By Babbi Dilbeck, DVM
Collies can do it all! My life has been blessed with wonderfully talented collies. So far, I haven't chosen a single one for performance potential—it just worked out that the dogs chosen for me have had the intelligence to play with me in different events. Not a single Collie that has come to live with me was bred for performance. They were either rescues of unknown heritage or bred strictly for conformation. BOTH of my smooth boys competed and qualified in multiple events at the 2011 Collie Club of America National Specialty. My young dog, Cage (CH Windkist's Aint' No Rest For The Wicked, HT, RN, NA, NAP, NFP, VA—Southland's Lexington x Shelana's Blue Diamond at Windkist) at only 19 months of age placed 6th overall for Most Versatile Collie at the National and received his CCA Versatility Award.
I think that many of the conformation dogs out there today have enormous potential to be good all-around Collies, but, due to busy schedules or other interfering factors, they simply don't get the opportunity to shine in multiple events.
My experienced dog, Cole (near CH Signet's Black Magic, PT, RE, MX, MXJ, OF, VX, and a bunch of NADAC titles—CH Signet's Study in Black x Ch. Row-Bar's Southern Magic) was 9th overall for Most Versatile Collie at the National and received his CCA Versatility Excellent Award. Information on the Versatility Awards may be found on the Collie Club of America's website under "Versatility."
I think that many of the conformation dogs out there today have enormous potential to be good all-around Collies, but, due to busy schedules or other interfering factors, they simply don't get the opportunity to shine in multiple events. It takes a huge amount of time and energy to prepare a dog to compete in one event and you can multiply that times "x" for each separate event in which the dog is expected to compete. Certainly, some of the dog sports require less time than others but all events require some amount of training.
Many of the Collies in the conformation ring could very easily and with a modest amount of training complete a Rally Novice title. Rally is offered at most AKC all-breed shows that offer regular obedience. I've found that the ring conflicts are minimal and usually easy to negotiate. The Novice class is completely on-lead and the participant needs to know very basic obedience commands . . . Collies are smart, they can do this and still remember what to do in the conformation ring!
Agility is a bit more complicated. Typically, you need to attend a class at least once a week and train at least 3 days a week for short sessions. It usually takes 6 - 9 months to get a dog ready to compete at the Novice level. Of course, many of the conformation exhibitors don't have the time to compete in agility due to conflicts in show schedules but just training to the Novice level can create such a close bond between the dog and handler that it will improve their performance in the conformation ring.
The availability of livestock is the biggest limiting factor for deciding whether or not to try your Collie in herding. Most areas don't have easy access to either the livestock or trainers that know how to help novice handlers and dogs that are of the loose-eyed, upright herding breeds which is how our Collies herd. Many trainers in herding only know how to manage dogs like border collies and are much too harsh on our softer "real" Collies. Beware of trainers using harsh methods! They will ruin your Collie even if it has really nice herding instinct—this comes from personal experience with such a trainer. Try to find an instructor that has worked with more than one breed. Ask others in your area if they have recommendations for instructors. You may even want to attend a seminar or simply go to the facility and watch the trainer with someone else's dog to see if their methods are agreeable. This is sound advice for seeking help with any of the competiton events for which you wish to train.
Even if you aren't certain that your Collie could do things other than conformaton, you might consider investigating some of the "fun stuff." The dogs LOVE it and it will seal the relationship between you and your dog.
If you have access to sheep, even if it's only once a year at the Collie Club of America National Specialty, I would strongly urge you to introduce your Collie to sheep, ducks (for the more timid dogs and handlers), or goats. I strongly believe that we still have a ton of herding instinct in our breed based on my experience of putting basic herding titles on my conformation dogs with minimal practice on stock. It would be awesome to see that theory proven by more conformation exhibitors participating in the herding instinct testing at the National!
So, yes, Collies can do it all! Fortunately, some of us have easier access to training facilties and have the time and patience to invest in actually competing in multiple events. Even if you aren't certain that your Collie could do things other than conformaton, you might consider investigating some of the "fun stuff." The dogs LOVE it and it will seal the relationship between you and your dog. Collies are highly intelligent creatures and love meeting a challenge head on! Not to mention the incredible sense of accomplishment that succeeding in different flavors of competiton gives to their handlers! Have fun and happy training!