A Short History of the Border Collie and the AKC


The Border Collie was developed by shepherds on the English-Scottish border to herd sheep. The breed spread throughout the United Kingdom and then throughout the world. Unlike most dog breeds, it continues to be bred, used and valued for its original purpose--herding livestock. Gradually, because a herding dog is necessarily highly intelligent, athletic and responsive, it came to be used and valued for all the other things dogs can do--e.g., obedience, agility, frisbee, service, search & rescue, and companionship. All but one, that is--prior to 1995 there was no tradition in this country of showing Border Collies in dog shows, or breeding them to look a certain way. They were bred and valued for their abilities, not their appearance.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) is an organization which registers some 140 breeds of "purebred" dogs. It defines each of these breeds by its appearance, setting forth a "breed standard" detailing how the dogs of each breed should look. It advocates breeding dogs to meet this standard. It sanctions shows at which dogs are judged according to how closely they resemble the standard of their breed, and designates judges to judge the dogs at these shows. Dogs who are successful at these shows are designated by the AKC as "champions." The AKC also licenses obedience and tracking trials, in which AKC-registered dogs of all breeds can participate and win titles, and has recently begun sanctioning events in agility, herding and other performance categories, but its main focus has always been on dog shows.

Because the Border Collie is a performance dog and not a show dog, Border Collie owners over the years have not wanted the breed to be recognized by the AKC and bred for show. As with other breeds not recognized by the AKC, the Border Collie could be entered in AKC-sanctioned obedience and tracking trials through the granting of Indefinite Listing Privileges (ILP) by the AKC. For more than forty years, the Border Collie was a member of the so-called Miscellaneous Class of dogs who were eligible for this type of showing, and many, many Border Collies received ILP numbers and achieved distinction in obedience and tracking. During those years, several AKC presidents and directors publicly stated that the Border Collie was not appropriate for the show ring because of its focus on performance and its lack of physical standardization.

When the United States Border Collie Club (USBCC) was founded in 1975, one of its purposes was to oppose the adoption of an appearance standard for the Border Collie and oppose showing Border Collies in the conformation show ring. Since the AKC and the USBCC were then in agreement on this point, the two organizations worked constructively together for many years, with the AKC regarding the USBCC as the Border Collie breed club, to which it referred inquiries about the breed from the public, and with which it worked to resolve problems regarding the issuance of ILP numbers to individual Border Collies.

In 1991, the AKC recognized the Australian Shepherd over the objections of the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA), that breed's registry and longtime parent club. Rumors flew that AKC was entering an expansionist phase and would soon recognize the Border Collie. A few Border Collie owners in Louisville, Kentucky formed the Border Collie Society of America (BCSA) to advocate AKC recognition and conformation showing. The USBCC organized a letter-writing campaign in which hundreds of Border Collie owners contacted the AKC to oppose recognition. USBCC officials met with AKC officials, and the result was a letter from the AKC's President saying that AKC was "not planning any change."

In early 1994, the AKC began hinting that it would no longer permit Border Collies to compete in performance events only--that the Border Collie must be fully recognized as a show breed or barred from all AKC events. Several well-known AKC obedience competitors with Border Collies, most of whom had signed open letters opposing AKC recognition a few years earlier, now decided that the risk of losing their right to show in AKC events was too daunting, and they joined the BCSA. At approximately this time another faction, which was more zealous in advocating conformation showing of Border Collies, split off from the BCSA and formed the American Border Collie Alliance. It too sought to be designated parent club by the AKC. In June of 1994 the AKC formally wrote all three Border Collie clubs, asking if they wished to pursue recognition and be designated the AKC parent club. BCSA and the Alliance said yes. USBCC continued to oppose AKC recognition, as did all three Border Collie registries, the United States Border Collie Handlers Association, all state and local Border Collie clubs, and an overwhelming number of Border Collie owners.

