- Written by Cindi Schuler
- Category: Cindi's Corner
- Hits: 552
Stand around any group of dog breeders, trainers, or owners long enough and the topic of conformation will come up. Some will discuss faults a certain stud or dam passes on to their offspring. Other groups will watch a dog moving, perhaps working, and make note of how the faults impact the dog’s way of going; or how the conformation makes for a lovely moving dog. Others will complain that the big registries/clubs have ruined many breeds by hosting breed standard shows. In some circles, even the thought of showing in breed shows is strongly discouraged. The fear is that breeding for conformation automatically means you give up the working traits. This fear can sometimes lead to a complete disdain for all things related to breed standards or conformation. The problem with this is, just as breeding only for looks may cause a loss of work ability, breeding only for working traits you want can cause a loss of other traits, health, longevity, and useful work years. It is important maintain a balance. Clubs like the AKC or UKC don’t destroy breeds, breeders do. Breeders decide to only select for beauty, breeders decide to breed extremes in their bloodlines, and breeders decide to breed without truly understanding working traits, bloodlines, temperament or conformation. It’s okay to know conformation, and to consider it in your breeding program, as a PART of your program. Understanding how the dog is put together doesn’t mean you “sold out” passion for the working traits or the temperament. Breeding should be a three phase approach with conformation, temperament and working traits.
It is important to differentiate between structure, conformation, and a breed standard. Conformation is simply the shape and structure of the dog. It is the way he is built from the ground up. Conformation is the structure of the paws, legs, shoulders, hips, and spine. Conformation is the entire dog as a single being. Structure is part of conformation. The breed standard is the written word describing how a breed should look, or how its conformation should appear. Originally, conformation shows were opportunities for breeders to evaluate their working dog stock. Originally, conformation was considered only in terms of a dog's performance. This means a sighthound needed depth and spring to house large lungs and a strong heart. A herder needed a laid back shoulder and low hock to travel several miles a day. This was the intent of the original conformation shows. If you want to see a modern day example of the original dog shows, attend a fox hunting hound exhibit. Those dogs are still bred to cover miles and miles several days a week, to obey, to signal the scent by baying/barking, and to use their noses. Those shows judge how the dog is put together based on the job they were originally bred to do. The contestants are actively working dogs. I truly wish this was still the sole intent of breed standard shows, but I realize it isn’t.
While those interested in "working dogs" over beauty contestants may not care about an ear set, the length of the tail, accepted coat colors or length, while they may not care about how wide the head is, or even care about the bite (more on this later), there are parts of the breed standard that should matter to every breeder. Things like the breed standard’s description of the shoulder, hip, balance, croup, topline, etc. all relate to the job the breed was meant to do. If a breeder doesn't care about any of these things, if they never consider how a dog is put together as part of their breeding program, it will take them as long to lose a healthy, functional dog as it takes "beauty show only” breeders to lose working traits.
Our English Shepherd breeders of the past bred for dogs who traveled many miles a day, 6-7 days a week. If a dog wasn't put together correctly, it couldn't keep up, it suffered injuries, and it may have broken down completely. Are these things less important to breeders now that many farms are so much smaller? Are breeders less concerned with faults causing breakdown because the dogs don’t have to travel as far? I hope not. A weak hind end (you can insert straight shoulder, crooked front, narrow chest, or any other fault you want to insert) may not breakdown for several years, on a small farm where the dog only travels a mile or two a day. A weak hind end may not immediately break down on a dog who guards a small flock of chickens and walks with their owner collecting eggs or feeding chickens. That weak hind end will still break down on a ranch, a bigger farm, a busier farm; it breaks down as it accompanies the owner on daily runs, it breaks down in the agility dog, obedience dog, fly ball and dock diving dog. Is it fair to the puppy owner(s) to retire their working dog early due to preventable arthritis or injury? Is it fair to the working dog who will work through the pain because his work ethic is bred in to him? Is it fair to the buyer who invests their time, money, training, and love in a dog with poor enough conformation that it has to be retired after just a few years?
Let’s revisit the dog’s bite. While it isn’t considered part of “structure”, a poor bite can impact the work and health of the dog. A herder with an underbite may do damage to the stock it grips. Underbites aren’t designed to release easily, so much more flesh may be torn if the dog must grip in his work. Overbites and underbites can be severe enough to cause problems when a dog tries to eat or chew. Either of these bites can create ulcerations in the soft tissue of the mouth. Level bites cause quick wear on the teeth, exposing nerve roots and hyperplasia of the gums. A dog with teeth worn to the gums will have trouble defending itself, or defending against predators that challenge it. This is one example of why the dog’s conformation matters. Will all dogs with a slight under, over, or level bite develop problems? Probably not. But if we don’t consider these things in our breeding programs, how many generations will it take to have a severe bite, and how many will it take to correct it?
