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The Working Border Collie - by Viv Billingham Parkes

This information sheet has been initiated by and for Border Collie Rescue to give insight and perspective to the background and behaviour of the breed.

The following text and information has been compiled by BCR member Viv Billingham - Parkes.

The word Collie means 'useful' in the old Celtic language - the word Border was put in front of 'collie' almost 100 years ago when the I.S.D.S. was formed by Scottish Shepherds and Farmers at Haddington in the East Lothian.
The original herd dogs were Mastiffs, said to have come from the Russian Steppes with the Vikings, and were used to guard flocks against Wolves and Bears.
Noblemen kept packs of quality Setters, Spaniels and the Black Pointer - which had a lot of Greyhound in it because the original Pointers were slow and ponderous and needed speeding up.
These packs of Pointers were reputed to have been very stylish, beautiful, quality animals, often with a white forepaw or chest.
It’s obvious to my eye that over the centuries, noblemen's hunting dogs interbred and inbred - accidentally and on purpose - with the Mastiff type of dog, to breed the longer nosed Collie that we have today
The Black pointer is often obvious in today's smooth coated Border Collies. These dogs are often much quicker than the rougher coated variety who could have Spaniel and Setter way back in their breeding.
The Black Pointer was very fast and, it's said, if you could keep breeding smooth onto smooth Border Collie you will end up with a dog that is so fast it moves before it thinks. Often these dogs are very wide running, they are also good shedders - possibly due to the killing instinct being much stronger within them.
Personally, I tend to prefer a smooth coated bitch and a rough coated dog for breeding, but the other way round would work out just as well. The reason I do this is that the dogs are better in themselves and tend to have more lining up ability and are less aggressive.
As a bonus, you then get litters with both rough and smooth coated puppies. The hill or mountain shepherd often prefers a smooth - or bareskin - dog to its rougher brother because of the ice and snow in wintertime that can become balled up on to the feathering of a rough coated dog, thus making it more difficult or impossible for it to do it’s work.
In severe conditions, rough coated dogs frequently have to be taken home and thawed out. Over the years its been many an hour we have sat in front of the kitchen fire with a hammer, breaking lumps of ice off our dog’s coats.
The colour of a collie is important. I find that black moves sheep best because they think it is a predator or are startled by the dark colouring. White pacifies sheep.
Sheep have eyes on the sides of their heads and can see behind. When they see something white they automatically think it is another sheep and settle to it, whereas the dog weaving back and forth on a big flock, showing black and white, will make the sheep move along in a, hopefully, orderly manner.
Therefore I prefer a clean black and white dog. However, the stronger the dog, the more white about its front the better. Shepherds do not like a dog with too much white on it because sheep may mistake it for another sheep and not respond.
Generally I find that dogs for trialling and bitches are better for work at home, purely because dogs are more consistent in their temperaments. They are not coming into season, they are not having puppies, all of which can make a bitch go off the boil, depending on the bitch, for sometimes quite long periods.
Bitches are very hard working. They are the Huntresses. The male dog in the wild would concentrate on keeping his females together, allow them to do the hunting and lie back and leisurely enjoy life.
Of course this isn’t always true - some dogs are very hard workers and some bitches lazy. I can only say what I have found - on average
I  have had the same family of dog for over 30 years and I have bred for quality, intelligence, for calm natures and for a willing disposition. If the dog is not willing there is nothing you can do. They must meet you at least half way - although many of my dogs meet me at least 90% of the way.
Such is the trust that I have in my best dogs that if they disobey a command I know not to give it again. We must always remember that these wonderful dogs are bred to carry out this work - we are not - so therefore we must bow to them rather than the other way around.
I think its worth a mention that sheep whistle down their noses as a warning to each other when there is danger. When they are alarmed they are difficult to pen and difficult to shed - so therefore it is worth while using voice commands when you are working your dogs at hand and keep whistling for distance work.
One must remember that (especially in a working situation) the dog is not a pet. It is humans that need to constantly prod and pet and pat and hug animals. It is not animals that need this kind of behaviour. If you are always patting your Border Collie it may become confused as to when it has done right and when it has done wrong.
It may also become very arrogant, especially in the case of a male. It can become very jealous and possessive and if you are constantly petting it, this may lead to it fighting every dog or every person that come within its territory.
It is important that collie dogs have their full attention on what is up ahead - the ground, the weather, the position of the sheep. One does not want them constantly looking back for reassurance or wondering whether they are going to be told to do this or told to do that.
All my Border Collies live outside in a family group. They are a pack. They are happy. They are healthy. They are secure. When they retire they are invited to live in the house if they wish - if they don’t they can stay in their family group.
I would never sell a collie dog for anything other than stock work. I think it is sacrilege when you think of all the centuries of work and evolution that has gone into breeding this, the Border Collie, the greatest dog in the world.
I also know for a fact that a collie dog is at its happiest when it is working sheep. You just have to see it flash by - the set of its ears, the tail tight against its hocks, the smile in its eyes, the mouth agape, everything is poetry in motion.

This is what a collie dog should be doing - earning its living - working sheep.

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