Siding with the AKC

Faced with the undeniable history of ruining numerous other purebred dog breeds by facilitating and encouraging countless breeders to breed stupidly, why would any circumspect Border Collie owner or breeder side with the AKC over a registry that is 100% Border Collie focused, that owns 90% of the gene pool, and speaks passionately about owning the moral high ground of Border Collie breeding by sticking to a purely herding based standard?

Well, because words, be they in pedigrees or mottoes or breed standards, are cheap. The lofty (Platonic) goals of the AKC and ABCA are well and good, but they have little to do with what the registries offer the WIDE middle ground of owners who are interested enough to care about registered dogs and who are active in at least one dog activity, but who are not frequent fliers or VIPs like show breeders or trialers.

“Merit” is a term that is not universal to any of the four Estates of the Border Collie. The Third and Fourth Estates (Dog Sport and Pet) would consider an AKC “Canine Good Citizen” certificate to be a somewhat valuable accomplishment, as the CGC promotes good manners that are essential to pets and dogs active in dog sports who are likely to be in urban environments and around many other animals and people. The first two estates (Herding and Conformation) don’t really need to care so much about dogs that are well adjusted in the same manner as the CGC. Herding dogs need to be farm savvy and Conformation dogs need to tolerate excessive amounts of grooming, but neither –as an intrinsic quality of their performance and thus breed-worthy status– needs to be friendly or socially adjusted in the way a CGC tests dogs.

But the CGC is hardly a lofty accomplishment, the AKC doesn’t even consider it a real title. So what about other performance events and titles? Well, that’s the rub.

What titles have meaning and which don’t? What accomplishments are necessary and sufficient to demonstrate that an animal is worthy of passing along its genetic code? And, gasp, what are puppy buyers looking for?

The First Estate says that only sheep trial success is sufficient and certainly necessary to establish breed-worthiness. In practice, I imagine many of these people also consider daily work on the farm a suitable proving ground as well. Trials might advertise your dog’s breed-worthiness to the whole community, but sometimes you’re not breeding for the entire community, you’re breeding for yourself, and I’d venture that in such cases their assessment of how the animal works for them day in and day out is all that is needed.

The Second Estate will claim that fitting the breed standard and the concomitant success in the breed ring is necessary and sufficient to breed a dog. And perhaps some genetic screenings too, since those appear to be more popular in the Second estate than the first, whether that’s due to a genuine interest or a greater need to test is a debate for another day.

The Third Estate, in its most active and successful form would probably use the word “versatility” to describe the quality that is essential for proving breed-worthiness. Many of the most well known breeders use that word at least once in describing their dogs.

But just saying “versatile” doesn’t make it true. At least one of the quotes you see in the image above comes from a breeder who has been kicked out of the ABCA for falsifying pedigree information and not cooperating with an ABCA investigation of their breeding practices.

But just as the word “Versatile” is the most popular advertising slogan of BC breeders on the Internet, it’s also the one quality that will get you on the enemy list of the ABCA. As I discussed in my last article, versatility breeders are a “clear and present danger” to the ABCA according to their committee charged with assessing the dual registration threat.

The dual registration threat stems from the Obedience (and now Agility) contingent that was popular in the ABCA but had “one foot in the AKC camp” because the AKC runs the Obedience and Agility competitions. These are the people who despite signing the AKC: Hands Off the Border Collie! petition to prevent full recognition for the Border Collie by the AKC now find themselves in the AKC camp.

Janice DeMello is mentioned in Donald McCaig’s new book, The Dog Wars, as one of the big wig Border Collie people who signed the “AKC: Hands Off the Border Collie” petition:

AKC: Hands Off the Border Collie!

We own Border Collies. Our dogs are companion dogs, obedience dogs, and livestock herding dogs. For hundreds of years, Border Collies have been bred to a strict performance standard and today they’re the soundest, most trainable dogs in the world.

The AKC wants to push them out of the Miscellaneous Class and into the show ring. They seek a conformation standard (appearance standard) for the breed.

We, and the officers of every single legitimate national, regional, and state Border Collie association reject conformation breeding. Too often, the show ring fattens the puppy mills and creates unsound dogs.

We Will not permit the AKC to ruin our dogs.

Janice DeMello, 3 OTCH, Gaines Wins

Now, some sheeple might get all huffy and want to call people like Janice DeMello a traitor or a hypocrite or a border collie butcher. Those would be lies. And to call her a victim of the AKC is a half truth. She’s as much a victim of the ABCA’s policy to ban AKC pedigrees regardless of working ability as she is of the AKC pushing Border Collies into the show ring. Whereas the ABCA has banned 4 breeders and their dogs for pedigree fakery and suspect breeding conditions, 27 dogs have been delisted from the ABCA due to becoming AKC conformation champions, including one of Janice’s dogs. And she’s not alone or rare in signing that petition and eventually becoming an AKC breeder. Why?

