Thursday, September 10, 2009

Know Your Dog: Herding Group

The time has come for me to discuss Herding Dogs. This is a MAJOR challenge for me for two reasons: 1. Dogs in the running for Most Intelligent Breed are overly represented in the Herding Group. 2. Not one of the Dogs of My Life has been a Herding Dog.

Working Dogs may have done well in literature, but Herding Dogs have movies made of the books that star them. Nana and Carl and Clifford are admirable. But Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin are Legends.

From here, I must tread carefully. Some of my best friends are Herding devotees. Unfortunately, they are not devoted to the same Herding breed. The danger of treading on some human toes is ever on my mind.

The German Shepherd Dog--or Alsatian, as the British have, I think, more wisely named it--is probably most frequently cited as The Most Intelligent Dog Breed. There. I have said it. I am sure that lovers of Australian Shepherds, Collies, Border Collies, Belgian Malinois, and just about every other Herding breed will disagree. But let me say once more. I really do not have a dog in this fight.

One of the reasons that the German Shepherd is such strong contender for the Most Intelligent Canine title is that it is what I call a Cusp Dog. My definition of a Cusp Dog is one that might reasonably be placed in two or three different groups. Although the GSD retains its ability to herd, herding is not the first activity most people associate with the breed. Indeed, when I was a child, my friends and I called German Shepherds "Police Dogs". Look in the back of any K-9 unit of your local police force. You are likely to see an impressive German Shepherd looking back at you, performing the job of a Working Dog.

Or, if you have occasion to watch a dog assist a Bomb or Drug Squad, sniffing out a Dangerous Substance, it is unlikely that you will see a Scent Hound. You will probably see a German Shepherd or a German Shepherd mix. (Here, I must add that Someone Who Ferrets Out Such Facts, assures me that the Greatest Drug Sniffing Dog of All Time was a Belgian Malinois.) Another Cusp Dog, by the way.

German Shepherd Dogs are consistently among America's favorite dogs, currently, number three in AKC registrations. This, sadly, makes them particularly vulnerable to irresponsible and unscrupulous breeders who prey on ignorant or lazy buyers. If you are purchasing ANY pure bred dog or puppy, ALWAYS buy from a breeder who shows the breed and who will take the dog back, "if things don't work out." Really careful breeders interview prospective purchasers with the skill of a trial attorney. Don't be surprised if you are required to present all members of your household for questioning. Be sure to answer all questions truthfully.

If you watch Agility Trials, you are familiar with Border Collies and Aussies--two breeds with long histories of working in close partnership with humans. Both breeds are in the running for Most Intelligent Dog. Their quick response to commands can be stunning. Border Collies have a stare designed to bring sheep under control that can almost make a human think they are mind readers.

So, if Herding Dogs are so smart, shouldn't they be the first dogs under consideration when someone is acquiring a dog? I don't think so.

If you choose one of these Canine Einsteins, you had better be prepared for serious and continuing activity with your dog. Obedience training is just the beginning. These dogs need to be OCCUPIED! Bored Herding Dogs can be destructive in all sorts of creative ways. With too much idle time on their paws, Herding Dogs go a little crazy. Then they drive YOU crazy!

Think before you bring a Herding Dog into your life. Are you truly ready to involve yourself in such a close and active partnership? If not, get some popcorn and settle back to watch an old movie. May I suggest Lassie, Come Home or The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin?

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