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Inbreeding and the Border Collie

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With all the brouhaha about pedigree dogs and their shrinking gene pools, I got to wondering. What about the Border Collie? Border Collies after all are bred to a standard too - a working standard. (Or they should be!) But it would seem to me that a population of dogs which are mated for the propagation of specific traits - in this case stock-working ability - would eventually face at least some danger of a genetic bottleneck. If all dogs that do not measure up are disqualified for breeding, one would expect the degree of relatedness of the "chosen" would increase.

 

I totally support the idea that Border Collies should be bred only for stock working ability. But I began to wonder how this policy will affect genetic diversity within the breed. I don't know if the demand for working stock dogs is rising or falling, but I do know that interest in trialing is on the rise.

 

One might argue that there are two populations - with a large overlap between them. I know that sheep and cattle trials are meant to be a test of the skills needed by the full-time working farm or ranch dog. But are the skills sets necessary for a top-notch trial dog the same as those needed by a dog on a large working sheep or cattle outfit? Certainly biddability and keenness, stock sense and nerve are tested on the trial course. But how would the top winning trial dog do in a day-after-day, long hours in all weathers venue? Does a sheepdog trial show you qualities like grit and stamina? I don't have the experience to answer such a question.

 

Also, If the dogs chosen to breed are consistently chosen from the ranks of trial champions will this accelerate any tendency to suppress a large, healthy, viable gene-pool among stock working Border Collies?

 

Before there was a Border Collie, there were just stock dogs. The dogs of whatever type best suited to get the job at hand were mated. But my impression is that now, working stock dogs are almost all of one breed or another, with closed registries. A Border Collie is not often intentionally mated with a Kelpie; an Australian Shepherd is not mated with an Australian Cattle Dog, and so on.

 

The shepherds of old drew upon a rich genetic base to create these breeds. And of course each of these breeds has developed clear-cut working styles. Are they ever crossed intentionally any more? Would such crosses be seen as detrimental to the preservation of specific working traits? I know it is rare to see another breed, such as a Kelpie run in a sheepdog trial. Border Collies are the rule. And even a bearded Border Collie is seen as suspect by some. But what about a cross? Are only registered dogs allowed?

 

The Border Collie has a unique working style, and tremendous talent for stock work. Is there a danger that in choosing mates for our dogs from within the ranks of the working/trialing Border Collie we will eventually end up with an increased rate of genetically transmitted problems? (like CEA, for instance)

 

From the POV of this novice fan of the breed, I would rather see an outcross to a different breed, one with outstanding stock working ability but unaffected with the problem, that to see working-bred dogs mated with Border Collies which have not been bred for working ability - like show-bred or sport-bred Border Collies. It would seem to me to be a safer bet for protecting the real function as well as the genetic viability of the breed.

 

OK. Everybody run and get your pitchforks! I am not trying to offend anyone, but I do have these questions. This seemed to be the place to ask them.

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Also, If the dogs chosen to breed are consistently chosen from the ranks of trial champions will this accelerate any tendency to suppress a large, healthy, viable gene-pool among stock working Border Collies?

 

Ultimately yes. It's a fact of life and not specific to trialling or work in the real world.

 

Any system that sets up a subsection as more desirable to breed from is creating the same genetic blind alley as the breeders of show dogs.

 

http://www.astraean.com/borderwars/2010/10/the-bc-bottleneck.html

 

I can't guarantee the accuracy of the detail of the link but the gist of it is right.

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Science is quickly moving us towards being able to MEASURE genetic diversity not just estimate it using pedigree analysis.

 

You have made a very good sugestion on a way to maintain genetic diversity, " outcross to a different breed with outstanding stock working ability". What breed do you believe retains "outstanding stock working ability" to which we can outcross AND maintain "outstanding stock working ability" in our breed?

 

 

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"The shepherds of old drew upon a rich genetic base to create these breeds."

 

I'm curious about what this statement means. Shepherds of old would have had only the dogs in easy proximity to draw on. Drovers would have had more, I suppose, but still nowhere near what anyone has today.

