TIPS ON GETTING A BORDER COLLIE



Border Collies are different from nearly all other dogs because they are bred to work livestock. That is what defines them - not just in the past, but still today. It makes them the best herding dog there is, and because livestock work requires such a high degree of intelligence, physical ability and character, it makes them better at most things (including being a good companion) than breeds which are bred for how they look or for "versatility." It follows that if you want an authentic Border Collie, you must get one that was bred for livestock work.

If you want a companion dog who will require a greater than normal investment of time and interest from you, and will give you a greater than normal return on that investment, a Border Collie may be the dog for you. If you want a dog to work livestock, a Border Collie is the obvious choice. If you want a dog just to "be there" and not need much attention, save yourself some grief and pick a different breed or a mixed breed.

Once you've read our overall introduction to the breed, and decided that a Border Collie is the right dog for you, here are some further concrete tips for getting a genuine, healthy Border Collie.


DON'T BUY FROM PET STORES OR THROUGH INTERNET WEB SITES

No reputable breeder would sell puppies to a pet store, and therefore the only pups for sale in pet stores are those from puppy mills or from others who breed for profit rather than quality. Likewise, you can't judge a puppy seller based on his web site. There are plenty of dishonest and disreputable breeders and brokers who can make themselves look pretty wonderful on their own web sites. It's certainly true that there are many good breeders who have web sites, and you may initially learn about one of them via the web, but if all you know about a seller comes from his or her web site you could be buying from a puppy mill that you would flee from if you saw it in real life. In buying this way, you not only risk getting a dog with health or temperament problems, but you could be contributing to overbreeding and inhumane treatment. Don't support cash crop breeders and puppy mills.

BUYING FROM A GOOD BREEDER

A very good way to get a companion Border Collie -- and the best way to get a Border Collie for livestock work -- is to buy from a good breeder.

It is ultimately the buyer's responsibility to make informed decisions in buying a pup, both for your own benefit and because your buying decisions influence the future of the breed just as much as the breeders do. To help in your decision, however, we suggest you consider the following Red Flags in evaluating any breeder you may consider buying from. Red Flags are just that - they do not necessarily disqualify a breeder from consideration, but they highlight facts and circumstances that may (or do) indicate problems and should make you look hard and ask serious questions. Even good breeders can have one or more minor Red Flags, but they should have few, and should have offsetting positive qualities.

The breeder is not breeding for working ability

Sometimes breeders will acknowledge up front that they are not breeding for working (i.e., herding) ability. They may say they are breeding for conformation, or for temperament, or for the "perfect pet." Since the whole point of the Border Collie breed is that they are dogs bred for working ability, these breeders should be avoided even by those who never intend to use their dog to herd livestock.

Often, however, breeders will claim they are breeding for working ability even though they're not, because they know people expect that in a Border Collie. How can you tell if the claim is true?

Breeders who don't know enough or care enough to breed for herding excellence may point to titles (letters before or after the dog's name) acquired in dumbed-down AKC or other multi-breed herding trials. These trials are designed as ways to have fun with your dog rather than as true tests of working ability, and because they have to provide fun for many breeds which have little or no herding ability, they are no measure at all of the quality of a real working breed like the Border Collie. Where a Border Collie sire or dam is advertised as having title initials before or after its name, you can be pretty sure that neither the dog nor the breeder is accomplished enough to compete in "real" Open level sheepdog trials. Ironically, therefore, these titles prove the exact opposite of what they are intended to prove. The same is true of "herding instinct certificates," an easy, meaningless credential that no serious breeder of working dogs would bother to get.

Some breeders may point to noted herding dogs several generations back in the pups' pedigree. This too is meaningless in itself - there's scarcely a Border Collie alive who doesn't have great herding dogs several generations back in his pedigree. You should not have to look any further back than the pup's sire and dam to find demonstrated working ability. Finally, be wary of breeders who claim to be breeding for everything - for "versatility," for "the dog that can do it all." This usually means they are breeding for nothing in particular, but want to cast their net for the widest possible range of customers. Versatility and temperament are the natural accompaniments of working ability, not ends in themselves.

