Versatility “Dangerous” to the ABCA?

I’d like to bring your attention to the report presented to ABCA members in 2002 when a committee was formed to assess the AKC/ABCA Dual Registration “problem” and advise options for the membership to vote on. In the report, the authors (Denise Wall, Candy Kennedy, Donald McCaig, Eileen Stein, Penny Tose, and Jeanne Weavermake) plead their case for why the members of the Third Estate of the Border Collie are not only casualties of the war, lost and abandoned to the evil AKC, but themselves a “Clear and Present Danger” to the ABCA:

A Clear and Present Danger

With the AKC’s increased presence in the explosively growing sport of agility, its reputation with uninformed pet buyers who see “AKC reg” as a guarantee of quality, its enormous budget and sophisticated PR staff, and its intent to increase registration of Border Collies, the AKC is a formidable rival. If it keeps its studbooks open and entices Border Collie owners to first dual register their dogs, then register AKC only, it may very well marginalize the ABCA to the point where the ABCA is no longer viable. Obviously, the working Border Collie as we know it cannot survive without a registry dedicated to its preservation.

But even if the ABCA were to survive as a registry, the working Border Collie as a breed will be endangered by a growing acceptance of dual registration. Dual registration creates a single breeding pool of AKC dogs and ABCA dogs. Because the AKC advocates and rewards conformation breeding, the number of show-bred dogs—which are useless as stock dogs according to many who’ve tried to train them—will steadily increase in this pool. Moreover, the BCSA’s ideal, and the secondary ideal of the AKC world (its primary ideal being conformation) is the versatile dog—the dog who can excel at every title-winning activity including conformation and herding.

This means that working breeders who wish to sell excess pups to the AKC market will be influenced to breed dogs who meet show ring fashions. While there are such dogs among good working dogs, selecting them for breeding in favor of others who don’t meet current show ring tastes distorts the working gene pool. It also means that AKC owners will be motivated to breed their show and sport dogs to real ABCA working dogs to get the “herding credential.” This co-mingling can only lead to the lowest-common-denominator dogs being marketed by AKC people as “ABCA working dogs.” And it means that the AKC becomes the definer not just of their dogs but of ours, increasing public confusion about what a real Border Collie is and dragging down our dogs with each future generation of AKC-inspired breeding.
– “The ABCA Needs Your Thoughts on ABCA/AKC Dual Registration” 2002

This is fascinating. Despite the normal sheeple rhetoric that revolves solely around conformation being evil beauty pageants, this diatribe goes after the growing and merit based dog sport world with a vengeance. The First Estate declared open war on the Third Estate.


Although you might get the impression from Donald McCaig’s new book, “The Dog Wars, How the Border Collie Battled the American Kennel Club,” that the “War” was between the trialists and the conformationists, that’s only the philosophy. There were no Border Collies being shown in conformation in the USA before the War and no sizable demand for them. When the ABCA lost the fight to prevent the AKC from giving the Border Collie full treatment, the only people to suffer were the Obedience and Agility people within the ABCA.

B) Future Ban

Under this proposal, anyone who, after a specified future date, registered a dog, bitch or pup with the AKC would have his ABCA papers for that dog canceled. The ABCA registration application would require a statement that the dog is not registered with AKC, and a statement that the dog’s sire and dam either are not registered with the AKC or were registered before the cutoff date, and the applicant would be informed that if the dog should later be registered with the AKC, its ABCA registration will become void.

Grandfathering: Owners of presently dual-registered dogs would retain ABCA registration privileges so long as none of these dual-registered dogs’ future offspring was knowingly registered with the AKC.



  • Makes the statement that AKC registration is inconsistent with preserving the working Border Collie.
  • Ensures an eventual separation between ABCA and AKC Border Collies.
  • Clarity and ease of execution. A simple statement on the website and a change in wording of registration and transfer applications would be all the extra work the registry office must do. The committee did not feel that policing this would be much of a problem. High profile ABCA working dogs -the key breeders – would likely be exposed should they attempt dual registration with AKC.





