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excerpt from The Stockdog Corner, a letter from Brent Johnson of California
by Terry Martin, from Aussie Times, May/June 1999, p.82-83 Copyright 2001 Australian Shepherd Club of America, Inc.
There's been some discussion lately about
changes in the trial course and abilities of old time dogs vs. today's dogs.
Here is my 3 cents worth.
Border Collies were bred for strong eye and a wide working style for use in wide open country. So, the Border Collie community said let's put 3 head of flighty sheep in a big open field and show off the Border Collie's talents in a trial situation.
Australian Shepherds were bred for a loose-eyed, close working, broad wearing pushy style. Now, the Aussie community said to themselves, why don't we put on some Aussie trials and show off their working ability. So they put 3 head of flighty sheep in an arena to show how their loose-eyed, broad wearing pushy Aussie could move the sheep through the trial course.
Isn't there some sort of contradiction in that last statement? A handler with a close working pushy Aussie will hold his dog 20-30 feet off the sheep and complete the course in fine fashion. This shows an Aussie is smart enough to work like a Border Collie, but is it showing the true nature of the breed? I have Aussies who don't like working way off 3 head of sheep, but do it because I ask them to. When allowed to work large groups, they become a much happier dog who are now in their instinctual comfort zone. All of a sudden they start thinking for themselves, showing that nice wearing, pushy style, and become a more confident dog.
I've observed in trials that run a large number of stock, dogs that don't do as well on 3 head suddenly shine, and dogs who do well on 3 head don't always succeed on large numbers.
I think in a very slow, subtle way, we could be breeding for wider working, trial style dogs without being aware of it. If we changed the trial course to suit the true nature of the Aussie breed we may not slowly lose the tough pushy style of old time dogs. In 50 years from now, there may be more trial dogs out there than working ranch dogs, knowing human nature people will breed to suit their needs at the time.
Here are my last words of wisdom, wouldn't it be wise to set up the trial courses so the laws of natural selection will preserve all the working traits of the Australian Shepherd?