Breeders who are truly breeding for working ability will usually be very specific about their dogs' accomplishments. If they place regularly in Open class sheepdog and/or cattledog trials sanctioned by the United States Border Collie Handlers Association (USBCHA), it's almost certain that they have the knowledge and the motivation to breed for good working ability. If they don't trial their dogs at this level, they should be serious livestock producers who test their dogs through demanding work. Such folks will be more than happy to describe their livestock operation, the nature and frequency of the work their dogs do, and details of the strengths and weaknesses of the sire and dam of any litters they've bred.

The breeder registers with the AKC

Registering Border Collies with the AKC is a very serious Red Flag, even if the dogs are registered with a working registry as well. Why? Because the AKC defines dogs by how they look, advocates breeding dogs to conform to an appearance standard, and rewards such "breeding for looks" by sponsoring shows where the dogs who most closely meet its appearance standard can be honored as "champions." This philosophy is directly opposed to the breeding for working ability which created the Border Collie, and which is necessary to preserve the Border Collie. A breeder who supports the AKC by registering there either is ignorant of the harm the AKC's philosophy can do to the Border Collie breed in the long run, or puts his own financial benefit in appealing to the AKC market ahead of the welfare of the breed. A breeder who shows Border Collies in conformation dog shows is doing even more direct harm to the breed. It is ludicrous to claim that a Border Collie's quality is related to its success in dog shows, and entering Border Collies in this type of competition is a tip-off that the person doing it does not understand the breed.

The breeder does not register with the traditional working Border Collie registries

The ABCA (American Border Collie Association) is the principal Border Collie registry in the United States. The CBCA (Canadian Border Collie Association) is its equivalent in Canada, and the ISDS (International Sheep Dog Society) is its equivalent in the United Kingdom. Other traditional Border Collie registries in the US are NASDS (North American Stock Dog Society) and AIBC (American-International Border Collie registry). It is a serious Red Flag if the breeder registers with any other registry, especially the International Border Collie Association (started in 2006 by a high-volume breeder suspended from the ABCA) or one of the all-breed registries generally associated with puppy mills, such as the Continental Kennel Club (CKC), Federation of International Canines (FIC), America's Pet Registry (APR), etc., which basically exist only so that a breeder can claim his pups are "have papers."

The breeder emphasizes the color of the dogs

Good Border Collies can come in many different colors, but purposely breeding for unusual colors does not produce good Border Collies. It is a particularly destructive form of breeding for looks. It's almost a defining characteristic of bad breeders, because it is easy to do (breeding unusual colors is simple compared to breeding working ability), and because the unsophisticated buyer can be told that the dogs are worth more because they're "rare." In fact, these dogs are never considered more desirable by knowledgeable Border Collie breeders (that's one of the reasons they're rare!), and some of them come with increased risk of health problems. Therefore, breeders who produce disproportionate numbers of merle or candy-colored dogs, or who advertise "carries blue," "carries the dilution gene," "can produce both red and blue merle," and the like should be avoided.

The breeder is reluctant to disclose her name and/or address, and unwilling to have you visit her kennel

The breeder has been disciplined by a registry

The ABCA publishes a list of breeders who have been suspended or expelled from membership, and the reason for the disciplinary action, at www.abcbordercollies.com.

The breeder produces numerous litters and always has puppies available

Good breeders do not tend to produce a lot of litters, because their dogs are more than breeding machines, and because it takes a lot of time and attention to raise pups properly during their first few weeks of life. Bad breeders, on the other hand, like to keep a full inventory.

The breeder routinely brokers pups for others, or advertises litters from parents other than listed sires and dams

The breeder advertises "accepts PayPal," "ships anywhere," "Christmas specials," "veterans' discounts," or otherwise has the earmarks of a commercial operation

The pups are being sold to strangers at horse shows, fairs, or similar public events

The breeder asks if you'd like to sell puppies for him

Run, don't walk, the other way.

