Why do we need a Working Description?

From the ASCA Mission Statement:

"The Australian Shepherd Club of America is dedicated to the preservation of the Australian Shepherd as an intelligent working dog of strong herding and guardian instincts."

From the original Stockdog Committee Report ASCA Yearbook 1957-1977, page I-10

"The Stock Dog Committee was formed in August, 1973, to revise the existing
stockdog program. The object of the revision was to draft a program that was
better suited to the working style of the Australian Shepherd.

A certification program was included to recognize the merits and
capabilities of the dogs in ranch work, trial work, and in specialized,
unique jobs."

Over a quarter of a century ago, the need for ASCA to officially describe the Aussie's working style came before the membership, in this article by Mari Taggart.

In 1986, Steven Winn of Slash V Australian Shepherds published an article in the Aussie Times that drove home the fact that our Stockdog Program needed a goal.

In the fall of 1990, the following articles were published regarding dogs seen at a Futurity that alarmed several onlookers with their atypical style.  Since then, dogs such as these are becoming far more common at trials.

  • Ringers by Kathy Hoyt-Warren, originally published in the Aussie Times Sept/Oct 1990 p. 101

  • Terminology by Kathy Hoyt-Warren, originally published in the Aussie Times Jan/Feb 1991 p. 35

  • President's Response, AT Sept/Oct 1990 p. 101 con't p. 27

In the 1993 Australian Shepherd Annual, Jerry and Sharon Rowe were interviewed and had a few things to say about Aussie style, and the eventuality of the Aussie changing into something different.

  • Jerry and Sharon Rowe, J Bar D Kennel, Berthoud, Colorado, 1993 Australian Shepherd Annual, quotes from an interview in the "Australian Shepherd People" segment.

From 1999, here's an excerpt from The Stockdog Corner, a letter from Brent Johnson of California...."Australian Shepherds were bred for a loose-eyed, close working, broad wearing pushy style."  read entire letter

In the Nov/Dec 2001 issue of the Aussie Times, Terry Martin wrote the following lines in her Stockdog Corner:

"For some time now I have been hearing from you about changes being made in the working style of the breed and concerns about the reasons for these changes.  I have asked you to put your thoughts in writing and you know who you are!  I haven't received those letters!  Your thoughts are the same, however.  Many wonder why others want to change the Aussie working style from the loose-eyed, strong, upright, close working dog he has always been into one with strong eye, as crouch style of working, and a dog that works out wide.  Speculation has been that this type of dog is easier to work because they are more likely to stay off the stock and thus easier for the novice to train.  Or perhaps some just like the style of other breeds more than they like the style of an Australian Shepherd.  The difficulty is understanding why they don't just get into another breed rather than attempting to change this one.

If we prefer Aussies who look, work and act like other breeds, I will guarantee you the Aussie of yesterday will not exist tomorrow."


Salvatore Manna "...the Aussie is the best all-around stockdog on earth..." read more!

Geri Byrne "...other breeds excel at other things..." read more!

Kathi L. Schwengel "...the ideal Aussie, the typical Aussie, works in a certain manner..." read more!

Kay Marks "...without a description of how an Aussie works, how will anyone know in the future" read more!

Lynn Fremuth  "...each breed of stock dog has an inherited "arsenal" of abilities and talents for different tasks..." read more!

Terry Martin "...so someone will remember what we were trying to preserve..." read more!

Jane Harrell "...I am terribly disappointed that there are those who think they can justify changing the Aussie's working characteristics..." read more!

Gail Karamalegos "...whether the dog is a good ranch/farm dog, which is the Aussie's original purpose for existence." read more!






From Sal Manna:

The Aussie is the best all-around stockdog on earth. It is a special breed with special talents that no other breed can match.  Those abilities are the result of history and genetics and a dedication by breeders to preserve its real-life working qualities over and above any concern for trialing ribbons. That "style" needs to be written down and codified so that it may continue into the future.

