Posts Tagged ‘collie’

From Country Life in America ( June 1902):

“Shep” is the thoroughbred collie that prevents the coyotes from howling too unpleasantly near the Box S Ranch in New Mexico. This keeps her much awake of nights— particularly when the smell of a fresh-slain steer edges the hunger of these prairie wolves in winter. But Shep is alert in the daytime, even when she seems to be dozing; and whether it is the melancholy howl of a coyote at sunset, the bass and falsetto outcry of a vagrant bull, or the squeak and grunt of a too-familiar pig, she is up and ready for action.

Now, the pigs are her special annoyance. Their greed and impudence combined urge them to the very kitchen door; and Shep has been instructed to resent their close approach with bark and bite. A nip at the heels sends them scampering, and back they go to the alfalfa field.

It happened that seven pups were born to Shep about the same time that a like number of porkers was littered by one of the sows. The pups in time opened their eyes and played about the barn, and the porkers, in their youthful ignorance of social distinctions, were inclined to frolic with the canine family. Shep did not rebuke this liberty. Not only did she allow her aristocratic progeny to mingle freely with the outcast swine, but she seemed to recognize that the sow was now a mother like herself, with a large family to provide for. Thenceforth this particular pig was singled out from the others as one permitted the freedom of the ranch. Bite and bark were reserved for the rest; but the sow with the little ones was never more molested in her wanderings about the place.

There was only one circumstance growing out of this new toleration which aroused the dog’s objections. This was when Shep suckled her puppies, and some of the young pigs, with dull indifference as to the source of their nourishment, would attempt to share the meal. On such occasions the collie’s expression was a comical one of blended dignity and resentment. She would snap protestingly at the impertinent pigs, without disturbing her own youngsters; and the porkers would take the hint.

It followed that six of the seven pups were weaned, and dispersed among friends at Fort Wingate. The remaining one retained at the ranch was christened Woolly—owing partly to the curliness of his coat and partly to goodhumored recognition of a term which self-contented Easterners who have never traveled with the setting sun in their own country sometimes apply to the great West. Woolly soon learned to join his mother in pursuit of the pigs, and, like her, learned also to spare the small porkers and their mother. Then Shep was sent away for a time to the sheep camp on the mountain; whereupon Woolly, having no canine companion, fell back on the young pigs for playmates. The first litter had reached the age when all young animals pass from the gambols and grace of youth to the commonplaceness of maturity; but another litter had been born, and these were Woolly’s delight. The pup was three times the size of his newfound friends, and perhaps his bulk alarmed them a little. At any rate, they were slow in responding to his demonstrations of affection. Frantic, almost, were the efforts he made to induce them to paw him and leap with him as his mother had done. He would frisk about them in high glee, and then lie flat on his stomach, with outstretchedforepaws and nose on the ground, and ears pricked expectantly. It was a plain invitation to play tag. But, alas! a pig is a pig, you know; and these diminutive emblems of stupidity and greed turned down their noses and showed themselves altogether unworthy of the condescension. And I have fancied that Woolly, by way of retaliation, barks and bites harder than before when the older pigs come around.

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From an article  in Chambers’s Journal (9  August 1884) about seal hunting in the Shetland Isles, called “Seals and Seal Hunting in Shetland”:

A good dog is a useful auxiliary to a sealhunter ; but he requires a good deal of training to learn his work. Very soon he acquires the art of stalking; but most dogs at first are apparently afraid to lay hold of a dead seal floating in the water, and very commonly, when sent off to fetch him ashore, simply attempt to mount on him, and in consequence do harm rather than good by helping to sink him. But generally—not always, for some dogs we never could train to do the right thing—we succeeded in teaching them to retrieve. When we had brought a seal home, we used to throw it over the jetty or out of a boat with a stout cord attached, and encourage the dog to fetch him. Great praise was bestowed when he learned to lay hold of a flipper and tow the selkie shoreward ; in this way, with a little patience and perseverance, the dog soon came to learn what was required ; and many a seal was secured by his help, which without it might inevitably have been lost, for a seal shot in the water from the shore, which they often were, was very generally on the opposite side of an island or long promontory, where a landing had been effected ; and it took many minutes before the boat could be got round ; and by that time, but for the dog, the seal might have sunk.