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Dear Doggers,

Ms. Banner introduces interesting points. I'll come back to this later but, for now:

 

1. There is no red bullseye sheepdog. Dogs win sheepdog trials for different reasons and with different handlers. Wisp was a terrible outrunner, John Templeton thought Wiston Cap was "soft and sulky". When you have a combination of dog and human skills which outweigh their combined defects, you have a trial winner. The terrific sheepdog may be, like my Luke: good outrunner, brilliant shedder, pushy, hardhead, another goodun might be okay outrunner, exquisite listener, reluctant but willing shedder. Another might be . . .

 

2. In the UK and here, handlers are perfectly willing to buy an unregistered but promising pup. In the UK, they sometimes breed to an unregistered dog. As I recall, Alasdair MacCrae's first International winner Bute was the product of such a mating. We aren't restricted to a smaller and smaller gene pool.

 

3. I saw ( but can't cite) a study that claimed that Border Collies have a very, very COI and a correspondingly large genepool.

 

enuf for now.

 

Donald McCaig

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Denise Wall's dart board analogy addresses this very issue. The version I linked to is probably not the most recent discussion, but it will give you a starting point.

 

The fact is that most border collies aren't champion bred to champion. It's a good dog bred to a good dog, with the definition of good being determined by the dogs' owners and the people who are interested in buying pups. These good working dogs, thoughtfully bred, are the reason that so far we haven't experienced the sort of bottleneck that is seen in dogs bred strictly for conformation, where the popular stud thing really has a great influence.

 

J.

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The shepherds of old drew upon a rich genetic base to create these breeds.

And in doing so "fixed" the traits they wanted and by creating a breed narrowed the gene pool.

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"The shepherds of old drew upon a rich genetic base to create these breeds."

 

I'm curious about what this statement means. Shepherds of old would have had only the dogs in easy proximity to draw on. Drovers would have had more, I suppose, but still nowhere near what anyone has today.

 

What it means to me is that way, way back there when dogs were beginning to become a variety of types - before there were breeds as such - if you wanted your dog to be faster, you might mate to a coursing hound type. I have read that a number of breeds went into creating the Border Collie. Somewhere I read there were spaniel type dogs in the mix. I assume that the spaniels were chosen for some particular trait. Or maybe it was just a happy accident that produced a desirable result. In any case, it has not been so very, very long in evolutionary terms that dog breeds have been kept pure. Sometimes that was because the number of dogs in a given area with very similar traits and/or talents were not so numerous, so you might breed to a dog that was quite different from your own if it had qualities that were desirable.

 

I was intrigued by the story in Pedigree Dogs Exposed:3 Years On in which the Dalmation breeder crossed his dogs with an English Pointer. He did this because he was trying to eliminate a genetic defect in his dogs. But the owner of a sheepdog "in the long ago" might have crossed his dog with a greyhound type if the dogs in his area had tended for whatever reason to become slower or more short-legged that was deemed ideal. At any rate, I very much admire the fellow with the "crossbred" Dalmations. I wonder if the folks in other breeds who were experiencing a hereditary problem would have the courage to do what he did.

 

While it's true that Shepherds of old would have had only the dogs in easy proximity to draw on, it is also true that there would have been other kinds of dogs that were either passing through or dogs that were normally used for other jobs. The fact that Spaniel blood was introduced to the dogs that eventually became known as Border Collies tends to support this.

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What breed do you believe retains "outstanding stock working ability" to which we can outcross AND maintain "outstanding stock working ability" in our breed?

 

I don't know. I am no expert on the various pastoral dogs of the world and their working abilities or styles. Of the ones I have a little familiarity, I would probably want to look at the Kelpie. But that might be a bad "nick" because of their very different working styles.

 

I just have a feeling that if I found it necessary to outcross from the working Border Collie to improve genetic diversity or eliminate a genetic condition/disease that had become ubiquitous, I would rather choose a dog of good working stock from another breed, than one from my own breed that came from a line of Border Collies that had no real working ability, like show dogs.