"Aussie style," intrinsically linked to its intelligence and personality, is what makes the Aussie special--as a working dog, performance dog and companion. The lack of a standard is an invitation to change that "Aussie style." But a standard or description that truly delineates how the ideal Aussie works can help to not only preserve its heritage but its very identity as a breed.  Cheers, Sal Manna

From Geri Byrne (originally posted to cowdogs@yahoogroups.com, used with permission):
I am not saying that in real life our dogs make perfect trial outruns or that we always want them to but that ability has to be in their genetic makeup to make them the valuable dogs they are. The number one talent of the Border Collie is its outrun so it is important to test for it and reward it so that tomorrow's breeding programs don't neglect it. Other breeds excel at other things and in an all breed National Finals, emphasis may be put on something else. What we personally have chosen to use Border Collies for is their ability to naturally gather all the stock in an efficient manner, work at long distances and stress the stock as little as possible.
This discussion isn't about what system anyone uses at their own trials but what the United States BORDER COLLIE Handlers Assn.  National Finals should use. Although I put on time and points trials and have for the last 15 years, I strongly feel that the National Finals should judge the gather and eventually the whole trial so as to make sure that our champions, which have an influence on the future of the genetic makeup of the Border Collie, retain the talents that make them the wonderful useful dogs which they are.
Geri Byrne
Border Collies In Action
Tulelake, CA



From Kathi L. Schwengel:

The Aussie Working Description

I've begun this article at least a half dozen times. It's a tough one to write and all I can hope is that it gets you to carefully research both sides of the following issue to reach your very own conclusions. I encourage those of you who have not signed up for the ASCA-L to please do so, you'll have to search back in the archives to catch up on the posts related to this but it could be worth it. You should also read Terry Martin's article in the January-February Aussie Times and, to be fair, please read Jerry Aufox's president's letter as well.

Currently there is a hotly debated issue that has many members of ASCA on opposite sides of an increasingly wide fence. The issue is the proposed Working Description (WD). It is in the hands of the ASCA Stock Dog Committee and at present they are charged only with writing a description of how the Aussie should work, its manner or style of working. After creating the WD it is my guess it will be put before the board and the membership and will eventually be voted on. Whether you work your dogs or not, this issue has the potential to greatly impact the breed and ASCA. The best thing each individual can do is to carefully research both sides and form their own, educated decision.

So what exactly is the WD and what is its purpose? In its simplest form the WD would do merely that; describe how the Aussie should work. Its purpose is to educate those who may be new to the breed, those who don't know what an Aussie works like, or perhaps those who are looking for a working dog and need a certain kind for the work at hand. The WD can be likened to the Breed Standard which tells us what the Aussie should look and move like. Aussies work in a certain manner. They are close-working, upright, sometimes pushy dogs with loose to moderate eye. Yes, just as with the Breed Standard, there are variations within that description. Some Aussies work farther out, some work with more eye than others, and some maybe aren't as pushy. But in general, the ideal Aussie, the typical Aussie, works in a certain manner. Just as the typical, ideal Aussie looks and moves a certain way. If this weren't the case, why have purebred dogs?

There are a lot of folks for the WD and, as with every issue, there are folks against it. Be forewarned, emotions and passions run high on both sides of this fight. There is a lot of misinformation out there and many arguments between the sides. There are folks who would like everyone to believe that the WD was proposed by a few people with personal agendas. They are suggesting the purpose of the WD is to punish certain kennels and certain lines of dogs. These same folks would like everyone to believe that all this talk of a WD came about because of certain dogs in the 2003 ASCA Stockdog Finals and which dogs beat whichever other dogs. These things are simply not true.

Aussies that work in the style of another breed aren't a new phenomenon and this issue was brought up many years ago. "Atypical" working Aussies have been around for decades but seemingly never with the prevalence of the current day and it seems the '03 Stockdog Finals merely brought to a head a wound that has been festering under the skin for quite some time. In my opinion you should be able to see a dog working out in the field and say, "That is an Aussie" or, "That is a BC" or even, "That is a Kelpie". After all, one of the reasons for purebred dogs, one of the reasons we have hundreds of different breeds of dogs, is because each has their own distinct set of characteristics, their own way of doing things, their own look. Unfortunately, at a growing number of ASCA Stock Trials that is not the case. Both experienced, knowledgeable folks, and folks new to the breed, are questioning the breed of numerous dogs, registered as Aussies but working in a style more akin to another breed. Is it training or crossbreeding? Who's to say for certain? Some things can be trained other things, such as the Border Collie's trademark lateral movements, are more a product of physical structure and no amount of training will produce that kind of movement.