We tried many breeds of dogs—Newfoundland, Retriever, St Bernard, Rough water-dog, and Collie; but after all, the best seal retriever of the lot was a Collie. When he comprehended what was wanted and how to do it, he did it neatly and thoroughly. I well remember the first seal I shot I had landed on the weather-side of a small island. A cautious reconnoitring discovered a good-sized seal ‘lying up’ on a detached rock. Then I commenced the stalking, closely followed by my dog. But ere I could approach within range, one of those seal-sentinels and provoking tormentors of the seal-hunter, a herring gull, set up his wild warning scream.

The seal perfectly understood what it meant, at once took the alarm, plunged into the water, and disappeared. I sprang to my feet, rushed down along a little promontory, and then crouched behind a big boulder, in hopes that selkie would show his head above water and give me a chance at him. And he did. Raising his head and neck, he took a good look shoreward ; but seeing nothing to account for the gull’s persistent screaming, he turned round, and raised his head preparatory to a dive. I had him well and steadily covered ; now was my chance. I pulled the trigger; no splash followed, which would have meant a miss; but the lioom—that is, the smoothing of the water by the flow of the oil—told that my bullet had taken effect ‘ Fetch him, old dog ! fetch him !’ I cried. In an instant he plunged into the sea and swam to the seal, which I could see was floating. Neatly he dipped his head under water, seized a hind flipper, turned it over his neck, and towed him towards the shore. Passing the rock on which I stood in his way I to the beach, he turned his eyes upwards for the praise and encouragement I was not, it may well be believed, backward to lavish on him. Such a look it was! I shall never forget it, instinct with the brightest intelligence, joy, pride, triumph. Indeed, I don’t know whether he or his master was proudest and happiest that day. Alas, that our noble ‘humble friends’ should be so short-lived! (pg. 508).

American retrievers will never be sent after seals for a very simple reason:   The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Canadians might still have their commercial seal hunt, but such thing doesn’t exist in US waters. Exceptions exist for aboriginal harvest, such as the aboriginal whaling that is permitted near Barrow, Alaska.

But the typical American can’t take a gun out and go shooting seals just for the hell of it.

I think it would be very hard to teach a dog to retrieve a shot seal. Not only is a seal much larger than any dog, it has teeth. My guess is that many dogs would be injured rather severely if they tried to grabble with a wounded seal in its element. No water dog is the equal of the seal in the water.

Further, because both seals and dogs are Caniformia, they do share diseases, so I would be worried about dogs catching diseases from seals. However, all of the accounts I’ve read of dogs and seals transmitting disease has been from dog to pinniped, not the other way around.

It is of interest that the collie proved to be the better seal retriever than the Newfoundland, “the retriever,” or the rough water dog.  Collies and their kin have often been celebrated as retrievers and were relatively common outcross to retriever bloodlines.

But this is the first I’ve heard of a collie fetching seals.

It is little wonder why so many dogs were trepidatious about diving into the swells after a seal.

To a dog, a seal could have been like the worst sea monster imaginable. (Let’s not tell them about great white sharks!) A seal isn’t a duck. It isn’t pheasant or a partridge. It certainly is not a hare or rabbit.

It’s more like a nearly fully aquatic bear.

However, not all dogs were afraid of the seal.

I don’t know how to take that description of the dogs mounting the seal. “Mounting” could mean that the dogs just climbed on top of the seal, perhaps looking for a good place to grab the creature to haul it in. Or it could mean that the dogs tried to copulate with the seal corpses in the water, which sounds very strange, at least to me. I’ve never heard of dogs engaging in this behavior in the water, so one must assume that it is the former description.

