Some Thoughts on The Smooth Collie

As most of you know, I love dogs. Some of you will remember my days as a dog musher. Those memories are some of my fondest. Sadly, I got a bit old to keep up with that. But huskies have not been anywhere near the only breed of dogs I’ve owned. Brittan and I have kept a good variety. It’s only been our move to Scotland, and living in an upstairs apartment with no yard, that has changed all that.

I still read all I can. I watch dog shows. I watch you tube videos. I will walk dogs, and even help people with training challenges. I’ll do pretty much anything I can to be around them.

Recently, I read an article about British breeds that are at risk right here in the country of their origin. These breeds are not necessarily at risk world wide, but some are very close to disappearing here in the land of their birth. As I read through the list, I was utterly shocked at some of the breeds on the list. Brittan and I have owned three of them, and would own them again. There are several others on the list I would gladly own. And perhaps I will do an article about each of them, who knows. But I’m going to write about each of the breeds we’ve owned, that are at risk of extinction here in Great Britain.

The first of those, is the Smooth Collie. The Smoothie, is identical in build and color to the Lassie style, Rough Collie, only it has short hair. In fact, they are the same breed. A litter can actually have both smooth and rough coated pups, depending on the genes carried by the parents.

Everything about them is the same, except the grooming requirements in the Smooth variety, are much simpler. They are amazing family dogs, are great watch dogs, and are strong herding dogs. There are many who would contend that the Smooth Collie is actually better at herding. I would contend that is merely because more of them have been used as working dogs in recent years, due to the difficulties in coat maintenance required for a Rough, and the popularity of the athletic little Border Collie.

In Great Britain, last year, only 60 Smooth Collie puppies were registered with the Kennel Club. That got a big WOW out of me. Although the breed is from right here in Scotland, I have never seen one in this country. I’ve seen a few at dog shows, but never anywhere else. And that’s a tragedy.

Brittan and I have owned three, all while we lived in the States. Our first, Dream, was a Blue Merle, with brown eyes, and we rescued her from a puppy mill when we lived in Maine. She was 6 years old at the time. As an aside, I wrote the last chapter of my upcoming book, Life Lessons From A Lead Dog, about Dream, as an introduction to the next book, which I’m currently calling, Choose Joy.

Dream was an absolute delight, despite her tough start in life. She had been seriously over bred during her 6 years. One of the first things we did, was have her spayed. But despite her difficult time, she was loving, and smart, and a tremendous watch dog. She was not a guard dog. But no one sneaks up on or into a collie’s home. They will make sure their owners, and everyone else in the neighborhood knows someone in in the yard. They have huge barks, and to be fair, when they are standing at attention, barking at a stranger, they look quite intimidating.

Smoothies are not as glamorous as their Rough Cousins. But they are, in my opinion, more so than the amazing, and popular, Border Collie, but don’t have nearly the exercise requirements that Border’s have. I can’t think of a single negative characteristic they possess.

Our last two, did have a tendency when they were young, to kill chickens, if the birds got into the yard. But in time, we managed to train that out of them, and one of the two, Lady, would even help me corral loose ones and get them back to where they belong.

Our third Smooth Collie, Karma, was a beautiful tri color, who was rather beautiful in every way, but a bit small. Not Shetland Sheepdog small, but rather small for a collie. She got over killing chickens before Lady did, but she had a taste for fresh eggs, and if she got into them, she could gobble them up before you could say, ‘Don’t do that!’

Dream used to go hunting with me on our property in Maine. We would walk through the woods and she would enjoy every minute of the outing, until I fired the gun. She hated it, and would take off running back to the house. When I got home, she’d be sitting on the back porch waiting for me. Eventually, I stopped taking a gun when Dream was along.

She was the first dog I ever owned that I could walk off leash. She would go down to the sled dog kennels with me and show off to them that she was free. The huskies didn’t mind her. They were perfectly self assured. After all, they were sled dogs. It their minds, that made them extra special.

Dream lived to be 13. She died of cancer. In my memory she was the perfect dog. She set a standard that Lady and Karma could never quite live up to. They were very good dogs. I was crazy about them. Lady was as smart a dog as I’ve ever owned. She was funny. Karma was photogenic. She loved cuddles. But she was not confident, and training was difficult. She took corrections personally, and got depressed. And she loved to get in your lap. We have a photo somewhere of Brittan on the mower, trying to cut the grass, and Karma is on her lap.

My one regret, is not training Lady for agility. She would have been awesome at it. She was trainable, athletic, and easy to reward.

Smooth Collies are the perfect family dog. They do shed. Girls more than the boys. But, as a breed, they are the perfect fit. They are light footed, meaning they won’t wear a path in your yard, like German Shepherds will. They will be great friends who you can train to do anything.

Fortunately, the Europeans really like them. I follow several on Instagram. Americans like them, too. Not like Rough Collies, but there are plenty of them in the States. But for some reason, I can’t figure out, the British have turned their noses up at the grandfather of all the Scottish Herding Dogs, the Smooth Collie.

If you are looking for a puppy, I encourage you to check out this breed. If you’re in the U.K. chances are, any one breeding them is a responsible breeder, but check out the breed club if you’re in doubt. If you live in the States, check out the breed club, or the AKC. Don’t just buy a pup you see advertised. And look into the breed rescue groups. There are often Smoothies looking for a new home. We’ve had a love of great dogs this way.

If you’ve got any questions about Smooth Collies, drop me a line and ask. I would love to hear from you. And here’s a hint, our next article will be about the Cardigan Welsh Corgi.

