February 29, 2016

Farm working Dogs in New Zealand. 2. Buying a dog.

By Dr Clive Dalton
Buying a dog can be a very worrying experience, especially if your current dog has just died or been killed.  You generally want a good dog that will work for you within 24 hours - and be as good if not better than the old friend you are still grieving. 

A pup
You cannot look at a pup and predict with any accuracy what it will turn out to be.  There is a lot of folklore on this such as taking the boldest pup in the litter, the one with black on the roof of it's mouth, the bitch's favorite, and so on is not reliable.

Dog handlers often stress that you should take a pup that you like, because you have to build a close bond with it over the 10 years or so you'll be together.  That's got to be very sound advice.

Always go to a reputable breeder, rely on the pedigree if there is one, or ask to see the parents working.  There is no official breed society for working dogs but if dogs win trials, they can if the owner wishes, be entered in the stud book of the NZ Dog Trials Association.  You don't get in there by your looks, you have to give public displays of your work to get there.

Half-broken dog
This is a dog that has started to work - but beware!  It may be one that has stopped again!  Or it may be a dog that has had a relationship bust-up with its boss, and there may be deep scars, that may cause problems for new owners.

There are many dog handlers who do especially well taking (often for free) dogs that other handlers were going to shoot, so it's not all bad news.  You many have the skills to form a good relationship with such a dog.  Just realise what is involved, and beware of what you may NOT have been told about the dog.

So just check the reason for selling.  If in doubt consult a member of your nearest branch of the NZ Sheep Dog Trial Association (SDTA).

Fully-trained dog bought privately
This is often the best option for a beginner as a reputable breeder will guarantee the dog.  This means that he/she will replace the dog or offer you the money back.  Check this before you buy.  They'll show you the dog working on their farm (for as long as you like), but remember the importance of the bond created between owner and dog.  You will not get the same performance from the dog until you build a similar bond.  That's why the guarantee is important.

Many breeders will give you details of the commands, either with a demo or a tape recording or both.  It'll take time for the dog to learn new sounds, as you will never be able to mimic the old commands to perfection.  The dog doesn't understand English, it only recognises sounds.

A fully-trained dog may appear costly - but just remember how many hours have gone into its training and the costs of feeding and care.  Work out the purchase price over an expected working life of 5-7 years and a top dog is always a bargain.   Again if concerned, get someone from your local SDTA to help you.

Dog bought at a sale
Special dog sales are common and there are sometimes dogs are put up at farm dispersal sales.  The points made above apply.  The only problem with a sale is that you won't have unlimited time to see the dog work.  It may only get a quick run around some friendly sheep and give a couple of barks and a leg cock.  You may not see all it's strengths or weaknesses.  It may not have time to grab a sheep by the jugular or hang on a bull's tail.

And you never know what the final price may be if someone else likes it!  If you're forced to buy at a sale, get someone from your local DTA to guide you.

Which sex?
There is a wide range of opinion here.  A male dog is often preferred, as they don't come on heat and get pregnant so need time off work.  The odd bit of wandering they do is not a mortal sin unless they worry a few sheep on the way home.   Getting a bitch pregnant is seen as their good luck rather than the bitch's misfortune.  You'll always get a pick from the resulting litter even if the bitch's owner is not very pleased.

Some people prefer a bitch because they are a softer nature and maybe less headstrong.  These points are debatable and differences in temperament are often strain differences rather than sex.

Bitches these days can be prevented from coming on heat by hormone treatment.  De-sexing of working dogs (by castration) and bitches (by spaying) not needed for breeding is not popular, as many believe it makes them more prone to put on fat and get sluggish.  Current veterinary opinion is that desexing working dogs has no bad effect on their working ability.  They get plenty of exercise so obesity is not a problem.

Which colour?

Not an important issue.  Shepherds like a dog that is easy to see at long distances.  You would think that white would be an ideal colour, but shepherds reckon it looks too much like a sheep, and the sheep get confused too!  Red and ginger dogs are hard to see sometimes so the ideal would be a combination of black, tan and some white.

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