Health, Ethics, and Genetics:
One of the most pernicious mantras in the dog world is “It’s all in how you train them!” Let’s pretend for a moment that this statement is true.  What other […]

It’s all in how you train them? Not really.

One of the most pernicious mantras in the dog world is “It’s all in how you train them!” Let’s pretend for a moment that this statement is true.  What other […]

The unending human fascination with novelty is seemingly unhindered by ethics all over the dog breeding world.  Not only are there countless examples of breeders and leaders turning a blind […]

Dogs Defined by Disease

The unending human fascination with novelty is seemingly unhindered by ethics all over the dog breeding world.  Not only are there countless examples of breeders and leaders turning a blind […]

My dogs make it through the 4th of July with the selective use of Melatonin and a ThunderShirt. I suggest you use them too if you have noise phobic dogs. […]

Melatonin + ThunderShirt = Better 4th for Your Fearful Dog

My dogs make it through the 4th of July with the selective use of Melatonin and a ThunderShirt. I suggest you use them too if you have noise phobic dogs. […]

Life With Dogs, whose business model is exploiting animal suffering by aggregating and plagiarizing dog stories that are emotionally manipulative, has come out harshly against dog breeders over a bogus […]

Life With Dogs Attacks Dog Breeders

Life With Dogs, whose business model is exploiting animal suffering by aggregating and plagiarizing dog stories that are emotionally manipulative, has come out harshly against dog breeders over a bogus […]

If you missed RealSports with Bryant Gumble’s report on the ethics of breeding AKC dogs last night on HBO, fear not! Border-Wars worked with the producers over the last several […]

Watch RealSports “Unnatural Selection” on AKC Dogs

If you missed RealSports with Bryant Gumble’s report on the ethics of breeding AKC dogs last night on HBO, fear not! Border-Wars worked with the producers over the last several […]

Be sure to catch HBO’S Real Sports with Bryant Gumble tonight as they are doing a segment on the health and ethics of pedigree dog breeding for which Border-Wars was […]

HBO Asks if Dog Breeding is a “Real Sport”

Be sure to catch HBO’S Real Sports with Bryant Gumble tonight as they are doing a segment on the health and ethics of pedigree dog breeding for which Border-Wars was […]

Latest Dispatches:
27

The Rare Border Collie Mauling

The only thing Dublin mauls are Frisbees. Photo by Amy Irvin.

The only thing Dublin mauls are Frisbees. Photo by Amy Irvin.

You really don’t hear much about Border Collie maulings against humans.  One such incident hit the news recently, so I figure that an analysis is in order.

It certainly isn’t part of the breed stereotype, which typically reinforces their reputation as brilliant, energetic, athletic, human focused, highly trainable and desperate to please. The negatives are simple extensions of these virtues: devious, neurotic, hyperactive, easily bored, demanding, needy, and overly sensitive.

These qualities are the obvious consequence of the selective breeding for specific inbred traits.  They are brilliant because we’ve bred them to manage stock independently at great distances from human control, they must think complexly and on their own.  They are energetic and athletic because they must physically manage many times their number of stock over those distances with micromanagement and precision which requires agility and speed.  They are human focused because they are also expected to take quick and complex commands from a shepherd in the field and to be extensively trained in their youth.  Their desire to please has been cultivated in them so that the work itself is the reward for the training and flock management, no treats necessary.

What Border Collies have NOT been bred for in any substantive way is guardian, police, bite, or attack work.  Nor have they been bred to go after game, other dogs, or to bait or hold large livestock.  And this is why you’re unlikely to find them used “off label” for these sorts of pursuits. They are not large enough to be effective anti-personnel dogs, and their build is for speed and agility not power and strength.  Training them in Schutzhund work is an uphill battle against their nature and their liabilities.  For instance, many Border Collies are gun shy or fearful of loud noises and other distressing stimuli.  Their typical bite style is rapid snaps, they are not prone to hold and jerk their heads after a bite lands.  And this is often done in a submissive fearful stance with their head turned back over the shoulder as they move away from the target vs. a head-on assault typical of dogs bred to fight.

But they are still dogs.  And any dog can bite.  And all breeds have.  These are tautologies, and thus aren’t super helpful for those of us who then ask, but what’s the comparative risk of a Border Collie mauling your kid vs. another breed?

