Dog Sports – A Cultural Divide

David and Kate Marshall are do-it-yourself kind of people. They’ve written several books that allow readers to tell their own autobiography, document their love for their significant other, or even memorialize their pet dogs.

Like training guides on the weave polls, the Marshalls’ books encourage readers to navigate the obstacle of self-journalism by staying on point, and making it from start to finish without going too far afield while not missing any of the important bits.

It’s no wonder then that the Marshalls are dog sport people (a very do-it-yourself crowd): Kate and her dog Bo run Agility (Bo got his MACH title this year) and are keen observers of dog-people culture. In her recent blog post titled “Dog Sports: A Truly Cultural Divide,” Kate makes some keen observations about the different priorities of the Second and Third Estates of the Border Collie:

The difference between Obedience and Agility cultures pales in comparison to the divide between Conformation and Herding worlds, especially with border collie lovers. Here the split goes beyond style, with passionate debate over whether breeding towards a physical standard rather than herding talent is good for the breed or bad. Confessing a preference for a certain ear carriage or coat at a working border collie herding trial is a serious faux pas.

I decide to test the mood at the AKC National Championships, where my daughter and herding-reject turned agility-star border collie are entered in Agility. There is no Herding event there, but many Agility people I know who have border collies dream of living on a farm with sheep some day, so I use them as a proxy.

A 50-foot high metal curtain strategically divides the Long Beach Convention Center into Agility and Conformation worlds. I venture over to the Conformation side in time for the border collie gathering. I don’t need a passport to cross the border, but I immediately feel underdressed in my cargo pants and “In Dog We Trust” t-shirt. I am glad I left my un-bathed dog on the other side.

“Gosh, I’m surprised by how different the show collies look from the ones over in Agility,” I say, testing the waters with a spectator whose allegiance I have not yet determined.

“Oh, you mean the Coyotes?” I can’t tell if she is joking so I hastily retreat.

“Did you know that show people call these border collies coyotes?” I ask on the other side of the iron curtain.

“Oh, you mean the Barbie Collie people?” This time I stay long enough to see the smile.

Some of you might think my War rhetoric is over the top or at least unnecessarily dramatic, but there are a few other Border Collie people out there who appreciate the virtual yet palpable “iron curtain” in the “dog wars” of the Border Collie.

Read More of Kate’s humorous analysis of Obedience vs. Agility

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.