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Okay, since it seems that several of you who have merles are getting a bit defensive over this discussion, let me repeat: Having a merle is not inherently bad. What's (often) bad is the breeding decisions behind making merle puppies. That doesn't mean owners of merles are bad people or that their dogs are inferior (is this beginning to sound like the same old conversation we have about working vs. pet/sport breeding?), but please consider that we're trying to educate here, and the fact remains that breeding for color is not a good breeding practice. That's all.

 

J.

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So, you breed a litter, you get 8 pups, several tris, a red or two, and some black and whites. As they grow, you realize you really like one pup over the others. When it is time, you chose your pup, a tri with look to be prick ears. Then, as time rolls on, you end up picking pretty much the same thing from other litters. You prefer tris with prick ears, and you may even allow the ear thing to factor in when you pick your pup (since 8 week old pups are absolute crap shots wrt working ability) . You have in effect chosen a certain phenotype, before you ever saw it work. Is anyone going to call you on it? Why no. Those in working dogs who truly don't care what the dog looks like will have a true mishmash of looks- and there is no common thread- other than black/white in varying patterns. If you see a common thread, then you have to wonder why is this? Is this just a coinikidink?

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KG-huh? Ears aren't set until after 4-5 months of age. Anyways, I will reiterate my point that those who aspire to be at the top of the trialing game don't give a hoot about phenotype. Most purchase adult dogs that have proven ability to work. They purchase dogs that will win - period. Those who choose (or breed) a dog based upon a certain phenotype are not motivated to produce or own a top working dog because they have selected against the working trait.

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Okay, since it seems that several of you who have merles are getting a bit defensive over this discussion, let me repeat: Having a merle is not inherently bad. What's (often) bad is the breeding decisions behind making merle puppies. That doesn't mean owners of merles are bad people or that their dogs are inferior (is this beginning to sound like the same old conversation we have about working vs. pet/sport breeding?), but please consider that we're trying to educate here, and the fact remains that breeding for color is not a good breeding practice. That's all.

 

No defensiveness here. It is very imporant to be clear - especially when the intent is education.

 

I was agreeing with you - those who own merle dogs have no need to defend that fact. It would be imprudent for anyone to assume that everyone who owns a merle is looking to make a "fashion statement", or that they made their choice of dog based on looks alone. Sure, some do, but one wouldn't know that about a person based on the simple fact that they own a merle (or any beautiful dog!), nor because the dog does agility.

 

Clarity is always an enhancement of the process of education! :rolleyes: And the fact that the goals of many who are breeding merles are not good does not in any way impugn those who happen to own a merle offhand is, I think, a worthy addition to this very good and educational thread. :D

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Yes, I do know when ears set :rolleyes: There are folks who do quite well in trials, and buy pups. I am just trying to illustrate the fact that personal preference does come into play- no one is immune to that. I wasn't talking about the folks who only care to win, and go through dogs in the process- that's a whole other enchilada.

 

KG-huh? Ears aren't set until after 4-5 months of age. Anyways, I will reiterate my point that those who aspire to be at the top of the trialing game don't give a hoot about phenotype. Most purchase adult dogs that have proven ability to work. They purchase dogs that will win - period. Those who choose (or breed) a dog based upon a certain phenotype are not motivated to produce or own a top working dog because they have selected against the working trait.

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Like I said, not defensive at all. I am agreeing in that Timber was bred and then picked for all the wrong reasons. I have paid dearly for it too. His health is always an issue. I just hope that folks out there will read this thread and think before they buy the next puppy. Timber is a prime example of why you should breed for the right reasons. Not for color. :rolleyes: I just hate that it was a lesson I could have learned without all the heartache if I had just done the research. That's what I like about the boards, I have learned so much.

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Those in working dogs who truly don't care what the dog looks like will have a true mishmash of looks- and there is no common thread- other than black/white in varying patterns. If you see a common thread, then you have to wonder why is this?

 

There are often common threads in a handler's dogs because they like a certain working style, which comes from a certain bloodline, which as a result...tends to have similar physical characteristics.