The reasons that Border Collies would be less likely to bite than other dogs are pretty obvious.  They are bred to be nice, biddable, small, and mostly incapable of physical damage. They are not composed of other breeds that are bred to be fighting dogs or baiting dogs or even serious hunting dogs or prey dogs of any sort.  At best we presume that there might be some whippet or other sight hound mixed in, but this is probably balanced with bird dog types which are meant to be attentive but not confrontational of prey.  Many of the sorts of behaviors that might be redirected on to humans have been actively bred against in the breed.

The relative absence of Border Collies being implicated in bites, maulings, and deaths speaks to the power of these breeding schemes.  Despite these genetic and cultural advantages, Border Collies are not the perfectly bred non-biting dog.

So let’s look at the reasons why Border Collies WILL bite your kid:

(1) Border Collies have been bred to herd, but not harm, stock. This is a modification of their prey drive and increasing the prey drive will increase associated behaviors like hunting, stalking, and attacking.  In Border Collies, worrying stock is a no-no, so dogs that bite stock are disqualified from the sport and are usually not tolerated on the farm. But this quality is being kept in check at a high degree of expression, we want the dogs to have much interest and to stalk the animals but not complete the kill or even initiate an attack.  This, of course, means that the dogs have been bred to be hot, but not boil.  And that’s a delicate and imprecise process.  Since this trait has not been bred OUT of the dogs or suppressed to a minimum, it means that when aiming for high interest but not attacks, breeders will miss and produce dogs that go all the way.

(2) Border Collies have been bred to herd stock, not humans. This too is an imprecise art, and despite there not being any advantage in dogs tracking humans, especially children, or cars or other moving things that we don’t want them to herd/stalk/bite, there is not a lot of negative reinforcement or ability to prevent breeding dogs to push stock making them more likely to herd groups of children or bicyclists, or the lawn mower, or cars.  If you think about it, many of the modern targets of Border Collies’ interests were not present in enough concentration in their historical realms to be bred against.  Shepherds didn’t have to deal with throngs of kids or highways full of cars in their day to day work.  The rare instances of such things could be managed with training and wouldn’t necessarily become the basis for breeding decisions.

When we bred Border Collies to work stock, it must have included preserving and combining their natural instincts to hunt, including a fixation on the size, shape, sound, smell, and movement-patterns of prey.  Stock dog trainers will tell you that different dogs will key off of these traits and some will be more reactive and responsive to goats over sheep or sheep over cattle, etc. These preferences also are what distinguishes how the dogs chose to stalk and where they will bite if they do so (head vs. heels, for example).  While no Border Collie has been bred to focus on the sense triggers displayed by children, there are undeniable similarities.  I know that I can stimulate my own dogs by making funny noises or moving in a jerky manner.

(3) Border Collies have been bred to be attentive to humans.  Not only does this put them in close proximity to humans (they are not generally an aloof breed), it also primes them to be hyper vigilant and watchful of what their humans are doing.  It is more difficult to trigger a dog that is not paying attention or not in the vicinity of a stimulus, and thus the ever-under-foot Border Collie who takes it as a geis to be attentive, is more likely to notice and react to unintentional signals, like those of a child who is not themselves very aware of what signals they are giving off and what signals the dog is displaying.

(4) Border Collies are permissive but sensitive.  Some breeds are not permissive at all, they generally make for good guard dogs because they treat unfamiliar or threatening stimuli with a higher degree of response more quickly, and thus ward off unwitting trespassers before they are close enough to be bitten.  Swift to growl can mean less chance of a bite, much like a rattle snake’s defenses not being very effective if they only rattle when you’re too close to deviate your path.  While Border Collies don’t intentionally lure you in with the intent of pouncing, they are more likely to signal with body posture and their eyes than they are to growl meaning that oblivious humans who are not aware or can not “speak” dog body language will miss the warning signs as the dogs become more and more agitated.  This combined with their general bent toward sensitivity and reactivity means that a bite out of fear (versus aggression, a responsive not self-reinforcing sort of bite) is not unheard of in this breed.

(5) Border Collies are still dogs, and thus all the non-breed specific reasons that dogs bite still apply to them.  They will bite when they are in pain, when they are startled, when they are threatened, etc.

