Absolutely, totally OT: Farm Dogs

Many people have brought dogs into their lives due to the Covid pandemic isolation. There are hundreds of breeds of dogs.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) stresses the importance of purebred dogs. Netflix has a fun new series, “7 Days Out,” about the preparations for various large events. The Westminster Dog Show is one of these events.

While it’s fun to watch, many AKC dogs have been overbred to the point of ridiculousness. Nothing irritates a pragmatist like me more than to see a working breed turned into a Barbie Doll.

The Border Collie (BC) is the premier sheep-herding dog. A single BC can control hundreds of sheep and make a farm or ranch workable by just a few people. BCs are highly intelligent and motivated to work with a human as a team. They are bred to collect sheep from large areas and work at top speed for hours at a time. Purebred BCs often do not make good house pets because they have too much energy to be sedentary.




The Border Collie was excluded from the AKC for many years on the grounds that BCs were farm dog mutts who were beneath the notice of the high-falutin’ AKC. That was 100% fine with BC fans, since the purpose of the BC is to herd and the American Border Collie Association maintains a breeding list of reliable working BCs. Many of these BCs are not especially attractive but they are amazing at herding sheep. The fluffy, beautiful coats developed by the AKC “beauty queen” BCs are a disadvantage in the field, where dirt and detritus is omnipresent.

I’m happy to see that there is a new contest for working farm dogs.


**The Working-Class Alternative to the Westminster Dog Show**
**The Farm Dog of the Year contest features the kind of dog you want to have a beer with**
**By Jim Carlton, The Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2022**

**Fit is good at a lot of things: catching Frisbees, taking a running dive off a dock, lounging on a couch. But the 33-pound border collie is indisputably best at her main job — bossing the sheep around on a Florida farm. “She knows more about livestock than I’ll ever know,” marvels owner Cindy Deak.**

**Fit is the reigning Farm Dog of the Year. She beat out 100 contestants for a title that carries a $5,000 cash prize, a year’s supply of dog chow — and recognition for the scrappy pooches that serve as work dynamos on farms and ranches across the country....**

**The American Farm Bureau Federation started the Farm Dog of the Year contest in 2018...Rules were drawn up, including that farmers who enter must write a narrative “describing how your dog offers companionship and makes farm work a little lighter…” ...** [end quote]

This contest is not like the highly competitive and technical sheep-herding trials so popular in the British Isles. It’s more subjective and emotional. But I think it’s very nice to honor the working farm dogs.

As for me, I wanted the intelligence of the Border Collie while diluting its high-strung nature. I went to Border Collie Rescue and requested a young adult mutt of “companion” quality (that’s jargon for a dog that will never win any awards). The 11-month old dog I adopted, Cliff, was skin and bones and weighed 37 pounds. Cliff was friendly toward women but had clearly been abused by a man and took a while to warm up to DH. He had been rescued from a kill shelter that listed him as a German Shepherd even though he has BC markings. When properly fed, Cliff grew to 70 pounds, considerably larger than the average male BC.

When on a walk in a large meadow, Cliff discovered and herded a group of 20 elk that was hidden in a declivity. He didn’t rush or bark at the animals. He did a perfect outrun, lift and recall. I didn’t want him near the huge wild animals, which can be dangerous. (They were 200 yards away from me and I didn’t see them until Cliff lifted them.) But his lift was so slick (running back and forth parallel to the herd, at a distance far enough to move them without alarming or scattering them). They moved in a group without agitation. That’s BC herding instinct! I recalled him but I’m sure he would have moved them if I had asked him to.

Inside Cliff’s broad, rough Border Collie/German Shepherd chest beats a loyal, loving heart that lives to protect his one-woman herd – me. He is very intelligent and will “nose” me to remind me of our routines. He understands many spoken words and is quite vocal though he seldom barks. He is aloof toward strangers but obeys a “Friend” command. I wouldn’t want to be an intruder trying to break into our house.

Why am I writing all this?

I guess to publicize the fact that there are many excellent dogs who do a great job in homes, farms, ranches and families that are not purebreds and would never win at a dog beauty contest. Many of these dogs are in rescue, surrendered by people who are forced to give them up when they move to a non-pet apartment or who become sick. Cliff is our third rescue.

If you want a dog, try rescue first. But carefully research the breeds. And give the individual dog the test from the book, “The Intelligence of Dogs.”



I wanted the intelligence of the Border Collie while diluting its high-strung nature.

You’re not the only one Wendy, my best friend ever was a border collie - springer spaniel cross. The goofy nature of the springer took the edge off the very demanding collie.

quite vocal though he seldom barks

Yup, same.