 

The point is...if a handler likes working dogs from Bloodline A, and those dogs tend to be small, bat eared tri dogs...then it is likely he will have a lot of small bat eared tri dogs. He didn't select for small bat eared tri, he selected Bloodline A's working skills. The package just comes that way.....and there are usually always variation of ears, coat, markings...every dog is still individual, not cookie cutter.

 

You could speculate that this should occur in merles as well, but there would have to be a "Bloodline A" of merles....which in the BC working genepool there is not. You would first have to compromise your choices of litters to find merle, then your selection of the pup...because not all the pups will be merle, unlike all traditional black litters which are predominent.

 

Again, I like merles, and to me a pretty one is just breath taking. I'd take one in a heartbeat if I could do so without compromising whatsover on 100% working genetics out of *proven* working parentage on both sides of the cross (proven being hard ranch work and/or open trialing of caliber). So far though, nothing has met that standard.

 

For those that have merles, enjoy them. If someone says they are pretty say "thank you", because they are. If they ask more, educate. No shame.

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Hey, I have a big boofy red dog from a not very good breeder (he is a rescue, so I did not enrich his bad breeder when I acquired him). I love my big boofy red dog. I love my big boofy red dog's yellow eyes. Because of him, I love red dogs, or at least light eyes in a dog because then their expressions remind me of his. Would I pick the only red pup in a nice working litter? You betcha, as long as there wasn't a good reason for me not to pick that one. In an entirely black and white litter, am I going to pick the one with the wolf eyes? Probably. People like what they like -- I happen to like a fashion-colored red dog, which is a pretty hot commodity in some circles, although most working people would probably not pick the red pup.

 

This would become a problem only if I decided to breed a line of boofy working red dogs. Now, red, being a recessive trait, is rather easy to fix in a line. But as has been pointed out numerous times now, selecting for this color, which is relatively rare, in the first place means I'm making some pretty big decisions about which dogs I am going to breed based on something that has less than nothing to do with working ability. There's compromise #1, and it's a biggie.

 

I am not embarrassed by my big boofy red dog, and I am not defensive because of him either. He is mine and I adore him. That does not mean he was responsibly bred. Oh no, it was the exact opposite of that. Now, he's got good dogs behind him, so its not a matter of his lineage exactly, but the decisions that went into his production and placement that were as the French might say, tres crappy. Did his litter contribute anything particularly positive to the Border Collie breed? No. To me? Oh, yes, but that's not the same thing.

 

Frivolous preferences should not be what drives the trajectory of selection in this breed. With the merle explosion, I can see that it is more and more the case that frivolous color preferences are becoming common in the marketplace, and it worries me greatly.

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There are often common threads in a handler's dogs because they like a certain working style, which comes from a certain bloodline, which as a result...tends to have similar physical characteristics.

 

The point is...if a handler likes working dogs from Bloodline A, and those dogs tend to be small, bat eared tri dogs...then it is likely he will have a lot of small bat eared tri dogs. He didn't select for small bat eared tri, he selected Bloodline A's working skills. The package just comes that way.....and there are usually always variation of ears, coat, markings...every dog is still individual, not cookie cutter.

Exactly Lenajo. My dogs mostly come from a bloodline that has a lot of smooth-coated dogs with prick ears. Often with white factoring. I happen to like smooth coats and prick ears, but those likes are secondary to the fact that I like the working style of that bloodline, and that working style meshes well with my handling style. If that line happened to be big, rough-coated, flop-eared dogs, then that's what I'd have. I'm partial to tris because my first border collie (a rescue) was a tri, but I don't have a preponderance of tris among my working dogs.

 

In a more direct answer to KelpieGirl's comments, yes, personal preferences do come into play when picking a puppy. But the real point is that the puppy is part of a well-bred litter whose parents and other relatives and similarly bred dogs you know well and like. So as a puppy picker, since they're "pigs in a poke" and you will have *no idea* of actual talent for a year or two, only potential, which is determined by the breeding choice, it makes sense to pick the pup that most appeals to you. But picking a smooth-coated pup is not the same as breeding to try and get smooth-coated pup, and therein lies the very huge difference.

