Jump to content
BC Boards
Sign in to follow this  
libby-at-home

what DOES define the border collie?

Recommended Posts

After reading all of the interesting posts in the thread about BC dominence, I was left somewhat puzzled. What does define a Border Collie as a breed?

 

If it is working ability, then what about all the BC's that don't have a propensity to herd any more than your average dog? It has been mentioned on these boards that there are plenty of BC's that simply aren't talented in the herding area but have made great pets or agility/flyball competetors. I personally like the ideal that I have read here several times about BC being defined by their working ability, but if a particular BC doesn't have that, then what does define them??? It seems that other breeds have a prey drive that causes them to act in ways that I had thought were BC specific. ie: play herding,compulsive, BC stance, very smart, biddable etc. Beyond the physical breed type, which itself is extremely varied,what is the breed definition? Or is there one that will satisfy us beyond what the AKC has put out?

 

My little BC is definately not going to be "typey" and so can just hear it now when I start taking her out and about this summer (not that I really care!) ... but I hate to tell people that BC's are defined by their herding ability,not their looks if she (along with a bunch of other peoples BC's) can't herd ...

 

Comments?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Not sure I've had enough coffee to tackle this one. For many, the BC is defined not just by 'working ability' but more specifically by 'how' it works. IOW, many breeds have some sort of herding ability--which I define as a specific set of predatory behaviours--but what sets the BC apart is those specific behaviours which have been selected for within the genepool.

 

Now that you are completely befuddled, let me show an example which is currently an ongoing debate. The Australian Shepherd breed is currently trying to define the 'working style' of that breed. See, the problem arises from the fact that the AS looks very similar to the BC and while most AS's work in what is best described as an upright fashion, often using bark or bite to move stock, apparently not all do. Some tend to work in a manner very similar to the BC, crouch, eye and all. This has led to speculation that these dogs are crossbred--but that's another story. The point here is that w/o defining HOW the breed works, who is to say, PHYSICALLY, that a BC is not an AS or vice versa? Same could be said of the English Shepherd.

 

The BC was developed by shepherds who knew what sort of behaviours were best suited for the type of work they did on a daily basis. They set up a trial system selecting for these traits (there used to be points for eye, style etc), hence defining the breed from a performance/working standard.

 

The fact that the dogs ended up of similar physical 'type' is probably more a matter of form follows function. Hence the similarity between the AS and Eng. Shep. as well as the Kelpie. It has only been since people had enough leisure time and money that dogs were defined by a physical appearance only.

 

AS for all those BC's which don't have a desire to work--I ask, ARE they really Border Collies, or simply something which looks like a 'duck'?

 

That question depends on HOW you define a breed. Within the working gene pool--those dogs selected for working ability-there are few dogs which don't work. There are others which

have less ability and are often placed as 'non workers' Now, this doesn't mean they don't work, just that they are inferior in their abilities. This is a far cry from those dogs selected for appearance only where there may be one or two within a litter which show marginal 'ability'(and usually this is not of a style defined by the working shepherds) yet the vast majority have vestigial predatory behaviours.

 

To try to make this clear and put it in terms that might help you: The 'show' BC has a set physical appearance standard. Assuming the breeder is selecting for the dog which has the 'perfect' traits, there will be individuals which have 'disqualifying' faults and many more with simply 'faults'. Those with enough 'faults' are usualy sold as pets or obedience/sport dogs. This is essentially what the working breeders are doing when they sell those dogs with inferior orking ability to pet/sport homes.

 

Pam

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Good question. As with so many questions, I think you have to keep in mind the overall breed as well as the individual.

 

A show breed is defined by its breed standard. A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, for example, is supposed to be fearless in character, weigh no more than 18 pounds, be 12-13" tall at the withers, and have round dark eyes, just to take a few characteristics at random from the breed standard. But there may be individuals who are timid, or weigh 19 pounds, or have light eyes or almond shaped eyes. Does that mean they're not Cavalier King Charles Spaniels? No. There are also individuals who have never been weighed or measured, so they might be within the height and weight range or they might not. Does that mean they're not Cavalier King Charles Spaniels? No, again. The breed is defined by the common goal of those who developed it and continue to shape it, even if not every individual they breed exemplifies the goal.

