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Border Collie Rescue - On Line - The Importance of good breeding

The Importance of Good Breeding

By Roy Goutté
This information sheet has been initiated by and for Border Collie Rescue to explain the importance behind correct breeding of Border Collie Bloodlines and outline the problems that occur in irresponsible breeding.

For information on breeding methods see our information sheet on BREEDING METHODS - link in the sliding menu on the left.

Most of the text and information is this leaflet has been compiled by Roy Goutte who has written many books on the subject, maintaining a database of ISDS and KC registered bloodlines for research purposes.


Whether they are being traditionally bred for sheep working, or, for taking part in Obedience, Agility, Working Trials, Show, or any other discipline asked of the dog, there is no disguising the fact that the breeding behind the Border Collie is of the utmost importance.

Many uninformed people still believe that all Border Collies are alike, but this is just not the case. Certain traditional strains of Border Collie are only suited for sheep and stock working, while other blood lines seem just as happy to be working pets.
Never to be underestimated, the Border Collie is still the most versatile of working dogs.

Its ability to work in often the most arduous of conditions for some - and yet for many others - making a wonderful and loving companion in the home is a tribute to the skill of the breeders who have, over the generations, capitalised on the versatility of the breed by creating their own lines for their chosen disciplines.

But it has also been this juggling with or 'nicking' from the original lines that has created a split between the working fraternity and the breeder of the Border Collie for the 'softer' disciplines.
It is also fundamentally true that through misuse of the breeding lines in certain quarters, the dog has been subjected to forced changes in ability, conformation and temperament.

Furthermore, it has also been instrumental in creating all manner of behavioural problems and been witness to a dramatic rise in the presence of hereditary faults across the whole spectrum. These faults are present because basic breeding principles have not been adhered to in the breeding programme.

We all have a right to enjoy our Border Collies in whatever discipline we choose, but it has been wrong to deny the breed a return to its ancestrally breeding roots as often as it should have been in some of those disciplines.
The indiscriminate 'mixing and matching' of opposing and 'uncharted' lines has often been to the breeds detriment.


The original working collie was bred for just that - working!

By all accounts he was often a pretty tough cookie who would stand his ground against just about anything that faced up to it.
Much of this was forced to change however with the introduction of officially organised sheepdog trials when the International Sheep Dog Society (I.S.D.S.) was formed at Haddington in 1906.

This heralded the way for the more articulate and less assertive dog to be bred.
Skill and aggression had rarely gone well together and freehold 'gripping' of the sheep during a sheepdog trial became frowned upon.
This enforced 'damping down' of the dogs bullishness led to a more controlled breeding programme for trialing which has carried through to the present day.

For the majority in the farming industry, the Border Collie had became a way of life, and this didn't go unnoticed by the town folk who took a liking to the by now established 'new look collie' with the much improved temperament.
It didn't take long to realise however, that if you removed the collie from its historical place of work and introduced it into a less active way of life, then you had to cater for its needs in other directions, for the true bred Border Collie doesn't just need exercise, he needs a job of work to exercise its brain.


Obedience training became, and still is, a very popular pastime for the non farm - working Border Collie, which has lead to Obedience Clubs setting-up throughout the entire country.
Weekly Obedience shows, where dogs can show off their skills, and if good enough eventually qualify to compete in the Crufts Obedience Championships once a year, have proven to be very fruitful for the collie - who now all but dominates in the sport. Working Trials and Agility quickly followed.

Then, in 1976, the Kennel Club, who organise the Crufts Obedience Championship, decided to recognise the collie as a pure breed and began to award Challenge Certificates in the Show ring.

In the main, for the enthusiast, this was taking things too far and it has to be said - there has been a rift between the working and show side ever since.
In breeding terms I believe that problems really began somewhere between and including the inauguration of the I.S.D.S. in 1906 and the acceptance of the Border Collie into the showing ring which, in a very short space of time, desired a conformation change in the breed.


So what has been the end result of all this 'mixing and matching' between the breedlines for the varying disciplines?

Well, aside from the conformation changes, the temperament and ability of the Border Collie has also been forced to change. The breeders of the Border Collie at the onset of Obedience looked at what was available at the time and introduced some very well established names in trialing to founder the new sport - and it has to be said, initially with great success.

They worked on the lines and produced a dog perfectly at home in this new discipline, but then made the mistake of out-crossing to dogs from down the road with no, or very little, known breeding.
As a consequence of this, their offspring became known as Working Sheepdogs with the Kennel Club and were not allowed on the Active Register as they were no longer regarded as a pure breed.

Working Trials enthusiasts did very much the same, so that by the time Agility became popular, most collies taking part were often registered Working Sheepdogs from Obedience or Working Trial strains.
Their lineage in a great many cases was virtually unknown.

Like Obedience, the best of these were then put together for breeding purposes, and while it may have on occasion produced the type of dog they were looking for in working terms, it very often introduced hereditary and temperament faults from the 'unknown' side of the breeding.

These breeders had now moved away from a recognised breeding programme that had been in force for generations and the holes that they had started digging for themselves were, and still are, slowly but surely getting deeper and deeper.

The bottom line to all of this is that you have to have some way of telling if your dogs breed lines are carrying potentially harmful hereditary defects, or will be suited to the activity that you intend using them for.


The only way you can achieve this accurately is to have a good understanding of your dogs ancestral make-up and this is why it is so important to have a dog registered with the ISDS or on the Active (Breed) register of the Kennel Club.
By having a comprehensive knowledge of your dogs lineage it enables you to make enquiries into its background, thus allowing you a choice to decide what type of dog is more likely to suit the discipline you would ask of it.

