Upcoming Workshop: Join us IN PERSON August 10th-11th in Carnation, WA — Click here for details!

And Though She Be But Little, She is Fierce

by | Jul 28, 2014 | 18 comments

There is a trend in our country toward big male border collies for agility.  I saw it at tryouts, both nationals, every regional I’ve attended, and I see it locally.  Now, before you all go disagreeing with me, know that I have no data, and I am not claiming to.  This is just something I have witnessed in my travels, and I am certain there are those that haven’t witnessed the same thing–but what the trend is isn’t important here–it’s what the trend implies that I’m concerned with.

I am not going to go on about the pros and cons of males and females (if you know me, you know my thoughts on that–and they are just that, thoughts).  This trend toward large males is no different from a trend toward a certain breeder or bloodline, or toward a handling system or particular training school.  These trends are all rampant and healthy–they demonstrate a true interest in our sport.  What worries me instead is that people are throwing wonderful dogs away because they aren’t the agility prototype Du-jour.

My personal experience with this involves a girl dog not 20 inches tall who didn’t start out very fast. She embodies Shakespeare’s words from A Midsummer Night’s Dream that are the title of this post. No one who has met her would disagree–she is fierce in mind though she is slight in body. When she was bouncing around the course hesitantly, when she ran under a 26″ jump in training, when there was a time she couldn’t hold a start line in competition because she was too afraid of the dogs behind her, I still believed in her. I have since she was a 6 pound puppy, and I haven’t stopped. She is not a flashy dog, she is not anything people in this sport would seek to breed or sell–if she is competitive it is because I believed she could be.  I see other competitors write off their young dogs early on–some competitors sending those dogs off to live elsewhere, others retiring them to the couch while they seek their next performance dog, more still continuing to run the dog, making excuses all the while. I wonder what would happen if someone believed in those dogs–the ones I see oozing with talent, only to be shoved to the back burner.  Worse still people write off the young dogs of other competitors.  Too small, too crazy, too loud, too WHATEVER–I heard it all with my dogs, too.  If I had believed all the hoopla about smaller female dogs not being able to jump high or run fast, what would have become of my fierce little Idgie?

The great teams, the ones I look up to most, are just that–TEAMS.  They are not a dog, or a handler, but a dog-human pair that stops your heart when you watch them run.  They can be Jenny Damm and Miss Lilli, or they can be my mom and her little pug.  It’s the connection between the two of them that really counts. For Oz the pug or Miss Lilli the border collie in different hands would have been something else.  Something else equally spectacular or not, depending on the faith the human half invested.

So if you catch yourself thinking your dog isn’t “____________” enough (fast, tall, powerful, smart, etc) remember this; some of the best teams our sport has ever seen were just people who loved a dog more than the game.  Keep it in mind while training and competing, and don’t forget it when you’re seeking your next dog for the sport.  Bigger does not equal better–better equals better, every time.


Idgie jumping high, running fast, and pouring her heart into every run at International Team Tryouts 2014






  1. Donna Hill

    Totally agree. My dad’s little BC (18.5″ at the shoulder, 29 lbs, fine-boned) was a workaholic from sheep lines. She would do anything and go anywhere, social with dogs and people (even would gently drop a ball into a stroller for infants to throw for her-LOL and share her ball with other dogs), fearless and fast and my dad and her had an amazing bond that everyone was envious of. Because he had a bad knee, he would stand in the middle of the course and just point out obstacles and she would take them smoothly, quickly and error free. He chose not to compete but they were an amazing team!

  2. Susan Flowers

    Well said!!!!! And what would anything be without dreams? I say often that I am working hard to enable my dog take us as far as he wants to go. That involves training and conditioning for both of us (especially me!). Thank you for such well-timed words 🙂

  3. Ashley Castro

    What about those of us that wanted a male but accidentally got a giant one? 😉 Mostly because the 19″ female I have in my home wouldn’t stand having a sister. I have noticed the trend though! People comment on Solo’s height all the time … I didn’t even know i t was a thing! And funny I’ve seen that quote from Shakespeare before for little ladies. Used it myself. My girl is a snapdragon and though she’s been snubbed by a lot of people I adore her. My little tiny rescue squirt.

    Well written as always.

  4. Mel

    Amen! Well-said!

  5. Kathy Matejka

    Right on Sarah. Thank you for these insights.

  6. Jamie and Risa

    Thank you for writing this. It speaks to my heart. My dog, though not an agility dog, is not an ideal competition dog. Fearful, dog reactive, a random mix of who-knows-what. She may not be the best dog for any type of competitive event but I love her for who she is and I always saw her potential for greatness even early on when we struggled with day-to-day life. I wasn’t sure she’d ever get into the ring to compete but she does. It’s never easy. I sometimes wish for different. But she competes with her heart and gives me all she can every time we’re out together. We make a great team and that’s what makes us awesome. I wouldn’t trade her for anything. Even the dog du jour!

