The Hardest-To-Get Virtue
by Kathy V. Moll
Deep River Collies
When it comes to making breeding decisions for a well-rounded litter of Collie puppies, you have a daunting job! Breeding to the Standard isn’t strictly about appearance. In various sections it describes an outgoing, sturdy, bright, steady, reliable, animated, inquisitive, agile and intelligent breed. Physical beauty that adheres to the Standard is important, but without inner beauty, the outside is diminished. The hardest virtue to get and keep may just be a truly extraordinary spirit!
Personally, I enjoy a Collie much more who has that “something” that makes for a special dog both inside and outside for show and performance. Those traits are by no means mutually exclusive. Most Collies have good dispositions and make wonderful companions. But what personality traits combine to create an exceptional Collie? What makes a great Collie temperament in any venue? What makes a Collie the best candidate for specific purposes and venues?
My own preference for an all-round conformation/performance Collie requires a puppy who prefers people to other dogs, exhibits moderate to high drive, is willing to please, and has presence. These traits will stand your Collie in good stead in almost any type of performance and make a good conformation prospect as well. A good traveler is also a plus. A little early motion sickness is one thing; a pup who is "green around the gills," and does not outgrow it with a little help, is another!
The hardest virtue to get and keep may just be a truly extraordinary spirit!
I believe that Collie temperament, like human personality traits, are about 50 percent hereditary, so take a careful look at pedigrees and know something about the temperaments of, at the very least, the sire and dam and the grandparents. Fearfulness and lack of zest for life can certainly be hereditary. Those characteristics will make your life difficult in any venue. Startle response is normal in all of us, including our dogs; however, recovery time is more important than initial response.
We rarely have to worry about aggressive behavior in Collies, but absolutely avoid unwarranted dominance that cannot be easily extinguished. Fear-based aggression is also the “kiss of death.” If the puppy’s relatives are onsite, ask to meet them. They should have at least some of the general traits we’ve already mentioned.
If you as the breeder have done your job, or the breeder from whom you buy your Collie has, early stressing and socialization have been properly done. Has the puppy been exposed to sights and sounds, tactile variations, adults and children? If you’re looking for a puppy with herding potential, has the breeder exposed the litter to stock at all? What was the interest level, and was it immediate and sustained?
Remember, you have to live with your Collie day-to-day. You’ll spend more time in daily living than you will in training. You certainly want a Collie that fits your lifestyle.
A very curious, yet highly independent, puppy may not be your ideal partner. Curiosity is great, but a puppy that prefers to be on its own and has its own agenda may not care so much about what you want. If you want an obedience partner, an independent teammate may not be much fun to train. Likewise, a puppy that holds a grudge if you make a training mistake, has the type of unforgiving nature that you would do well to avoid.
When you are observing your litter, or someone else’s, look for a puppy that readily comes to you and to other people. Once the pups have had a potty break and are engaged in play, call them to you and jog off. See who follows readily and give all the followers a small treat. Then repeat, and see if there are some who come immediately and others who easily get bored with the game and lag behind or are off to do something else.
While your ideal Collie may not be moderate to high drive in all areas, you need at least a couple of these for most training. Drives include food, play, prey and pack. Collies that are food driven perform well for treats. If you use food, and most of us do, at least in the conformation ring, a few rules apply.
Shape behavior, and have good timing. Too many treats and poor timing cause problems. Move as quickly as possible to intermittent rewards; otherwise, your conformation/performance pup will start offering sits, downs, shake, roll over and so forth in the breed ring rather than stand and stay in a show pose.
Save really “high value” treats like chicken and liver for day of performances unless your Collie is a consummate "chow hound" and will work for carrots or kibble. A very high food drive Collie may need a small meal a few hours before working to calm it down, as well as lower value treats.
High play drive Collies often prefer toys and playing with you as a reward for work. If you have a toy-happy Collie, use that to your advantage. Tug toys and balls work well for some dogs. The same rules apply when using play drive, as they do for food driven collies.
There are sections on most puppy aptitude tests that are designed to test social attraction and following. If the breeder has results available on puppies that you are drawn to, ask to see the score sheets. With tracking, for example, a Collie that is easily motivated by toys and/or food is a very good candidate.
Prey drive comes in handy for herding. Prey drive can often be shaped and trained into desirable behaviors. However, some Collies who are fine with chasing stock are not okay with their person putting restrictions on that behavior to turn it toward fetching and driving.
Instead, once the thrill of the chase is tempered with actual training, the high prey drive dog refuses to abide by the parameters necessary to turn prey drive into a good herding work ethic. A herding dog must strike a happy medium between prey drive, that is intimidating to stock and will cause them to obey, and a Collie who will work with the shepherd to move livestock where it needs to go.
Pack drive is not a major issue in our breed unless you plan to make your puppy a kennel dog or one who primarily hangs out with your other dogs. Both defeat the purpose of choosing for a truly special puppy and blunt innate spirit. Having a pack hierarchy with you as the leader is different than pack drive in dogs bred to work together in packs such as some scent hound breeds or working sled breeds. Willingness to work together in a pack to accomplish a specific end is important in those breeds.
An appropriate energy level is important for the conformation ring and even more important for a good working Collie. Energy in an agility prospect is a positive. A high energy Collie will generally do well as long as the owner harnesses it properly. Missed contacts are often problematic if your Collie has the need for speed. A dog that is high energy can easily become frenetic and inattentive, but a good trainer/handler can direct energy properly. A moderate, tending toward high energy Collie, can also be a good prospect.
Remember, you have to live with your Collie day-to-day. You’ll spend more time in daily living than you will in training. You certainly want a Collie that fits your lifestyle. You need to be physically and mentally able to keep up with your dog. Your own personality should dictate, to at least some degree, whether you want a moderate, moderately high, or truly high energy canine partner.
Genetic temperament traits are only half of the story in creating a remarkable Collie with that special presence and attitude. What you as your Collie’s trainer and leader bring to the table is equally important.
Ask yourself some additional questions. What are your goals? Be realistic. Some of us are perfectly adequate as trainers and handlers, some are truly gifted. Do you have the ability to “read” your Collie? Can you keep up with your dog? At what level is your training ability? What kind of life do you lead, and how much time can you realistically devote to training? Your lifestyle and personality have a lot to do with the Collie you choose.
Genetic temperament traits are only half of the story in creating a remarkable Collie with that special presence and attitude. What you as your Collie’s trainer and leader bring to the table is equally important. Our extraordinary Collies can make truly superior partners if given the chance!