Why The Sheltie Petition Makes No Sense.
Article from Dog World. By: ANDREW BRACE.
It was worrying to learn that a group of Scandinavian breeders has launched a petition asking the Kennel Club to recognise the ‘American Shetland Sheepdog’ as a separate breed to the Shetland Sheepdog. The link that has been published to the original petition seems to now be redundant but the gist of the original intention has already been widely discussed.
At the outset let me stress that I am neither a vet nor a Shetland Sheepdog breeder, but as a judge of the breed who has judged it in many countries around the world I am concerned that perceived differences in type should result in such a drastic and potentially damaging proposal.
Before my British Sheltie friends start preparing the guillotine let me say that I am not of the opinion that all the Shetland Sheepdogs I have seen in the US are wonderful. Many of them are different to what we are used to seeing in the UK, often having slightly alien heads and proportions, but I also believe that many opinions have been formed on the style of grooming and presentation which can exaggerate the dog underneath the coat. However I have also seen several Shelties in the US that are, to my eye, quite beautiful and which could easily hold their own in the UK show rings if they were judged impartially in the context of the British breed Standard and not merely by their passport.
There has been much talk of ‘British type’ but if we look at the breed historically it is relatively young (first being registered in Lerwick in 1908 most records claim with the English Shetland Sheepdog Club being formed in 1914). In 1914 the KC recognised the Shetland Sheepdog as a separate breed and shortly after the first champion emerged – Woodvold – though confusingly some historians claim that a dog named Clifford Pat was the first and Woodvold the second.
Looking at the rather poor quality photographs that exist of Woodvold he looks rather different from the Shetland Sheepdog of today. The original Shelties had been developed from local working collies and Icelandic Spitz dogs that arrived on fishing boats so, in common with so many of our ‘pure’ breeds, the Sheltie’s origins were rather mixed and are to a degree shrouded in mystery. What is both accepted and documented is the fact that the primitive Shelties were bred with small Rough Collies to establish type, so much so that at one point the breed was actually called the Shetland Collie, this being rather short-lived after the Collie people objected strongly.
If you study a variety of breeds that have become popular internationally it is obvious that type varies to a degree, just as it can do in any breed’s homeland. We have seen countless beautiful Shetland Sheepdogs in the UK of excellent type, who move well and who have much steadier temperaments than the breed once displayed, but at the same time we also see many boxy dogs that display Spitz traits and are very lacking when it comes to construction and movement. You can find good and bad wherever you choose to look.
As regards breed Standards, the American Shetland Sheepdog can be between 13 and 16 inches at the shoulder; our own Standard calls for an ideal of 14 inches for a bitch and 14½ inches for a male. Other than that the American version describes the British Shetland Sheepdog in much more detail than our own Standard and is much more specific about individual faults. It would be true to say that, judged against their own American Standard, many winning dogs in the US would be found rather wanting, but the same could be said for many other breeds, notably the English Springer Spaniel.
One of the strengths of the British dog world has always been its breeders, people who dedicate their life to their chosen breed and developing a strong line. The most successful breeders are those who do not see their geese as swans, who recognise faults in their own stock and are prepared to look elsewhere for new blood which they can use to their advantage. We do not have breed wardens in this country; breeders still have great freedom of choice and I believe it is an insult to their intelligence to suggest that breeders do not know what is best for their own breeding programmes.
Here in the UK we have seen many breeds changed for the better by the infusion of a little judiciously-used American blood. Just look at Lhasa Apsos, Beagles and Standard Poodles for example to see how the importation of key American dogs has helped when these dogs have been used on bitches that have generations of intense breed type behind them. The result has been offspring that have movement, presence and quality – yet still they maintain correct type – and they themselves then take their breed to the next level.
Coincidentally I was judging a huge entry of Shetland Sheepdogs in Finland recently and ended up making a 13 months blue merle male BOB who I considered to be outstanding. His dam was BOS and she apparently was bred from a bitch imported from Canada. However with minimal research I discovered in the BOB winner’s pedigree some of the most famous names in British Sheltie history. In my opinion he was a fine example of what can be produced when breeders are open-minded and breed intelligently, using the best of what is available internationally.
There has been mention of health problems being one of the reasons for this petition … surely if health problems do exist, cutting the gene pool in half would be totally counter-productive?