  7. Imbi

    Exactly! I had to chuckle a bit, as 20 years ago, my first agility partner Indi happened to be a tall, large male rescue BC, which caused a few raised eyebrows, as we were not followers of the trend of that time. He was not flashy either, but we built our relationship into a true team partnership, and had fun doing so. Even won our division of NADAC nationals one year, also the Nationals tunnelers. I just adopted a rescue working farm BC pup. She was the runt, and is most likely to be a smallish girl. We will be rocking the fierce, because we believe.

  8. agilitychic

    Such great points – I love this “The great teams, the ones I look up to most, are just that–TEAMS. They are not a dog, or a handler, but a dog-human pair that stops your heart when you watch them run” – SO true

  9. Justbecause

    Nicely said! My Harley girl is my first dog since my teenage years, and also my first exposure to any sort of dog sport or real training (beyond the very very basics). Even before we started agility we had a close bond, and of course, this has just made us a better team. I have a bit of an inner competitive streak, I play with some highly competitive people, and I have to remind myself sometimes that it’s for the love of the sport, and the dog, and the fun that we have playing together; that my girl tries her heart out when I ask her to… and that by developing those qualities in ourselves, we are completely awesome. Your blog just reinforced that. Thanks 😀

  10. Bev Thorsteinson

    Wonderful insight, made me personally feel good, and ready to meet the challenges of my new dog, enjoyed this well written post 

  11. Theresa Thraen

    I run rescue border collies. Too often overlooked. As I tell folks race horse+race horse rarely equals race horse.The same is true in competition dogs. Rescues at 3 months and up you can evaluate their personality and drive to make sure it suits your goals, as well as their confirmation. AND you saved a life~always the best part.Will I be on the world team probably not am I enjoying the ride~ HELL YEAH. :-D♡♡♡

  12. Laura

    Loved this, my husband and I train and compete with mixed breed rescues, and we’ve raised some eyebrows at times. Our most advanced dog, Summer now runs at the advanced/masters level in most classes, her tag wags the entire time, she’s convinced she’s pretty special and everyone is there to see her. Buddy is our American bulldog mix, his drive to please and try his heart out attitude makes me smile even if his enthusiasm doesn’t always give us the cleanest runs :).

  13. cometgrrl

    I just started competing with my dog. She’s a rescue that almost lost a leg, she’s tiny (10 lbs, just under 12″) and she’s FAST! She loves agility and I love her, and together we make a great team!

  14. Kristýna Hrazdilová

    So true!!! My BOC is 45 cm (17,7 in; limit for large category in agility is 43cm) at shoulder and in our country jumps 55-65 cm (22-25,6 in). She is graceful, fast, and with very nice jump technique. Just sometimes we are beaten by dogs with similar body type, just few cm higher (= every single bounce, jump is a bit longer).
    But she is the best I would never think about any “exchange” for a few cm 🙂 (but my breeder owes me a 5 cm and 2 kilos of BOC 😀 )
    It is not about height, weight, fear, success (you name it) it is all about love and faith and fun 🙂

  15. and also, dogs

    Thank you. Yes! Wonderful and sadly so important to keep reminding people in the sport of this.

  16. Steve Schwarz

    I really like this article and truly believe it is all about the relationship, the team work, and human doing the best they can to help their dog do their best.

    I’m a little surprised by your comment: “What worries me instead is that people are throwing wonderful dogs away because they aren’t the agility prototype Du-jour.” I haven’t heard of that happening, but maybe I don’t associate with people who would do such a thing. Everyone I know in agility gets a dog and loves it as a family member first and if agility isn’t that dog’s “thing” they find what that dog loves.

    • cogdogtrainer

      That’s EXCELLENT, Steve. I see it happening rarely, but even a rare occurrence is too often. Frequently, the “throw away” is more of a mental action, not a real abandonment of the dog. Many people dismissing their dog’s potential based on silly outside opinions. Thanks for the FB share 🙂

  17. Rosalie

    This is the best commentary I have read about dogs period in a long time. Thank you for sharing.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Looking for more help from Sarah?

Pricing Starts at $47.00

Webinars & Courses

By Sarah Stremming

Choose from a variety of self-study courses and webinars ranging in topics from reactivity to crate training.

Adolescent dogs, multi-dog households, and even ringside sport skills are all here.

Pricing Starts at $79 Per Month

Cog Dog Membership

With Sarah Stremming

Can’t decide which course is for you? Want to see what the classroom has to offer and then some?

Valued at over $2500 with exclusive live events and access to community advice (and mine!), join the membership!

Custom Pricing

Private Coaching

With Sarah Stremming

For folks ready to do the deep work, who need help from me. Major behavior concerns, complex issues, and dedicated people come here to transform their current experience to more closely match the one they imagined. Availability is extremely limited, but the results are worth a wait.