My own bias aside, the numbers bear out the truth that the factors pushing Border Collies to bite, maul, and kill are clearly outweighed by the factors preventing such.  There’s zero reason to think that there is some media conspiracy covering up children killed and maimed by Border Collies in furtherance of some plot against other breeds.  There’s zero reason to think that breed plays no part in Border Collie’s good nature despite the tautologies that apologists seize on, like “all dogs can bite.”  And there’s zero reason to think that people who own Border Collies are magically superior dog trainers and handlers and environments that operate so much more efficiently and safely on a wished-for but false “blank slate” such that we might “blame the deed and not the breed” or hyperventilating about the “owners” and “how they’re raised” instead of correctly accessing that nature trumps nurture and man has so heavily steered the nature of dogs.

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Comments and disagreements are welcome, but be sure to read the Comment Policy. If this post made you think and you'd like to read more like it, consider a donation to my 4 Border Collies' Treat and Toy Fund. They'll be glad you did. You can subscribe to the feed or enter your e-mail in the field on the left to receive notice of new content. You can also like BorderWars on Facebook for more frequent musings and curiosities.
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76

It’s all in how you train them? Not really.

Celeste nurturing Maximus. He's a dog because of his nature. He's a Border Collie because of his nature.  He herds things, chases things, is highly attentive to humans and stock because of his nature.  What makes him behave like a BC is not different then what makes him look like one.

Celeste nurturing Maximus. He’s a dog because of his nature. He’s a Border Collie because of his nature. He herds things, chases things, is highly attentive to humans and stock because of his nature. What makes him behave like a BC is not different from what makes him look like one.

One of the most pernicious mantras in the dog world is “It’s all in how you train them!”

Let’s pretend for a moment that this statement is true.  What other closely held dog beliefs and behaviors would we have to question?  Pretty much all of dogdom, frankly.

If “it’s all in how you train them” is true, then…

pedigree dog breeding is false.  Parents can not pass down behaviors with all the other traits they pass to their offspring.  Looking at a pedigree can’t tell you anything because only training will make your dog act like a dog, your pointer act like a pointer, puppies act like their parents.

selective dog breeding is false. What distinguishes dog breeds is just aesthetics and the mass delusion that it matters what breeding choices we make.  Despite breed standards that mostly focus on aesthetics and without any established and published guides on how to train a blank slate into a terrier or lurcher or shepherd–not merely shape their instincts and extant behaviors–we’ve all been doing things horribly wrong.  We keep track of ancestry when that doesn’t matter. We issue papers on breed when that doesn’t matter. We get DNA tests done but those can’t matter.

there is no genetic component to dog behavior. Herding dogs have no propensity to herd, guard dogs have no instinct to guard, coursing dogs have no desire to hunt, terriers only dig because they are instructed to, pointers only point through training.  We have to rebuild everything that makes a dog, a dog, every single generation with every single dog.

you have to give up on the entire concept of dogs. If nurture and not nature dominates behavior (and our hypothesis here leaves zero room for nature) then a “dog” should be no different from a “wolf” or a “coyote” or a “jackal” or a “cat” or a “bear” or a “pig.” Or a snake or an ant or tree or a virus. The entire concept of domestication is a fraud.

you have to give up genetics. Train your dog to be a snake.  Not just ACT like a snake, to BE a snake.  That is not only possible, it’s demanded by the statement “It’s all in how they’re trained.”  Why should we limit the scope of this statement to mere behavior and not everything else that makes a dog a dog?  Train your dog to be purple.  Train your dog to fly.  Train your dog to breathe fire.

… you have to give up evolution.  Science has built up an immense body of evidence explaining morphology and behavior through the lens of competitive fitness.  Life looks the way it does and behaves the way it does because those structures and actions are highly heritable and in the right combinations lend competitive advantage to survival and procreation. Our entire understanding of life and its history falls apart if we have to predicate the supremacy of training.

It’s generous to phrase this “it’s all in how they’re trained.”  Many people who broadcast spread this nonsense as profound knowledge phrase it: “It’s all in how they’re raised.”  This is a subtle difference that highlights both the fact that most dogs don’t get much _training_ at all, and the pervasive fur-baby quasi-parental sentiment that exists in dogdom.  It’s precious, paternalistic, and emotionally toxic.  It pushes objectivity even further from the debate in the same way people put their parenting and their children on a pedestal and can’t abide criticism because it’s personal.

