February 26, 2016

Farm working Dogs in New Zealand. 1. Breeds.

By Dr Clive Dalton
What's a breed?
The definition of a breed is often rather vague.  All you can say is that it's a group of animals with a common origin, that generally look similar.  It's really not very important to folk who want animals simply for their function - and that includes most shepherds and stock persons. 

Trouble starts with people who want animals for their looks and aesthetic traits.  Fortunately for people working stock - the show ring and breed society specifications have never influenced the farm dog.  Long may that be the way of things. 

The show ring has sadly been the cause of the loss of many working genes from some breeds - and this is a pity, as you never know when these could be needed in future.  We should have saved these working genes as frozen semen and embryos - a good idea far too late.

The Border Collie
Classical British Border Collie (Photo: Helen Brown)
This breed has been the foundation of most of the world's working dogs.  It originated from the English-Scottish border, this small, long-haired dog that "clapped" on it's belly while stalking stock, came to NZ with the early shepherds.   Selection for performance over time in New Zealand has changed it into an upstanding, long-legged and smooth-haired speedster.  It is not a barking dog except when excessively excited, and selection is firmly against this trait by dog trialists.  The instinct to grab and bite can be fairly strong and remains in some strains.  It was the final act to kill after the "stalk" in the primitive dog.

The NZ "eye" dog or "heading" dog does the bulk of speed gathering of stock and the quick-reaction close-quarter work such as shedding or catching sheep.  Border collies are mainly black and white although there are some black and tan strains and the occasional "blue merle", a gene associated with "wall" or pale blue eyes.  There are red (ginger) genes found and sometimes very white animals that are usually disliked.

NZ eye or heading dog
 However, border collies are now becoming popular as pets and are winning most obedience trials and agility tests.  This could be a threat to the farm working dog if these two strains separate and then get mixed up.  Not many shepherds want their dog to find their hankie or bring back a toy rabbit!  But fetching the paper from the gate is a useful trick some shepherds do teach their heading dogs though.

Border collies love to learn and there’s nothing wrong with teaching a working dog a few new tricks to keep its brain active.  Same principle applies to their owners.

The Huntaway
Typical huntaways

Huntaway x Beardie
 The Huntaway is truly "made in NZ" and is probably the best example in the world of an animal bred for performance alone, and not ruined by breed society rules and regulations!  A wonderful example of how to use a pool of genetic variation, out of which you select what is needed to do a specified task.  It's modern genetic theory used before such theory was worked out.

Huntaways come in many shapes and colours and there are there used to be three or four major strains.  They are big strongly-built dogs used for everything - heading (gathering by going round sheep), hunting (driving stock away from or towards the handler), forcing sheep by jumping on their backs, and handling all the hurly-burly work sheep yards and woolsheds.  They are all bred to bark (give noise).

Huntaways are mainly black and tan with variations of mainly black, and a ginger red colour.  These are genes clearly from their origins of border collie, beardie, fox hound, Labrador and goodness-knows what else!  Nobody today is concerned what went into the mix, but it would still be interesting to know how it was done.
(See blog on Huntaway)

The Beardie
 Originated from Scotland where it would bark and gather sheep from bracken covered hills.  They were called "hunters" and this could be the origin of the Kiwi term "huntaway".  They are grey, white, and tan in colour and have long hair including a beard.  .  Great-natured, tireless dogs and despite their long hair, work well in heat.  They are better at hunting than heading and are always keen to bark.  They are very popular in dairy farms to bring cows in.

The Smithfield
A bit of a mystery dog, supposed to have come from the barking dogs used by drovers at Smithfield market in London.  The Australians have added confusion by calling Beardie-types "Smithfields".  The NZ Smithfield, if you can find one, is like a small conventional huntaway or beardie type, and sometimes has a naturally bobbed tail.  They look like small huntaways or handy dogs.

The NZ "handy" dog
These are great dogs that do everything!  It seems as if they are a strain of huntaway that some breeders have selected over time.   They are not a heading dog-huntaway cross, as these are generally disasters!  But they are varied in colour and mostly like huntaways.   Farmers comment that these old-fashioned dogs are now very hard to find, as dog trialists have selected for more specialist dogs and not the general-purpose dog so useful on farms for general-hands or less-experienced shepherds.  These dogs would definitely bring the paper from the gate.
The Kelpie

This is the Australian all-round working dog that has NO dingo in it!  Kelpie breeders get very upset if you mention dingos!  It's the Aussie huntaway and is supposed to have been selected from strains of Border Collies.  Very tough either black or chocolate-coloured dogs.  In NZ it would be used mainly for cattle work.

Photo:  Kelpie (Source: Internet)

The Australian cattle dog 

Australian cattle dog (with red factor gene instead of blue)
 Also known as the "blue heeler", "Australian heeler" or "Queensland blue heeler" - and probably a lot of other unprintable things too.  These are tough dogs bred to heel and nose cattle - real Aussie battlers!  Their well-documented genetic origin contains "black bobtails" (presumably collie), definitely dingo to get rid of barking, as well as Kelpie, blue merle collie, Dalmatian, and probably a lot more.  Generally too tough for most shepherds unless you have stroppy cattle to handle.  A loyal and tough dog.

Surprisingly they are increasing in popularity in New Zealand as pets and show dogs, so their future as workers is clearly at risk.

The rough-coated collie
These are the dogs that "Lassie" made famous.  Useless as working dogs as their working genes have been lost through the show ring. 

The Shetland sheepdog or Sheltie

This is smaller version of the rough coated collie from Scotland's northern most islands.  They were the crofter’s working dogs but now useless as workers.

Sheltie (Source:  Internet)

Old English sheepdog 
A very old breed of working dog developed to handle intensive sheep on the English downland.   Now completely ruined as a working dog by show ring standards.  Many of these dogs now cannot see for facial hair - unless it's tied up with a ribbon.  Modern shepherds as far as I know don't carry ribbons!

 Photo:  Old English sheepdog (Source: internet)

The Corgie
Once the tough little Welsh cattle dog, and you may still find some that will heel cattle.  Two strains exist - the Cardigan and the Pembrokeshire.  Now generally useless for working stock, but made popular because of Royal associations.

Pembroks Corgi (Source:  Internet)

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