Gayle Kaye, that resourceful and talented gal from California, has unearthed some Steve Field articles that have long laid dormant. When Gayle and I did the book “Parader” we bemoaned the fact that Steve hadn’t written more. He once told me that he stopped writing when he realized how much he had to learn. We felt this was a great loss since Steve wrote so well and understood the Collie and the standard as few others. The one about eyes and expression is superb and should come as no surprise since the Parader dogs were noted for expression. Gayle’s work in the archives for the CC of A has provided some great sources of ammunition for her writing. I believe her book “The Collie in America” is a real classic and a must for any Collie fancier’s library. In addition to all the info provided, it has the distinction of not promoting Gayle’s dogs as so many authors in the past have chosen to do in their books.
Anyone who has read my writing over the years know of my opinion that the whole dog is more important than any one of the parts that together make up the Collie. If you understand the Collie then the first paragraph of the Standard speaks to you loud and clear. That opinion differs from that of the old timers who used to profess ”give me a good head and I can get the rest from mutts!” There can be no argument with the fact that the Collie head is very important, but it is only part of the dog, not the whole enchilada.
We who are involved in dog shows and the breeding and showing of dogs sometimes are stricken blind by our supposed knowledge. We become so enamored with specific show points in our Collies that we forget what is really important to a prospective Collie buyer. We spend so much time fussing over little things that we give little attention to the big two: health and temperament. When breeders become so infatuated with breeding just for show wins that they forget what’s most important, the breed is doomed.
In spite of maintaining the importance of the whole dog there can be no doubt that the Collie head and its various properties are the index of the breed. Many other breeds have parts that are similar to the Collie, but none have the Collie head and its by-product the Collie expression. You can have a Collie without a first-class head, but it will not be a superior specimen.
Just as surely as the head may be recognized as being the index of the breed, then the eyes and expression reflect its soul. We can see various end products that are part of the expression depending on the Collies point of reference. A Collie can be responsive and show sweet soft expression for bait, but the “look of eagles” that Terhune was so fond of quoting will only be realized when a dog focuses on an object farther away than a piece of liver. Years ago Brian Carabine of Erin’s Own Collies bred a wonderful bitch who became Ch. Erin’s Own Gold Rush. He sold the bitch to a young lady who was just starting out, but Brian handled her. At an outdoor show on Long Island I saw this bitch spot Brian coming across the field toward the ring where she was being held. It was like watching a miracle take place. What had been a lovely, well groomed Collie turned into a complete picture of a very superior specimen complete with the “look of eagles!” She danced and wagged a greeting with her tail and was the epitomy of what can transform a dog when it sees a special person come into view.
The term “look of eagles” was one that caused a spirited discussion between some fanciers years ago. Some maintained that to look like an eagle, a dog would have to have a large light eye as did those majestic birds with extraordinary vision. In my opinion they were just missing the point. The term was not used to describe the eyes of an eagle, but the riveting intensity that is shown by a dog that is gazing at an object of great interest often at some distance. It helped the African Queen win the Kem Sweepstakes for me many years ago.
While on the subject of expression and its reflection into the soul of the Collie, I’d like to point out an opinion that will no doubt make some fanciers cringe and be sure the dinosaur has lost all his marbles. We all know that the various dogs that played “Lassie” in movies and on TV were not considered worthy show specimens. In spite of that, some of the shots taken of Lassie at various times show a Collie (blaze face and all) that shows a depth of sweetness, intelligence, and responsiveness that we seldom see in the show ring.
We have two Collies at present. The male is a mahogany sable with a wealth of correct coat, beautiful sound body, and a most delightful expression. In many ways he reminds me of Ch. Gingeor Bellbrooke’s Choice, ROM. He’s a seven year old virgin who has never been bred and never will be, so this is not an advertisement. His expression is superb because of a very correct muzzle, skull, ear placement, and eyes, that while not super small, reflect his outlook on life. When describing the eyes as the soul of the breed it is wise to understand that more than mere physical measurements are important. If you have a Collie with all the right parts, but the wrong attitude, the expression will not be what you might wish. Just as some Thoroughbreds run very well in spite of conformation faults, so the expression is a reflection of temperament as well as type.
As breeders, exhibitors and handlers go merrily on their way trying for the perfect show dog by fixing ears, putting drops in eyes, fluffing up the backskulls, building up the muzzles, and making soft coats correct, we might lose sight of what’s really important. How hard are we working to make a dog that’s not only beautiful, but one that’s fun to live with and a joy to have as one of the family?
Think about it!