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JoAnna Lou
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Anything But A Border Collie
What happens when a dog is too good at something?
Border Collies' intelligence, trainability, and powerful structure put them at the top of the class when it comes to agility.

Last weekend I watched the online broadcast of the United States Dog Agility Association’s Cynosport World Games. As usual, the finals for the top jump heights (above 20”) were dominated by Border Collies. 

I have to admit, I love watching the powerful black and white blurs fly through an agility course, but it is refreshing to see a variety of breeds compete, which doesn’t happen very often at the top levels of competition.

Following the games, there’s been a lot of talk about wanting the USDAA to create an Anything but Border Collie (ABC) championship, a class that already exists in the United Kingdom.

The numbers certainly support the fact that Border Collies are in a class of their own. Take a look at the finals at three championships this year.

The American Kennel Club’s national competition in March: All 18 dogs in the 20”, 24”, and 26” height groups in the finals were Border Collies. There were even two small Border Collies in the 16” height group.

The European Open’s international competition in July: 58 of 67 Large dogs in the final were Border Collies.

USDAA Cynosport World Games: 31 of 32 dogs in the 22” and 26” height groups in the Steeplechase Finals and 38 of 40 dogs in the Grand Prix Finals were Border Collies.

Do Border Collies’ super canine genes give them an unfair advantage? Getting a Border Collie isn’t an instant ticket to success. As individuals, each dog, regardless of breed, has their own challenges, strengths, and weaknesses. Nonetheless, it’s apparent that Border Collies dominate the sport.

My Sheltie, Nemo, measures a whopping 19.5” at the withers and has to compete against the big dogs. He’ll never keep up with the Border Collies in terms of speed and we only place if it’s a technical course where faster dogs knock bars or run off course. Still, I can’t imagine not having the thrill of competing alongside these amazing dogs.

And while it’s not common, I’d like to think that non-Border Collies can be competitive, even at the highest levels. At the USDAA’s Cynosport World Games this year, that one non-Border Collie in Steeplechase Finals, a Belgian Tervuren, ended up winning the championship. 

When it comes down to it, I’m conflicted. I do think that having more opportunities to showcase non-Border Collies would encourage more people to participate in competition, but on the other hand if a team is talented enough to make it to the top levels, don’t they deserve to be there, regardless of breed?

What do you think about creating more opportunities for non-Border Collies in dog sports?

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by JB Newman.

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Submitted by Anonymous | November 20 2009 |

So what kind of dog did win the championship?

Submitted by JoAnna Lou | November 20 2009 |

A very speedy Belgian Tervuren won the Steeplechase championship!

Submitted by PangaeaPugs | November 20 2009 |

I have small dogs so I'm not competing against the BCs. But like you I think I would feel honored to compete against any amazing dog, regardless of breed.

However, I'd be happy if USDAA would lower the jump heights for small dogs. It's ridiculous to expect a pug to jump 16" in championship. And for a small dog with physical limitations the performance height of 12" is still too high.

Submitted by Julia Lane | November 21 2009 |

JoAnna, I feel your pain! I compete in USDAA with my two Dalmatians, a breed not commonly seen in any agility venue. Darby measures into the 26" class and always places when we're clean. Jolie, on the other hand, measures into the more competitive, BC-dominated 22" class. Despite often being faster than Darby or earning more points than her in Gamblers or Snooker, Jolie never places at the Masters level.

However, I take pride in showing my spots and proving that non-BC breeds can do well. My next challenge - showing my young mixed breed, Ginger Peach, in both USDAA and AKC, in those tough 22" and 20" classes, respectively. I like the idea of showing people that ANY dog can excel at this sport!

Submitted by Ella | November 22 2009 |

This is a tough subject and one that I am conflicted on as well. It's hard to say that a certain dog should be treated one way or another because of its breed. However, I would love to see a more diverse array of breeds competing at the 22" level in USDAA (and comparable height classes in the other venues). An ABC class would definitely promote this. However, I could understand how an owner of a competitive non-BC dog could take pride in beating their highly touted competitor. Perhaps it should be the owner's choice in competing in an ABC class. That way one can choose to continue to compete in the regular class with the BC's. No black and white answer for this one (no pun intended...)

Submitted by Jessica | December 1 2009 |

Don't worry, more and more Xolos are competing and giving BCs a true run for their money! Keep an eye out for Balaache & Quixote, the top winning agility Xolos! One day people will be asking for an Anything But Xolos competition.

Submitted by WFR | December 2 2009 |

We do noy exclude the best and brightest in the human world from competitions at which they excel. Why would we do that to canines? The Calgary Stampede has the World Stock Dog competition every year and the only stock dogs that have won are Border Collies but they do not exclude them. Let Border Collies compete and everyone else just needs to step up. That is what competition is all about.

Submitted by Rachel Simpson | December 8 2009 |

I think this says a lot about dogs being bred for a purpose rather than for the way they look. For years, border collies have been bred for their ability to herd, not for being black and white or for having cute tulip-shaped ears or for being a certain height. If breeders of other dog breeds payed more attention to what they want the dogs to do and how healthy and intelligent they are, rather then how their head is shaped, then maybe the other breeds would have a fighting chance!

Submitted by AMS | November 29 2011 |

I agree with you Rachel, but only to a point. It -does- say a lot about dogs bred for a purpose. Specifically -what- purpose that is. There are many breeds that are not bred for working with humans directly (Hounds, Terrier, some Working and NonSporting) and especially at a distance but who can still compete and have fun in Agility. A top performance bred Greyhound will never beat a top performance bred BC in Agility, a sport originally created by BC folks! The sport just doesn't play to their strengths.

It would be like me telling BC owners, if only they bred for working ability maybe their dogs could compete against the Hounds on the lure field. Not gonna happen. Different dogs, different jobs, different abilities. Doesn't stop us all from having fun together.

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