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