I imagine that many dogs were lost sealing, but I could be wrong. It just sounds like an infinitely more hazardous shooting scenario for the dog than when a retriever is sent for waterfowl.

Shooting seals was never  major sporting past-time of the sporting gentry. Records of these sorts of seal hunts are difficult to find. Seals were very marketable animals for hundreds of years. The blubber from seals can be boiled down to train oil, and those species that had thicker hides were often used to produce very thick leather. The Inuit and other arctic peoples in North America used seal hides to make their kayaks, and the people of Scotland’s Northern Isles and Ireland also made hide boats. We don’t often think of seal hides as being all that useful, but at one time, they were a vital part of the North Atlantic economy.

Because these seals were killed for reasons of economic expediency, one does not often encounter tales of some sportsman shooting seal for fun.  The same goes for whaling; there are very few accounts of gentlemen whalers doing it for sport.

So the record of seal retrieving dogs can only be compiled from little oblique stories such as this one or the account of a St. John’s water dog diving for seals in Newfoundland that I posted earlier.

I can’t imagine that many dog owners would like to risk their dogs to retrieve such game, even if it were legal to hunt them. I doubt that any Canadians who hunt “horseheads” use dogs for their quarry.  I don’t think a dog would be able to haul out a grey seal anyway, but even if they were of some use, I just don’t think anyone would want to risk a losing a dog in this manner.

But I could be wrong.

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Bearded Collie from 1915

This photo comes from W.E. Mason’s Dogs of All Nations:

The author describes the bearded collie as follows:

He is famous as a worker of sheep and cattle and is endowed with great intelligence and highly prized in both the highlands -and lowlands of Scotland, equally for his companionship and faithful service as a guard to either homestead or flock.

This dog looks very different from the dog we now call a bearded collie.

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 Photo of a collie from 1915.

Photo of a collie from 1915.

I discovered a rather interesting story about how the collie became a fancy breed. I had always heard that the collie was mixed with the borzoi to make its narrow muzzle, but I was later presented with evidence that this may not be the case. However, I did find that outside blood did indeed shape the collie into a fancy show breed. It was not what I was expecting. It is also a very interesting case study into what happens to a breed once they become “fancy” or, as their breeders call them– “improved.” I am going to directly quote what I found, for it is quite instructive:

The collie was the most popular pet dog of late Victorian England and a  prime example of a breed reconstructed to meet the figurative needs of fanciers. Collies were originally valued for the qualities they had developed as hardworking Scottish sheepdogs–intelligence, loyalty, and a warm shaggy coat. Once they were firmly established in the Stud Book, however, breeders began to introduce  modifications and improvements, which were tested not against the rigors of the Highland winter, but in the fashionable marketplace. [Emphasis mine] By 1895 there were seven independent clubs devoted to the breed’s welfare, many of which sponsored all-collie shows, as well as strong collie representation in the Kennel Club and regional canine associations. The large number of pedigreed collies seems to have been exacerbated the tendency of fanciers to fabricate subtle points of distinction between animals and artificial models to measure them against.  As a result, fashions changed swiftly and collie standards were among the most volatile; breeders redesigned their animals or restocked their kennels in accordance with the latest show results. Plasticity could even take precedence over pedigree; in order to instill some temporarily admired attribute, breeders were sometimes willing to contaminate the strain. In the early days of showing, collies were often crossed with Gordon setters to achieve then fashionable glossy, black-and-tan coats. For decades experts could detect “traces of the bar sinister”– telltale ears, head, and general heaviness– in many show animals.  Even without crossing (which became less common after the Stud Book gained sway), fashion could undermine the character of the breed. The 1890s saw a craze for exaggerated heads with long, pointy noses. In 1891 a Kennel Gazette reviewer complained that show judges had given away all the prizes “to dogs of the greyhound type whose eyes bore an inane, expressionless look.” Critics alleged that such dogs could hardly display the intelligence characteristic of their breed because there was no room in their heads for brains.

Harriet Ritvo, The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age (1989) p. 113-114.