 

I think it's the same with the border collie. The defining characteristic of the border collie breed is herding ability. A useful dog for herding livestock is the goal that defines the breed, the purpose that the breed coheres around. There are a number of traits and abilities that are needed for a dog to be successful in herding livestock, and those traits can--but do not always--carry over into the dog's life away from livestock. (Speed, stamina, biddability, crouch-and-stare intensity are some examples of traits you can see in the dog's ordinary life. It is fair to say that these are some of the characteristics that typify the breed; it is NOT fair to say that because a dog has these characteristics he would be a good herding dog, because the herding package is so complex. As Liz said, you cannot make a judgment about a BC's herding ability without training and working the dog.) There may be individuals who are lacking in some of the traits needed to satisfy that working standard, but they are still border collies. Likewise, there are many that have never been tested to see whether they meet the goal--like the unweighed Cavalier King Charles--but they too are border collies. Only if you depart from that shared goal of border collie breeders and begin to breed for a different goal are the resulting dogs you produce, IMO, not border collies.

 

Long ago, at the end of the dog wars, in one of those discussions about whether a border collie bred for show is still a border collie or not, I tried to explain metaphorically why I think it is not. This may be too fanciful to really address the question you asked, but your question reminded me of it so I'll include it here anyway:

 

There's an ornamental tree called a "flowering peach." It was developed from peach trees, and looks like a peach tree when in blossom, but does not bear edible fruit. If you look at the nursery list of peach trees, you will find lots of varieties, but not the flowering peach; the flowering peach varieties would be in a separate category, probably under ornamentals with the dogwoods and magnolias. There's a market for the flowering peach, but if you called it a "peach tree" and sold it to a commercial fruit grower, or even to someone who just likes peaches, you would be defrauding them. And if you claimed to be judging "peach trees" and chose a flowering peach as the best one . . . well, that would be a fraud too. When all is said and done, the flowering peach lacks an essential element of a peach tree. A peach tree whose fruit is not very good, or whose fruit is never picked and eaten, is still a peach tree, but a tree that is bred for flowers is something else.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Eileen,

 

Your peach tree / flowering peach tree analogy is wonderful.

 

It is, without doubt, the best way I've seen to describe the difference between the working border collie and the conformation border collie that I have heard or read anywhere.

 

Happy Holidays!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A Border Collie can be a Border Collie without being a good example of the breed. By "good example" I'm using the standard dog world lingo, and referring to an animal who would be a candidate for breeding.

 

A good example of the breed is a dog who has come out of a breeding program designed to produce working dogs and who also demonstrates excellent working ability. There are a lot of dogs out there (I have one) who come from working ancestors but were "carelessly bred" or "poorly bred" without any thought to creating an excellent working dog. Solo is an OK working dog and can look pretty good in the right hands (i.e., not mine) but he is definitely not breedworthy and wouldn't be even if his temperament was normal. Carelessly bred dogs are not usually very good examples of the breed, although sometimes they end up being pretty good working dogs.

 

These dogs are all Border Collies.

 

Then there are those dogs that are bred for some other specific purpose, like sports or conformation. These are breeding programs that are consciously trying to do something different and breeding toward a different set of goals. I don't consider these dogs to be Border Collies, as they are intended to be different by design. Sometimes they can work, especially if they have working Border Collie ancestry very close up in the pedigree, but it is not a priority for their breeders to preserve working ability and so inevitably working ability, and essential Border Collie character, behaviors -- i.e., what I consider Border Collie "type" -- will be lost. That's just the way artificial selection works, and those breeders who think they are preserving "type" (which, in my definition, has nothing to do with looks) are deluding themselves.

 

I too love Eileen's peach analogy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

so, if i'm following everyone's reasoning correctly: if I were to give credit to my suspicions about ben's herding ability (I suspect he wouldn't make a good herder since he seems to be afraid of any 4 legged animal bigger than himself), I could definitely say that i don't, in fact, have a border collie. someone *please* correct me if I'm wrong...because now i'm thoroughly confused.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, I think you'd be just where you are right now -- you have a dog who you think is a border collie or a border collie cross, and who you suspect might not be a good worker because you suspect he would be afraid of the livestock. It's hard to say anything "definitely" when you don't know anything about the dog's breeding and haven't taken him to stock.