Border Collie obedience handlers faced (AKC reps whispered) an unhappy choice. Either (a) help get the Border Collie fully recognized, or (b) the AKC would kick the Border Collie out of the Miscellaneous Class so that the dogs would no longer be able to compete in obedience. To people whose lives revolved around these competitions (and Border Collies are wonderful obedience dogs) it was an excruciating dilemma. Obedience people weren’t interested in dog shows, and most know that full AKC recognition would damage their breed, but not being able to compete any more was unthinkable.
– Donald McCaig. The Dog Wars p.96

Janice DeMello made her name in Border Collies and Obedience. She is a first class trainer and competitor. She has published training videos like, “Around the Clock Method of Scent Discrimination” and “Cruise Control for Power Heeling,” which are holy canon for competitors in Obedience and Freestyle, based on the experience she gained training her own dogs to numerous championships and competition firsts. Her success has become a brand and Janice graduated from competitor to trainer to breeder. Her “Hob Nob” puppies are in such demand, there’s a waiting list, a premium price tag, a comprehensive and tailored contract, and Janice gets to select which puppy is the right one for you.

You’ll also notice that many of her dogs are gorgeous, her “inventory” is expanding to include rare coat color variants like blue-eyed blue merles, and that some of her litters each year cater to a conformation buyer. She has certainly adopted elements of the show culture, but even more interesting, she’s also taken up serious sheep herding as well. Perhaps out of interest, perhaps out of guilt (that’s why I do it), and perhaps to preserve that element of the border collie within the AKC bloodlines and assuage the risk that such talents will disappear.

Although they and their sport were ugly stepchildren at dog shows, obedience people and their skills weren’t overvalued by sheepdog people either. A few obedience handlers had moved into sheepdog trials, but these excepted, I don’t know any sheepdog trialist who has ever bothered to attend an obedience competition.

Obedience competitors weren’t numerous – probably fewer than 200 of a Border Collie community of 10,000 – but they were educated, had one foot in the AKC camp already, and most were scared enough to cooperate. Some believed recognition was inevitable, and if they were the AKC breed club, they could emphasize the Border Collie’s working abilities and minimize the damage the AKC would do to the breed.
– Donald McCaig, The Dog Wars p.97

As Donald points out, the large and growing third estate of border collie enthusiasts–dog sport hobbyists and breeders–was essentially blackmailed by the AKC and dismissed by the ABCA. At least you can bargain with or ignore blackmailers, you can’t do much with a group of elitists who don’t care and don’t want to care about your needs at all.

It’s ironic that despite the sheeple’s view that conformation poisons all of the AKC dogs, conformation of Border Collies isn’t an issue anywhere except in the breed ring at dog shows. It plays no part officially, socially, or practically in any other AKC activity with Border Collies. A Border Collie will never be disallowed from competing in Obedience, Agility, Tracking, or Herding because of conformation. Nor will they face any difference in cost or reward or requirements at any of those activities.

Not true with the ABCA. The USBCHA allows any dog at all to compete in their trials, but the ABCA’s award money can only be awarded to an ABCA registered dog. And the only dogs to be expelled and not allowed to Register On Merit are conformation dogs. On a practical level, the only policy that is actively hurting the competition of herding dogs is the ABCA’s policy against conformation, not the AKC’s policies for conformation. Disallowing even the most glamorous Barbie Collie from is a policy that makes the ABCA look overly protective to the point of hypocrisy and fascist prejudice. But they can afford to be prejudiced, they have 90% of the breed and this policy is wise on their part to keep it that way.

This is why, despite the AKC’s fundamental lack of appreciation for the Border Collie, the ABCA is not always the most attractive choice for the growing border collie dog sport hobbyist. They aren’t getting “everything they want” from the ABCA. The ABCA doesn’t understand this, or they don’t appreciate the significance:

But, as the AKC is dominated by a small cadre of dog show people, stockdog culture is dominated by a small number of trial handlers. There’s no way agility people will “take over” a registry that is already providing everything they want from it: sound working pups. Take us over? Why should they? They’ve already got everything they want.
– Donald McCaig, The Dog Wars p158

Dog sport people don’t have everything they want. No one wants to depend on other people for their livelihood or their passion and McCaig says as much in his book. Except his passion is herding sheep with his dogs, others have a passion for throwing plastic discs, running through obstacles, or retrieving a tennis ball as fast as possible. The very same reason the sheeple don’t want the showple to damage the breed, the sportple don’t want to leave their dogs entirely in the hands of sheeple. Not that sheeple are evil, but sheeple aren’t sportple and sportple are perfectly capable to breed our own dogs with our particular desires paramount.