 

It is very encouraging to me that there are more ways to do genetic testing on our dogs, and that the breed's genetic diversity is as yet very healthy. But as I see the increasing divergence of types in our breed - working, show, sport and pet lines - I wonder if genetic diversity will become an issue for the working Border Collie in the future.

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Science is quickly moving us towards being able to MEASURE genetic diversity not just estimate it using pedigree analysis.

 

This interests me quite a bit.

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In the future we will have genetic tests for many diseases of interest which will allow breeders to know how to breed around known genetic diseases. In the meantime the best we can do is test for the genetic diseases of importance in our breed (ones that are at a proven significant rate in our breed like CEA and not like MDR1-1delta) and make breeding selections which minimize increasing COIs based upon our 6 generation pedigrees. As tools become available we should take advantage of those which will improve (or at least preserve) the genetic health of our breed.

 

 

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In the future we will have genetic tests for many diseases of interest which will allow breeders to know how to breed around known genetic diseases. In the meantime the best we can do is test for the genetic diseases of importance in our breed (ones that are at a proven significant rate in our breed like CEA and not like MDR1-1delta) and make breeding selections which minimize increasing COIs based upon our 6 generation pedigrees. As tools become available we should take advantage of those which will improve (or at least preserve) the genetic health of our breed.

 

You specifically mention a six generation pedigree. Is there a significance to this? In other words, do you figure dogs farther back don't have a significant impact on COI or diversity? Or a COI established from more generations isn't as telling regards to what they actually inherit from them or? Not really sure I'm asking the right question here.

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I ran a few COI calculations through the pedigree program that I keep records of my dogs on. Switching between six and ten generations changed the COI a little over a % at the most but usually less than a %.

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"Somewhere I read there were spaniel type dogs in the mix. I assume that the spaniels were chosen for some particular trait."

I guess you're thinking of the Gordon setter debate which raged back and forth over whether a collie cross went into the Gordon setter or the Gordon setter went into the collie. If that isn't what you're thinking of, I would love to have a reference because I am not familiar with the spaniel story.

 

"I was intrigued by the story in Pedigree Dogs Exposed:3 Years On in which the Dalmation breeder crossed his dogs with an English Pointer. He did this because he was trying to eliminate a genetic defect in his dogs."

 

What defect would you be breeding away from in Border collies?

 

I think the Dalmatian outcross was to produce dogs that look like Dalmatians but don't carry deafness, a hefty problem.

 

If you're thinking expanding the gene pool just for the sake of it, I recommend New Zealand heading dogs in addition to kelpies. Get yourself some and have at. Both strains come from collies prior to Wiston Cap without the drawbacks of KC Border collies from either Australia or New Zealand.

 

"But the owner of a sheepdog 'in the long ago' might have crossed his dog with a greyhound type."

 

Apparently could and did. That is the tale of how lurchers came to be, and going back to the Gordon setter tale, similar to why Gordon wanted his employee's (also said to be a poacher) dog in the mix: she was a good retriever, black and tan, and intelligent. I add that the truth of those stories is not verifiable, any more than J.P. Morgan adding Borzoi to the AKC collie is.

 

I am under the impression that a genetic bottleneck is descriptive of a problem, not simply a situation. Is this not the case?

 

Edited to add: Oh dear, I think you're drawing on the origin section on these Boards for the spaniel story. It's not verifiable or in "there can be little doubt" category. Eileen wrote that a long time ago. I don't know where she got it, maybe Iris Combe who sometimes wrote stockdog history by fiat. The story is probably fairly recent, like in the last 100 years, because until around 1850 and even thereafter with some well founded dissent, the stockdog or landrace collie type was viewed as the basic strain from which others developed.

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I think the Dalmatian outcross was to produce dogs that look like Dalmatians but don't carry deafness, a hefty problem.

 

I am pretty sure it was a high uric acid problem; the pointer brought in a gene that was missing in the Dals. Wasn't the LUA Dal brought about in the states yet not allowed in AKC whereas it (or she) has been accepted in the UK KC?