  • Would completely cut off those who wish to compete with intact ABCA Border Collies in AKC agility, obedience, etc. Many dog sport competitors prefer pups from working lines and although they AKC register in order to compete in these events, they still support the ABCA.
  • The libertarian Border Collie community might protest, arguing that breeders should be free to do what they like with their dogs even if the end results are bad.
  • If the owner chooses to go ahead and register with the AKC anyway, the AKC gains a breeding prospect and the ABCA effectively loses a dog.



sophies_choiceWhen the Nazis at the AKC came for the Border Collie, the Sophies in the ABCA said, “you can’t take my children.” But when push came to shove, the ABCA relented with “take the agile and obedient child, and leave me with my shepherd.” As Donald McCaig said, the ABCA didn’t want to compete with the AKC for the Third Estate. So, when the AKC assimilated the Obedience and Agility crowd instead of torturing them to death, the Sophies in the ABCA got to see their childen again, albeit in a grown up and more powerful form. This letter is evidence that they didn’t like what they saw and instead of a heartfelt welcome home hug, the Third Estate are now seen as the Hitler Youth of the Border Collie War: young and less culpable in the evil being perpetrated by the Nazi AKC, but still a clear and present threat.

The ABCA has never really been at war with the show people, just their registry. There really aren’t (and never have been) any show people in the ABCA and no matter how prevalent showing Border Collies becomes, there aren’t going to be many (or any) in the future, especially because the ABCA doesn’t accept AKC pedigrees for transfers and will kick out any ABCA dog that is dual registered and is shown in conformation.

Before the Dog Wars, ABCA didn’t have show style dogs nor show breeders, and they don’t now. The second the AKC opened the doors to the Border Collie, the only source of show style dogs was overseas. UK and especially Austrialian and New Zealand show-bred Border Collies. Since the ABCA has never accepted AKC registrations, those dogs would never enter the ABCA breeding pool, so really, the ABCA already had a policy to protect against show dogs that can’t work.

So what’s the problem? Show dogs are out. The working end of the breed is saved. Why the need to form a new battle plan and fight Dog Wars II? Well, because the spoils of the war are still up for grabs:

Right now, ABCA-registered Border Collies greatly outnumber AKC-registered border collies. ABCA dogs are the “normal” Border Collie; AKC dogs are the exception. Only a small minority (possibly 5%?) of Border Collie people currently dual register with the AKC, generally because they hope to sell pups to AKC obedience and agility competitors, or as a marketing tool to pet buyers. But if dual registration continues, the balance will gradually shift the other way, as it has with other breeds. The committee believes that the number of working Border Collie owners who dual register has increased in the last couple of years, and will continue to increase unless attention is focused on the threat this presents to our breed. The committee further believes that without a large pool of dogs bred for work, the few that are kept and worked by top trial handlers and commercial livestock raisers will not be sufficient to keep the working breed viable.
– “The ABCA Needs Your Thoughts on ABCA/AKC Dual Registration” 2002

That’s worth repeating, “the few that are kept and worked [and bred] by top trial handlers…will not be sufficient to keep the working breed viable.” How will they not be sufficient? Are they not sufficient today? Trialers of the past had no qualms about breeding the piss out of the top dogs (see Wiston Cap and Cap) so why can’t today’s trialers do the same?

It’s not in the breeding of the good dogs, it’s in the selling of the culls. Money money money money money. McCaig et al thought that money was all that was on the mind of the AKC, but their offers to help fill the AKC coffers if they’d just leave the Border Collie alone were rejected. That doesn’t mean that the AKC doesn’t want money (those parties cost a fortune, you know, and they lose it by the bucket fulls at each and every dog show they put on). But it might mean that the ABCA wants money, or at least needs as much as it makes now with 90% of the market share that it can’t afford to give up any more.