Great companion out on trails …

Me too!

My best dog of all time (and I have had quite a few amazing dogs) was the runt of a mongrel litter of valuable working dogs, but he was waaaay too small for the horse country where he was born. His Daddy was a famous working dog named Taxi, and my runt was named Minicab.

I took him home to California. We got along great and he learned stuff fast but nothing I taught him compared with what he did at the annual family summer reunion back pack. That year we had 8 adults, 5 kids with some heft, two babies, and 13 “tinies” (meaning ambulatory toddlers incapable of carrying anything more than their toothbrush, a quart of water, and a sandwich in their little knapsacks). The very first day out Minicab had the tinies happily ambling along the trail in a group as he silently kept them from wandering off, falling behind, or getting into trouble. If a tiny seemed in trouble or crying Minicab barked for adult aid ASAP. The parents all wanted to buy him from me. Not A Chance. But he was beloved and part of our family culture in the back country for the next 14 years.

david fb


Sheep dog trials have always been popular in the UK…to the extent that the BBC has a weekly programme on TV (we watched regularly before we came to the US)


I checked and there appear to be plenty of YouTube clips available.

Of course, breeding for beauty isn’t the only problem. The line breeding that’s so popular with US breeders and breeding to AKC standards has led to breeds that are veritable minefields of congenital abnormalities. Most folk know about Spaniel “rage” and GSDs and hip dysplasia but my daughter is a veterinary cardiologist and one of her attendings during her residency always said that the breeders keep them in business…oftentimes with ailments that you only see in US bred dogs. So named Boxer Cardiomyopathy for example…so called because it’s so prevalent in the breed it has its own official name. Doberman, West Highland Whites, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (just a few I can name off the top of my head)…even my our Basenji has a really big ventricular septal defect (along with being a carrier for Fanconi Syndrome). Daughter talked the breeder into letting her adopt rather than kill her when this defect was discovered. That was first month of her residency…12 years ago and the dog is still going strong and defying everything in the physiology textbooks. Even acclimated to high altitude no problem…which is more than I can say for myself.

All my dogs have been rescues and all mutts but for the Basenji. Got them “free” Paid for spay or neuter only and for the two mutts, spent nothing more than routine vet care for just over 18 years each when they both went from slightly frail but peppy to looking like the old dogs they were in not much more than a week. The way I’d like my last few days on Earth to go (doubt I’d be able to talk the daughter into euthanising me…but I know I can trust her not to extend any suffering with any heroics)

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Another problem is field trial competition for hunting dogs. They breed the field trial dogs to be as hyper as possible, because that’s the kind of dog that wins field trials. That’s not the kind of dog you want to hunt with, and definitely don’t want as a pet.


<Another problem is field trial competition for hunting dogs. They breed the field trial dogs to be as hyper as possible, because that’s the kind of dog that wins field trials. That’s not the kind of dog you want to hunt with, and definitely don’t want as a pet. >

Thank you for explaining this!

My diabetic double-amputee friend, Dave, owned an English cocker spaniel, Millie, from his healthy days. She was a wonderful service dog who would retrieve objects from across the house.

When Millie was about 12, Dave bought a black purebred English cocker spaniel puppy, Jazzy, whose pedigree contained field trial winners. Jazzy was a nightmare, totally hyper. Dave thought that Millie would train Jazzy as a service dog replacement but instead Jazzy ran all over poor old Millie. Jazzy would never fetch anything, not even a tossed ball. She was a dud as a service dog.

By this time, Dave was in a wheel chair full time. He couldn’t discipline Jazzy. I asked him why he didn’t return Jazzy to the breeder but he answered, “You don’t return your children.” Jazzy would jump into Dave’s lap. She was his social ambassador on walks. He loved her despite her flaws.

When Dave was in the hospital for long periods, DH and I would keep Millie and Jazzy along with our dogs, Tyree (age 13) and Cliff (age 2). Millie was a perfect house guest. Jazzy was a problem since she would inhale her own food then duck under the other dogs’ noses to steal their food. I put a stop to this to prevent my dogs from becoming aggressive. I trained Jazzy to sit still about 3 feet away from her food bowl until I said, “OK” and released her to eat. Training Jazzy was not easy! An English cocker spaniel is not as easy to train as a border collie, that’s for sure!!

It was Cliff who disciplined Jazzy. Jazzy was 1 year old and weighed about 20 pounds - she was fast! At that point, Cliff weighed about 60 pounds. They would chase each other through our yard. Cliff would gently grab Jazzy’s neck, then let her go. Then they would chase again. Jazzy would grab Cliff’s hind leg on the run and flip him @$$ over teakettle. If Jazzy did anything wrong, Cliff would grab her but never hurt her.