Some on the side against the WD argue that a logical outcome of this would be faulting Aussies that worked outside that particular description. Is this any more wrong than faulting Aussies in the breed ring that fall outside the Breed Standard? I don't think so. But that's something each individual must decide on their own.

And whatever side you find yourself on, please, think carefully when it comes time to vote for new ASCA Board members. Take time to ensure that those candidates you are voting for aren't running for the board solely because of this one issue, and there are some who may be doing just that. Remember that there is so much more to holding a position on ASCA's Board of Directors. It is a commitment of time and personal energy and sacrifice that goes way beyond just one issue, no matter the magnitude of it at the time.

But the most important thing to keep in mind'

'the Australian Shepherd.

After all, isn't that what ASCA is really all about?

Shadowdance Australian Shepherds, ASCA DNA Kennel
Breeding for Stuff, not fluff


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From Kay Marks:

Having a working standard/description goes way beyond scoring in a trial arena.  The bottom line is, What's best for the Australian Shepherd *breed*?  Without a description of how an Aussie works, how will anyone know in the future?  Personally, it's not okay with me that Aussies work like Border Collies (Or Cattle Dogs or any other breed) and look like them or who knows what, just like it's not okay with me that Aussies look like Papillon or Pomeranian mixes in an effort to get them smaller or like Bernese Mountain Dogs to get more bone and coat.

I've had Aussies for almost 11 years and have done rescue for almost 10, and I've seen a lot of dogs.  I'm brand-new to herding on a personal basis, though, and haven't been to very many trials.  But I have eyes, and I have a brain.  Do the ends justify the means?  I think not.  Just because a dog can "do the job" doesn't mean that it's okay to do it any old way.  Is winning trials more important than preserving a breed?  Of course, there are variations in individuals, just like personalities in people.  But an Aussie should generally work like an Aussie.  And it should certainly look like one.  The breed standard describes a particular body type and appearance.  Right now, there's nothing that describes how Aussies work.  It's MHO that we need a working standard/description. 

If I want a dog that looks, acts and works like a Border Collie, that's what I'd get.  I want an Aussie.

I'll be doing whatever I possibly can to support the working standard/description.

Kay Marks
Dayspring Australian Shepherds
ARPH Northeast Regional Coordinator


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From Lynn Fremuth:

Does it really make any difference at an ASCA Stock Trial what the Aussie's inherited working style is, as long as the dog completes the stock dog course efficiently?

Yes, because each breed of stock dog has an inherited "arsenal" of abilities and talents for different tasks.  People who still use Aussies for a real-life job, ranchers and farmers, should be reasonably assured when they purchase a well-bred working pup that, when mature and trained, it will be able to perform the duties effectively.   It's not just about "getting the job done" any old

Here's an example.

A cattleman out on his spread, working long days to gather stragglers to bring them from the summer range to the winter range, needs a strong, pushy dog that will be willing to work close without a lot of commanding. The dog needs to do that work *instinctively*.

A loose-eyed, upright dog that works in the flight zone will more skillfully work in the brush to force balky cows out. It will more readily go in for a grip to make a point, without a lot of commanding. The cowboy may not even be within sight of the cow and the dog, who could both be down in a gully somewhere.

A strong eyed dog will make no impression at all on a rank steer that just simply doesn't want to move. That dog will tend to remain outside the flight zone and simply stare at the cow. Now, if the cattleman needs to find the cow and the dog, and then keep saying to the dog, "Get up, get up, get up, get up! GET UP GOLL DURN USELESS CUR!" that's gonna be one unhappy cowboy. In the meantime, as the strong-eyed dog just stood, staring, that cow went deeper into the brush because the dog didn't have the inherited ability to get it out efficiently.

