A Well Balanced Approach
By Patrick Shannahan

As published in American Border Collie Magazine in Jan/Feb 1997

The ad catches your eye...

At Stud: Superdog. Registered. Hips rated excellent, elbows clean of dysplasia, eyes clean of both CEA and PRA. Beautifully marked with traditional markings. Call 1-800-nice-pup.

This stud dog sounds too good to be true. A good looking dog with perfect hips eyes and shoulders. Everyone should want to breed to this tremendous specimen. He has all the qualities that we want, and are required by some of the articles and information that we have read. There may be one small problem.. . .he does not have much ability when it comes to working livestock.

Recently I have read more opinions on what a person should expect in looking for a breeding animal. Each has a specific trait that they think is extremely important as far as breeding guidelines are concerned. The problem that concerns me is that none of them mention the two most important qualities to consider in a working animal, ability and temperament.

Without these two qualities we basically have a high strung athlete that has no talent. They live a frustrating life, because there is no purpose to their life.

Temperament should be one of the first factors in looking for a sire or a dam. When you ask many winning handlers about their great dogs they will tell you of their good nature. So look at the temperament of the dogs you consider. Are they confident? Do they handle stress and new situations? Do they like to be trained? Do they want to please and be part of a team? These are important factors in every working dog.

Ability is another trait that one must consider. Let's face it, some dogs have more talent than others with livestock. Some have the knack of knowing exactly where to be to move stock. Some have a great ability to calm frightened livestock. Many dogs have natural outruns, flanks and pace while others lack one or more of these traits.

Now I don't want you to think that good hips, clear eyes or perfect shoulders aren't important. I test all my breeding animals and my young promising dogs for these physical traits. But they are just some of the factors I use when I consider breeding or choosing an animal. They are combined with temperament, ability, health, athleticism, color and timing.

We need to keep in perspective the most important factors in our dogs. Luckily, the sheepdog breeders before us had these traits in mind. In times past, if a dog was not sound or working properly, the owner could not afford to keep it and it was eliminated from the gene' pool. That sounds harsh and cold, but that is what has made our breed so great.

It is a well-balanced dog that has made a success. So when you hear someone talk about one trait that is needed for a good dog, remember that one physical trait can not make a great dog, it takes both physical and mental traits to make a great dog or stud.