by   David Hancock

Pricing Value

 In his The Twentieth Century Dog of 1904, Herbert Compton quotes a contributor who writes: “The sheepdog trials cater for the working dog, which, by the way, is generally a nondescript cross between the Old English sheepdog, the lurcher and the collie. I myself cannot fancy a £1,000 dog working sheep! Although Ormskirk Charlie, a pure-bred rough collie, was a champion sheep-dog trailer, and Emerald Mystery, by Ormskirk Emerald, is also a first rate one; and there are others. I believe I am correct in stating that the highest price ever paid for a working field-trial sheep-dog is under £200.” In 2013, a Border Collie went into the record books after being sold for nearly £10,000 at auction. The previous record was £8,400 in 2012. The dog’s owner, John Bell, bought him as a 13-week old pup for £315; this dog was Mr Bell’s third record-breaking sale in three years. Sheep farmers in the United States, where this dog was destined to work – and be bred from, no doubt, clearly realize the value of the working sheepdog to their profession.

Assessing Worth

 There are just under 20,000 pastoral breed registrations each year with our KC, if you include the few breeds they choose to group as Working Group breeds despite their clear pastoral role. If each pup is worth around £500, that represents a substantial turn-over, with the suddenly-popular breeds vulnerable to exploitation by wallet-led breeders with little interest in quality or the welfare of the pups. The coats of Bearded Collies, Hungarian Pulis and Old English Sheepdogs need regular and committed care. Border Collies can be so hyperactive and intense in attitude that they do not make good urban pets; those bred specifically for strong fly-ball energy can be too demanding for suburban families. Those bought from farms can end up with a massive work ethic but no outlet, not a good scenario for a family pet. The International Sheepdog Society (ISDS) registers several thousand dogs each year; whilst these are bred to be working dogs, many end up as pets. Their worth as a pet may be different from their value as a working dog. The good qualities in a working collie aren’t exactly those expected of a companion dog and care is needed to ensure that the purchase of a pastoral dog is suitable for both owner and dog.

In her charming and beautifully illustrated Rural Portraits – Scottish Native Farm Animals, Characters and Landscapes of 2003, Polly Pullar writes: “Though I am filled with awe while watching the magnificent dogs and their handlers that win trials…it is the good old-fashioned farmyard collie that fascinates me the most. Many of these stalwarts of the farming community are often much-maligned…Many under-worked dogs are far too keen…they end up rounding up everything within a mile radius of the homestead…A collie is only ever as good as its handler. But all too often this basic fact is overlooked, and the dog is shut away and tagged as useless, manic, stupid or impossible to train. Bad workmen always blame their tools.” Sheepdogs are generally seen as hardy and valued by shepherds, but a 1953 survey in Scotland revealed that at least 11% were suffering from Black Tongue as a direct result of inadequate diet. These dogs were expected to run or walk 90 miles a day at lambing time and had to have protein, not just their diet of oats, if their health and stamina were to be maintained. Every ‘employer’ should value the ‘staff’!
The relationship and the value both parties, shepherd and dog, placed on it is well summed up in this quote from WL Puxley’s Collies and Sheepdogs of 1947:

“There is such an understanding between them and their masters that a shepherd will almost part with his life rather than part with his dog, while in the dog’s eyes his master is probably a long dog which walks in a peculiar way. This explains the case of the shepherd who would not let his dog be taught any tricks and replied, when asked why, ‘He is too fine to be made a fool of.’ And though a shepherd lives what to many would be a most lonely and monotonous life, he get as much enjoyment out of it as many others obtain from a life passed in the bustle of some large town. Indeed, when such a man is prevented by age or illness from attending to his sheep he seems to lose all pleasure or interest in life, just as does his faithful dog.”    

The Value of Pastoral Dogs as Service Dogs

 Despite being able to trace its ancestry back to the native sheep dogs of Thuringia and Wurtemberg, I believe it is fair to state that the GSD has ceased to be a pastoral dog and should now be regarded as a service dog. I believe it is also fair to state that for a century at least it was the most widely-used service dog in the world. That is some tribute to the early breeders. It is not any solace to the breeders of today however to see that retrievers, purebred and crossbred, are replacing the GSD as guide-dogs, the police in many European countries are turning towards the Malinois for their needs, with spaniels being preferred for drug, contraband and bomb-search work. I commend the work of the Thames Valley Police Dog Section in developing their own 'GSDs'; their breeding plans are producing top quality dogs, sound physically and tempermentally.

