Is it a dog, or is it a machine?

Last week, I had a rather heated e-mail discussion with a woman about the qualities of certain lines of Border Collies. The woman in question is a sheep farmer. She bred for toughness in her lines. She wanted a dog who would stand its ground while a ewe rammed it until the ewe figured out the dog wasn’t going to back down or hurt her baby. She also relayed stories about dogs working through broken bones, a bitch leaving the whelping box, carrying a puppy with her and going through electric fence to get in to work sheep, dogs who had to be hobbled while they worked sheep to prevent them from killing sheep, etc.

This discussion occurred after I told her of a bitch (from the lines we were discussing) who had stopped working after being injured while working stock and then was beat by her then owner because she wouldn’t work. According to this woman, the bitch shouldn’t be bred because she quit working. The bitch is working perfectly fine today in the hands of a new handler.

You know what? If I was injured while doing something, I’d be reluctant to do it again and someone beating me would offer little encouragement. I wouldn’t expect a dog to be any different. It’s a matter of survival. If a certain action causes you injury, you approach it again with extreme caution, if at all. If not, then you may very well be killed the next time around.

Is an all-consuming desire to work, even if it is through extreme pain, something that you’d want in a dog or any living being for that matter? Are dogs so expendable that they can use them until they are completely used up?

I’ve seen some Border Collies in agility trials who go over and through obstacles with what appears to be little sense of self-perservation. Sure they are fast and they win trials if they stay on course, but what about injuries? These dogs are so driven to run courses that to look at them it’s as if they have completely lost their minds and perhaps maybe they have.

Breeding for any extreme is never a good idea. Of course a stock dog needs to be tough, but who in their right mind would expect a dog to work through broken bones? And what about the mothering instincts of a bitch who left her puppies to get to sheep? I don’t know. I think some people have their heads buried in the sand.