In a trial situation, where there are fences, the strong-eyed dog that needs multiple commands to move up on the stock might look "in control", because the cow does, eventually, move on to the next obstacle. But, in "real life", where there are no fences, that amount of eye is detrimental for the job at hand.

All breeds of stock dogs have general inherited traits that are needed for various tasks.  There's some overlap  from breed to breed and plenty of room for individual variation among individuals within a breed, but generalizations can be made about each breed's instinctive "way of working".  Good, strong-eyed, wide working dogs such as border collies are common and easily obtained.  Good, loose-eyed powerful dogs such as Aussies are in short supply.  They both have a "niche" that a stock man or woman can fairly certainly rely on when looking for a stock dog.  Experienced (and, sometimes, even not so experienced) observers can differentiate between the various

So, would judges be required to deduct points from an Aussie was exhibiting atypical working style.  No.  Every judge will bring his or her own preferences to the job, just as they do now. It'll still be very subjective. So, while some judges will be strict, others might not change the way they judge at all.

This Working Description of the Australian Shepherd will have no affect on other breeds competing at an ASCA trial.  Judges are already expected to have sufficient knowledge of different breeds' working traits to assess how well each individual performs "for that breed".

The Stock Dog Program was developed *for Aussies*. All other breeds are more or less "welcome guests". The proposed description would finally clarify Objective Number One of the ASCA Stock Dog Program:

"To preserve the natural inherited working ability of the Australian Shepherd."

It should be obvious to all that ASCA can not preserve what is left undefined.

ASCA has a duty to provide a description of the Aussie's inherited traits the Stock Dog Program was created to preserve. 

It is long overdue.
Lynn Fremuth

From Terry Martin:
"They were all easy-going, level-headed dogs, useful but not flashy workers, and quite willing to lie about the place when there was nothing better to do.  Personally, I think it is a great pity that this type has been practically exterminated by the increasing popularity of 'strong-eyed' dogs.  For all-round farm work they were often far more use than the classically bred [trials type] dog."  referring to the Scotch Collie, quote from John Holmes, 'The Farmers Dog' first printed in the early sixties.


Is he describing the Australian Shepherd?  A warning?  Those who like to say we can't stop progress and all things evolve may be right.  But do we want to lose this dog?  Would ASCA be really wrong to at least Describe him so someone will remember what we were trying to preserve?


Terry Martin


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From Jane Harrell:


For background, I got my first Aussie in the early 1980's.  Over the years, I bred and exhibited and titled Aussies in obedience, conformation and finally got around to working them on stock.  I say, finally, because it unfortunately took me quite a while to realize that as a responsible breeder, I needed to be using my dogs for the purpose that they were bred. I was fortunate and had the opportunity to work with several outstanding Border Collie trialists/trainers including Nathan Mooney, Cheryl Jagger Williams, Jack Knox and Bill Berhow.  During these early years, I had an opportunity to work my Mickey (CH. Topper's Mickey the Shenanigan, CD, STD-d,s,c) on a Border Collie Novice-Novice course.  When I completed the course and got the sheep in the free standing pen (albeit a bit rough), I was so excited I could hardly stand it!  I knew then that the open field is where I wanted to work and trial.  I also learned that to ask my Aussie to be competitive in that venue would be unfair to him.  If I was going to compete in the open field trials, I needed the breed that was bred to handle that - the Border Collie.

I am terribly disappointed that there are those who think they can justify changing the Aussie's working characteristics.  Haven't these people considered the fact that the Aussie's working characteristics were developed decades ago for the very purpose that this dog excels in what he does?...he's a Jack of all trades.  Bob Carrillo once called this dog a junkyard dog.  And he meant it as a compliment.  Bob was one of the individuals who helped develop ASCA's stock dog program which still excels today.  The other "arena trial programs" pale in comparison when providing the loose-eyed, upright dog a place to show their working talents.  The one thing that makes the Aussie so incredibly wonderful, is that after the job is done, he's a guardian, a playmate for your children and the utmost wonderful companion.  There is no need to make him a strong-eyed dog, an intense,  wide working dog - there's already a breed that will do that - and
they won't be a guardian, much less any kind of companion.  There is no need
to change the Aussie.