 

But so what? If I didn't have sheep and couldn't have border collies, my next choice would absolutely be a nice mongrel from the pound, and it wouldn't bother me a bit that I didn't know what "breed" he was.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I guess I'm confused now too...maybe I'm missing something really obvious here, (kinda like staring in the fridge for 2 minutes trying to find the milk when it's right there in front of you on the top shelf...)

 

Are you saying that if a BC can't herd, then it isn't a BC, but is a mixed breed? That we only suspect it may be a BC?

 

So then a BC is not defined as a distinct sub-species of domestic dog by its recognizable DNA structure, but by an undetermined genetic factor that causes it to be a sheep herder with certain characteristics which can only be visually determined by a trained person if and when each individual dog has a chance to be with sheep?

 

I'm not sure why this doesn't make complete sense to me..though I do see the peach tree analogy when it comes to defining the two specific types of BC lines, herding v/s show. (though if you add in the BC's that are being bred for athletics it gets a little more complicated) Maybe there should be separate sub-species clasifications for each type of BC?

 

I think I'm more satisfied with the idea that just as there are Border Collies who don't meet the AKC breed standard, but are still BC's; so there are BC's that don't meet the herding standard but are still Border Collies. Specificaly referencing the wonderful dog we just saw on these boards who is an assistence dog.

 

Could it be that each Border Collie is just an individual like we humans are, and some are good at one thing while others are good at another?

 

 

AS usual, I think I am in way over my head on this subject. IT's always a learning experience to read your posts and consider the many challenging topics. Thanks for the education...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I also understand the Peach Tree analogy (it makes perfect sense) but still have the same question I've had since the beginning: if I have, let's say for fun, a GS and poodle mix who herds with the best of them, would he be considered a BC if the BC is not to be defined by looks but by ability? After all, if a BC (from working lines) who doesn't herd isn't a BC then..............what is he?

 

I'm not trying to be purposely obtuse and I'm not in any way attempting to diminish what your ideal BC is, I just find some of the various arguments in opposition of each other..or maybe I'm easily confused.

 

Maria

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Maybe *I'm* misunderstanding this, but I think the consensus is that if you have a BC that is not a good herding dog, it's still a BC, but it may not be a good example of the breed (like the peach tree that has tiny sour peaches is not the best example of a peach tree, but it still IS a peach tree). So, for example, Finn, who is ABCA registered, is a purebred dog, looks like a BC (as much as any BC looks like one!) and all of that, but who is at this time unproven on stock, IS a BC - but he may or may not be a good example of one, because if he can't herd, then he's not the best representative of the breed. I think maybe the thing about the "Barbie collies" is that they are being bred for a different purpose and are diverging from the genetics of the working BC, and may eventually become (or may already be, since I don't know any of this line personally) the "ornamental peach", which is a tree meant for decoration, not production, and should be represented as such.

 

I think the thing in Eileen's post about the mixed breeds (and please correct me if I'm wrong) was that if you have, say, a rescue dog who looks more or less BC-ish but is of unknown parentage, lack of working ability isn't going to prove anything one way or the other except that it means the dog is not a good working dog. It's hard to draw any more conclusions than that about the dog's heritage unless you now more about the ancestors.

 

Maybe I just made that more confusing; I hope not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

IMHO, the distinction is critical when it comes to making *breeding decisions* or choices that affect the *future* of the breed.

 

A non-herding border collie is a border collie by virtue of its lineage - that's what registration certifies. But unless it has proven herding ability, because the border collie breed is defined by behavior not looks (or even pedigree), it is not representative of the breed and should not be bred.

 

Kim

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

English major/techical editor answer:

 

What defines a the border collie as a breed is it's particular style of herding - its herding talent.

 

What defines a particular dog as a border collie is who it's parents were.