Does coat color matter? Do ear sets matter? Does tail length matter? Does eye color matter? For the most part I don’t believe these things are as important as topline, front and rear angles, hocks, pasterns, and feet. BUT, the extremes can begin to cause problems. Every breeder should know their breed standard, and why it is written the way it is. Every breeder should know why a level topline matters, or why movement matters. Understanding these things is just as important as being able to read personality behaviors or properly evaluate working traits. If you take the time to understand why the standard was written as it was, then you can make an informed decision in your breeding program paired with your knowledge of the other traits you want.
Future articles will break down each body part and describe the “ideal” per the breed standard. We’ll describe why the traits are desirable for the type of work our English Shepherds were bred to do, and in some cases we’ll describe how the faults impact the rest of the dog. I encourage all of you to read the four breed standards out there for the English Shepherd. They are very, very similar, especially as they relate to the angles, bone lengths, and movement of the dogs. In areas where the breed standards are different, we’ll be sure to discuss each standard, so we give fair representation for all registries. Please understand, these articles are not meant to say HOW you should breed. They are merely informational articles on why our beloved breed was designed the way it is. It doesn’t matter if your dog needs the toughness for thick brush and rank cattle, nurturing lambs and monitoring farm kids, or anything in between (or even all these things). The standard is a guideline for what the breed was designed for…helping farmers and ranchers in their daily work.
Cindi Schuler’s love for English Shepherds started in 2002, but her dog education started 40 years ago when she entered her first dog show. Working for professional handlers ignited her passion for understanding why breeds were built the way they were. Competing in various dog sports and using dogs in her daily chores helped Cindi truly understand how conformation strengths and weaknesses impact the dog. That passion for learning continues today.
- Written by Denise Dehne Borgoyn
- Category: The Love That Binds
- Hits: 612
When I first put out the notice looking for stories for this new column , Elaine Reynolds contacted me and said that she knew someone I should talk to. Shortly after, I reached out to Sarah H., who owns a 6 1/2 year old shaded sable and white female English Shepherd named Sadie.
I caught Sarah between arranging deliveries of organic feed and coordinating a crew of carpenters and roofers repairing her roof due to a large tree dropping on it. Her house was built in 1909 so a lot of replacement was going on to make it structurally sound. We were able to talk on Labor Day in between interruptions from the crew.
Farm Shepherd Magazine: How did you first become involved with the English Shepherd breed?
Sarah: When Mom and Dad lived in Iowa, and I was just a little girl, Mom surprised us one day by coming home with a puppy that she picked up at a farmhouse. She called it a "collie shepherd" and told us that he was 1/2 Lassie and 1/2 German Shepherd. I have many early memories of happy times playing with Rocky, I also have a clear memory of my mother explaining to me what death was when Rocky passed away. I feel like ever since then, all of my life, I’ve been looking for him, trying to replace him.
I've always believed that working dogs were possible and I've researched everything from Old Time Scotch Collies to American Working Farm Collies to English Shepherds. I found all to be wonderful breeds and unique in their own way. Eventually though, I decided on the English Shepherd for a farm partner, and I purchased a puppy from Elaine Reynolds.
FSM: What have you found to be special about these dogs since owning your own?
Sarah: That these dogs are so amazing and can do some surprising things, especially in how they behave! But I think some people might be looking for big, obvious actions and behaviors and be disappointed. Because many of the “gifts” of the farm shepherds are much more subtle, tiny but intentional micro-behaviors. You have to know your dog, and watch very carefully, or you might miss one. It's an almost imperceptible touch or look designed to communicate or affect their environment and those around them. They take these actions using their common sense (which yes, they have), or what they have learned by watching you.
For example, when I’m working with my poultry there are times when I need Sadie’s assistance in managing the flock. Sadie will herd them, but to the casual eye it doesn’t appear that she is. She knows where they need to go, and she pushes them without being obvious --- it's more of a soft eye at the chicken, an implied pressure, and a slowly tightening circle. As with the best human-canine relationships, Sadie and I have worked together long enough to have an understanding, and we’ve formed a strong bond, a mutual trust in each other.
Another way Sadie helps is by watching out for my safety and warning me of danger even when I don’t perceive any. One day I was in the yard working in my perennial herb garden. It was warm day and I was tackling some overdue weeding along a slope. I pulled on a vine and saw a solitary bee that I had disturbed. Moments later Sadie, who of course is my shadow and never far away, started bumping me with her body, repeatedly, and then making as if she were running away. It's almost like she was saying "come on! let's go?". At first I paid her no mind, but she was insistent and persistent. Then I noticed a hole downhill with ground wasps streaming out of it. We both high-tailed it out of there! I was so grateful that day!
FSM: Tell me more stories please. People love stories!
