NOTE: This article
represents the opinions of Roger and Elaine Stevens.
No reference to any specific breeder
or judge is
When "breed standard" is mentioned, most people
associate it with the breed ring and showing in conformation. So, we
probably should state right up front that conformation is not our primary event.
Elaine does show some in conformation but does not consider herself a polished
handler. We do not travel long distances just for a conformation show. However,
if there is a stockdog trial being held in conjunction with a conformation show,
we will normally be there if it is within reasonable driving distance, and we
will show some dogs in conformation. We donít have anything against
conformation, but everyone has their favorite thing to do and it just happens
not to be ours!!
One of the reasons we don't show more is because we feel
that, with few exceptions, the Aussie is not being judged by its breed standard.
We personally breed
for and critique our dogs by the ASCA breed standard, because it is the original
Australian Shepherd breed standard, written by the people whose kennels are the
foundation of the breed, and we feel that it is the more stringent standard and
was written with an active working dog in mind. However, even at ASCA
shows most of the judges prefer the larger, heavier boned and coated
The ASCA standard uses the term "medium" or
"moderate" a total of twelve times. It is very clear that the Aussie
should be an overall moderate dog, with no excess in any area. However, most of
the Aussies that we see in the conformation ring today, in our opinion, are
excessive in bone and coat, and some of them in size. The trend also seems to be
toward a shorter-backed, cobbier type dog. These traits result in a heavier,
slower moving dog with limited stamina, not the lithe, agile, swift worker that the Aussie was meant
to be. If the Aussie was judged on its movement and conformation while
performing working tasks, many of these dogs couldnít hold up. We feel that
the majority of breeders have forgotten (or donít care) that the Aussieís
origin is as a herding dog, and they are breeding for traits that are in direct
conflict of the breedís purpose in life.
We really have a problem with is
the current trend toward temperament. If you contact someone who breeds
conformation dogs and inquire about a show prospect, usually the first thing
they will tell you is: "He/she has tons of bone and coat, a lot of
angulation (what about moderation???) and is very outgoing. Has a real show
attitude." Now the ASCA breed standard says that the Australian Shepherd is
"...reserved with strangers but does not exhibit shyness." To us, it
is a real challenge for a dog that has the typical Aussie temperament, according
to the breed standard, to retain that temperament while allowing strange judges,
that the dog has never seen before, approach it, and put their hands all over
the dog, even looking into their mouth and feeling of their private parts. If
the dog has the typical Aussie temperament and doesnít greet the judge with a
happy smile and wiggly butt, it most of the time it doesnít get another look.
We think that the breeders, and the judges, need to remember that we are not
breeding nor showing Goldens; these are Australian Shepherds and are not
intended to be happy go lucky, outgoing, never-meet-a-stranger dogs. There is a
purpose for their reserved temperament and to ask them to be otherwise is in
direct conflict of the breed standard.
Another reason we donít compete
more in conformation is because our experience has been that the "working type"
Aussie has a very tough time completing a conformation championship. No matter
how correct it may be, if it doesnít have the tons of bone and coat and happy
attitude, it is overlooked time and again -- even though this is the
"type" our breed originated from. Twenty or thirty years ago all
Aussies looked that way. Except in rare cases, the only time it seems that the
moderate Aussie gets a fair chance is when they are shown under an
"old-time" ASCA breeder judge who remembers what our breed originated
from. It is disheartening to have a very correct, moderate Aussie that has
lovely movement, conforms to the breed standard, is hard as nails from working
every day, and is consistently dumped in the breed ring because of its
moderation and "type". Or perhaps because it's
"plain", with no chrome or copper.
Whoís to blame for this change in the breed? Well, we
could blame the breeders for attempting to enhance traits unnatural to the
breed. But then, they are just trying to win in the breed ring, so let's
blame the judges who put up dogs who arenít typical specimens of the breed.
And we could blame all the people who buy the "show type" Aussie,
thereby perpetuating the atypical type. And I guess we could just blame
mankind in general for the trend toward urbanism and the rapidly diminishing
number of farms and ranches, and therefore the need of good working stockdogs.
But instead of blaming someone, which
wonít do any good at all, why donít we all just work together, try to
remember the Aussieís roots, and turn the trend back to more moderation in our
breed, with emphasis on functionability??
Over the course of time many breeds of dogs, especially
hunters and herding dogs, have lost the instinct to do the job for which they
were bred. Once lost, these natural instincts are virtually impossible to
recover. We don't want to see this happen to the Australian Shepherd but
it CAN and it WILL if those of us who are concerned with its future don't
do everything we can to preserve its heritage. You don't have to have a
farm and livestock and actively work an Aussie to help preserve its
heritage. Study the pictures of the foundation dogs and the next time you
want to add an Aussie to your family, go for the moderate "old type".
To view a comparison of the ASCA and AKC breed standards,