 

It is a significant distinction, which the AKC - and the breeder, as opposed to one who works dogs and occasionally breeds the best to get more workers - does not seem to get.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A breed (which is not the same thing as a subspecies) is distinguished by both lineage and traits. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "breed" (noun) means:

 

Race, lineage, stock, family; strain; a line of descendants from a particular parentage, and distinguished by particular hereditary qualities. (Abstract and concrete.)????a. of animals.

 

What this means is that there are two important components to the definition of "breed": (1) commonality of ancestry and (2) distinguishing characteristics.

 

Number (1) tends to follow necessarily from (2), in my opinion. In the history of dog domestication, people have created many different breeds of dog by deciding on characteristics that they wanted or needed, and then selectively breeding the individuals at hand who demonstrated those characteristics, thus making it more likely that those characteristics would be seen in future generations. By subsampling from the general dog population, these breeders necessarily create smaller, more closely-related gene pools and therefore a sort of extended family, if you will, where the members are more closely related to each other than they are to dogs outside of the breed's gene pool. Sometimes dogs may come in from outside the breed's gene pool, but unless they come in at a very high rate they don't affect the overall integrity of the gene pool. (This is why there can be Beardies in the ISDS studbook, and in my bitch Fly's pedigree, but Fly is still a Border Collie -- although the AKC's distateful "one drop rule" perception of pure breeding would probably peg Fly as a mix -- which I think is really funny).

 

But anyway, the important thing to remember is the reason those related gene pools -- those breeds -- came about in the first place is that someone was trying to select for specific traits in the dogs he or she was breeding. In the case of Border Collies, those traits were all related to the goal of producing an excellent herding dog who works livestock in a particular manner. For a dog to be recognizable as a Border Collie, it has to have Border Collie ancestry and to be from a lineage of dogs that was bred for the purpose the breed was developed for. It can be the world's worst herding dog and still be a Border Collie if it has that heritage, but it isn't a good example of the breed and isn't a dog that should be bred.

 

Since the definition of breed has two components (common ancestry and distinguishing traits), if you change either of those two components you no longer have the same breed. So it follows that show dogs (Barbie Collies) and sport dogs (what I like to call Sport Collies) are not Border Collies because part of the essential definition of the breed has been lost or discarded. Those who insist on calling them Border Collies adhere to only one part of the definition of "breed" -- common ancestry. Barbie Collies and Sport Collies lay claim to the name "Border Collie" solely because, somewhere back in their ancestry, the dogs they came from were indeed Border Collies. But since then, breeding goals have changed and they have become (in the case of the Barbie Collies) or are becoming (in the case of Sport Collies) their own special gene pool that is distinct from Border Collies proper. A different breed. (I'm not morally opposed to breeding Barbie Collies or Sport Collies, by the way, even if I do think it's misguided and sort of sad and pointless. But people should call them what they are, which is definitely NOT Border Collies.)

 

People who insist on calling Barbie Collies and Sport Collies "Border Collies," even when true Border Collie ancestry may be very, very long forgotten in their lines, are really missing the whole point of the common ancestry thing. The reason is that breeds are supposed to "breed true." In other words, you're supposed to be able to predict the qualities of the offspring by the qualities of their parents, or you shouldn't end up with a Chihuahua when you breed two Great Danes. Because of the way genetics works, the only way to end up with puppies that breed true is to breed together a dog and a bitch who are genetically similar to each other to begin with. Parents with very different genetic makeups produce puppies who are genetic mishmashes and don't have predictable qualities. Parents who are genetically similar to each other tend to be related to each other, and this is why you need a gene pool that is at least mostly closed when you're breeding dogs. If you call Barbie Collies, Sport Collies, and Border Collies all the same breed, and breed them together indiscriminately, you can no longer predict the qualities of the offspring. It becomes more and more likely that the puppies aren't good for anything -- not particularly good workers, not particularly pretty, not particularly fast at flyball. (This is exactly where most "versatile" AKC "Border Collie" kennels are headed with their breeding programs, by the way -- all-around mediocrity.)