 

Merles and red dogs are quite flashy, IMO. I like and have owned/do own dogs of both colors. It so happens that red occurs in the same working bloodline that I like that I mentioned above, and two of the red dogs I own come from that line (one is a rescue). The third red dog was bought as a trained dog, and there the consideration was ability, what I could learn from her, and price (value for my money), not color (she looked positively awful at the time I bought her). As I stated earlier, I would never deliberately breed her to ensure that I'd get red puppies, despite the fact that I could easily sell pups of that color to anyone, because I would have to compromise on working ability. There are far fewer top working red dogs than there are B&W or tri ones. So if I really wanted a red litter, I would be cutting out the best possible sires in order to get red puppies. Merles, as has been stated before are a miniscule part of the population genetics of working border collies. They became popular in show and sport dog circles because of their flashiness. It's a lovely color pattern, and face it, humans are drawn to odd/unusual/colorful patterns--that's why we like paints and appys or Siamese cats--they are unusual looking. Demand of course creates folks willing to supply. And that's to Melanie's point--the demand is now there for merle dogs and breeders are fulfilling that demand. But as has been explained here, those breeders are not likely to be the best breeders, and they certainly aren't breeding with working ability in mind.

 

J.

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in a more direct answer to KelpieGirl's comments, yes, personal preferences do come into play when picking a puppy. But the real point is that the puppy is part of a well-bred litter whose parents and other relatives and similarly bred dogs you know well and like. So as a puppy picker, since they're "pigs in a poke" and you will have *no idea* of actual talent for a year or two, only potential, which is determined by the breeding choice, it makes sense to pick the pup that most appeals to you. But picking a smooth-coated pup is not the same as breeding to try and get smooth-coated pup, and therein lies the very huge difference.

 

Exactly. When Riddle had her litter, there were 8 pups for me to choose from. I like the females in this line, so that cut my choice down to 6. I really prefer slick coats, so that really left me 1 (the other girls looked like they would probably be medium-ish). So that's how I chose Tikkle. I also prefer ears that are prick, or at least kinda stand up, with the tips doing whatever. But when I picked my pup at 7 weeks??? Tikkle turned out to have real hound dog ears. Oh, well. The potential for all of those pups to be the kind of working dog I like was there because of the thought and planning that went into the breeding and the merits of both sire and dam. Had I chosen another from the litter, I'm sure I'd like its work as well as I like Tikkle's, but she was the one I chose and raised and trained. So, yes, I think we all have a "type" or "look" that we prefer, but, foremost is still the proven abilities of the sire and dam. Period.

A

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Yes, yes, yes, you are all right. I think my point is being missed, but, whatever. As a wise person has recently said to me "I ain't gonna lose any sleep over it"

 

tata- I need a break- I feel like the ceiling of this board is falling in on my head....

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Had I chosen another from the litter, I'm sure I'd like its work as well as I like Tikkle's, but she was the one I chose and raised and trained. So, yes, I think we all have a "type" or "look" that we prefer, but, foremost is still the proven abilities of the sire and dam. Period.

A

 

this is a little outside the specific topic of merles, but Anna, have all the pups from that litter (or at least all those that went into stock-oriented homes) turned out to work in the ways you imagined they would when you planned the breeding?

 

For those who've bred working dogs: Since puppies are a crap-shoot, how often do carefully planned working-bred litters end up with pups who don't work or don't work as expected? I've seen reference to litters in which the pups didn't turn out as planned for one reason or another and of course genetics is a funny things. Melanie, does your project at UCSF deal with this kind of thing at all or is it too irreducible to scientific inquiry?

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Yes, yes, yes, you are all right. I think my point is being missed, but, whatever. As a wise person has recently said to me "I ain't gonna lose any sleep over it"

 

No one missed your point. You just didn't get the answer you wanted. Not the same thing.