The breeder does not eye test his breeding stock or pups

One of the genetic diseases that can occur in Border Collies is Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA). It's a disorder of the retina, which can range in severity from no discernible visual deficit to total blindness. It is evident in the dog at an early age, and a pup who is examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist before the age of 12 weeks and is found free of CEA will never develop it. A dog found free of the disease could still be a carrier of the CEA gene, however, and if bred to another carrier will likely produce some pups who have the disease. Fortunately, a DNA blood test for CEA, which can not only tell if a dog has the disease but also if he is a carrier of the gene, has been available since January 2005.

Good breeders will be aware of CEA, and should be willing to discuss with you their approach for dealing with it in their breeding program. They should either (a) show puppy buyers DNA test results establishing that at least one parent of the litter in question is free of the CEA gene; or (b) have had the litter examined for CEA by a canine ophthalmologist before the pups are sent to their new homes, and share the results of that exam with puppy buyers; or (c) agree in writing that the buyer may have the pup promptly examined for CEA and that the pup may be returned for a full refund if CEA is found. The first approach is the most satisfactory, and the last approach is the least satisfactory, but the most important thing is that the breeder is open and knowledgeable in discussing this issue with you. Just saying "I've never had any eye problems" is a Red Flag.

The breeder does not hip test his breeding stock

Hip dysplasia (HD) occurs in Border Collies, and is in some degree hereditable, so a good breeder should be concerned about it. But HD is not nearly as straightforward as simple recessive diseases like CEA. First of all, it is almost certainly polygenic--caused by several genes acting in combination--and none of those genes has so far been identified. Second, environmental factors--such as overfeeding leading to too-rapid growth in puppyhood--can influence whether it develops or not and how severe it becomes. And finally, the means available to keep from producing pups which will become dysplastic are limited in their effectiveness. The best method available is to x-ray the hips of sires and dams (and other relatives where possible), submit the x-rays for evaluation by OFA, PennHIP or Cornell University, and not breed those who are found to be dysplastic. Unfortunately, the correlation between HD in parents and HD in their offspring is far from perfect. Two parents whose hips are rated "Good" or "Excellent" based on their x-rays can still produce a pup who is dysplastic, so x-raying sires and dams can only reduce the chances of their pups having HD, not eliminate those chances. Moreover, there is also an imperfect correlation between x-rays and symptoms - dogs who are evaluated as dysplastic on x-ray may never show any symptoms of lameness. In view of all this, conscientious breeders can differ about whether dogs who are evaluated as dysplastic on x-ray but have no symptoms of HD should be removed from breeding, or whether that should just be one factor to be taken into account in making a breeding decision. However, if you want to minimize as much as possible the risk that your pup might develop hip dysplasia, you should ask the breeder for evidence that both parents were x-rayed and found free of HD, as well as asking whether they have ever produced dysplastic pups.

For more extensive information about hip dysplasia in Border Collies, go to http://stilhope.com/writings/hips.html. You can learn more about the hereditary diseases found in Border Collies by reading the ABCA's article on Health and Genetics of Border Collies.

The breeder does not offer to take the pup back should you be unhappy with it

The breeder shows no interest in your suitability as an owner

ADOPTING FROM A RESCUE ORGANIZATION

There are a number of rescue organizations which evaluate, re-train and re-home abandoned or unwanted Border Collies. Wonderful dogs or pups are often available through these organizations. Particularly if you are looking for a companion dog, rescue may have the dog for you. If you go this route, you will have a network of people with border collie experience and expertise to call on for advice, and you will be helping out a dog who really needs a home. To find rescue dogs and pups, go to www.petfinder.com.

DON'T ACT ON IMPULSE

Getting a dog is an important decision - take time to do it right. Maybe the best thing you could do is to go to a sheepdog trial. Look at the list of USBCHA sanctioned trials and see if there is one near you. If you've never seen a trial, you will be entertained and amazed, and will learn a lot about what these dogs are all about. At a trial, you can generally talk to the handlers (as long as you don't approach them right before they're scheduled to run) and ask questions about where to get a good pup. In this way you can learn which breeders are respected by knowledgeable Border Collie people, and perhaps get to know a breeder from whom you can not only get a good dog, but also learn a lot about this unique and wonderful breed.

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