Although when Viv and I got a dog we decided on a pure-bred Smooth Collie, that was because we had particular needs and constraints. We were novices and wanted to know as best as possible what we were taking on in terms of temperament and care needs.
Smooth Collies don’t grow on trees, and we had to go to Leicestershire to collect Ben when he was just eight weeks old. His breeder was at the time the secretary of the Smooth Collie Club, which we joined. We were pleased to learn such a lot so quickly about Smooth Collies, which are classed as a Vulnerable British Breed because of their scarcity. Only around fifty are born every year.
Ben is ten in August and we still pay our subs to the club, although we’ve never had the slightest interest in showing him. We just find it interesting to keep in touch with what’s going on. We’re what the dog show fraternity regard as “just pet-owners”.
Over the years we’ve seen many pictures of Smooths from long ago, and we’ve noticed some subtle differences in today’s dogs. We were therefore not surprised when Stella Clark, one of the judges of the Smooth Collie of the Year 2015, made some outspoken comments that were published in the latest club magazine. As the author of one of the definitive books on the breed, she speaks with some authority: “I was very disappointed with the quality of a majority of the entrants. The Smooth Collie is a working dog and should be of good construction to enable it to work with cattle or sheep… Too many with short upper arm that restricts movement, and no fore chest to speak of… The front legs should be straight with moderate round bone and somewhat muscular and fleshy: many were fine boned, just bone covered in skin… I am very concerned with the quality throughout the breed and I felt that I just had to speak out… My long association with this breed over the years gives me the right to explain my feelings and you will probably hate me. But I don’t care.”
I’m thankful that stupid dog breeders haven’t (yet) done to the Collie what they’ve done – for just a few examples – to the GSD (lowered rear -> hip dysplasia), Boxer and Bulldog (flat face -> difficulty breathing), Dachshund (long back -> prolapsed vertebral discs). I thought it was a step in the right direction when the BBC stopped showing Crufts, but I think they may have started again. Animals should not be bred for aesthetics alone – not if it causes these kind of problems.
Dog show judges obviously have a good knowledge of dogs’ physiology (skin deep at least). That does not make them physiologists. I feel strongly that dog breeders and dog show judges are to physiology what astrologers are to astronomers. They speak in the same terms, but they haven’t got a clue!