 

People picking puppies are ALWAYS going to have personal preferences unless you go to some sort of randomized system for assigning puppies. That's life. You chose to focus, in your query, on points of appearance that might influence someone picking their next working hopeful, but I don't know a single person who only picks on the basis of appearance. Your argument was a straw man. Personal preference comes into play. Well, duh, I say. So what?

 

I would say that, in general, the personal preferences of different handlers cancel each other out. For every handler who prefers a small, durable bitch (the phrase "small, durable bitch" just tickles me so I try to use it as often as possible lately), there's another who prefers a big, rugged male. Und so weiter. Because people selecting for working dogs are worried primarily about function rather than fashion, fads (color, ear type, what have you) are much less likely to take hold than they are in the pet and/or sport population. In addition, some of what you might consider frivolous preferences may have functional effects. Some obvious examples would be someone in foxtail country who prefers slick-coated dogs. My old trainer preferred small dogs because he considered them faster and longer-lived.

 

Now that I am looking for a puppy, I've been thinking a lot about what I'd pick, and appearance would be a tie-breaker all else being equal, but that's about it. I've looked at one litter already, and walked away from a puppy that appealed to me a great deal aesthetically, from a breeder I really, really like personally and whose dogs I liked a great deal, but that didn't work for me in terms of personality or (more importantly) fit with the two dogs I already have. Of course there are certain appearances I like more than others, based on sentiment more than anything else. The further I get into this process, however, the less looks matter to me. What matters is the dogs involved, the breeder producing the dogs, and the behavior of the puppies when I meet them and introduce them to my existing dogs.

 

By the time personal preference comes into the picture, you've already gotten past the important selection step, which is selection of the breeding itself, and the breeder. If you've chosen well in that sense, all things are about as equal as they can be given the information you have to go on, and then you can go with sentiment.

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On how litters "turn out" - there's two factors at work. One, the most important one when it comes to the individual pup: how the pup meshes in the particular working environment he's in. Since working livestock is an intensely team effort (uh, I think I mangled that but I've gotten some goooood pain meds this week :rolleyes: ), the dog has to work FOR the person he's with. I've had to move on three dogs that didn't work FOR me, but were varying levels of usefulness, none total failures by any stretch of the imagination.

 

Some litters have total washouts, but that's really quite rare among the people who are breeding responsibly. I personally see it more in breedings of unproven dogs, dogs with lineage that lacks working depth, and breedings done without knowlege of how to blend working styles properly. Sometimes you'll have a potentially useful dog that is such a mismatch for the person who trains them, that it is frustrating enough to turn the dog off working.

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For those that have merles, enjoy them. If someone says they are pretty say "thank you", because they are. If they ask more, educate. No shame.

 

Thats what I do with Jasmine and I do it with alot of pride

She is a beautiful dog and has been the beginnings of many a good conversation regarding BCs

Would I breed her?

Well here is an answer that won't be popular here but its honest.

Under the right set of parameters its possible.

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LOL IronHorse. Unless your parameters are a lot different than I think they are, I don't see why that would cause a stir. I once saw a nursery dog, a female with what I'd call the perfect set of talents for a farm situation - a real no-brainer dog, just point and shoot. She was merle, in fact from MAH lines. I would have waited until she was quite a bit older to breed her for health considerations (one problem with MAH "lines" is you never know what you are really getting in terms of background).

 

However, there's nothing wrong in my thinking, in putting a talented useful dog, no matter what the color, to a superior one that is a good match. The key is finding out whether the dog in question actually is competant and useful - and there's no substitute for full time stockwork for that.

 

I think what is oogly about the merle explosion for me is that I see it among people who I know won't be in a position to prove their dogs on stock, and yet their dogs are intact and they talk about pedigrees, the titles and sports prowess of the parents and relatives, and future breeding options.

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Thats what I do with Jasmine and I do it with alot of pride

She is a beautiful dog and has been the beginnings of many a good conversation regarding BCs

Would I breed her?

Well here is an answer that won't be popular here but its honest.

Under the right set of parameters its possible.

 

 

What are the right set of parameters for you?

