In researching Border Collie history and in postulating what might happen in the Border Collie future, it’s informative to look at the rise and fall of the Old Time Farm Shepherd.
This was once the quintessential American breed, the able and diverse dog used across the country as the indispensable farmhand, shepherd, protector, and hunter. It is the dog that inspired Lassie, only to be replaced by a transvestite “improved” dog show version in both that TV show and in the public’s mental model of what a “collie” is. Before the well-to-do in cities made the Boston Terrier the toast of the fancy, before Rin Tin Tin made the German Shepherd “America’s Dog,” and long before the Cocker Spaniels battled the Poodles and the Labrador Retrievers for the most popular American breed, the “Scotch Collie” was the dog under foot as America grew from a few colonies into an agricultural powerhouse.
This is the dog that settled the west and patrolled farm, ranch, and wilderness alike. But as America became an urban and mechanized culture, the OTFS was replaced here and there with more specialized and focused breeds, some closely related and others vastly different. As agricultural specialization grew and farm families didn’t keep the diversity of livestock in small numbers, large cattle or sheep ranches bred dogs more specialized to work cattle or herd sheep, dogs that didn’t need to be versatile enough to do both and then some. Sheep workers turned to the Border Collie, Cattlemen created the Australian Shepherd, and smaller farms found their unregistered Scottish bred dogs disappearing into wave of registered English lines of shepherd dog that would make the English Shepherd.
Families that no longer kept a small array of livestock could then meet their hunting needs with a dog breed specifically focused like the Beagle, the Labrador, or Golden Retriever. Conspicuous consumption in the upper classes could pick the show collie as a status symbol or move to a more city friendly dog like the toy breeds. Those looking for guardians could pick the GSD, Pit Bull, or Rottweiler. Versatility gave way to indulgence and specificity.
Although it’s been almost a century since writers began to lament “What happened to Old Shep?”–realizing too late that they had given up a good thing–a small but growing group of enthusiasts still exists and is working to preserve this breed. One of them is Andy Ward of the Old Time Farm Shepherd Blog and Little Boy Blue Farm. His outstanding bitch Shasta just gave birth to a beautiful litter of new old-time farm shepherd puppies. Check them out and the pilgrimage he went on to make this litter happen.
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