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"Somewhere I read there were spaniel type dogs in the mix. I assume that the spaniels were chosen for some particular trait."

I guess you're thinking of the Gordon setter debate which raged back and forth over whether a collie cross went into the Gordon setter or the Gordon setter went into the collie. If that isn't what you're thinking of, I would love to have a reference because I am not familiar with the spaniel story.

 

"I was intrigued by the story in Pedigree Dogs Exposed:3 Years On in which the Dalmation breeder crossed his dogs with an English Pointer. He did this because he was trying to eliminate a genetic defect in his dogs."

 

What defect would you be breeding away from in Border collies?

 

I think the Dalmatian outcross was to produce dogs that look like Dalmatians but don't carry deafness, a hefty problem.

 

If you're thinking expanding the gene pool just for the sake of it, I recommend New Zealand heading dogs in addition to kelpies. Get yourself some and have at. Both strains come from collies prior to Wiston Cap without the drawbacks of KC Border collies from either Australia or New Zealand.

 

"But the owner of a sheepdog 'in the long ago' might have crossed his dog with a greyhound type."

 

Apparently could and did. That is the tale of how lurchers came to be, and going back to the Gordon setter tale, similar to why Gordon wanted his employee's (also said to be a poacher) dog in the mix: she was a good retriever, black and tan, and intelligent. I add that the truth of those stories is not verifiable, any more than J.P. Morgan adding Borzoi to the AKC collie is.

 

I am under the impression that a genetic bottleneck is descriptive of a problem, not simply a situation. Is this not the case?

 

Edited to add: Oh dear, I think you're drawing on the origin section on these Boards. It's not verifiable or even in "there can be little doubt" category.

This is one place the spaniel is mentioned as a possible contributor to the creation of the Border Collie.

 

http://www.bordercollie.org/health/kpgene.html

 

There have been setters and spaniels about for ages, and it would surprise me very much if the odd sheep farmer didn't reckon that a bit of "birdyness" would be a welcome addition to his farm dog's roster of traits. Then there is the color red - or chocolate - that appears in the breed. Not to mention the Irish spotting pattern present in the breed, and the frequent occurrence of heavy freckling, and a soft, longish wavy haircoat.

 

Lessee... I wouldn't be breeding away from any problem at present (or in the future for that matter, as I have no ambition to breed dogs of any kind.) As far as I know, the genetic problems that appear in Border Collies at present can be handled without resorting to such measures. However, as this was intended as a purely theoretical exercise, I might suggest that there are a great many breeds of dogs that are sorely beset by genetically transmitted ailments, which were much less affected in days past. It is true, as someone pointed out, that the "super-sire" phenomenon seen in the show ring breeds is at least partially responsible for this.

 

Just looking at the range of sizes, working styles, hair coats and colors present in the working Border Collie would suggest to me that they are fairly diverse genetically. If the gene pool of the working Border Collie is truly as diverse as it seems, the is no reason to think of going outside the breed to "fix something that ain't broke."

 

I do think a genetic bottleneck is both descriptive of a problem and a situation. Look at white tigers for instance. Nearly every white tiger alive today traces to a single male named Mohan, and the level of inbreeding that has gone on to keep the zoo-going public in cute little white tiger cubs is atrocious. They are sometimes so inbred as to be deformed, and not infrequently the die very young, which makes it convenient for the zoos to produce more of them to boost ticket sales.

 

I'm not pushing the idea of outcrossing Border Collies to another breed. I just thought it would make for interesting discussion. I see the large number breeders of the Pekingese, (IMO the Tibetan Terrier could be very helpful there) the Dalmation, the Pug, the Bulldog and sundry other breeds dead-set against bringing in the influence of a healthier breed to repair some of the damage they've done to their breeds.* They wring their hands in alarm and disgust. I just wondered what the working Border Collie community would feel if the shoe were on the other foot. With the fracturing of the Border Collie into several different types - working, show, sport, pet - the problem of genetic diversity could possibly surface.

