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Border Collie Rescue - On Line - Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

'The Field' magazine. February 27, 1937

This letter is a response to the article - The British Sheepdog - 1937 - see last link on menu

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Sheep Dog Trials

Sir,- In his article, “The British Sheepdog“, Mr. Best expresses a widely held opinion when he suggests that “more trials are needed in the South.” The sheepdog has a special romantic appeal to a wide public, few of whom really understand what he is about, but many of which fancy themselves authorities on the matter. Of the latter section, I fear your last weeks contributor is one, and possibly the writer of this letter, another.

A vague dissatisfactions, however, with the views expressed, prompts these further remarks.

On the hill ground and in our grazing districts the working collie is indispensable to his master in the performance of their common duty, and those who appreciate this have for generations selected with care the type and strain best suited to their conditions.

In a breed so numerous, owned largely by those who have to practice rigid economy in all things, it is only to be expected that there are many inferior, even worthless, specimens. But, after all, once a Britisher has taken a dog to his heart, he will not lightly discard it, and is even blind to many of its failings. And who can tell how the puppy adopted will turn out?

At one time sheepdog trials were too artificial, the problems set being rarely met with in regular work, so the tendency was to encourage the flashy type of circus performance, with dogs often of sour temper and unreliable if the handlers attentions relaxed in the slightest. This earned discredit of trials and trial-bred dogs with farmers - the widest employer of the collie dog.

Nowadays. However, one may see such men as J. M. Renwick of Alston, doing their regular hill work with dogs that have won championship trails. It would do the sceptic good to witness the quiet efficiency with which his ewes are fathered. And “looked” with a minimum of disturbance, and to compare this with the wild chivvying of undisciplined sheep on places where neither man nor dog understands the work.

In my opinion, the best strain of dog for trial work originated on the Border, where I am informed there was at one time a judicious introduction of Setter blood; this would explain the concentration of eye and stealthy approach of many outstanding performers, though collie blood, and intelligence, and hardihood are, of course, predominant.

As a result largely of the sound principles on which the International Sheep Dog Society runs the national and international trials over which it has control, the courses at most trials to-day are of a nature to test a dog’s ability to tackle workaday problems. It is, of course, impossible under trial conditions to test large numbers of dogs in their capacity for forcing a big flock into a dipping pen, now would the public find it entertaining, nor would the shepherds language be as freely descriptive as at home.

It is, therefore, the finer points and more spectacular gathering, driving, shedding, and control of small units of active fill sheep which receive attention. To those who watch with discrimination it will be seen that the international rules, where adopted, encourage the dog who’s steady upstanding style has a calming effect on the sheep rather than the over-eyed excitable type which flashes about and has to be constantly “clapped” down by its handler for fear of transgression.

Breeders are set a nice problem in retaining the steady eye so essential in the control of unruly sheep, while avoiding any tendency to grip; to get speed as well as flexibility and absolute command.

As your contributor remarks, it is time the south countryman gave more attention to the training of his sheepdog, and took more pride in its type and breeding. Trials are not difficult to arrange; suitable ground us available in every district, and there is little excuse for demonstrations to be limited to what may be done in the horse-ring at an agricultural show.

Hill sheep are found in almost every county in England, having been introduced during the recent depression in agriculture, and being for the most part ewes are available only in late summer, and early autumn. But the absolute “fan” is content to stand for hours watching dogs work at any other season.

Sheepdog trials have now been a feature at the Tring show for years. Bletchley and other places have their trials while recently and East Anglian Sheep Dog Society has been formed which will hold four county trials and a championship each year. Here, as it may be elsewhere, it is the North countrymen and Scotsmen who have been the prime movers, but special prizes are given to encourage the East Anglian born to come out with his dog.

Demonstrations are arranged throughout the area to give the local man a chance to see the work of dogs in various stages of training. The south country shepherd’s reluctance to compete at trials can only be overcome by the sympathetic interest of his master, who should realise that time spent in training will ultimately be repaid n the better handling of his flock.

Amongst our members are men of many years’ experience of sheepdog work, and the knowledge and advice they are so ready to impart to youngsters should not lightly be refused. The young shepherd may not always be able to get his puppy up to trials standard, but the methods employed are applicable to everyday work, and can be modified to suit even the bob-tailed guardian of the folded flock.

The east Anglian Society is getting more support than was expected, and has been asked to run trials at several locals shows. This, I hope, may encourage other districts to take up the movement, and it is mainly with this object in mind that the above material is inflicted on those who care to read.

Yours Faithfully,

W. R. S.


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