Few Good Men or Collies
Before I go further I need to thank all those who sent emails or cards during my recent bout with pneumonia. It was a nasty time, but I’m home now and on the mend. Unfortunately my wife, Phyllis, falls victim to doing all the outside work for now since I’m forbidden to go out in the cold for a while. As the boy said when he swallowed the pin cushion, “even this shall pass!”
Tom Cruise has made a number of movies over the years. One of my personal favorites is “A Few Good Men.” It got me to thinking as I often do about how it applies to dogs. Sometimes people get too caught up in the numbers games and that, in my opinion, is a great mistake. If your goal in dogs is to breed the most champions, win the most shows, have the top studs or brood bitches, that’s nice, but it isn’t always as great as it might seem. Just because many dog magazines devote half their pages to meaningless statistics does not make them important. They only cater to those who love the numbers game more than their dogs.
Years ago when I was breeding and showing with considerable success there were never more than a dozen grown dogs in the kennel. Generally a number were champions and there might be some pups who I hoped would be the next link in the chain. Breedings were never done to supply a market, but to continue the program with a goal of breeding better Collies. The pups who didn’t fit my needs were sold and often did quite well for their new owners, but I seldom had more than three or four litters in a year. Raising puppies right is a job and I had a full time job and three boys to raise plus the grown dogs to care for as well.
Now back then I competed with some breeders who were quite successful and knew of some who preceded me who likewise made quite a record. The winning and lofty records left me a bit cold at times when I spoke to people who visited some of the kennels. One place was mentioned with the puppy yard where puppies stood at the fence on several inches of feces. Another had dogs that were so lacking in socialization and/or good temperament as to have to literally lasso the dogs to catch them.
While I never visited either place I know of some that are very similar. Too many dogs not only takes the fun out of breeding, but they never get proper care. We know thru some of the terrible things that come to light such as the nightmare from Alaska that this is true. There are very few cases such as Bellhaven where the owner’s wealth allows for sufficient kennel help to allow large numbers to be kept.
Raising Collies is not like raising livestock such as cattle or hogs. You don’t just provide them with food, water, and shelter and expect them to thrive. The right kind of Collie is born to make its master happy and when you take that away you’re missing the whole point of breeding dogs.
You don’t need to have lots of dogs to do well and have others respect your efforts. There have been and still are many kennels that are low in numbers, but high in quality. Wayside, Marnus, and Shenstone could compete at the highest level. Gayle Kaye breeds very few pups, but the Chelsea Collies do just fine I assure you.
Years ago when the CC of A was still putting on seminars to educate breeders we talked about kennels that had laid the foundation for those who came after. We mentioned Lodestone, Tokalon, Sterling, and Parader among others, but as we dug deeply into Collie history we came upon the “vein of gold” that lay behind all of the notable current dogs. That vein of gold was the Collies of Charles and Lillian Wernsman and their Arken dogs. They had an impact on the breed that was phenomenal and showed that we Americans could breed dogs as good as the imported ones.
The Wernsmans had a kennel that seldom had more than twelve dogs of which almost all were sable. Interesting how many of the successful old breeders stayed away from blues unlike some today who seem to think it’s the only important color. It was a different time and Collies were much more popular than they are today with the public based on registration numbers. They were also a breed in those days where owner handlers could be quite competitive. My how times have changed!
I mean no disrespect to those who handle dogs for others. Many of them I consider friends and I’ve often told people who didn’t do their dogs justice to get a handler. My concern is, as it has always been, for the Collie. If our breed becomes a dog with its appearance geared to a few breeders rather than the public and if so many tricks need to be mastered to show one successfully, then I wonder if we’ve served the Collie well.
Don’t worry about the numbers game and keep what you can properly care for and love. If that’s too big an order you might try breeding guppies.
Think about it!