Ich bin Robbie Thoughts of a dog owner

Hi! Ich bin Josh!

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No. 7  

No. 4 - December 2001

A show dog and a working dog compared «

A plate of biscuits and a cup of tea in front of me, a walk with Josh in fresh snow behind me - it can only be Christmastime. I went for a walk with Josh because Jeremy is clearing the snow and Josh regards it as his job to stop the snow shovel - which is not exactly helpful and is also not very good for his joints.


In contrast, Robbie stops after a "No" and plays with something else in the garden. He is definitely not a workaholic. So that I can ease my bad conscience (I am also no workaholic, so some things are left undone) I would again like to put a few thoughts down on paper - or nowadays, add to the homepage - before the end of 2001.  

This time, I would like to say something on the subject of working lines or show lines as, just recently, we had a discussion in the Austrian Club for British Sheepdogs on how much working skill a Border Collie should have in order to be a champion and thus to be a possible breed dog/bitch. How much attention should be given to the appearance and how much on the working skill, that is the question. Ideally, of course, both should have their place alongside character and health, and not just one or the other be important. The working lines need not - but can be - beautiful but, in my opinion, the show lines should definitely display a certain amount of working skill in order to preserve the specific character of the Border Collie.

With my dogs I have a good comparison between these foci.


Josh comes from a pure English line of mainly working dogs. Both sides of his parents have the famous Wiston Cap ( and his son, Bill) in their pedigree who, at 2 years old, was the youngest dog to win Supreme Champion and whose son, Bill, was likewise Supreme Champion of the International Sheepdog Society.  

Robbie, on the other hand,  has - with Show Champion Blue Aberdoone - an Australasian line to a significant degree.  

The differences can be seen physically and in the character and although this is not, of course, due purely to the working/show line difference, it could, nevertheless, partly be typical of it.


Physical development: While, up to about 3 years of age, Josh was a sinewy, untiring and very slim dog and only then gradually developed "masculine" attributes such as a deeper chest, Robbie was a substantial dog from very early on but remained soft in his gait longer and had less stamina. The physical development obviously proceeds quite differently and it is probably no coincidence that breeders of this line recommend not subjecting the dog to physical stress in the first 6-8 months. That is inconceivable for working dogs. They are familiarised with the work very early on, run long distances and must be able to cope with physical stress very soon - which was the case with Josh!

Character features: I don't want to go into acquired characteristics but to look at the following character features which are very important for working - the ability to concentrate and the willingness to work.

For Josh, the work stood - and still stands - in the foreground. Even bitches in heat were unimportant when the agility course beckoned! Josh would never have stopped working or refused to work; rather, he would work until he collapsed. Even injuries wouldn't prevent him from giving his all. As soon as the work - or at least that which Josh considered to be his work - called or needed to be done, then that was the only thing for him. Then he concentrated on it totally. He also learned new tasks correspondingly quickly.

Robbie on the other hand is - maybe partly also due to his age at the moment - more interested in other dogs or joggers than in "work", still rather lacking concentration, and also indicates very clearly when he's had enough. In summer for example, he simply lies down in the shade and leaves the ball to look after itself. He definitely looks after himself and doesn't over-exert himself.


In my opinion, this will to work is genetic as, understandably, only productive dogs could be used on the farm.

Josh's pain threshold is correspondingly high. He shows no pain. Josh would run round an agility course on 3 legs or would bring the ball even with cut paws - after all, the work has to be done, doesn't it!

And that is a major problem with Border Collies which have a strong compulsion to work.


When working, they secrete so much adrenaline etc. that they become immune to pain and so can do a lot of damage to themselves.

They overtax themselves or let themselves be overtaxed by their handler because they do not show when they've had enough. Or they do so but too late or too subtly so the handler misses it. With Josh it took me quite a long time until I understood that he showed when he had had enough by going to the nearest tree and weeing. But then he would come back and would have carried on working... I needed to stop.

Whoever looks around in agility sport can see how - against all the rules - some handlers start with Border Collies who are limping when off the course but run perfectly when they are on it. It goes without saying that, by giving the required performance, injuries can be worsened, are not cured as quickly as possible and can, therefore, become chronic. In these cases, the handler must control his/her competitiveness and give the dog some peace so as not to ruin him. However, that is not easy for some people.


However, it can also happen that an injury which has just been sustained is only shown by the dog when it leaves the course and so the consequences are worsened. That has happened to us. For example, we were once playing in the park with the ball. Josh enthusiastically chased after it and only later when we were on the way home did we see traces of blood on the asphalt. Apparently, he had trodden on a shard of glass and cut his paw badly while playing, but he did not show it.

By the way, Josh is the vets' favourite patient as he let's them do anything to him they like- just as long as he can put his head on my shoulder and look away.




On the other hand, it makes it very difficult for the vet to find out what and where the problem is because Josh refuses to react!

In summary: For me, a good mixture of show and working qualities is the optimum, also for a champion.


In order to see whether Robbie still possessed working qualities, a short while ago I started sheepdog training with him with Marion Fuchs. After the first (chaotic) attempt, Marion said that the dog should now sleep on the experience and then we would see. And, really, the next day it was as if he was another dog.


He was now only interested in the sheep. It is as if some old, inherited knowledge was in his unconscious which only needed to be awoken in order to be brought out. I am curious on how his education will progress. Hopefully successfully, because much - very much - time has to be spent on it, not to mention the travelling and hotel costs! Well, I'll report on that in the future.



OK, I can now end 2001 with a clear conscience - at least as far as my thoughts are concerned.

Next year, I again intend to make my thoughts known occasionally, but you know what it's like with good intentions!

I wish all Border Collie fans and all readers all the best for 2002 and lots of pleasure with your dogs!



P.S.: Comments on my thoughts are welcome at all times:







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