Sensibility

There’s been a lot of discussion on the Sheepdog list lately about the behavior of dogs and their caregivers at sheepdog trials. Often at sheepdog trials you’ll see Border Collies running loose either with their kennel mates or with their handlers. This is not the norm for most dog events where dogs are required to either be leashed or crated when not working. In fact, while at the recent ASCA show I had Gel and Fern loose and one handler asked me why it was that BC people don’t keep their dogs on leashes. The reason is, we have such control over them, that it just isn’t necessary. Given that the normal stock work of a Border Collie is done at great distance, we have to have great control on them. I demand that my dogs come to me when I call and when I ask them to lie down, they sure as heck had better do it or I’m coming out after them. They know that.

Today a really good post was made that really hit home. The poster said in part: “Today, so much training discussion centers on controlling the dogs, “teaching” the outrun, “teaching” pace, controlling hard headedness (or as I call it “hard of listening”–which is not hard of hearing). Instead of the quiet, sensible dogs that we enjoyed having around, we have over-active, hair-trigger dogs that must be controlled constantly, on and off the field, in order to live with them.”

She further went on to say: “Yes, the current dogs are often excellent at taking quick commands when needed, but I’ve seen a direct correlation between over-quickness and lack of ability to make right choices (rightly think on there own, not just act!). We seem to think speed and independent thinking is superior to sensibleness and biddableness. Several years ago there was a open dog that ran the entire trial (each run), from his chain on his owners camper and could still do well on his own runs! The camper was close to the field due to need of accessibility (true need). This dog has many offspring, active, quick, fast, etc., but many of them have this “wired” personality! I think sometimes we confuse quiet sensibility with “lack of power.” We mistake the natural dog as “too slow,” when with experience and age this dog blossoms into an excellent dog especially on difficult sheep or in blind spots on the field.” [emphasis added]

Gel was dubbed a “herding reject” at six and a half months old because he didn’t have the keenness on stock that the woman wanted to see in a dog that age. She may have been right in labeling him as a herding reject, but I don’t think so. Gel is a quiet, sensible dog on stock; early on he wasn’t terribly keen, but with age, that has changed. I didn’t have to teach him an outrun or pace, it all came naturally. When I ask him to do something that doesn’t feel right to him, i.e. off-balance flanks, he fights this, but I wouldn’t call him a hard-headed dog, far from it. He’s extremely biddable. He’s getting faster at taking commands and the whistles are helping his speed. Gel is maturing into a very, very nice stock dog, one that I can trust in all situations, on or off-stock. The great thing is that I can live with him.

It looks like Fern is going to be exactly the same way, with perhaps a bit more “ump” in her work, which could be due, in part, to her sex, as she’s maturing quicker than Gel did. Midge was an extremely sensible dog as well.