 

Karen

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She was merle, in fact from MAH lines. I would have waited until she was quite a bit older to breed her for health considerations (one problem with MAH "lines" is you never know what you are really getting in terms of background).

 

Forgive my ignorance not to mention my apparent inability to do acronyms any more, but what does MAH stand for?

 

Thanks!

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Okay, since it seems that several of you who have merles are getting a bit defensive over this discussion, let me repeat: Having a merle is not inherently bad. What's (often) bad is the breeding decisions behind making merle puppies. That doesn't mean owners of merles are bad people or that their dogs are inferior (is this beginning to sound like the same old conversation we have about working vs. pet/sport breeding?), but please consider that we're trying to educate here, and the fact remains that breeding for color is not a good breeding practice. That's all.

 

J.

 

 

I just started reading this thread, but it would seem to me that you are making an assumption that people/buyers are going into a dog buying deal based on color, IOW I see a litter of pups and pick out the "Sparkly one" ;-) and while I'm sure that does occur, thats not always the case. In my case for instance, I've always been a staunch traditional Border Collie person. Black/white rough coat, brn eyes, blaze face, four white feet....My pup Stella, is pretty well bred, top and bottom...her grandsire was at the finals this year, her cousin ran in Nursery at the finals...I had no desire for a blue eyed, blue/red ticked merle non-traditional looking Border Collie...but I wanted a female and she was the only female in the litter. I took her in spite of her coloring, and couldn't be more pleased with my choice. So please don't assume that everybody is just looking at "all the pretty colors" :-)

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Mary Ann Harrison, aka Wildrose Border Collies, and some other kennel name I think (maybe American Beauty and Cherokee Rose?), who has been suspended from the ABCA for refusing to allow ABCA to investigate her breeding practices. Google one of those websites--it seems she has a real campaign going against the ABCA (and against Eileen, who according to one of this woman's websites is president of the USBCHA as well as being on the BOD of the ABCA--even if it were true, I don't see how it would be a bad thing). :rolleyes: I'm amazed anyone would buy a dog from her after viewing two of her websites--they are just so completely strange....

 

J.

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this is a little outside the specific topic of merles, but Anna, have all the pups from that litter (or at least all those that went into stock-oriented homes) turned out to work in the ways you imagined they would when you planned the breeding?

 

Several are so far away that I've not seen them, but have only heard that the owners are thrilled with them (whatever that means--they are ranch homes with handlers at various levels). One that I sold at 8 weeks, the owner passed away suddenly when the pup was just a year. I bought her back and have been working with her since to finish her training and to sell. She did not have the kind of start I like as a pup--both as a youngster in socialization, as well as her first work. So she came to me having acquired some very bad habits work-wise. I've been working her since mid-June, so it's been 4 months, and she is finally coming around. In the past week, I can finally see that she is, after all, one of Riddle's pups. So, yes, in this case, I think had she had the kind of start Tikkle had, I'd like her just as well.

 

Another one isn't as far along as I'd like to see, and, again, from the training he's had, he's not as confident as I think he could/should be, but I think that's definitely a case of environment/training. A third female belongs to a student of mine, and she's coming along fine, just not as far as I'd have her by now because he brings her once a week, where I work them every day (and tend to push them a lot). But she seems to be pretty consistent with the family style of working. They all tend to really like to hit heels, but will learn to take a nose readily (they are bred for cattle but will work sheep nicely, too), and are real level-headed workers. Geez...I just re-read through what I've written, and I seem to keep saying the others are not as far along as I'd like, but I have to remember they are just 18 months old. This line does have the potential to train up really quickly, so that's my point of view--if they're not close to finished by now, they seem to be behind schedule. I know that's ridiculous in the grand scheme of things!

 

This is exactly what I have been wondering lately--given the genetics and the potential, is the rest just environment? Or how much variation is there within a litter due to individuality? As someone mentioned here, that combination of dog/handler and style of training, etc. is a big part of the equation, I think. My best guess at this point is yes--I think any one of the pups from that litter would have worked out pretty much the same for me had it been the one I kept and raised and trained. But I'll never know for sure,

A

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Interesting stuff and it must be quite an intriguing puzzle to watch those pups all unfold.