See, the conformation breeding might be a threat to the genetics of the breed, but the threat to the bottom line is the Third Estate because they more than the First and Second Estates have easier access to the desired pet market, the Fourth Estate. The people who are your neighbors and friends and whose Border Collies you are much more likely to witness catching a frisbee or tennis ball than a dog in a conformation show or in a trial. The Third Estate is rural and urban and since they actually vet their dogs abilities, the cries that Versatility breeding will bring ruin to the breed are only credible insofar as the sheeple can paint Versatility breeders with the Conformation (stupid Barbie) brush and point out that versatile dogs that don’t herd are going to lose that ability forever to the ruination of the breed.


Let me make this clear, no conformationist has ever been hurt by any policy of the ABCA against the AKC. There is not now, and never has there been a reason for a conformation show person to register a dog with the ABCA. Any ABCA dog that makes for a quality show dog can be registered with the AKC, and has to be registered with the AKC to show and to sire puppies that show. The ABCA has not published their stud books for this reason, preventing the AKC from pulling the old Mormon trick of baptizing the dead into their faith.

The only victims of the Dog Wars are in the Third Estate. The First Estate can and has carried on business as usual, raising working dogs and importing some from the UK. The AKC conformation people have done just fine without ABCA support, importing show dogs from overseas, and finding as many showple coming from more competitive breeds into the fresh fertile ground of Border Collies as they have attracted current Border Collie (only) people into the ring. Neither group seems any worse off after the war than before.

But that is not true with the Third Estate. The AKC Obedience and Agility lines are locked forever in that registry and any breeding to those dogs results in AKC only offspring. Given the fact that dog sport is openly the enemy of the ABCA, why should working dog sympathizers who come to trialing as a sport and not a divine calling put up with the ridicule and condescension because they also run Agility or Obedience? What about the sympathizers who don’t trial, they surely aren’t going to stick around long enough to give it a shot.

The combined breeding pool that the above letter sees as a threat to them is an asset to the Third Estate. The sports are young but growing and the few Obedience lines are virtual monopolies given the high price tag, lengthy puppy contracts that often include spay/neuter or co-ownership, and the fact that even with the hand full of those breeders who turn out as many puppies as they can, there is more demand for Third Estate dogs than they can provide.

At the end of the day, nothing the AKC or the ABCA does will prevent anyone from breeding to suit their needs. There will be dogs bred specifically for Agility and specifically for Flyball, and specifically for Trialing as a sport. It’s already done today. There will be new breeds born out of this, such as the BorderJack, and perhaps the Agility and Flyball molded dogs that are all Border Collie will lose herding skill while they gain specific skills that are advantageous in their specialty.

The degree to which that might be true will be sorted out by the free market, the sum total of the pet buyers, the sport buyers, the conformation buyers, and the herding buyers. What makes the other breeds ruined by the AKC and show breeding less applicable to this situation is the observation that the growing interest is in merit based venues, not conformation. That is not a small difference. Sure, the “breed” will be changed by those specific needs, but the breed has been changed before. The dogs bred in the USA are different than the dogs bred in the UK, and the popular morphologies on the East Coast differ from those on the West Coast. You might even call the McNab herding dog the BorderJack of the herding world.

I don’t have any easy answers about who is going to ruin the breed or not, but I don’t believe that versatility breeding will result in the “lowest-common-denominator.” I, and a think a lot of buyers, see value in a “Border Collie” (the herding elite will insist that the name stay with them and that versatile dogs should not be called Border Collies) that isn’t a terrible pet, has enough drive to win on the weekends but not so much that they spiral into neurosis, has herding ability in the herding lines and agility ability in the agility lines and flyball ability in the flyball lines, and where those lines intersect, people whose interests intersect will find their ideal dog.

