The Spoils of the Dog War

The small elite group of conformation breeders are Platonists; they believe that the substantive reality of Border Collies is only a reflection of a higher truth, and their activity is the key to divining that perfect essence. The small elite group of trial breeders also believes that there is a higher truth to the Border Collie, that their activity is the key to approaching that truth, and that their philosophy stands above and to the exclusion of all others. But they are not Platonists, as their search is accomplished on a field, not in the mind. The ideal Border Collie is discerned by function, not by a proposed ideal form.

This new Plato seemed familiar to common-sensical Victorians. What do we mean when we use the word “table” if not a real object which resembles more or less well the ideal “table”? Aren’t our real-world tables imperfect examples (“Platonic shadows”) of the ideal?

And living, breathing dog — are they not slightly imperfect versions of the ideal foxhoud or greyhound, setter or collie?
– Donal McCaig, The Dog Wars p185

The AKC Border Collie Breed Standard is tantamount to a bible. It describes the ideal, the platonic, and the perfect. It is the good book that should be followed and mere mortals can’t hope to change what is written. Border Collie conformation faithful are left to interpret the whims of the demi-god judges as they lay out judgment without any sort of feedback or critique; understanding why events happen the way they do is like trying to divine the will of god.

Dog fanciers and their creature, the AKC, really do believe that what is most valuable about any dog can be judged in the show ring, that the show ring is the sole legitimate purpose and reward of all dog breeding. They even believe, against all evidence, that the show ring “improves” breeds.
-Donald McCaig, The Dog Wars p153

The priesthood are those people who are attached to the registry because the dogma of the registry is their dogma, regardless of the practicalities of what other things the registry does. The Third Estate doesn’t have a single platonic breed standard nor a single unified activity. And for what is has in enthusiasm, it lacks in lock-step uniformity and an easy to recite mantra. It is that lack of uniformity that makes the Third Estate easy to dismiss by the koolaid drinking elite within the AKC and ABCA.

The priesthood of the ABCA are the top trialers and their jock-sniffers who are interested and active in the governance and politics and the priesthood of the AKC are conformation showers and their groupies who are likewise active in the governance and politics. Conformation and Trialing are the moral centers, the raison d’etre and the loss-leaders of the two registries.

The priesthood is only capable of surviving because of the large and largely ignorant masses–who use the services of the registries without knowing or caring about what happens in the inner sanctum–pay the bills. The AKC loses big money putting on dog shows and the ABCA admits that without the the majority of their dogs being registered to the hoi polloi pet buyers they’d be financially unable to carry on their mission.

Despite the rhetoric being about the “future of the breed” … the war is really over people, not dogs. The trialers will always be able to breed dogs to suit their herding needs and the show people will always be able to breed pretty dogs. The “breed” is not at stake with either of those groups because they have and always will have the power to breed what they want.

To the First Estate, the Border Collie breed is what it does: a dog that herds sheep with eye. To the Second Estate, the Border Collie breed is what it looks like. The former are Existentialists of function, the later Platonists of form. The First Estate probably wouldn’t care what the other three estates did with their dogs as long as they didn’t call them Border Collies when those dogs aren’t bred specifically for the purpose of herding sheep with eye.

But the First Estate lost the battle over exclusive rights to the name “Border Collie” (who knew there’d come a time when you’d have to trademark the name of a dog breed to ensure artistic control?), and they don’t seem satisfied renaming their dogs to the original and older classification of “working sheepdog.” If the trialists couldn’t own “Border Collie” outright, then they’d have to compete in the open and free market for market-share of the breed. That’s tough since, as Donald McCaig says in this The Dog Wars:

Americans have accepted the dog show credo: “a dog is what it looks like.”
– p53

Americans are thus Platonists instead of Existentialists when it comes to their dogs. This poses a problem to the First and Third Estates who ostensibly desire function over form, and when they do desire form, it is to serve function; e.g., shepherds in the hot dusty Southwest have emphasized a smooth coated dog more appropriate for that environment and flyball breeders have emphasized their dogs’ speed making for thinner and lighter animals with a sleek appearance.

Although trialers and conformationists will always be able to breed dogs to meet their needs, they won’t be guaranteed to sell the cast offs to the pet market without competition. Thus, it’s the large and un-indoctrinated pet market that is the real spoils of the Border Collie War. They are the crude grease that allows the smaller and more sophisticated parts to function.

Registries are at their core simply record keepers of dog sex. That’s it. But that isn’t where the first two Estates stop. To them, simply handing out pedigrees is like the world’s great religions simply handing out genealogies. Religions don’t stop there, they launch campaigns to expand membership, to out-breed the competition, to nitpick who gets to play in their sandbox and who doesn’t. And they establish elaborate bureaucracies and get mired in internal power struggles.

In addition to genealogies, they hand out Bibles and Korans and Torahs, and they exploit elements in those documents to get the masses to turn over their trust, their time, and things of value. Their purview is more than simple facts and objective standards;they deal in morality and ethics and metaphysics. But that’s not how they measure success. They measure success by the number of converts. We have more warm bodies than you.

So despite talking a good game in the churches and mosques and synagogues hoping that their wisdom will shine through and draw in the crowds, history tells us that the most successful religious campaigns happen at the tips of spears, and not the allegorical Spear Longinus. Very real and very contemporary spears of forced conversion and coercion.

It was with one such spear that many members of the Third Estate of Border Collies were marched from the ABCA camp into the AKC camp, never to return again.

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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.