitch worthy of breeding or because if she couldn’t make money off the dog – no one else was?
I think of the hours that responsible breeders put in to studying pedigrees, watching dogs work, and understanding what a good working dog is. Then there is the other “type”. The type I am referring to are breeders that aren’t in this for the dogs and breeding quality working dogs is not their objective. So, what happens when a novice buys from this type of breeder? If they buy it as a “pet” and it doesn’t work out what recourse do they have? The so called breeder is not going to want the pup back; they don’t want the responsibility of placing a grown pup. If the buyers want more than a pet and decide they want to work the pup these people can’t help them, they couldn’t even train the mother – so how are they going to help them train their dog?
However; the most confusing thing of all is since the bitch they are breeding isn’t trained then how do they decide which male to breed to? What do they use as a STANDARD to IMPROVE upon, when they don’t know what needs IMPROVING? Have no fear, they have the answer – they are breeding to a red dog!!! If you don’t have enough knowledge to gauge how to breed you use the easiest (substitute most useless) yardstick….looks. I guess if you change the color of the pups it will make up for the fact that their mother wouldn’t work. I believe breeding good working dogs takes time and effort. If you are not willing to put the hours needed to study pedigrees and watch how dogs work – don’t breed. There are people out there that chose dogs that wouldn’t suit my breeding program. However; they spend time, money, and effort to breed a good dog. It might not be my kind of dog but they went about it the responsible way. I have nothing but respect for that, just as I feel nothing except exasperation for the other type.
I can’t begin to tell you the “number of times” I’ve had to find homes for dogs that were bought from a person who just “felt” like breeding. These so called “breeders” have no prospective customers to call in order to place an older pup. So, what would happen if we weren’t able to find a home for the pup? I relish taking pups I have bred back because I know what is behind the breeding. They have been bred uncompromisingly for work, each parents working abilities complimenting the others. I have usually trained one or two out of the litter so know what to expect. I feel confident that I can start them and sell them into a working home in as much as I’m always getting calls for started dogs. If they don’t demonstrate working ability then I have enough insight to know if they will be suitable as a pet – – – not all are! What credentials do the semi- breeders pups have? There is no assurance that they will be a decent pet and the odds of being talented in the working department are remote at best.
I get around 10 emails a week from people thinking they want a Border Collie and I usually talk them out of it. We all know Border Collies are not for everyone. When these part-time breeders run their ads in the paper, do you think they SCREEN their buyers? They don’t even screen the dogs they are breeding. So why should they worry about a little thing like is the dog suited for the people. Then a couple of months later when the pup is driving the person crazy, what happens? The breeder doesn’t want it back. Remember, they didn’t even want the mother, so why would they want a pup from her? They have no contacts to place a pup so they send them to me. What am I suppose to do…. I deal in WORKING dogs. (I sense this is getting into a previous article I did regarding people not realizing how hard it is to breed first-rate working dogs.)
They seem to have the belief that if a dog is capable of chasing sheep then it must have the potential of being a great working dog. I want to reiterate in order to have a quality dog, only the best should be bred. If you think it’s so easy to train just any Border Collie to work, come out to my place and watch. You will see and appreciate the ones that want to work more than anything else. The ones that want to work because they have been bred for nothing except work and every fiber of their being is geared to that one goal. You will also see the ones that work when they feel like it that is as long as you aren’t asking them to do anything. I spend hours trying to convince a run-of-the-mill bred dog to work sheep correctly, many will work as long as its chase and action oriented. Then you try to push the dog off in order to get the dog to balance up and his attitude changes to….”I don’t want to work that badly”. I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it is to plead with a dog trying to persuade it to work. Watch and decide which you would rather spend a day trying to train. It might be a touchy subject with me because I’m the one that is expected to “fix” all the problems. It is so much easier to have a natural dog instead of a “man” (or is that “woman”) made one. I have numerous people calling me to help train a dog that they bought from a person that owned a male and female and figured “Why not breed them”! They come here for training and possess so little instinct that I have a hard time even getting them to look at sheep. The owners love them and don’t want to give them up, so I end up spending hours just trying encourage them to chase sheep. If I can get them chasing, hopeful we can at some point slip in herding.