Again, USBCC officers met with AKC officials. USBCC explained its reasons for opposing recognition. We proposed creation of a performance-only registration category. We proposed maintaining the status quo but paying higher fees for ILP numbers. We proposed a binding vote of all Border Collie owners on the question of recognition, and offered to pay half the expenses of holding such a vote. We emphasized that we were flexible and would consider any approach or any course of action to resolve the conflict, so long as it did not involve setting an appearance standard for Border Collies or designating them as champions based on their looks. The AKC was noncommittal.

In December 1994, at a meeting where the Border Collie was not even on its agenda, the AKC Board of Directors voted to recognize the Border Collie, to begin registering it in February 1995, and to begin conformation showing of Border Collies in October 1995. Although AKC had always maintained that it is the parent breed club, intimately familiar with its breed, that adopts the breed standard and sets the policies for its breed, on this occasion AKC did not designate a parent club for the Border Collie. AKC, which of course had no previous familiarity with Border Collies except for issuing them ILP numbers, itself adopted a breed standard that defines what a Border Collie should be and how it should look. AKC did not designate a parent club for the Border Collie until August 1996, when it finally chose the BCSA. Since all the Border Collie registries were opposed to recognition, none of them furnished their studbooks to AKC. Consequently, AKC has been registering Border Collies based on papers sent in by their owners.

USBCC responded to AKC recognition by voting to use the funds in the Border Collie Defense Fund, which had been contributed by Border Collie owners all over the country who opposed AKC recognition, to bring a lawsuit seeking to overturn AKC recognition or at least to require AKC to call the show dogs registered under its breed standard by a different name, to avoid confusion with the real herding-bred Border Collie.On May 20, 1996, that effort had to be abandoned for various reasons having no relation to the merits of our case.

What Can We Do Now?

There may be nothing we can do to prevent the AKC from recognizing the Border Collie, even if the ones they "recognize" will soon be unrecognizable to those of us who have known and loved the breed over the years. There may be little we can do apart from public education to minimize confusion over which dogs are the "real" Border Collies. But there IS something that all of us can do toward saving the breed we love--DON'T REGISTER WITH THE AKC!

As the AKC kept reminding everyone during the dog wars, nobody needs to register a dog with them. What, after all, can they contribute? The Border Collie became the dog it is today without being registered with the AKC, and it will continue on as the dog it is today outside the AKC. Over time, the dogs registered with the AKC will be bred to conform to the AKC appearance standard and the show-ring fashions of the day. They will be bred by AKC breeders who want to win dog shows, and who know nothing about the qualities that have made the Border Collie breed what it is. They will change into a different breed. At the same time, breeders who value the Border Collie for what it is will continue breeding for the same qualities they have always sought, and they will have no reason to seek AKC registration or to merge their dogs with the AKC show dogs.

If you wish to participate in AKC performance events with your dog, you can do so without registering, by using ILP numbers previously obtained, or by getting new ILP numbers on neutered dogs. By the same token, if you are looking for a Border Collie to buy, don't buy a pup (or older dog) that is registered with the AKC. Buy from a reputable breeder who has demonstrated understanding of and concern for the breed by registering with one of the Border Collie registries instead.

Breeders who wish to ensure that pups they breed will not be registered with AKC can include a prohibition in their sales contract. One breeder who cared used the following provision: "The Seller will register the puppy with the American Border Collie Association, Inc., and provide the registration papers to the Buyer. The Buyer and Seller agree that the Buyer shall not register the puppy or permit the puppy to be registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC). Because the parties recognize that precise damages for breach of this provision might be difficult to ascertain, the parties hereby agree that the Buyer will be liable for damages in the amount of Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000) in the event of any breach by the Buyer of this provision of the Agreement."

Remember, the AKC does not "have" the Border Collie. The AKC only "has" those dogs that are registered with AKC. You can keep your dog in the working Border Collie gene pool and out of the AKC gene pool by registering with one of the working Border Collie registries, and NOT with the AKC.

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