Certain strains are known for their toughness and forcefulness, whilst other are appreciated for their well-balanced approach to life. Some are shy and avoid confrontation, whilst others are recognised for their particular good looks.
A good pedigree - once understood - can show up all of these things and more, whilst an unregistered dog can often tell you nothing other than what you actually see stood before you.

It is a well-established fact that the greater majority of Border Collies taken in by Rescue Societies are from virtually unknown ancestry. Many started their lives by being advertised as 'Border Collie puppies for sale', on a board outside a cottage in the countryside, but in reality, this is the nearest that most ever get to actually being a true Border Collie.

Many others may come from puppy farms with no thought given to correct breeding methods.
If you were to buy one of those puppies that came from an unknown background you run the risk of ending up with a dog that could be of an unstable nature when mature, or have, or indeed carry, hereditary faults.
This is why most Rescue Societies insist that re-homed dogs should not be bred from and many neuter or spay all that go through.

Why take the chance of ending up with something like this when on the whole it can be avoided.


If on the other hand you were to purchase a registered dog that came with a well constructed five generation pedigree, then it gives you the opportunity beforehand to delve into that very pedigree which is a mine of information.
Not only does that pedigree give you the names of the 62 dogs assembled in it, but it also gives the names of their owners and breeders and also their registration numbers.

It is the registration numbers that enable you to trace those dogs back to their earliest ancestors recorded in the Stud Books of both the I.S.D.S and the Kennel Club.
Today you even have the opportunity to have a pedigree constructed showing the Merit Awards gained by the dogs housed within a pedigree, and this can help you enormously when deciding on the particular type of dog you are likely to get and that you may require for a particular discipline.

Let's look at this more closely.

As I have already mentioned, a five generation pedigree houses a total of 62 dogs.
Extend that a further generation and it leaps to 126.
A twelve generation pedigree carries over 8,000, while one more generation sees over 16,000 dogs involved!
Collectively then, this is what you are up against when breeding - 'ancestors' - and plenty of them.

The big plus of course is that once researched, you know who they are. With an unregistered dog you don't.

Take those 8,000 dogs as an example and turn them into marbles and place them in a bag.
Now remove just one of those marbles - which now represents a puppy - and what have you got?
In simplistic terms you have the end product of generation upon generation of breeding to known forebears behind that puppy you have just chosen.

It makes sense therefore that the more dogs of high quality, both in health, ability and temperament, the greater your chance of obtaining a good puppy showing and carrying these attributes and little or none of the bad.


There is a saying in breeding circles that 'You get what you've had, not what you've got' and that is the nearest to the truth that you are ever likely to get.

It goes without saying therefore, that the more you know about the breeding behind your proposed puppy or older dog, then the greater your chances of obtaining the type of dog you desire and with ALL the right attributes.
It is very important for the future of the breed that we only breed from registered lines if we wish the Border Collie of the future to be free of the hereditary problems, both physical and behavioural, that plague the breed today.

Working bloodlines very seldom make good pets in a domestic home.
Although they may be well socialised to the handler and immediate family - and gentle as lambs with children on the farm - it does not follow that the temperament of the parent or offspring will remain stable if they or their pup is taken into an environment where their instinctive needs cannot be fulfilled or where external stimulation may over stress a dog used to a slower pace of life with less intrusion on its territory by third parties and background noise and activity.

Conversely, true Bloodlines from 'modern' strains of the Border Collie may find it irresistible to run after stock but usually have weakened inherent understanding of how to apply the 'chase'.
The results of just a few years of thoughtless outcrossing has led to a confused mixture of uncertain lines and a quagmire of potential hereditary problems that cannot be traced in carrier dogs unless they display positive symptoms.
In a search for a good dog with 'a bit about it' many farmers and shepherds will breed from two unregistered dogs of uncertain lineage because they both happen to show good working abilities.

Pet owners will breed from their own and a friend or neighbours dog because they both have quiet temperaments and good looks. In either case there is no guarantee of anything other than more puppies needing homes in an already overcrowded world. The only clear way forward is to only breed from proven, cleared Bloodlines and ensure that the puppies so produced end up in homes and environments that are suited to their temperament and needs.

Not only would this clean up the breed for future generations to enjoy in all the ways we do today, it would also reduce the strain on Rescue Societies who provide sanctuary for the misplaced and unwanted members of this breed.

A problem faced by many Rescue Societies is the diversity of the lineage of the Border Collie.
Accommodation and Homing methods suitable for one member of the breed may be misapplied to another member - as then could be the chosen home.

It is therefore important - particularly in the absence of lineage information - for anyone selling or re-homing a Border Collie to find out about the true needs and drives of the dog and match it to a prospective handler and environment.
The result of misreading the dog and not correctly assessing the home and new handler is often that dog behaves unpredictably in its new environment and is returned to the previous owner.
That's the best scenario - there are worse consequences and options.

With a rescue Border Collie you will get what you see, but only if you recognise what your looking at.
Each dog is an individual case to be assessed and re-homed with great care.
People in the business of selling Border Collies should bear that in mind.
A little bit of care goes a long way and, if applied, will help to cut down on the casualty rate.
If you are interested in adopting a Border Collie from us,
please phone 0845 604 4941 during office hours.
(2 pm to 5 pm Tuesdays to Thursdays)

Please do not write to us or email us about adoption - we want to speak to you before we start the process.