Judges should be capable of assessing the dogs in front of them in the context of the breed Standard that is in force in the country where ‘they are judging based on the dogs’ physical merits without worrying about what their ancestry happens to be.
I am sure that this petition, if it does ever reach Clarges Street, will be dealt with intelligently and that the Shetland Sheepdog will survive as one breed around the world.
However, in the unlikely event that this hare-brained proposal should succeed and the breed was split in two, wouldn’t there be a delicious irony if ‘American Shelties’ became popular in the UK – maybe becoming the new Australian Shepherd – and started to make their presence felt in the pastoral group ring, possibly more so than the British version?
People really should be careful what they wish for!
My personal opinion is, if they are silly enough to want it, just “bring it on” !
Or better still, stop mewlsing, just go and build yourself a better mouse trap, if you can’t win with what you are currently exhibiting !
Because many of us already have a good idea who will be thriving in 20 years and who will be on the decline !
In 1999, I witnessed all this bitterness and vitriol against the American imported Collies. Now in 2016 it is so poetic to see those breeders who were so loudly and vehemently anti American, now own their own USA imports or have used them heavily in their breeding programs.
Having witnessed both UK and USA lines for over sixteen years now, the evidence I have seen is that the USA line Collies and Shelties that I have dealt with, generally have better outcomes with temperament, movement, soundness and health. That was why I imported in the first instance.
My USA imported Highcroft Collie is the sire of Aust Sup Grd Ch/Irish Ch/ Kazjs Sir Spense, a BIS winner and multiple group winner in Ireland. Also a multiple BIS/BISS winner in Australia. Proving the point !
My sheltie import from Canada, Uno, is already the sire of a Fin/Intl Ch Grandgables Mr Puss In Boots and the leading bitch in Ireland for 2015 Can/Intl/Lux/Ire Ch Grandgables Romantica.
Go and have a think without prejudice. There is non so blind as he who will not see !
The truth is out there, eventually you are confronted by it !
More recently SIMON PARSONS weighed in with this…
IN THE DOG HOUSE …
I’M QUITE sure that Andrew Brace is more than capable of holding his own in any war of words, even against as formidable a collection of opponents as the massed ranks of the Sheltie people, but I will add my two pennyworth anyway. Indeed I am a little surprised that I too have not suffered a similar bombardment, having made in this column a few weeks back very much the same points as Andrew did.
As I suggested then, surely it would be absolute madness for any breed deliberately to cut its available gene pool in half. However much you may feel that American breeders have taken the breed in a direction that you personally don’t like, the fact remains that both ‘sides’ have the same roots and who knows whether one day one might need the other.
The other aspect is that it is surely dangerous to condemn every single Transatlantic Sheltie, without being familiar with all the dogs that are bred in the US and Canada. They are enormous countries and I would be surprised indeed if type did not vary dramatically throughout them just as it does in so many other breeds.
In my previous piece I quoted some breeds like Lhasas and Rough Collies where, in spite of criticism from traditionalists, intrepid British breeders dared to incorporate Transatlantic dogs of rather different type and balance into their lines. I dare say there were cases where it didn’t work but when it did work the results could often be phenomenal.
Another case I well remember is when a ‘Toy Manchester Terrier’ was imported here and registered as an English Toy Terrier. Once again there was a lot of chuntering within the breed, especially when he began to win and quickly gained his title, but his importers didn’t take long to prove their point when they used him on a bitch of classic UK/Australasian lines and came up with the breed’s first best in show winner of modern times. Since then sensible blending of the UK and American lines, unrelated for something like 12 generations, has produced many more stars, including the bitch that so many admired at Crufts last year and the puppy who did so well at the end of 2015.
Okay, not so many breeds are as closely bred as was the ETT and in such need of some sort of outcross, but had the Kennel Club decided that the two ETT and Toy Manchester were not the same breed, then the opportunity to do these matings would have been lost.
Yes, introducing ‘different’ lines is never easy, but the clever breeders will surely be able to keep the classic type while gaining whatever qualities they feel they need to gain from the ‘new blood’. And those who want to stick to their own familiar bloodlines can surely do so.
So I would agree with Andrew that cutting any breed in two would be an enormous mistake.