I’m one of the first to admit that just because a dog is quality bred doesn’t mean it will have quality work ability. I am saying it’s hard enough to have a good working dog when you breed for nothing except work. So, when the people say to me “oh, your well bred dog doesn’t want to work” it’s not a contradiction to what I am saying but confirms it. If we still have problems when we have bred for nothing except work what would you have if you bred for anything else? You would just be intensifying the problem.
I’ve had numerous dogs in for training over the years. I have tried everything imaginable to help a dog work to the best of his ability. This task is so much easier when the dog knows what to do and I, as a trainer, just bring it out. When you are striving to train a dog that hasn’t a great deal of natural about it, you spend most of your time trying to artificially create the parts that are missing. You have to compensate for the lack of ability by artful handling. For instance: let’s assume the dog doesn’t have a strong desire to work, you will spend half your time pleading with him to work. The other half will be spent making sure you don’t demand too much from him, otherwise he will quit. If you have a dog that doesn’t have natural balance you have to spend a lot of training time placing him in the right spot. If the dog has a great deal chase to him, you spend most of your time trying to put pace into him. I could go on but think this begins to give you an inkling of my concerns. I wonder if people realize the amount of time that go into training these dogs. If to the normal training hours, you add the extra hours of trying to compensate for what nature didn’t put in, it can really add up. I have spent months training a dog to master a skill that a dog bred right could have picked up in weeks. So, you might have saved money on that pup when you bought it but believe me you ended up paying a lot more in the end.
I ordered a pup from Britain one time, since I was on my way over there. I had a rude awaking when I heard you should get a bitch pup not a dog because if she doesn’t work you could always breed her. I don’t think I said anything (unusual for me!) but you can be assured that thought never crossed my mind! These dogs are astounding because of their intelligence. One of the most advantageous ways to gauge their intellectual ability is to determine their training. If the dog isn’t trained, you need to ask yourself “WHY”? Is it not trainable? I’m not saying the only thing is training, I’m saying it’s a very important consideration. You also need to look at how they respond to all aspects of training. If you are looking at a novice dog … you have no idea if his ability will measure up and allow him to finish out. There is a big difference between a started dog and a finished one. You can’t compensate for what is lacking if you don’t know what isn’t there!
The best brood bitch I ever owned was not a trial dog. She was finished dog and a great work dog and I TRIED to run her at trial … once. She was a very strong, unyielding; bitch that thought stopping was an option and it wasn’t a pretty sight at a trial. However, she could move anything including charging rams and would work until she “dropped”. She threw some of the best pups I’ve ever owned and I wouldn’t have traded her for the world. (I also wouldn’t have ever tried to run her at trial again!) She was an exceedingly bright dog, and passed this intelligence on to her offspring. I was careful not to breed her to a hard male as I didn’t want to compound the hard headed problem. I required a male that was a good listener and biddable. I could use a male that is not a power house, as she was. She was crossed with six different males resulting in only one cross that I was disappointed in. The reason for the disappointment was pups lacking quality in their work not lacking a desire to work. Knowing this I never made the cross again albeit I still owned the male. I’ve had many pups in for training out of her that I would purchase in a heartbeat. I owned and trialed 3 out of her (one placing 4th in the National finals) with 2 of them having different sires and none were for sale. I think this is what most good breeders endeavor to do in their breeding program …… breed consistent first class working dogs.
I would like to end by saying I know there are many breeders out there breeding really top-notch pups. I think we as trainers need to show an appreciation for these breeders. We also need to inform people just because the Border Collie they own has papers doesn’t mean it is worthy of breeding. We need to let novices know BREEDING does make a DIFFERENCE!