The ubiquitous Border Collie is emerging as the best-equipped, all-round, multi-purpose service dog, mainly because of its biddability and wide-ranging natural talent, but also through its physical robustness, which means lower maintenance costs for the user. The harm done to the GSD breed by misguided faddists is incalculable. In their important book on the breed, The Complete German Shepherd Dog of 1983, Nem and Percy Elliott wrote: “The breed definitely went wrong of that there is no doubt. To get things back on an even keel, is what’s necessary, i.e: back to the balanced dog, of correct type. For some that is not enough. They wish to continue to exaggerate their breeding plans; but in the opposite direction! Consequently, there are those who wish their dogs to be shorter than normal, with sloping and raised backlines, half-starved during puppyhood so as not to be too heavy; and this is equally wrong. Those of us with the necessary experience, have to continue to try and guide the development of the breed on the right lines. I think we shall succeed, but time will tell.” This makes sad reading and I wish them and their enlightened colleagues eventual success. No farmer could afford to breed deformed dogs!

The Value of Pastoral Dog Blood

 Most lurcher breeders have long accepted the value of the blood of the collie in their stock; it could be argued that to qualify as a genuine lurcher the involvement of collie blood is essential. Twenty years ago, I had two working sheepdogs, i.e. unregistered Border Collies, with distinct sporting dog skills. The bitch was a natural setter; she never once gave a false point. The male dog was a remarkable marker and accomplished retriever, with a soft mouth and a willingness to go through any sort of cover. Their eagerness to work was commendable; their obedience constant; their astuteness remarkable. They did of course lack the sheer style of specialist gundogs but a more skilful trainer/handler than I could have developed them to a high standard. This combination of biddableness, cleverness and an unquenchable desire to work has led to the use of collies in a wide variety of ways in the sporting field. The renowned lurcher breeder, my namesake, David Hancock, a West Midlands poultry farmer, has made the Bearded Collie X Greyhound lurcher world-famous.

Collie Blood for Deer Stalking
In his book The Scottish Deerhound of 1892, Weston Bell summarised a report from the various deer-stalking estates of that time which covered the use of dogs on them. The extracts he prints are illuminating: Achanault Deer Forest - No deerhound ever used, Auchnashellach, collie breed - good-nosed tracker. Balmoral Deer Forest - Very seldom do we use the staghounds - only keep them for breeding with the collie. Inverwick Forest - Very few gentlemen use deerhounds now-a-days in the forest--only the half-bred dogs, between the collie and retriever. Fairley Deer Forest - One collie in use now. One formerly. Deerhounds are not used in any deer forest that I know of in the north of Scotland. The best dog I ever saw for tracking a wounded stag was a cross between a retriever and a pure collie. Collie dogs, when trained young, turn out excellent trackers. Inchgrundle - Collie dogs have been chiefly used here for deer-stalking during the last twenty years. We generally find the collie more useful than the staghound.

The widespread use of the collie and the tributes paid to its prowess is astonishing and many other estates stressed their value and sporting skills: Braemore Deer Forest - I consider a good collie as far superior to any other kind of dog for a wounded deer. Aviemore Deer Forest - Three collies are at present in use...Properly-trained sheep dogs are the best. Mamore Forest - For tracking deer I think no dog so good as a good collie. Conaglen - We use sheepdogs here--they are more obedient and have more sense than the others. Rothiemurchus Deer Forest - Good tracking collies are the best for deerstalking. Glenartney - Good collies are the best I ever saw. Twenty other estates used collies for deerstalking. Two artistic depictions of deer-stalking show the Collie in the hunting party: James Hardy’s Deerhounds with a Ghillie in a Highland Landscape of 1872, and a hand-painted stalking scene on a Victorian cast iron centre table, after Landseer, of the third quarter of the 19th century. Both show how valued the Collie was in such an activity. 

Extensive Tributes

 Three estates used a collie-deerhound cross, one used a setter-collie cross and another chiefly used 'a collie of the grey shaggy breed', the beardie type. These extensive tributes to collie blood came from men who worked in the most testing country, in the most trying weather conditions and on a quarry never easy to stalk. The role demanded dogs that were hardy, had great stamina, immense perseverance and responded to commands often over some distance. There was not one mention in this wide-ranging estate survey of Bloodhounds, famous for their noses. The humble collie was the favoured dog. The retriever-collie cross came next. The collie-deerhound cross was clearly used in Deerhound lines, before Deerhound to Deerhound breeding was restored.