Now, these developments partially explain why the fancy went to the closed stud book system. That certainly could reduce volatility in type, but dogs have such plasticity in their phenotype (because of tandem repeats) that fad breeding can still lead to massive shifts in type.

I’ve seen it in my own breed in just a the past few years. To me, the most of the goldens that are being offered today are nothing like the dogs I remember. The type has shifted from a more moderate and less exaggerated dog into something more heavily built and excessively feathered. The color range has shifted almost entirely. One can no longer find the darkest mahogany color in goldens, unless one really looks hard and doesn’t automatically assume that light builds and dark colors are indicative of cross-breeding with Irish setters.

So in that piece we see that one breed of dog started out with functional behavioral and physical conformation, and after just a few decades of fad breeding, it becomes a very different dog. So much for the fancy preserving dog breeds. The fancy may have that intent, but as an institution, it is very much susceptible to fads and trends, as well as contrived characteristics that are actually detrimental to the health and function of the dogs. What shepherd would want a collie with such a narrow head and very little herding instinct?

Now, I found it interesting that Gordon setters were used to increase the number of black-and-tan dogs in the bloodline. However, black and tan  and solid black were the most common colors of the British herding landrace that became the collie-type dogs. The Gordon setter got its black and tan coloration from an outcross with a black -and-tan collie. One must remember that Queen Victoria’s collies were all black-and- tan, but that particular coloration may not have been universally evident in all show collie populations. So the best way to remedy that problem was to cross-breed with Gordon setters.

I’ve heard of other such outcrosses with show dogs. Many of these have been clandestine, for the modern institutionalized fancy is based upon a closed stud book.system.  For example, I’ve read that Labrador breeders crossed in golden retrievers to reduce houndish characteristics in yellow Labradors, as well as to increase biddability (which was always a perceived problem in yellow Labradors) and lengthen the coat. As well all know, the yellow Labradors were heavily outcrossed to lemon foxhounds to increase the likelihood of producing that color, which was not evident in the St. John’s water dog. It is also well-known that flat-coated retrievers were heavily interbred into Labradors to make them more competitive in early twentieth century field trials. The faulty black-and-tan color in Labradors has always existed within the breed and within the old wavy-coated retriever, which is the ancestor of the flat-coat and the golden, but I’ve come across more than one person who claims that the black and tan color in Labradors is the result of interbreeding with Rottweilers. However, I think it is much more likely that the color is the result of the founder effect from the St. John’s water dog and from the infusion of collie and Gorden setter blood in the old wavy-coated retriever.

So the early fancy had license to crossbreed for phenotype, and the modern fancy has always had rumors about clandestine crossbreeding. My response is actually quite simple: Why can’t we have license to crossbreed for health reasons?

How could this be accomplished? Well, in the early days in which retrievers were separated into show dog breeds, there was a class called “Interbred.” Interbred dogs were a mixture of two different strains that the KC had declared separate breeds. These dogs would be run as “Interbred,” as would their offspring for three generations. After being bred to a specific breed for three generations, the phenotype of  the descendants of this interbred dog would be examined to allow it to be registered as a purebred.

I don’t see why such a system could not be implemented today, but I do worry that fad breeding would run amok in such a system, as it did with the early show collies. That is why breed standards must be evaluated and written with functional conformation in mind. Such a system is entirely absent in the dog fancy right now.

We also need controls on how often a stud dog is used to keep the gene pool more open. Today, virtually all dog breeds (especially mine) are suffering from a compromised gene pool– most of which can be blamed on using just a few stud dogs to produce a high percentage of the offspring.

I would be very happy if we got some of these reforms. It would mean that we’re finally thinking about dogs are organisms and as creatures that have feelings, emotions, and intelligence. I can’t imagine any conservation organization that would try to breed endangered species under such a weird system. Indeed, in the case of the subspecies of cougar called the Florida panther, the Texas cougar was introduced to Florida to increase genetic diversity.

But dog people don’t think like biologists. They think like proper Victorians.

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