Sarah: OK. We also have a house bunny that roams free on the back porch. When it's really cold I put the rabbit, Beatrix, up for the night somewhere a little less exposed. Sadie helps me catch her without hurting her. The most remarkable thing about this – – Sadie also is an avid wild rabbit hunter, chaser, and eater, Sadie is so gentle with her pack member rabbit! We also have two kittens, five months old, and something new for Sadie. Sadie had never seen or been near a cat before we got these kittens. It’s great how well she's doing with them. I guess she knows that they’re members of our “pack”.
Also, right after I got Sadie at 10 weeks old, in fact I’d had her less than 24 hours, when we went out to do routine outside chores. Sadie was on a short leash attached to me, so she was no further away than the length of my arm. I went in to feed the buck, dumping the feed in the feeder like always. The buck unfortunately stepped onto my little toe as he settled in to eat. He had done this before, two months earlier, and didn’t get off my foot so I had to finally I pull the foot out from under him, dislocating my little toe. So little, but so very painful! Since then my little toe had slowly started to stay in place and was not nearly so sore. But now here was the brute, standing on that same little toe again!! Under my breath I was saying "ow, ow, ow" while nudging him in the ribs with my free foot. The buck didn't even flick an ear. Then Sadie simply reached over and gripped him on the ankle. The buck promptly moved over, without even stopping his meal. It was Sadie's first "good job!"
FSM: Every farm shepherd needs a job. What is Sadie's job?
Sarah: I am her job, I am her work and her life, 24×7. I’m legally disabled, and she is the guardian and companion that I must have to make my independence possible, and that includes my farm lifestyle. Sadie is my right hand, my partner, when it comes to handling the dairy goats, chickens and ducks that share my world.
FSM: Thank you for your time. Is there anything that you'd like to add?
Sarah: I have had lots of different dogs over the years, many of them rescues, from dachshunds, Russell terriers, and Pomeranians to Labrador retrievers, goldens, and dalmatians. I've learned that you need to find the dog's best side and allow relationships to develop.
Although I've loved all of my dogs, I would never have another of any of them. I know that from now on, for the rest of my life, I will always have an English Shepherd.
- Written by Tony Bierman
- Category: Editor's Blog
- Hits: 75
Hawkeye doesn’t like farm work. He doesn’t care for it. If he was intended to be a farm manager from birth, my three livestock guardian dogs probably helped him decide otherwise. I don’t think they bullied him out of it or anything like that. There just wasn’t a niche to be filled there. “They got this”, as it were. He may have been meant to work large livestock, but I only have small goats. Half of my goats are smaller than he is, and none of them want to be within range of his seventy-five plus pounds or his baleful stare. He has taught even the most stubborn of our adult male goats to respect him from a distance. In a few weeks, Hawkeye will meet a herding clinician with the know-how to tell me more about his relationship with stock.
But for now, my one-and-a-half-year-old Hawkeye would rather be off in the woods, running from tree-to-tree and putting his nose to the ground. He loves following scent trails from hill to valley across our acreage of woodlands. And he can’t resist lying and rolling in the spring fed, rock-bottom stream that divides our land. Even on a cold day, he’ll lower himself down into the water and sit for a spell. Since he was seven weeks old, Hawkeye has loved the water. Not just splashy romps across the shallows. As much as possible, he submerges his broad head and stout body, blowing bubbles and smiling gleefully.
But the one thing Hawkeye loves more than the woods, or the stream, or sniffing out critters, is me. He constantly makes eye contact with me. And aside from his adventures among the trees, he most prefers to be by my side. Laying at my feet. Rolling over for me to scratch his chest or neck. Nibbling on a cow ear while I read or listen to the game. That’s not to say he’s a pushover. Far from it. He’s independent and strong-willed. And Hawkeye doesn’t really like anybody else to be around. He tolerates my wife, but that’s about it. We’re a lone wolf, he and I.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever breed Hawkeye. Probably not. He’s intact and seems healthy enough. But he’s quite a bit bigger than breed standard and frankly more dog than most people would want or need. Maybe I’ll change my mind someday, after he saves me from drowning in a pond or heads off a wild boar from goring my leg. But for now, he’s just my best friend. The reason I wake up before sunrise and go outside at first light. The reason I write and read and learn as much as I can about English Shepherds.
- Written by Tony Bierman
- Category: Editor's Blog
- Hits: 690
This is an unbiased review of the Icefang Tactical Dog Harness. I will mention a few product accessories as well. At the bottom of the article, I will provide links to buy these items at the same price I paid for them. I am not incentivised or affiliated with the manufacturers or re-sellers of these products. I paid full price for these items and I use them on a regular basis.
Here my English Shepherd boy Hawkeye models the harness and accessories before we head out for a hike. Hawkeye only wears this heavier harness on cool mornings and during cooler seasons. For hot weather, we'd be using a lighter weight harness.