 

* By the way, I am aware that breeding to an extreme appearance standard is the main problem with many of these breeds - but genetic diversity is a close second.

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Edited to add: Oh dear, I think you're drawing on the origin section on these Boards for the spaniel story. It's not verifiable or in "there can be little doubt" category. Eileen wrote that a long time ago. I don't know where she got it, maybe Iris Combe who sometimes wrote stockdog history by fiat. The story is probably fairly recent, like in the last 100 years, because until around 1850 and even thereafter with some well founded dissent, the stockdog or landrace collie type was viewed as the basic strain from which others developed.

 

If you're talking about the article "Genetics and the Border Collie," I didn't write it. It was written for the USBCC by Kay Pine, a sheepdog handler with a Ph.D. in genetics and a strong interest in border collie history, back at the time of the Dog Wars. I don't know what her source was for the statement that some border collie traits came from spaniels, and for all I know it was based on one or more works from within the last 100 years, but I have never known her to cite Iris Combe as an authority, so I don't think that was one of them.

 

Geonni, I think I recall your posting some time ago a link to some of Elaine Ostrander's genome research showing border collies clustering more with hunting dogs (including spaniels) than with modern Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs, which I find extremely interesting, even though I really don't know what to make of it or know whether anything at all should be made of it at this stage. Re the main topic, Ostrander has in the past presented genetic data tending to show -- if I am reading it correctly -- that the degree of inbreeding is quite low in the border collie.

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I know that you are simply suggesting discussion. Why else would I be so pleasant without something to breed away from with outcrosses? What we need to know is why care about drift or a founder effect, which is over and done now, without a problem?

 

Hey, I could care less about pure bloodlines. I had a ROM bitch.

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I know that you are simply suggesting discussion. Why else would I be so pleasant without something to breed away from with outcrosses? What we need to know is why care about drift or a founder effect, which is over and done now, without a problem?

 

Hey, I could care less about pure bloodlines. I had a ROM bitch.

 

Sorry, don't mean to be defensive. I have not much formal education and am a bit intimidated by folk that have been represented to me as either academics or experts. I sometimes hear a question like, "What makes you say that?" as "What kind of a stupid question is that?" I'm working on it...

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It would be foolish to assume that Border Collies are not at risk of inbreeding depression. You can check the COIs on the ISDS web page and watch them slowly creeping up. Last time I checked the average COI for the breed was about 6%, which does indicate a level of inbreeding. (Assuming no relation between the ancestors, a COI of 6.25% in a pup is achieved through mating first cousins.) Remember, as far as we know, all living (ISDS) Border Collies can trace their pedigree back to Wiston Cap!

 

I don't personally think that our breed is immune to the popular sire effect. The big trial winning studs are bred to a disproportionate number of females. There are absolutely people out there who just breed good dogs to good dogs, but there are also enough who breed to the popular stud of the day to slowly raise the COI of the breed.

 

I also see a huge bias for only breeding trial dogs among some crowds (in the USA anyway). There are people who will not consider a pup from parents that don't compete, even if the parents are of excellent quality. (I think this has something to do with people not being able to recognize a good dog so relying on trials as proof of quality, but that is my personal opinion.) If only the top trial dogs are bred, we will see a steady rise in COIs. I am not saying we should breed biscuit eaters, but that we should be open to hidden gems that never compete on the trial field.

 

Breeding to Kelpies, NZ Heading Dogs, Beardies and other herding breeds could lower the COI a little, but would not be true outcrosses. All the good modern herding breeds I can think of are probably related to some degree.

 

I hear about people crossing in non herding breeds to create new stock dog types. Without seeing the resulting dogs work, I can't be sure whether these crosses are any good. Although, I did see some video of Huntaways and was impressed by their stock sense. Supposedly they have non herding breeds in their background (such as Labrador Retriever).

 

I do think Border Collie breeders need to be aware of COIs and the potential dangers of excessive inbreeding.