 

So where does this leave pet Border Collies, rescued Border Collies, mixes, and that hypothetical herding poodle cross? Well, without knowledge about the majority of the ancestry behind a dog, no one can say if it's a purebred Border Collie or not. I am perfectly comfortable with people calling their dogs Border Collies if that's probably what they are, whether they can herd or not. I am not comfortable with people calling dogs who have obviously been bred for different purposes (i.e., Barbie Collies or Sport Collies) referring to their dogs as Border Collies. The herding poodle cross is not a Border Collie even if it works exactly like a Border Collie, because it lacks Border Collie ancestry. It may be welcomed into the gene pool if it's good enough a worker (that's what Register on Merit is for) but it is still recognized that the dog itself is not a Border Collie. And anyone who breeds from that dog for working dogs should do so keeping in mind that, because of the dog's divergent ancestry, the puppies may not be predictable in any traits, including working ability.

 

I don't know if that made any sense, but that's how I see it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

>

 

No. When I said deafbat's dog is "a dog who you think is a border collie or a border collie cross," I said it because she introduced him as a "rescue BC(x?)" in an earlier post. I don't know if that's what caused you to be confused, but if not, all I can suggest is that you reread the posts, perhaps giving special attention to AK dog doc's and Melanie's last one. I think they succeeded in saying what I tried to say in my first post but apparently didn't convey clearly.

 

Maria, You've asked the GSD-poodle question before and been answered before, and Melanie gives an excellent answer here. I have no problem with your asking the question as often as you like, so long as you realize that the chances of a GSD-poodle cross "herding with the best of them" is about the same as a GSD-poodle cross looking exactly like a champion Cavalier King Charles spaniel. (And would it then be a Cavalier King Charles?) You may brush that aside, and say you're only saying suppose it did, but I think it's really, really important that you grasp this, or you'll never get what we're talking about. The unique herding abilities of the ideal border collie can no more pop up by chance in some other breed than can the appearance of a basset or a borzoi or a Cavalier King Charles. They must be bred for and tested for in every generation or they just won't be there. That's why we dwell on this, and why it matters so much.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

thanks Eileen, somehow I missed that vital piece of info.,because of that I mis-understood the point you were making. I will go back and re-read with that info in mind..

 

I'm not sure I really understand what Melanie is saying about sport collies and Barbie collies becoming a seperate breed.

 

Is that good or bad??? Is there anything wrong with having those distinctions available for those who want them??

 

(Please don't jump on me, I don't have any kind of agenda or anything, I just have an active questioning mind...also I was reading a bunch of stuff online about dog genetics, DNA and that sort of stuff, and they were calling different breeds sub-species...)

 

-------------------------------------------------

 

Now I don't know WHAT my little pup is...She comes from a line of small grey (farm?)(border?) collies in the mountains central Washington State that were mostly inbred until her dad was sold, the first one in several generations to leave that part of the mountains,they said. I was also told they were a very special old line, which has led me to believe they MIGHT be Basque shepards. Her mom is purebred BC...I do know that people came all the way from California and Utah to be able to get one of the 11 pups because of the reputation and scarcity of available pups from the dads line.They said the line was very well known among working farmers out here....I guess I won't know for sure exactly what my pup is until I get her on sheep next summer..

 

until then, what do I tell people who ask me what kind of pup I have??? I sure don't want to have a major discussion with every person who asks!!! Am I mis-representing the breed by saying she is a BC?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

Is that good or bad??? Is there anything wrong with having those distinctions available for those who want them?? >>

 

I think Melanie addressed this when she said:

 

I'm not morally opposed to breeding Barbie Collies or Sport Collies, by the way, even if I do think it's misguided and sort of sad and pointless. But people should call them what they are, which is definitely NOT Border Collies.

 

And also:

 

If you call Barbie Collies, Sport Collies, and Border Collies all the same breed, and breed them together indiscriminately, you can no longer predict the qualities of the offspring. It becomes more and more likely that the puppies aren't good for anything -- not particularly good workers, not particularly pretty, not particularly fast at flyball. (This is exactly where most "versatile" AKC "Border Collie" kennels are headed with their breeding programs, by the way -- all-around mediocrity.)