If a person needs a dog to do work far a field - then get the dog that's bred to do that - don't change the one you have.   Yes, and an Aussie can be trained to do a more "workmanlike" outrun, etc. - Mickey was a good example of that - he learned to rate his stock - to stay back - I was lucky to be working with trainers who valued a dog's natural instinct and talents and worked hard to build on those - not to change them.  Mickey excelled with sheep, and I did get early titles on cattle, too, before Cancer took  him from me.  Aussies can be trained to do a credible job without making them mechanical, but if you need to go beyond that line, then you really need a different breed of dog.

I was talking to one of my BC friends this past summer - she used to have Aussies years ago - anyway, she was so excited because she had just gotten an Aussie from a rescue group - and was just overjoyed with the dog.  Her thought is that everyone should have an Aussie for the jobs around the house.   Her BC's won't come in and readily do the close up work when they're shearing, banding, etc. - I know only too well how that works, especially with trial dogs that you are working so hard to "get back" all the time.  If a person at all values the guardian instincts of these little dogs - that alone is worth a fortune.  As a general rule, BC's are not guard dogs of any kind - they don't care, period.

My good friends in Iowa had a very interesting situation occur awhile back. Chance, their youngest son, was 3.  Their middle son, Cordell, was 5.  Mom and Dad were out in the bean field harvesting the soy beans.  The kids were told they could play in the yard, but not to go anywhere else.  They had an 18 month old Aussie bitch named Sadie.  Well, one of Chance's toys rolled under a paddock fence, so he rolled under the fence to retrieve it.  He didn't know that a young, over zealous bull was being kept in that pen. With cows in heat just over in the next pen, this young bull had already worked himself into a heightened state of frustration.  When he saw little Chance, he headed right for him.  Cordell screamed and Sadie was on her way. She ran up and gripped that bull's nose, hard.  Cordell said the bull threw her across the pen and she yelped when she hit the ground, but was up and after the bull again - and again - and again - until Chance got out of the pen.  Sadie, exhausted, bleeding and badly injured, got herself out of the pen, too, finally - a vet examination showed a broken hip and multiple lacerations (from being thrown against the fencing).  Now, this was an 18
month old puppy that had absolutely no formal training whatsoever - other than "Sadie, Come!" "Sadie - get!"   - and so on.  She had never been used to move cattle, pen cattle or anything like that.  But when Cordell screamed, she reacted and in a split second saw that her Chance was in danger and she did what she knew, instinctively, to do.  Would a BC have done that?  NO!  Now, that's an Aussie for you...we need to do everything we can to keep the Aussie just like that... Janie

Jane Harrell
ABCA Working Border Collies
Royse City, TX


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From Gail Karamalegos:


Regarding "standards".... It's the way of purebred dogs, regardless of whether it's a breed standard or working standard/description. The parent clubs of at least half of the breeds in the AKC herding group seem to feel strongly enough about preservation that they have working descriptions for their breeds. They realized that their own respective breeds' original functions were disappearing, and they wanted something out there that stated what their breeds' original purpose was and how they typically went about doing it. The standards themselves are not at fault for what happens to breed type and soundness and working instinct-- that particular sin belongs to BREEDERS and those who want to WIN at all cost. It's not about "interpretation" so much as personal preference. It's the same everywhere you go. It is the modern trend toward specialization that is largely at fault. Trialers (not all, but SOME) often just want a dog that will kick butt in the arena, and don't give a flip for how it's done, whether the dog even resembles its supposed breed or has proper character, or whether the dog is a good ranch/farm dog, which is the Aussie's original purpose for existence. Same thing happens in the breed ring. I am no less disturbed to see some so-called Aussies winning there as well. Judges are just as likely to ignore what's in a breed standard, as are the multitude of people breeding those dogs who haven't read the standard, and if they have, don't understand it or don't care. All these things don't justify NOT having a standard, however, as there has to be some barometer of comparison. Otherwise, we might as well throw out the whole concept of purebred dogs. I suspect that most of the opposition to a WD is due more to FEAR of how it will be used, rather than of the description itself. - Gail Karamalegos



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