Even more significant is branding. In any activity, enthusiastic newcomers will want the best equipment. When they see a successful agility person winning all the time, they will try to get their instruction secrets and they will also try and get the winning person’s dog, or at least a puppy from it. Compare this to the severe overuse of Wiston Cap in the herding community. Not only was Cap a good dog, his handler was just as magnificent. Together they made a great team. So, Jock Richardson wannabes emulated Richardson and paid to have their bitches bred to Cap.

Since the Obedience and Agility community is now in the AKC camp, and a “Clear and Present Danger” to the ABCA, how long do you think active sport breeders in the ABCA can maintain their AKC independence if AKC dogs are banned from ABCA registration?

If a sport dog, say “Spike,” made a big splash in that community, the best odds of capturing his genetics isn’t going to happen by calling up Spike’s herding breeder (who knows nothing of Spike’s success and doesn’t really do repeat matings) and trying to get another puppy with the same genetics as Spike, it’s going to be breeding Spike. The herding community thinks that sportple should just get their dogs from herding focused breeders and simply be happy with that. I don’t think that’s realistic.

That’s why it’s no surprise that Janice DeMello (and others like her in the other two estates of BC-dom herding and showing) has a demanded and successful breeding business. People want her talent and they want her dogs. They will buy both in any form they can get. Even if they implicitly understand that the true success of Janice comes from hard work and that it’s impossible to breed her expertise into her puppies, and even if they understand that her dogs probably aren’t that genetically special and they’re paying a premium for the DeMello name, it’s worth it to them, just like it was worth it to the thousands of buyers and subsequent breeders of “celebrity” trialing dogs. Janice doesn’t make any qualms that it takes successful breeding, training, and a good dog and handler to be the best:

It’s a big versatile world for those who own and train border collies. The talents of the trainer are as important as the talents of the dog to make a succesful team regardless of the activity.

Her dogs are not be genetic anomalies, but they have been thoroughly vetted for ability. They will not succeed in the hands of a novice like they have succeeded in Janice’s hands, but her celebrity attracts plenty of people of like mind and interest who are putting in the hard work. Her web page might be kitsch (at least she has one) and her choice of theme music arrogant (Tina belting “simply the best, better than all the rest), but it’s not bragging if you can prove it and the list of her clients’ accomplishments is encouraging and exhaustive.

If only there were herding and trialing breeders as enthusiastic, encouraging, and inviting to the dog sport community.

Success begets success and good dogs beget good dogs. The dog sport community might have started out as a leech on the herding dogs, just like the US herding community was a leech on the British herding dogs. Both groups siphoned off a few good dogs at a time until they got enough to work with on their own and knew what they wanted done differently.

Sheeple have a common and arrogant attitude that since breeding for sheep is (in their bible) the highest and best purpose for a Border Collie, it must follow that any other activity should be fine with herding cast offs and no dogs should be bred specifically for those activities. Get your dogs from us, don’t make them yourselves, you’re not qualified. They will admit that Border Collies make bad pets, but they won’t accept that hobbyists take pet temperament into consideration while breeding as well as employ more pet oriented socialization, resulting in Border Collies that are easier to live with by removing a bit of the compulsive obsession from their natural drive. The fact that Donald McCaig mercilessly scoffs at dog toys on several occasions in “Dog Wars” is just one indication of a larger ethic of condescension and vainglorious dismissal that sheeple feel towards non-sheeple. We’re seen as silly and frivolous.

When the task is different, the best tool for the job will be different. The herding border collie is not the ultimate tool for all jobs. Nor, as the recent success of several of Janice’s dogs demonstrates, is it impossible for an AKC breeder to create a fantastic herding dog that is highly competitive in the real sheep trials in the USBCHA. Donald McCaig might deny this dog’s existence:

Then, as now, the dog fancy preferred roundabout rebuttals.
Roundabout rebuttal #1: The show dog that outworks all the best working dogs is still with us. (Dog fanciers tell me about him all the time. It is regrettable this paragon is never seen at a trial or anywhere else he might be tested.)
– Donald McCaig, The Dog Wars p58

But this dog does exist and Janice DeMello was the breeder. Now this dog in question might not meet the impossible standard of outworking all the best working dogs, but this dog is a real talent and is the product of two show champions and is a show champion itself. Donald McCaig has seen this dog (at the USBCHA National Finals last year) although he chose not to mention such in his book.

