Seeking the Character of a Performance Dog for the Conformation Ring
by Theresa Marquardt
I’ll always remember that feeling I had when I knew my next performance prospect was going to be a Collie. I stopped at Kings Valley Collies to talk with Leslie Rappaport about smooth coated Collies. I had grown up with Shelties and started training dogs in the 3rd grade. My sable Sheltie, “Heidi” taught me the importance of positive, patient training methods. I followed Leslie back to meet the dogs. Looking back at me, ears up, tail wagging, in a friendly greeting was a rough, tricolor dog. Soon after, I met my first smooth coated Collie, Gavin. He came out from his pen with exuberance, teaming up with Leslie to show off some heeling and a recall. Less than six months later, I brought home a blue smooth male show prospect. I’ll never forget the animated, rough tricolor dog whose sweet expression tugged at my heart and brought me to this versatile breed.
Temperament could be described as the dog’s mental and emotional attitude towards life.
Since bringing home Trevor, CH Kings Valley Sense of Style, CD, RE, HT, I have been evaluating his temperament. Temperament could be described as the dog’s mental and emotional attitude towards life. When evaluating the temperament of a performance prospect, there are certain “attitudes” that are important to me: confidence, willingness to please (biddable), drive, focus and trust. A breathtaking show dog does not just happen out of pure chance and the same is true of a performance dog. There are genetic traits that influence temperament and these can be selected for and depended on just like some of the physical head qualities that we treasure from different Collie families. I often find myself picking apart a dog’s temperament in the same fashion as I would evaluate their physical faults.
The characteristics describing temperament in the Standard are also those that make the breed versatile. The Collie Standard describes the general character as a “ . . .responsive, active dog . . .“ and one where “. . . the face shows high intelligence.” The Standard also states that “Timidity, frailness, sullenness, viciousness, lack of animation, cumbersome appearance and lack of over-all balance impair the general character.” A dog that is animated demands attention in the show ring. He shows confidence as he enters the ring and promptly puts his ears up. He has the ability to focus on showing rather than worrying about what might be outside the ring. He is able to hold his stack as the judge goes over him and effortlessly gait even when an announcer’s voice sounds over the loudspeaker or a clipboard makes a crashing noise as it falls to the floor. The public often wanders by our ring and makes comments about “Lassie.” They see a happy, animated, trusting, confident dog and consider bringing a Collie home to their family.
When evaluating the temperament of a performance prospect, there are certain “attitudes” that are important to me: confidence, willingness to please (biddable), drive, focus and trust.
Trevor introduced me to the world of herding. Last winter, I attended an AHBA ranch dog trial practice course for the first time. One part of the course that day was a free standing “Y” chute with a panel at the exit causing the sheep to either go uphill or downhill upon leaving the chute. I asked Trevor to walk up, pushing the sheep into the field and then lie down. A quick lie down is essential as too much pressure in one direction will misalign the sheep as they approach the chute. Trevor stayed focused on the sheep, my verbal commands and my body language. I often over think obstacles, so just lining them up correctly gave me a feeling of accomplishment. I sent him on a “Go Bye” using my body language to ask him to take it easy on the downhill side. He watched me approach the opposite side of the chute and stopped himself, giving the sheep time to move through the obstacle and come out on the uphill side. If I had told him exactly where to stop and stand, it wouldn’t have come out better. We work together, each of us making the necessary adjustments.
There is something magical when you can accomplish a task working in tandem with your dog. In herding, the dog is responsible for the sheep at all times. As he is working, he displays confidence through his problem solving ability because he is free of anxiety and able to focus on the job at hand. In a new situation, he is able to respond without concern for a new environment. He recognizes the need to work with me because he is biddable. He trusts that I will treat him fairly, even though as a novice handler I don’t always allow him to be successful. He is patient and can hold his attention on a single task until it is completed. He doesn’t quit working until the job is done, even if the job is difficult. When competing in performance activities, the level of success that you achieve is a product of your relationship with your dog, your ability to communicate effectively with him or her, and your dog's temperament. The dog can’t be worried if they are going to be an effective teammate.
There is something magical when you can accomplish a task working in tandem with your dog.
Why might someone consider evaluating their line of dogs for these traits even if they do not participate in performance activities? These are also traits that make showing a dog much easier and will enhance the experience that a family purchasing a puppy will have with their dog. Evaluating these characteristics in breeding stock not only makes for a more teachable show dog, but is an important part of breed type as described in the breed Standard. A dog with a strong temperament in the show ring portrays the character that we envision after watching “Lassie Come Home.” There are few dogs that are selected for a breeding program and many who have a family eager to take them home as their own version of “Lassie.”