The reason versatility breeding is dangerous to the ABCA is because the ABCA has no means of cleaning house. They don’t have a herding standard and while they will ROM dogs that aren’t pedigreed that demonstrate adept ability with sheep, they do not in any way delist dogs already on the books that don’t have that ability. Versatile breeders are likely to have dogs (at least now) that can win a trial and win a conformation show, and it is the versatile breeders who might be interested in both. When such dogs and their breeders establish a base in the ABCA and then turn their sites on conformation, the ABCA would have no ability to kick those dogs out any more than they can kick out the plethora of untested and perhaps incapable dogs they currently have on the books. And there are dogs that aren’t in the ABCA, that are AKC only that could pass the ROM requirement. They too have been prevented from entry with a rule change. This prevents the same problem, versatile dogs that excel in herding but are also platonically gifted in the eyes of the show ring judges from being able to have the best of both worlds as far as the registries are concerned.

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

What Donald McCaig says is a lie. He himself (along with two-thirds of the field) was beaten by a full fledged AKC conformation dog who is the product of two AKC conformation champions at the USBCHA National Finals last year. Before his book was published.

Perhaps this doesn’t qualify for the impossible standard of outworking ALL of the best working dogs, but this dog and its handler did beat out several of the top handlers and their dogs (albeit some of them qualified multiple dogs and the “barbie collie” in question beat only one of the two). This same dog is now in the Top 150 and thus qualified for entry into this year’s National Finals, although 150 dogs ran in the Open, I don’t see this dog there, and I don’t know why.

Donald McCaig did qualify two of his dogs and even made the top 35 on the first run, an impressive feat for sure. Regardless, this “barbie collie” dog easily qualifies to be ROM’d but will never be a part of the ABCA gene pool nor will any of this dogs descendants. To add insult to injury, this dog was withheld prize money it earned at the Finals last year since only ABCA registered dogs are allowed to win their prize money.

In case you’re wondering if this trialer is a sheeple gone mad that switched to the darkside and brought their trialing experience with them to tip the scales, no, this person is not. This person bought a dog from a versatility breeder (who is even mentioned in McCaig’s book as someone who signed the anti-AKC petition) who required that the puppy be taken to sheep. The dog was meant for the child of this trialer and was to be shown in conformation as the primary first interest.

A conformation dog, from conformation stock, with a novice handler doing extremely well on the national level against the Big Hats. That is no small feat and is evidence that breeding for versatility is not breeding “jack of all trade” dogs. Few dogs and few people are masters of anything, but the Border Collie stands alone as fertile ground to be shaped to master most any task, especially if they are bred and refined for it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying that this dog is doing well because it fits some conformation standard nor that conformation is improving the breed or played any part in helping this dog and its trainer on the trial field. I am simply showing that merit should be rewarded on merit and this dog and this person have enough in both fields to be at the top of the heap in both.

Call it the exception and not the rule and I’ll call any top trialing dog the exception and not the rule. Any top anything is the exception and not the rule. If you could win all the time by simply following the rules, then there’d be a lot more winners and a lot fewer losers.

I have been called out for suggesting that the Third Estate was THE new paradigm for Border Collies. I never stated such, although I would agree fully that dog sport is A new paradigm by extant fact and by moral right. The subtle difference is meaningful, as unlike the first two estates who would suggest that they should be the ONLY paradigm of the Border Collie, the Third Estate has never, and will never claim total ownership of any breed, nor do any of its tenets suggest that the other Estates should not be allowed to breed their own dogs.

The First Estate demands breeding for herding ability to the exclusion of all other causes. Attacking the exclusion part of that logic in no way suggests that Border Collies should not be bred for herding. That logic comes from a limited and extremist point of view. The same kind of myopia that would suggest that Fascism is the opposite of Communism and there is no third (or fourth) way. Any Libertarian will tell you that when you think in two dimensions, you exclude all possible alternate paths that are tangential to both Communism and Fascism.

The Third Estate is a third path. It is a valid path, and it is a path that more and more people are taking. The distinct possibility that the Third Estate will, if it is not already, out breed the Second and the First Estate is a scenario that needs to be addressed and analysised and critiqued. McCaig doesn’t think that they’ll take over the registries, but they very well might take over the breed.

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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.