I took Gideon, who met a few Border Collies (he liked them), and I re-fought the Civil War with Don McCaig (he won).
I met Heather Houlihan of the Raised by Wolves blog in person, along with her charming little-man English Shepherd, Cole, a happy and much loved survivor from the Great Montana English Shepherd Rescue of a few years back.
I also ran into Mark Billadeau whose Pipe Dream Farm I once hunted (my memory being what it is, I at first wondered if I knew him from the Lindsay Lohan Rehab or the Eastern State Laughing Academy).
Mark's got 10 or 11 Border Collies and a Maremma guard dog to keep coyotes off of his woollies, and the Maremma is apparently knocking off quite a few groundhogs too. Excellent!
The sheep and the dogs at the trial were spectacular. This was the last day of the finals, which is to say only the best of the best were left.
The dogs had to do a very long outrun to the upper left, lift 10 sheep, and drive them down to a center gate area.
Then the dogs had to do another long outrun to the upper right, lift another 10 sheep, and drive them down to the same area.
Of course, by then the first 10 sheep had broken hard to the left, going off-course, and now the dog had to gather the two groups together, and then drive them, as a group, through two gates before getting them to a shedding ring, where the dog had to split the 15 uncollared sheep from the five collared sheep that had be driven into a pen, with the gate closed firmly behind them. A hard day's work, and all of it done on a clock.
The nice part here, as in hunting with terriers, is that there is no "judging up the leash," as there is no leash. The sheep are the final judge. Theory hits the floor pretty fast in a Virginia pasture!
The dogs are roughly-guided free-thinkers for most of the outurn, lift, and drive. The human enters into tight formation with the dog at the gates, and by the time they get to the shedding ring, it's a very tight partnership of pressure that is given, and released, by human and dog alike.
The dogs put on the pressure, and then release it to let the sheep re-sort within the flock. When there are a sufficient number of the uncollared sheep together, the dog searches for the smallest natural crack to develop in the flock, and then, with a bit more pressure (perhaps a bit of it provided by the human on one side of the flock), the unwanted sheep split off and are allowed to leave the shedding ring.
Antwerp diamond-cutters could learn a few things from these dogs!
Of course, as in any sensibly-run business, it's all about the work, and so there's a great deal of diversity in looks.
Yes, there are lots of very traditional-looking black-and-white Border Collies, but there are Slicks too, and a few merle and brown dogs, and a lot of variation in size.
One dog I saw was enormous -- 70 pounds if an ounce, while a few of the smaller bitches might have tallied at 35 pounds.
It is this diversity in form that the Kennel Club rails against, and so they have produced a "standard" for a "Barbie Collie" with the idea that, like a Barbie-doll, the dog should be injection-molded, and put in a nice box with promising packaging (Career Barbie Now Comes With Hair Extensions!).
But what is the standard for a working sheep dog? Not so very different from that of the working terrier.
- Legs? Prefer four
- Eyes? Prefer two, but may be willing to negotiate.
- Tail? It would be nice, but we are not finicky.
- Nose? Definitely a nice feature. Prefer on the front of the muzzle.
- Coat Color? Any color. It's a come-as-you-are party.
- Brains? Yes, please.
- Grit and drive? Of course.
And that's it.
After that, "the standard" is found in the field, and it's found in the work, and the judge has four legs, not two.
Four legs not two.
The Kennel Club folks do not even know what that means.