Too Many Working Dogs, Too Little Work

Celeste and Mercury chill out

From Donald McCaig’s The Dog Wars, you’d swear that there were too few working dogs and too much work to do, thus the dire need to “save” the entire breed (all 35,000 new puppies per year) to preserve the working ability only.

But it’s not really so, McCaig admits. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Donald McCaig sings a different tune when he’s talking to fellow sheeple than when he’s pleading the case for his cadre’s supremacy. This is not a new tactic, one story to the ignorant public, another for the in-the-know hobbyists. Notice how his Dog Wars book talks all about the evils of conformation vs. sheep trials, since it’s easy to belittle the pageantry of conformation and it’s clearly not work. But he fails to demonize dog sport in the same manner (at least in the book). Dismiss, yes; belittle, certainly; demonize, no.

Why? Because it’s a hard case to make that Agility is not work. It requires smarts, training, and drive, the only thing missing is the sheep…. and that’s not a bad thing for 99% of us. But with fellow sheeple he talks all about dog sport being THE “Clear and Present” danger to the breed. It’s also hard to make the case that sheep trials are work, not sport. They are sport.

In this interesting passage, McCaig admits that he has too many dogs and too little real work for them. Well, why did he breed them then? Why did he go to Scotland to get a real working dog? That sounds like a waste of money if you’re always pleading poverty and only have a hundred and some sheep as McCaig does. Couldn’t he find a good enough dog here?

Posted: Sat Aug 25, 2007 1:02 pm

Dear Fellow Handlers,

I’ve had a sheep farm (100-150 ewes) for 30 years until three years ago when health made us sell all bhut (sic) twenty five. We had sheep before we had sheepdogs. Now, like many on this list, I rarely work dogs, often train. I do get my dogs out and about which helps a little but I’ve no doubt that John Helle’s dogs (5000 ewes/western Montana) get more experience than mine do. John has never trialed but buys his dogs from trial stock.

Even a farm flock, like ours was doesn’t provide the experience a big spread does. Except for accidents or sickness, 150 ewes only need one dog and excepting shearing, breeding and lambing, most days he could stay in the kennel.

So we must make do – as Beverly Lambert has, for one example – with training and shifting venues.

Yesterday I was driving home when I spotted a neighbor with four full grown rams in a fence corner, unable to bring them to the barn where one would go on the truck. Four people: no movement.

I stopped and jumped Luke out of my car. He wriggled through the wire and, a few minutes later, the rams were on their way to the barn.

No. It wasn’t pretty. The 300 + pound rams had never seen a sheepdog before and Luke only had a few feet to maneuver in that corner.

Wool flew. I rapped the most aggressive ram with the owner’s stock stick, Luke hated it. But he came at them until, finally, they turned and went to the barn.

Luke is a six year old trial dog. Most of his experience has been trials and unfamiliar venues and training.

I wish he’d had the opportunity to learn more on his own, but today, when I have a bit of farm work to do I take out one of my young dogs.

That’s the reality most of us are faced with: too many dogs/too little work.

They adapt, as we do.

Donald McCaig

You adapt? Not so, Donald, not so. You’re stuck in the past trying to hold back the winds of change. You’ve chosen to be an anachronism, giving up a big city job in marketing to go become a small time sheep farmer, and you’ve bought into the romantic history of border collies. That’s your right and it’s a swell thing to do. But when you start wagging your finger at those youngin’s who are supposedly messing it all up, you fail to realize that we moved out of the old neighborhood before you even moved in.

When you choose to be an anachronism, you just sound silly when you curse the change that is already here and was before you went retro.

Agility is an adaptation. Frisbee is an adaptation. Dog Dancing is an adaptation. The dogs do adapt, and so do the owners and trainers. We find new and fun things to do with them, to keep them active, healthy, and well adjusted. New things to test their merit and new things to determine which of them we want to breed.

You’re welcome to keep your platonic vision of the ideal rural life with the ideal rural dog, but don’t spit “you’re ruining the breed” at me when you’ve got more dogs than you need, less work than you claim, and a horrible case of mission creep. You want control of the entire breed when you can’t even find enough work for your own household of dogs?

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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.