around the country
will converge on
week for Crufts. And
while sheepdog trials
enthusiasts may have
feared the worst when
the Border Collie fell
into the hands of the
brains and beauty are still
in balance at a leading
northern show kennels.
Jeremy Hunt reports
YOU cant get away from it. Bonzo is a show dog. Hes used every bit of his glamour and pzazz to become the UKs current top-winning Border Collie puppy.
But hes certainly no pampered pooch even though he bears the rather flamboyant registered name of Rosehurst No NZ is Good News – a name that cryptically stresses his 100% pure UK breeding.
Bonzo, who looks as though hed be just as happy working a flock of tetchy hill ewes as he would collecting prize cards in the show ring, lives with owners Eric and Helen Broadhurst at their kennels at Whitefield, near Manchester, along with 15 other Border Collies.
In a field close to the kennels, the Broadhursts run a small flock of sheep. They arent farmers and they dont trial their collies but most of their dogs could arrive home after winning a top award in the show ring and confidently gather those ewes to demonstrate that they have lost none of their working instincts.
* Breed status
Although working collies have been around for centuries, it was only in 1976 that the Border Collie was officially recognised as a "breed" by the Kennel Club. That status enabled the breed to be shown under KC rules but the emergence of a "show-bred" version of the Border Collie – where working ability was no longer the prime aim of breeding and selection – sent shock waves through the trial world.
At the Crufts Dog Show at the NEC in Birmingham between Mar 8 and 11, over 400 Border Collies will be exhibited. They are owned by a "new" band of breeders – the Border Collie Club of Great Britain with over 300 members – whose primary interest is breeding Border Collies for the show bench.
So the question has to be asked. Has the Border Collie now become split into two "types" – one for showing and one for working?
The Broadhursts say it is inevitable that a show-type Border Collie is emerging to fit a breed standard laid down by the Kennel Club. But they believe that just as they have needed to tap into bloodlines from the breeds working side, they feel farmers and trials enthusiasts could benefit from incorporating certain show-bred strains.
"Just because we are breeding Border Collies with good conformation and even markings for the show ring doesnt mean we are jeopardising the breeds intelligence," says Eric Broadhurst.
"I want a Border Collie with some spark and not one that stands rigid in the show ring with a glazed look on its face. Intelligence and breed character is vital. But remember that not all working sheepdogs make the grade either. Intelligence is equally variable however these dogs are bred."
And canine intelligence is something he knows plenty about. He runs "EB Dogs in Action", a company which provides dogs for films and television. One of his latest stars was Monica the greyhound which featured in Coronation Street.
The Broadhursts believe that the long-term future of the Border Collie depends on greater co-operation between all breeders, showing and working alike. "There are health issues within the breed that will be tackled most effectively if all breeders co-operate. These issues are nobodys fault but they are everybodys problem," says Helen Broadhurst.
The International Sheepdog Society (ISDS), the governing body of the trials world, has introduced a scheme for eye testing Border Collie pups for CAE or "collie blindness" at six weeks old.
Pups that fail the test cannot be registered with the ISDS. "Its the best thing the ISDS has done in years. But unfortunately only about 10 show breeders, including us, register their stock jointly with the ISDS and the Kennel Club.
"But show breeders are also tackling health issues like deafness, eye problems and hips and their efforts could be of great benefit to the breed as a whole."
In 1982 Mr Broadhurst won the challenge certificate – the top breed accolade at a championship show – on the first occasion such top awards were offered for Border Collies at Crufts.
The winner was Tracelyn Gal, later to become a champion. She had many well-known trial dogs in her pedigree; her sire was a Welsh driving champion. Even today many of the dogs carrying Mr Broadhursts Rosehurst prefix and Mrs Broadhursts Thistlemist prefix trace back to trial-field greats such as Bosworth Coon, Spot, Wiston Cap and Dryden Jo.
Helen Broadhurst has used working bloodlines to introduce fresh breeding. "I have tapped into the line of one particular breeder of Border Collies whose dogs work with a large commercial flock of ewes and are also shown.
* Detailed knowledge
"This breeder has an amazing fund of information about the breed and has a detailed knowledge of dogs going back almost 20 generations which has been of tremendous value to us," she says.
Take a tour of the couples Clarks Hill Boarding Kennels and its easy to see why their Border Collies are winners. They have lost none of the breeds true characteristics. An opportunity for a hands-on look at Sandy, a youngster still to make his debut in the ring, proves that this strain is producing Border Collies of excellent type and workmanlike constitution.
Sandy, undoubtedly a star in the making, has a confident and level temperament. He is no chocolate-box Border Collie. He is the product of careful breeding by owners who have the long-term future of their breed at heart. They are adamant that nothing must put the breeds future at risk.
The Border Collie certainly has a special place in the dog world and was never summed up more succinctly than by the late Eric Halsall, doyen of working sheepdogs: "The Border Collie – the wisest dog in the world."