I’ll leave this issue for now with another quote from McCaig:

Like the AKC, we are indifferent to everything but one preoccupation: we would glorify stockwork; and scorn the beautiful and useless, the lapdog, the untrainable, the barking watchdog, the dumb but lovable family pet.
– Donald McCaig, The Dog Wars p143

I have a feeling that McCaig is speaking directly to the Versatility breeder or buyer when he describes “the beautiful and useless” and the “dumb but lovable family pet.” These are a nice reflection of the same dismissive attitude he describes earlier in the book:

If I were to include a pet trick in my trial — like fetching a frisbee or rolling over and playing dead — my peers would be appalled.

I can’t remember when I last petted someone else’s dog at a sheepdog trial.
– Donald McCaig, The Dog Wars p23

Regarding the AKC Herding Program:

It was (and is) a Mickey Mouse program and we didn’t want Border Collies competing (few parents deliberately send their children to the worst schools), but we thought that anything that involves people with their dogs is good for the dogs, and if people want to try their Shelties and Beardies and Lassie collies on sheep, have at it and God Bless.
– Donald McCaig, The Dog Wars p33

Sympathizers warned us that dog shows had ruined the German shepherd, Bedlington terrier, rough collie (the Lassie collie), the cocker spaniel, Doberman pinscher, Rottweiler, and Akita. To this oft-heard criticism, the AKC replies, “Registries don’t ruin breeds, breeders ruin breeds.”

I hadn’t planned to mention that AKC show ring practices had reduced the rough collie, Old English sheepdog, Shetland sheepdog and bearded collie to uselessness.

Notice the consistent use of the same few breeds. Dog sport is fine, as long as it’s not with the Border Collie. Look at all the “ruined” herding breeds that can now “play” at herding in the AKC’s joke program. Don’t let Border Collies who are not (yet) ruined play, just keep out of it altogether and certainly don’t breed for dog sport, since dog sport is tainted by conformation.

Many in the Third Estate don’t want a dog to work work work!, they want a very special pet. They like dog toys and dogs that are spoiled and well rounded and versatile. That doesn’t mean they want the dreaded “Jack of All Trades” that the ABCA warns of in their 2002 memorandum, it means that if you have to sacrifice a degree of herding performance to gain a dog that doesn’t make a “terrible” pet, many people are willing to make that sacrifice.

Beverly Lambert, an expert trialer with one of the best dogs trialing today, makes a similar argument about how her dogs are nurtured. Let me clarify that this has nothing to do with breeding dogs (nature) for better “pet” qualities, but simply how one treats (nurture) their dog:

I snuggle with all of my dogs. I like them. I like dogs I enjoy being
around them and I don’t want to sacrifice my enjoyment of their
company for success on the trial field. I like petting my dogs. I
like giving them a hug when I want and I like that they return this
desire for closeness and affection. On a cold day I like a warm dog
in the lap while I watch the trial. I like sitting with a pup asleep
in my arms in the evening while I watch TV.

Thus far I have not found that I need to give up cuddling to achieve
success on the trial field. I have not had a dog that couldn’t be
loved and cuddled and treated like a pet and not expected to perform
well on the trial field.

I suppose its possible they would do better if we had a more
disciplined relationship. But I’ll never know. Its not a sacrifice I
have ever been willing to make for success.

The position stems from a debate on whether some trialers treat their dogs too sternly or have a business only relationship and that this is an advantage on the trial field. I can’t help but feel that the nature vs. nurture argument debated here is a reflection of the greater attitude of what makes the ideal Border Collie and how should those dogs be bred (nature) and trained (nurture).

McCaig critiques both the nature and nurture practices of the “fancy” (petting dogs, grooming, dog toys, barking, leashes and breeding for looks, inbreeding, etc), and I wonder if the repeated disdain for benign things like pet toys doesn’t stem from a greater aversion to all things Third and Fourth Estate or at least aversion to Border Collies of the Third and Fourth Estate and indifference to the other breeds that are already ruined for work.

That definition of what is acceptable culture is just one more wedge that drives people from neutral ground into the AKC camp. If you bathe your dog, you’re a fancy. If you use a leash, you’re fancy. If you have dog toys, fancy. If you cuddle your dogs or pet other people’s dogs, fancy behavior. And if your dog barks (I hope McCaig gets to see a Flyball tournament one day, he’d freak out), undignified fancy behavior.

The unhappy world of the Third Estate, “ugly stepchildren” no matter which registry we turn towards.

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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.