As much as there are holy wars in training circles, exemplified currently by the posi-nazis goose stepping to the mantra of “purely positive” (which is a gross misunderstanding of the operant conditioning matrix of positive/negative x reinforcement/punishment), the politics are even worse in the mommy-wars, where there are no accountable authorities just ayatollahs with persecution complexes and a desire for converts or at least a modicum of fame.

But being an actual mother is difficult. It requires almost incalculable time, money, and sacrifice.  At a minimum you need to socially bond with another human, have sex, be pregnant for the better part of a year while your body is destroyed in numerous unpleasant ways, and the anti-climactic squeezing of that melon out just to realize that you’re not going to sleep well ever again and what your child just did to your body they are going to do to your life for at least two decades.  And everyone is going to be all up in your business on how you raise your spawn, not the least of which is the state.

So when you get preachy about woo nonsense like vaccines causing autism, at least you have to pay a hefty entrance fee for that self-righteous denial. And you just might find someone else who will call you on that bullshit.  A school, a camp, a daycare that will tell you no, stupid is genetic, but measles is infectious so take your stupid child with your stupid self out of here.

No such luck with dogs.

You can head down to the shelter right now with a credit card and buy yourself a karma magnet pit bull mix that you can instantly call a “rescue” and get a free “who saved who?” bumper sticker to advertise your pitiful mental state such that paying for a used dog redeemed your self-worth, and proudly do nothing much more than feed it and post about how wonderful you are on Facebook with stories of “was probably a bait dog!” and “must have been abused by men because she’s so reactive and unruly with strangers” and the like.

When your Beverly Hills Chihuahua RESCUE shits on your carpet, you might proclaim that those careless Paris Hilton types who bought and dumped it before you _rescued_ it must not have TRAINED it right.  But of course after a half-assed attempt at house breaking yourself met with only failure you will declare poor Señor Sharkñado too damaged in his previous life of hell to accept your brilliant and dedicated training.

You won’t come to the actual right conclusion that Sharky can’t hold his bladder and bowels because his brain is too large for his cute little skull and that it’s not nurture that failed him, but nature.

And when your second chance Terrier decides it wants to dig up your yard and kill anything that dare invade its domain that resembles a rodent, it will be a folly to conclude that his previous owners must have spent countless hours teaching him to dig and exterminate vermin but failed to teach him much more than his name and sit, otherwise.  It’s not magic or an incredibly diabolical training scheme, it’s nature.  Little Horkheimer wasn’t raised to be a terrier, he was born that way.

Which is just something you’re going to have to deal with when you are sipping your racially conscious soy latte listening to Lady Gaga tell you that the highly complex behavioral complexes that are homosexuality and transsexuality and transgenderism and the like are NATURE but your pit bull mix going pit bull mix and attacking another dog is still NURTURE in your mind. Because reasons.

Really stupid and factually unsupportable reasons.

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Comments and disagreements are welcome, but be sure to read the Comment Policy. If this post made you think and you'd like to read more like it, consider a donation to my 4 Border Collies' Treat and Toy Fund. They'll be glad you did. You can subscribe to the feed or enter your e-mail in the field on the left to receive notice of new content. You can also like BorderWars on Facebook for more frequent musings and curiosities.
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1

The Long and Short of 2014

Bear is growing up.

Bear is growing up.

As 2014 draws to a close, a little reflection is in order. The blog was big on stats this year with over 320,000 visitors according to WordPress and 418,000 page views according to statcounter. My hosting software claims over 373,515 unique visitors visiting over 718k times, looking at 2.48 million pages, and downloading 770 GB of bandwidth.

In 2014, there were 45 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 492 posts and 818 people like Border-Wars on Facebook.

The most popular download was the first episode of the WarHorn Podcast with 1,130 downloads.

The most read post was No Happy Ending For Blind Dane.

Here’s looking to a great new 2015, thanks for reading Border-Wars!