Dave died alone, with Jazzy in the house. They were discovered by neighbors a day or so later. DH drove over to pick up Jazzy, who was traumatized. As soon as DH brought her home, she jumped into her favorite chair as if finding security after terror. At feeding time, she pointedly sat 3 feet away from where I usually placed her bowl to show she still remembered her training.

Jazzy is not intelligent, wouldn’t retrieve or play. I had to teach her how to behave. I didn’t want to keep her. But DH and Cliff loved her so I was outvoted.

Jazzy still wants to sit in her favorite chair. It happens to be MY recliner where I watch TV. So we spend a lot of time sharing the chair.

Yes, Jazzy is still with us. I don’t need a bird dog, but the guys still love her.



This is a hot-button issue for me. I get sick to my stomach when I see GSDs at dog shows who can hardly walk because their top lines are so sloped and their hind legs at such an extreme angle behind them. And those are the ones at shows!! How can breeders do this or the AKC countenance it as a breed standard? How deformed are the dogs that are not at the shows?

I bought a purebred GSD many years ago. But it was from German-descended (Schutzhund) lines. The top line was horizontal and the hips were normal.



I get sick to my stomach when I see GSDs at dog shows who can hardly walk…

One of our neighbours has a Belgian Malinois and my husband spotted it on one of our walks last week. Asked if it was an Alsatian (which is what they’re usually called in England…I think it’s an anti-German thing) and I said no and that the way to tell is the Malinois can walk and an Alsatian can’t.

I don’t think he believed me until we got home and I showed him a picture in one of our breed books. Well you wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t know, would you?

Dogs have had 30,000 years to learn our ways and they train us well. And we are better for it.

We have an 11 1/2 pound dynamo. She’s a Havanese/Poodle mix (no Border Collie). She’s a creature of routine- every day between 5:45 and 6:00pm, she jumps in my lap, puts her paws on my chest and stares into my eyes to remind me that it’s her dinner time.

Mornings have an unvarying routine.

  1. I go downstairs first to make coffee. Judy comes downstairs ten minutes later. Only then does Annabelle run downstairs and ask to be taken out.

  2. We sit at the breakfast table, talk, drink our coffee and read the news. After about an hour, Annabelle brings her rubber Kong to the table and drops it on my foot. That’s my cue to fill her Kong with a dollop of almond butter. She then settles in at our feet to lick the nut butter out from her Kong.

  3. When she finishes with the Kong, she disappears into other areas of the house and returns with one of her stuffed squeaky toys. That’s OUR cue to get up and play “fetch” or “keep away”.
    And so it goes for the rest of the day.

And she herds instinctively- she herds US.

When bedtime comes, Judy goes upstairs first, but Annabelle does not, will not follow. I usually follow about half an hour later.

First, I tell Annabelle that it’s time to go “night night”. She runs to the bottom of the stairs and sits. She will not go up the stairs until I come to the stairs and motion her up the stairs.

Then I turn the lights off downstairs, make sure the doors are locked and turn down the furnace, and then head up the stairs.

As I do, invariably I look up to the dark at the top of the stairs, and there’s Annabelle, standing at the top and looking down at me. ONLY AFTER I’VE CLIMBED AT LEAST TWO STAIRS AND REACHED BEHIND TO CLOSE THE DOOR AT THE BOTTOM OF THE STAIRS…… does she pad off toward the bedroom.

She knows a host of words- some to the point that we have to spell them instead of saying them, and I swear she’s even catching on to some of those. She’s pretty well figured out B-A-T-H. So now we say “spa treatment”. We’re taking bets on how long it will take her to unlock the meaning of those words.

Don’t know about anyone else, but I bet I’m not alone in thinking my dog is the bestest and smartest dog ever.

I know for certain that she’s made me a better human.

I have often prayed the dog owner’s prayer. Many of you may know it already:

“Lord, help me become the kind of person that my dog already thinks that I am.”


the runt of a mongrel litter of valuable working dogs

The big advantage of a runt is that they learned at a very tender age no to get into fights with other dogs … :+1:

First, I tell Annabelle that it’s time to go “night night”. She runs to the bottom of the stairs and sits. She will not go up the stairs until I come to the stairs and motion her up the stairs.

We just go a puppy a few weeks ago. Her birth name was Annabelle. We renamed her Harley for Harley Quinn of the Suicide Squad.


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