An Interview with Selwyn Jones
By Patrick Shannahan

As published in American Border Collie Magazine in May/June 1994

Selwyn Jones is a well-respected sheep dog handler and competitor in Wales. This is an interview that I did with him when I visited his farm in 1995. Many of the dogs that I have used in my breeding program have come from dogs that were imported into this country through Selwyn.

Q: Tell us about your start with dogs.

A: I've always been with sheep and sheepdogs since I was very young. There was a farm in the top of our valley where we were living and there happen to be a very good young bitch there 1 used to go there to help gather sheep. The old chap that owned this good bitch was a bachelor. I thought that this bitch was as good as any dog although she wasn't trained formally at all. She was doing everything that she was told by this chap. She wasn't registered but on the mother's side there were registered dogs. I thought she was a real "smasher" so when we finished gathering I went to 4he chap and asked if he would sell the bitch to me. He said he wouldn't sell her for any amount of money. I said I wanted to get her on commands and he said I could borrow her and keep her for as long as I like. So I took the bitch home with me and my father asked me, "What's this?" And he said to me, "we got a bunch of dogs here--we don't need any more." But he wasn't interested in competition.

So I had this bitch for about three months and she was going out lovely and I had her in perfect control with flanks and driving. There was a trial not very far away and I was only 15 and I thought she was good enough to compete in the local class. So I went to the local class on my bike and she ran beside the bike for the four miles to the trial. I ran her in the local class and had a good run and ended up winning the class. The trial officials suggested that I come back the next day and compete in the open class. So I had to bike home and ride back in the morning. At the trial she went out so smoothly there was no reason to say anything to her. She brought the sheep on line with keeping one eye on the sheep and one eye on me. I had a "smashing" run with her and won it again! That was the start of my trialing. I kept the bitch, as the owner became ill. I was grateful to get the chance to work with the bitch.

Then I wanted another one. I found a registered bitch that had a litter of pups. I asked the owner if I could buy a pup. He said yes and I bought one for five pounds. I named him Roy and he turned out to be a very nice dog. I trained him and won a number of prizes with him.

I became older and started training lots of dogs. I kept some for myself and I trained some to sell. I was working for my father and he wasn't paying me any wages so the dogs kept me in a little money, which came in very handy. So I went on then and started competing in the big trials and won some of them from time to time.

In 1962 at the Welsh Nationals I had a red bitch named Vicki and a good dog named Shep. I won the Nationals with Vicki and went on to the International.

Another good dog I had was named Moss. Re went back to R.J. Hughes' Jaff, which was one of the best dogs to ever put his foot down at working sheep. I finished up fourth at the International with Moss when I was very young. I1ve represented Wales at the International about sixteen times.

Q: So how many trials a year do you attend?

A: When I was young with my father it was much easier to go. When I acquired my father's farm and purchased another three farms I had less time for the trials. But I could usually manage time in August after the haying. In August I could go to a trial nearly every day and usually coming home with a prize. In that short season I could usually bring home about 70 quid, which was a lot of money for the time.

Q: What do you look for in a trial dog?

A: You want a dog with good nature, that's very important. One that listens to you when you tell it what to. If he doesn't have good common sense you have no chance at all. You got to have as well on good pace, they've got to pace the sheep. I remember when I was judging the International with the great J.M. Wilson and I enjoyed and learned very much from this man. The first thing I learned from him was you've got to have pace in the dog. If you don't have pace with the sheep you can't build a rhythm between the sheep and the dog. And without rhythm being right the run can be no good. There is a lot in what he said.

Q: Is there any difference in farm dogs and trial dogs over in Wales?

A: Ah, yes. Although I use all my dogs on the mountain I'm looking out for them, I don't let them do the rough job. I keep them in good command and don't let them do silly things. But when you have a big flock to gather sometimes it takes a lot to shift them and if you don't watch them they will start to do silly things. You have to look after them and if I need I will use another dog to do that job of shifting sheep. You can't beat these collies on the mountain and I think they are the best on the farm and trial.

Q: How do the dogs of today compare to the dogs of the past?

A: To tell you the truth I could name you lots of dogs that were "top notchers" forty years ago. And I'm sure if those dogs were around today it would be a job to beat them. They were classic dogs, they were on their feet and nice and stylish. They had good ears--they were listening.

Q: What can we do to make our dogs better today?

A: I think where we are going wrong today is in the training. The old people learned the dog to bring the sheep to you first. They had control on the sheep, the dog was right behind the sheep with one eye on the sheep and one eye on the owner. They had a marvelous fetch with a very good line. If you put a dog behind the sheep today and don't command him, only God knows where he would go. If the sheep went off to the left the bloody dog might follow them, but the old dogs they wouldn't, you know. They were more forceful dogs but also kind to their sheep. Many of the dogs today are very weak and that is why they can't keep a straight line.

Q: Would you change any of the judging in the trials?

A: There are some that it is time to change the courses, but I would be dead against it. Reed was the first secretary of the ISDS and he set the course up at that time. How he had the brains to figure the course out at that time I don't know. I'm sure that we can't alter much on that course today, and if we do we could spoil it. It is great to watch the course with good sheep. The trouble today is that we do not have as many good shepherds to make the good sheep for the trials. Many of the farms today use the motorbike to move the sheep off the mountain. They used the dog to do the shedding the sheep and the sheep were used to being handled by the dog. The sheep today are much stronger and of course if they haven't seen a dog and are frightened by it; they are hard to control.

Q: I know that you have been to the States many times. What do you think of our trials and dogs?

A: Well, the first time I went there I enjoyed myself very much. I had never flown before or traveled so much. I enjoyed myself very much. I thought at that time there were a few good dogs there. But when I went again a year or two later, I could see improvement. But the last time I went I said to myself if I were to run a dog over there it would be a tough go. You have good handlers and good dogs in the states, no doubt about it.

Q: What would you consider our strengths and weaknesses?

A: Of course it is very important to have a good dog but you must be able to tell what is going to happen before it does happen. That is where we have more experience in reading sheep. Many of your handlers don't even have the chance to work sheep--how are they going to learn to read them? We live with our sheep and can see things happening before they do.

Q: If you were a beginner, what advice would help the person just starting out?

A: Try to find dog that has been trialed that is about three or fours years old. You could learn quite a bit from that dog itself. It would be difficult to start from a young one. Start out with a fully trained dog that is at least three or four and has been trialed. All these dogs are very good at home, but when they go to trials they do silly things. But if the dog is used to competing they won't do silly things. Get some-thing of good breeding from someone you know and could trust.