 

Though, really, at 18 mos. they should be MUCH further along--even Tikkle. I've heard if they aren't working at nursery level by 10 mos. they're probably a wash.... :rolleyes: :D :D

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For those who've bred working dogs: Since puppies are a crap-shoot, how often do carefully planned working-bred litters end up with pups who don't work or don't work as expected? I've seen reference to litters in which the pups didn't turn out as planned for one reason or another and of course genetics is a funny things. Melanie, does your project at UCSF deal with this kind of thing at all or is it too irreducible to scientific inquiry?

 

I forgot to answer this. The answer to your question is "I don't know" (whether it is amenable to scientific inquiry) but it's undoubtedly very complicated, involving many genes + the confounding effects of environment. That's one of the reasons we're concentrating on behavioral pathologies in general and noise phobia in particular in Border Collies -- noise phobia is a much more discrete, tractable phenotype to deal with than something like "stock sense." It's also something that seems to affect dogs regardless of environmental variables such as socialization, training, etc. (except for the cases where the dog is never exposed to the problematic noises -- but that doesn't mean they don't have the propensity to be phobic, it only means we can't assess the phenotype).

 

I am not a breeder and I am not an expert either, but my impression is that in a well-bred litter they'll generally all work, but they will not all work to the level that someone wanting to seriously campaign a dog would desire. If a litter happened that they ALL turned out to be top working dogs, I am guessing that would be considered to be a remarkable event. Not impossible, as I am sure it has happened and will happen some number of times, but remarkable. The other variable is that different owners and handlers want different things. A dog may excel in one arena and not another, so the perception its owner or trainer has of its value as a working dog would be different depending on that person's preferences.

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Though, really, at 18 mos. they should be MUCH further along--even Tikkle. I've heard if they aren't working at nursery level by 10 mos. they're probably a wash....

 

Actually, Tikkle qualified for Nursery at 11 months (brag, brag), and has run in Open several times and held her own OK. :rolleyes:

 

 

The other variable is that different owners and handlers want different things. A dog may excel in one arena and not another, so the perception its owner or trainer has of its value as a working dog would be different depending on that person's preferences.

 

Exactly. That's what makes it so interesting and probably impossible to isolate all the variables scientifically. What I like in a dog, or just things I might expect a dog to do and the way I would like it to tackle certain tasks, might not be what another likes or requires. Although, having said that, I think recognizing a good 'un is a lot like pornography--you can't easily define it, but we all know one when we see it :D

A

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So, if someone did have a really nice merle female, and was breeding her to a really nice (and I use this to refer to working ability) male, non merle of course, then there wouldn't be a problem with the breeding? Just making sure I am clear. I would loved to have had pups out of my merle. But sometimes things just don't work out.

 

So really the issue shouldn't be the color of a dog being bred, but irresponsible breeders in general. There are a lot of black and white dogs that had no business being bred, just as there are a lot of reds, and a lot of merles. There are too many bad breeders in general. Look at all the cookie cutter black and whites that were bred for the wrong reason, and now won't work if their life depends upon it.

 

Also, I don't think the trial field is the only way to determine if a dog is worth breeding. What about regular stock work, where peope use their dogs to actually work. The trial field does demonstrate a dogs ability, but actually having a job and being great at it seems like a good measure as well. So really just because you don't see them on a trial field does not mean they aren't out there doing what bc's are supposed to. Working.

 

As far as color, as I have said before a strong dog is a strong dog. She can move stock regaurdless of color. Also, I don't know if anyone is familiar with other types of stockdogs. But in Florida we have Cur's, which are all yellow, or yellow ring necks (pretty much). They are a light color, and I know for a fact that the cows don't sit there and debate whether a yellow dog is as good as a black dog. But I think debating color is irrevlevent. It is like saying blondes aren't as good at teaching as brunettes.

 

I have come to the conclusion that I don't have to defend the color of my dog, a blue merle, once most people see her work, they don't see her color anymore anyways. Hopefully, they didn't come off the wrong way.

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