This is a capture of the dorsal side of the Icefang harness configured as I use it on a regular basis.
And here's the dorsal side of the harness without attached accessories. The connection points, buckles and stitching are superior to any harness I've used. As you can see, there's a lot of velcro down the middle and a PALS attachment grid on each side. Under the sturdy handle is a heavy duty dorsal connection point.
This photo illustrates one method of attaching MOLLE (pronounced molly) accessories to a PALS grid.
Here is a view of the underside of the harness. Again, note the two heavy duty connection points. The metal, 'D' shaped connection rings are attached to the harness body with broad, double stitching.
Here's the underside again, this time connected to a lead in my favorite configuration. The ability to attach to the front pull connector, but thread the leash back behind the front legs is my favorite feature of this harness. Threaded this way, the leash comes out from under Hawkeye's side, under his ribs and behind his forelegs. It works really well for both dog and walker.
Nearly friction-less. Any tension in the leash rubs on the metal ring and the harness, not Hawkeye's body. If you have a big, strong dog then both you and your best friend will really appreciate this uncommon feature. Hawkeye does his best walking when he's wearing this harness, and I think the threaded lead configuration is why.
Here are the pair of MOLLE pouches I bought separately.
And finally, these elastic and velcro "keepers" are great for quickly connecting anything from water bottles to magazine clips onto your harness.
I'm really happy with the fit, functionality, quality and apparent durability of the Icefang Tactical Dog Harness. Here's a list of links to buy the harness and accessories:
Icefang brand Tactical Dog Harness on Amazon (Large) for $39.99
Novemkada brand MOLLE Pouches (2 pack) on Amazon for $14.98
Condor brand Elastic Keepers (2 pack) on Amazon for $11.99
- Written by Tony Bierman
- Category: Editor's Blog
- Hits: 653
Since she moved to her forever home here at our ranch on Roanoke Creek, Josie has watched each morning as my boy Hawkeye and I moved our Pygmy goats from pen to pasture. But just about a week ago, Josie suddenly and almost magically went from being an uninterested, frolicky puppy to a serious, enthusiastic stock dog in training. She's currently four months, sixteen days young. Each day, she has paid attention as Hawkeye walked behind the goats with me, coaxing them up the hill, through the orchard and on to the pasture. Hawkeye stays on lead the whole time. He's too rough on the small Pygmy goats. Or rather, I'm too inexperienced of a handler to manage the interaction properly. Hawkeye and I will attend a herding clinic next month so I can get better. But, I digress.
Back to Josie. Since she started showing interest, I decided to give Josie her own opportunity with the Pygmies. So for the past three or four days, instead of Hawkeye it has been Josie on long lead, pushing the goats up the hill. Each day, she has moved the goats fine, but she has always looked back at me and complained about the leash. She looks at me as if to say, “I've got this, let me go”. I've been hesitant. She's still so young. And a year of working with Hawkeye has made me more cautious. He's a lot of dog. Mistakes with Hawkeye can mean there will be blood.
Well, today Josie wore me down. She jetted out to the end of the lead, barking at the goats to push them along the gravel path and on up the hill. I complimented her with a “good girl”. She turned her head and smiled, leaving the goats and coming back to me right away. She has an off switch! Wow, that's nice. But as usual, on her way back to me she took the opportunity to bark at me, taking the long lead in her mouth. “Let me do my job”, she seemed to growl with the flat cotton leash between her teeth.
Well, this time I relented. “OK”, I thought. “You're way too young. But, you've been doing great. I'll let you off lead for just a minute. But if this goes wrong, Caroline Betts is going to let me have it.”
So, I held my breath and detached the long, blue lead from her harness. Once I took her lead off, she was nothing short of amazing. No wasted time or energy. No messing around. Josie just knew what to do.
"It's about time", I think I heard her bark. "Watch what I was born to do."
She pushed the herd of nine goats to the exact spot I take them every morning. She used her voice mostly. The goats are dog trained, and Hawkeye has instilled plenty of respect in them. But, Josie was faster than any dog my goats have ever seen. Her methods were not just brute force. She darted in, barked to move them, and quickly darted back out before they could rear-up on her. Fast and decisive. Overwhelming. They had no choice but to comply.
“Good girl”, I told her. I was amazed at what I had just seen. Stoically, I tried to hide the elation from my voice. It had come so easily to her. “Now Josie, come here”, I told her. Without hesitation, she disengaged from the goats and came right back to me. I re-attached the long lead to her harness. Then I took her to get a big, crunchy dog biscuit reward. I praised her the whole walk back. Hawkeye saw it all from his kennel. And by the spring in her walk, I'm pretty sure Josie knew it.
"Look what I can do", she left unsaid.
That's OK, a little friendly competition raises all ships. Hawk may even learn a thing or two from her. Don't feel bad for Hawkeye. He still gets to put them back in the pen.
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