The collie-setter cross was allegedly used by the Duke of Gordon in the development of his breed of setters. SE Shirley, the Flat-coated Retriever pioneer, bred three of the most famous ancestors of the show collie - from an Irish Setter-collie cross. There is a distinct collie-look to many setters portrayed by artists in the nineteenth century. Iris Combe, in her book 'Herding Dogs' relates how French sportsmen took their Brittanies to Scottish sporting estates and were so impressed by the cleverness of the local collies that they mated their dogs to them. They would have been seeking intelligence, trainability and responsiveness. Around 1826, the Marquis of Huntley angered the setter owners using Findhorn by utilising the clever collie of a local gamekeeper/shepherd as a sire for his setters. He put brains before beauty and got much abuse for it. The Kurds, I believe, put brains before beauty when producing the khilasi, a cross between their Saluqi and a Kurdish sheepdog, to improve scenting ability and response to training.   

Lurcher Breeding

 In his 'The Dog' of 1887, the celebrated writer 'Stonehenge' observed "When the lurcher is bred from the rough Scotch greyhound and the collie, or even the English sheep-dog, he is a very handsome dog, and even more so than either of his progenitors when pure...A poacher possessing such an animal seldom keeps him long, every keeper being on the look-out, and putting a charge of shot into him on the first opportunity." He went on to state that poachers made great efforts to avoid their lurchers looking like just that, to avoid being shot. But it has to be said that another reason, down the years, for antipathy towards collie cross lurchers in country areas, quite apart from poaching, is that the collie blood can contribute to an undesired canine criminal interest in mutton!  

Ted Walsh, in his 'Lurchers and Longdogs' states that to create his sort of lurcher, he would start with two collie bitches, mate one to a Greyhound and the other to a Deerhound. The resultant pups would be fully tested and then culled, the survivors being inter-bred. The progeny of this mating would then be put back to a coursing Greyhound. This would have given him a preponderance of Greyhound blood but a fair input of collie blood too. It is absurd to declare precise percentages in products of mixed blood, genes work at random, not mathematically. Old lurcher breeders tended to put sagacity ahead of raw speed. The sighthound breeds are not renowned for their obedience or their brains; collies are.

Collie Blood Prized
Old lurcher breeders too prized the blood of the Smithfield collie, a type fast disappearing from the lurcher scene, in numbers at least. The leggy hairy Smithfield sheepdog has never been conserved here as such, but in Tasmania, Graham Rigby has some splendid specimens. Just as the Australian stumpy-tailed cattle dog is a descendant of the dogs once common in Cumberland, and still are so in the Black Mountain area near Hereford, these Tasmanian dogs originated here. Graham has had the breed for over twenty years. The first Smithfields to go to Australia were called black bobtails, big rough-coated square-bodied dogs, with heads like wedges, a white frill round the neck and 'saddleflap' ears. Graham is not a lurcher man, but any lurcher breeder seeking this blood, might find the expense of obtaining his stock worth every penny.

In his 'Hunters All' of 1986, Brian Plummer paid tribute to the collie lurchers of the likes of my namesake and Phil Lloyd. David's publication 'Lambourn' of some twenty years ago contains the best collection of collie lurcher photos I have ever seen, well worth a study. What you will see there is not a type but a variety of types, depending on the mix. Once lurchers start looking like a breed, then there's a contradiction in the making. The collie cross isn't meant to be the source of a distinct type, but evidence of an infusion of brains, biddability and a strong desire to work manifests itself in every hybrid carrying collie/sheepdog blood. In an interesting letter to Countryman's Weekly, a Scottish reader, responding to an article of mine in that publication, outlined the lurcher-breeding policy of his forefathers, who were horse-dealers. They obtained small coursing bitches from Southern Ireland and mated them to the tri-coloured cattle-herding collies found in the Highlands. These were, predictably, fearless, physically robust and immensely resolute dogs, used to working semi-wild cattle in every kind of weather, in testing terrain, and known to take hares and rabbits on the flatter fields. This blend of working collie skills and coursing dog prowess would have produced extremely competent pot-fillers.

Of course, you can get brainless collies, and long-backed short-bodied ones, leading to weak loins, a bad feature in a lurcher, and sometimes a lack of lung-room too; not good in a running dog. In addition, some collies are just too hyper-active to be valuable sporting dogs. Selection of breeding stock will always be the key to the successful production of lurchers, not the mix of ingredients. The dogs favoured for use in the Scottish deer forests were not valued because they were collies or collie crosses, but because they were outstanding dogs. If you want a dog with brains, biddability and a zeal for work, the collie offers all three. Every employer surely values a zeal for work!

 "I think it is difficult to improve on the first cross Beardie/Border or Beardie/Border cross-bred. These I believe to be the best knock about, all round lurchers with ample speed, reasonable intelligence, excellent tractability and a really tough constitution. I am however open to comments about both half-bred and 3/4 collie 1/4 Greyhound hybrids."
Brian Plummer, Sporting News, 1989.