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Comments and disagreements are welcome, but be sure to read the Comment Policy. If this post made you think and you'd like to read more like it, consider a donation to my 4 Border Collies' Treat and Toy Fund. They'll be glad you did. You can subscribe to the feed or enter your e-mail in the field on the left to receive notice of new content. You can also like BorderWars on Facebook for more frequent musings and curiosities.
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74

Shelters kill. So why call them Shelters?

This topic is depressing. Here's Gemma being cute.

This topic is depressing. Here’s Gemma being cute.

shel·ter
noun
1. a place giving protection from bad weather or danger.
2. a place providing food and accommodation for the homeless.
3. an animal sanctuary.
4. a shielded condition; protection.

Shelters kill dogs and cats. So why do we call them shelters when they don’t offer actual shelter?

Do you know what we call places where we keep unwanted things for picking over by strangers until they are regularly thrown away? Garbage Cans. And do you know what we call places we send the old and infirm to die because we can’t handle it ourselves? Hospice. And do you know what we call places where we send our offspring when we can no longer take care of them in hopes a new family will raise them? Orphanages.

I find it rather unfortunate that we’ve combined these four concepts into one institution for dogs and cats. It really does not make much sense to merge a homeless shelter with an orphanage with a hospice with a garbage dump. All the priorities are different.

In humans, no one would support treating orphans like garbage or treating the homeless like terminal cases. Garbage has lost its utility, its potential. Orphans must be cared for to become independent. Terminal cases are guided with love into death and the homeless are guided with love back to self sufficiency. These are all very different tasks.

When you “rescue” an animal from the shelter, who are you rescuing it from? That’s right… the shelter. Not the location, the THREAT. It is the SHELTER which is the threat to the animal. THEY are the one who put a death sentence on that animal and it is THEM you are “rescuing” the animal from.

Much of the AR hysteria dwells on blaming breeders and owners for putting dogs in shelters, but it is not breeders or owners or anyone else but the shelters who put the death sentence on those animals.

Why don’t we “rescue” children from orphanages? Maybe because they don’t slaughter kids if they aren’t picked up after 72 hours. Likewise, grandma isn’t given a countdown when she enters hospice to die fast or get the shot. And we don’t gas our homeless, at worst we return them to the streets.

We can dig deep in to all the reasons and major causative factors for why people leave their children in orphanages or foster care, why adults end up homeless or chronically on the streets. And we can wring our fists at why people throw away things which we believe still have value. But first I think we need to ask why we think the same institution is necessary and sufficient to handle all these cases well.

Breeders don’t kill dogs, they create them. Owners don’t kill dogs, they care for them. Only shelters make it their business to routinely kill dogs. Don’t blame breeders, don’t blame owners. They were told that shelters provide shelter. When you get self righteous over buying a used dog, which you aggrandize yourself with the title of rescuer of a rescued dog that needed rescuing, recall that the only danger that dog faced was from the “shelter.”

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Comments and disagreements are welcome, but be sure to read the Comment Policy. If this post made you think and you'd like to read more like it, consider a donation to my 4 Border Collies' Treat and Toy Fund. They'll be glad you did. You can subscribe to the feed or enter your e-mail in the field on the left to receive notice of new content. You can also like BorderWars on Facebook for more frequent musings and curiosities.
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7

Dog Culture is Religion and Politics

Enough dogma, throw the disc.

Enough dogma, throw the disc.

It’s an often reiterated rule of etiquette to never discuss religion or politics in polite company.  And this is why etiquette is for pussies.

See, “religion and politics” are essentially stand-ins for weltanschuuang – a larger world view that incorporates philosophy, values, and ethics.  The big IMPORTANT things in life unless you’ve tuned out and decided to just get by and let other people do your heavy lifting for you.

The dog world is inherently religious and political and thus any meaningful discussion of the culture is bound to be controversial.

It’s asinine that the most fundamental aspects of culture are off the table “in polite company” and it makes etiquette into a shallow, superficial, fake experience, albeit one that preserves the status quo.  If you can’t work through ethics and values and philosophy what’s the point of everything else?

The obvious reason that such topics are taboo is because they are controversial and most people are not particularly willing to change their stance, especially with the activation energy of a dinner party or meeting with people you frankly don’t care deeply about otherwise.  It usually requires a much more significant event like a death or epiphany to move someone to really question and alter their views in a rapid fashion or the long slow process of erosion of a belief over time against the realities of life.