 

My feeling is much the same. I think by breeding border collies for show or flyball or agility, you are taking something wonderful and making it less wonderful. But I have no problem with your doing it, so long as you call the result something other than a border collie and treat it as a separate breed. The people who are doing it won't do that, unfortunately. They want the good name of a border collie, even though they're not breeding in the way that produces a border collie. They want to breed back to "real" border collies as their dogs lose the "real" border collie traits. They want to be considered part of the border collie breed even as they're undermining it, and in that I think they are as much guilty of misrepresentation as would be someone who passed off a flowering peach as a peach tree.

 

>

 

I guess if it were me, I'd keep it simple and say she's an unregistered border collie. (I'm assuming from what you say here that she is unregistered. If she's registered with one of the border collie registries, I'd just say she's a border collie. Or you could just say she's a border collie in either case.) I hope it's clear by now that an individual border collie does not cease being a border collie just because it lacks herding ability, just as an individual Cavalier King Charles does not cease being a Cavalier King Charles just because it has oval light-colored eyes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well obviously the herding poodle cross was meant as a "fun example" in an attempt to make my question as clear as possible.

 

Melanie's reply was excellent - thanks. And yes, I have asked the same question before and now it's been answered comprehensively....though I did remember the peach tree analogy, which did work for me then as well.

 

I think that the who and what the Border Collie is has become such a complex issues with distinctions between herding abilities/tendencies/instincts/training/breeding/barbie/sport/that it really becomes confusing for many people who come here and it often leaves people wondering what their dog really is.

 

Maria

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A different breed. (I'm not morally opposed to breeding Barbie Collies or Sport Collies, by the way, even if I do think it's misguided and sort of sad and pointless. But people should call them what they are, which is definitely NOT Border Collies.)
ok now I am confused what the heck does that make happy? she(unfortinatly) has some barbies in her background, however, her moms side is all border collies, and her dads side is a mix of barbie collies and sport collies, and border collies, so waht on earth does that make happy? :confused:

 

I should probily mention that she is a fantastic herder, and one of the best flyball dogs...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

ok now I am confused what the heck does that make happy? she(unfortinatly) has some barbies in her background, however, her moms side is all border collies, and her dads side is a mix of barbie collies and sport collies, and border collies, so waht on earth does that make happy?

 

I'd call her a mix. Or, I'm assuming she was bred by a sport breeder, so she's a Sport Collie. I don't consider her a Border Collie. That doesn't mean she isn't a really cool dog. There are a lot of cool dogs out there that aren't Border Collies. I had a really great Pomeranian and she was definitely not a Border Collie.

 

I have a friend who breeds Sport Collies and her dogs are fun dogs. Her current young bitch has breeding like Happy's -- farm dogs crossed with sport dogs and the sire is a Barbie, and the pup is a very fashionable blue merle. Like I said, she's a cool dog and very fast at flyball and nice. But I don't consider the young bitch to be a Border Collie. Just a nice dog who doesn't much resemble a real Border Collie although she looks superficially similar.

 

I should probily mention that she is a fantastic herder, and one of the best flyball dogs...

 

The flyball part is irrelevant as to whether Happy is a Border Collie or not. For what it's worth, my Welsh-bred trained sheepdog bitch has started in flyball and is kicking ass, but if she were terrible at flyball she'd still be a great example of a Border Collie.

 

I thought you had never put any of your dogs on sheep? How can you know if Happy is a "fantastic herder" if you've never actually worked livestock with her? If you have, what is your definition of "fantastic herder?" This is another problem that I see commonly -- people who only dabble in herding think their dogs are terrific if the dogs will follow the sheep around and run in circles, but there's a lot more to it than that.

 

My friend's blue merle bitch LOOKS like she should be a fantastic sheepdog when you see her playing with other dogs. She's very "herdy." She crouches, she circles, she stares, she's very stylish actually. She's completely uninterested when you show her some actual sheep.

 

I'm not insulting your dog. Again, a dog doesn't have to be a Border Collie to be a great dog. For that matter, a Border Collie doesn't even have to be a good example of the breed to be a great dog. Solo, my red dog, is an awesome dog and my soulmate and I wouldn't trade him for five Supreme champions. But it's kind of like, a Volvo is a really cool car, and so is a Porsche, but they aren't very much alike although they both have very wonderful qualities. I bet I'd love Happy if I met her.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...