 

JMHO

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I also see a huge bias for only breeding trial dogs among some crowds (in the USA anyway). There are people who will not consider a pup from parents that don't compete, even if the parents are of excellent quality. (I think this has something to do with people not being able to recognize a good dog so relying on trials as proof of quality, but that is my personal opinion.)

Another possibility is that the trial field offers a convenient way to assess the working ability (by many observers) of a dog on neutral ground (even several places and flocks) as opposed to meeting the owners of possible breeding pairs on neutral ground to evaluate these dogs at work.

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I also see a huge bias for only breeding trial dogs among some crowds (in the USA anyway). There are people who will not consider a pup from parents that don't compete, even if the parents are of excellent quality. (I think this has something to do with people not being able to recognize a good dog so relying on trials as proof of quality, but that is my personal opinion.) If only the top trial dogs are bred, we will see a steady drop in COIs. I am not saying we should breed biscuit eaters, but that we should be open to hidden gems that never compete on the trial field.

Well this is a two-fold problem. At a trial, one can see a number of dogs work, usually on unfamiliar ground and unfamiliar stock. It's a *convenient* way to assess a dog(s) without the owner's kennel blindness or the dog's utility at the daily routine masking holes/issues in the dog's work. The other part of the problem is the phenomenon of kennel blindness and how realistic a particular owner can be about his/her dogs talents AND faults. Too often people focus on the good things and gloss over the bad stuff. Without seeing those unsung gems working on some neutral ground, it will be difficult for most people to assess their utility. Consider that even the ROM process requires the opinions of more than one person who are not the dog's owner. There's a good reason for that. Similarly, many people will claim that their dogs are of good quality, but when asked about that they will point to a pedigree full of quality dogs. That in itself does not guarantee quality, but this is a sales tactic that many millers will use (just look at MAH's website and all the quality dogs that are being used for breeding).

 

As for not being able to recognize a good dog (aside from being a rather insulting comment, especially coming from someone who apparently doesn't really trial much), I think many people *can* recognize a good dog, but recognizing a good dog is not the same as, say, taking the *owner's* word for how good the dog is. The old chestnut is that any dog can look good on the home farm and on its home stock, and I believe that. Does that mean someone could visit, for example, your farm and not be able to tell that one of your dogs is as good as you say it is? I'm sure there are people who could easily see past the home advantage, so to speak. But as someone who has had plenty of dogs not bred from trial champions, I wouldn't take an owner's word for how perfect his/her dog is without seeing the dog (or its relatives) work. And I'd prefer to see that work take place somewhere not at home, because it's *easier* to assess the talents and faults of a dog in such a situation.

 

But realistically, if you want to see a number of dogs on what is essentially a level playing field, the trial is the place to do it. It's certainly a more sensible option than travelling from farm to farm viewing individual dogs on their home ground so that you can test the veracity of an owner's claims.

 

I imagine people who breed their dogs and don't trial would feel differently about that. But consider that pups are a great question mark, so why shouldn't potential puppy buyers stack the odds in their favor by considering dogs that have proven they can work to a particular standard (even if their need/standard is farm work)? There are only so many champions in this country; the rest are dogs who perform well consistently. I see nothing wrong with breeding from those dogs. And if I knew a dog was not trialing but was a good producer (done that) or a dog who worked in a situation that required a lot of ability and heart, I'd consider pups from such a dog, but I wouldn't simply take an owner's word for it if that owner had never trialed at a high level and didn't have a type of operation that I think could really test a dog. JMO.

 

J.

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The trial field does offer many advantages, which has been pointed out plenty of times. I was just trying to reiterate the fact that many a good dog never competes. Losing those genetics would, in my opinion, be a disservice to the breed. Sure, there are dogs who don't work well off their home farm, but even some of those dogs have something to offer the gene pool. For example, the dog who is too pushy and not refined enough for trials but always gives 200% and gets the job done no matter what. (And this may be a handler problem, not a dog problem.)

 

There are people out there who couldn't recognize the difference between a good dog vs skilled handling to save their life, but there are also people out there who can see the real dog through the training/lack of training/poor handling/brilliant handling/etc. Those are often the people who breed the best dogs.

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