Thus “just don’t talk about it” is a conflict avoidance mechanism for etiquette doyennes to play fun-police and say NO ARGUMENTS! and keep people happy and the wine in the glasses instead of splashed in faces.

The thing is that this conflict avoidance makes sense when we out-source and up-source the big questions to other people.  The sheep let the shepherd make the choices and worry about the smaller questions of where am I going to eat and poop today.  There’s also an inherent insecurity involved with most world views where having others believe what you believe and act how you act is an evolutionary advantage so when you find yourself in conflict, you change them, they change you, or you get out. Some missionaries employ the tactic to overcome someone’s extant world-view, but by far the most popular strategy is to use family pressure over children and spouses and indoctrination of blank slates via upbringing and control of the schools. It’s no small coincidence that most people adhere to the religion they were born into or married into.

Taking risks and learning things first-hand is hard and can lead to failure so it’s a risk-averse strategy to let others experiment, let others stick their necks out and stay with the herd because it’s easier and safe, even though it’s pretty mindless.

And human culture has positively reinforced this behavior.  Religions and Political Parties are like turn-key weltanschuuang for you to just swallow whole, and both are also highly indoctrinated into youth by their parents and peers right along with language and fashion and a variety of communal behaviors.  And even with their massive and inherent contradictions and flaws almost all social systems enforce the rules on everyone with strict punishments for anyone who doesn’t play the game the “right” way.

Dog culture, the primary focus of this manifesto, is all about Religion and Politics and this is why any discussion about ethics, efficacy, values, faults, and change are inherently impolite.  Registries are hierarchical political organizations that delegate power downward through breed clubs and exercise their power through intellectual property and barriers to entry. They “own” the breeds and issue limited member certificates to distinguish “us” vs. “them.”

The social political structure is also informally enforced by breed matrons and patrons who are typically the most connected breeders to the breed club and the registry and position themselves as “mentors” to select few new breeders and position themselves against most others.  Who gets to use whose stud dog and who selects the judge for which specialty and whose dogs that judge favors are all sorts of social-political drama-inducing behaviors that are entrenched in the culture.

The culture is also religious in the sense that there are just so many elements of the philosophy that must be taken on faith, as they are not science or evidence based — and would not naturally reemerge if they were forgotten, and are thus handed down by indoctrination like all faith-based systems.  The breed standards are part of this ad hoc religion as well as breeding methods like certain inbreeding schemes or sire selection criteria.  So too are puppy rearing techniques and placement behaviors.

If there were an easy, universally effective, and uncontroversial way to tell people they’re wrong or even find the Truth on even a single issue; there would be one government, one belief system, and scientific consensus on every issue.

Failing that, making sausage is going to look messy. There’s just no other way about it. Pick what strategy you want, but they all have their strengths and weaknesses and even the most brilliant and motivated people have yet to find the one-true-way to convince people of some greater truth.

In fact, most of the best methods to win minds are logical fallacies, conspiratorial, manipulative, and used to convince people of falsehoods. Or you don’t try and change minds and just preach to the choir, reinforce extant biases, and cheer-lead instead of lead.

So if you actually want to tackle extant culture head on, it gets messy. It’s part of the process really. It’s not primarily about changing minds and winning hearts, liars do a much better job of that. It’s not about waxing romantic about history or pretending that your little corner of the culture is just superior as-is and above reproach. To me it’s about speaking truth and recognizing things that will be validated not by popularity but by authenticity.

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Comments and disagreements are welcome, but be sure to read the Comment Policy. If this post made you think and you'd like to read more like it, consider a donation to my 4 Border Collies' Treat and Toy Fund. They'll be glad you did. You can subscribe to the feed or enter your e-mail in the field on the left to receive notice of new content. You can also like BorderWars on Facebook for more frequent musings and curiosities.
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  • Foreign Legion:
    collie de la frontera - eksteraj ligiloj - 邊境牧羊犬 - 边境牧羊犬 - ボーダーコリー - الحدود الكول -Бордер колли - בורדר קולי - ബോര്‍ഡര്‍ കോളി - Borderská kólia - border kolie