Some Thoughts On The Westminster Dog Show 2021

Saluki Persian Greyhound stock image. Image of nature ...

I have absolutely been head over heels crazy about dogs since I was in the first grade. We had an American Eskimo named Prince. He was white, fluffy, and probably drove my mom nuts with his shedding. As a kid, he’s the only dog we ever had in the house. I’m pretty sure that cured my mother of the practice. After Prince, my dad got a little 13 inch Beagle, we called, Duke. Duke was everything a kid could want in a dog. He was a perfect companion. My dad bought him as a hunting Beagle. I was way too young to hunt. Duke was my adventure companion in the hills and forest lands around our small town in Indiana.

Sadly, Duke got out one day, and a drunk neighbor found him, caught him, and beat him almost to death, breaking nearly every bone in his body. My sister and I were at my grandparents when this happened. My mom said that Daddy cried like a baby, and had to put Duke down. The mystery as to why Daddy didn’t return the favor to the neighbor has stumped me for the last 58 years.

Dad said he would never get another dog. He meant it. When I was old enough to go to the library, school and public, I would read about dogs. I read everything I could get my hands on; stories, breed books, I read them all. By the time I was in the 8th grade, I had read every dog book in the elementary school, the Jr. High, and the public libraries in Lexington, KY. I resorted to buying books designed for teenage girls, like, “Love Me, Love My Dog.” I kid you not.

My maternal grandparents had a riding and boarding stable. All of my aunts, uncles, and most of my cousins were horse daft. I can’t blame them. I liked the horses. But all of my grandpa’s love for horses was passed on to me, in the love of dogs.

I think the summer of 1976 was when I saw my first dog show. It was outdoors, in Joplin, MO. I stood there with my mouth open and my chin on the ground. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I roamed from ring to ring watching dogs of every kind compete for ribbons and trophies.

I went to one back in Lexington, in 78, and focused mostly on Belgian Malinois and Siberian Huskies. By that time, I had a husky and an Alaskan Malamute. One was just a back yard bred pet, and the other, a rescue dog from the local animal Shelter.

My own library was brimming with books on Siberian Huskies, and other sleddogs. I had one on Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, and one on Belgian Shepherds. I was seriously obsessed.

I got my first show dog, A Siberian Husky, in the mid 1980s in Scotland, when I was living here the first time. She was a typical gray and white girl with blue eyes. She was a thing of beauty to me. She had an average show career. Nothing special. She did qualify twice for Crufts, the UK’s biggest dog show. I took her once. Her name was Dawn. She gave birth to several dogs who qualified for Crufts, at least one Champion, and a boy who was my first lead dog, and who qualified for Crufts for life, during his limited show career.

I loved dog shows. I loved the competition, and the camaraderie. I loved the feeling of collecting ribbons. I loved showing off my dogs. I loved getting together with friends and bashing the judge when he or she didn’t give anything to our canine companions. I drove thousands of miles, and spent thousands of dollars in pursuit of those ribbons. Then I got involved in training and racing my huskies. Everything changed.

At first, It was loads of fun keeping my show dogs in shape. Then I started to notice small differences between the most successful show dogs and the most successful racing dogs. In the early days, I considered the show dogs superior examples of the breed, while the successful athletes at least had that to fall back on when no one wanted their photos, and they had no ribbons.

For several years, I worked as a ring steward in some major dog shows. That allowed me to talk to breeders, owners, and judges. I was a sponge. I soaked up everything I could learn. And I got to work with dozens of different breeds from Chihuahuas to English Mastiffs.

Over time, and with experience, my opinions completely shifted. I began to understand what made a successful athlete, and how they fit the breed standard best. I also noted how the breed standard for the Siberian Husky, and other breeds, changed over the years to highlight certain features that had no role in their working ability.

In the last 30 years, my eyes are totally different in what I’m looking for in a working dog, a gun dog, a hound, or a herding dog. I watch for dogs who can still excel at what the were originally bred to do. In nearly every ‘working’ breed, including Terriers, there is a vast difference between successful show and successful working dogs. Most breeds have arguments in their breed focused websites and discussion groups. It’s fun and it’s funny. It’s also sad.

Now, nearly two pages in, I finally get to last weekend’s Westminster. I didn’t get to watch it live, due to the 5 hour time difference between the US east coast and Scotland. But the internet had all the breed judging as well as the groups and best in show. I fixed a cup or 10 of tea, and in between projects and before going to bed, I watched hours of it. Have I mentioned how much I love dogs?

The first thing, is I loved the fact that Covid drove the show outdoors. I think outdoor shows are the best. I think the dogs look better on grass, and have better footing outside. I love the fresh air, and the whole atmosphere of an outdoor show. I wish they all could be outside. Here in Scotland, we have a few open air shows, but not many, because the odds of rain are pretty darned good. I congratulate Westminster on the outdoor event.

I think the coverage was excellent. The crews and commentators took the show, dogs, and handlers seriously. Awesome.

I hated the fact that spectators were not allowed in. I know that’s been true of all kinds of sports since Covid mania has taken control of the world. The vendors and spectators make the shows truly exciting. And the best dogs feed off of the crowd noise. The just do. Ask any judge or successful handler. So that was a bummer.

I did not watch every breed. First, I’m not interested in every breed. I’m glad some people are. I personally don’t particularly like some breeds in every group. I’m glad that others do. Every dog has a group of fans. Yay.

I watched the breed judging for about 30 breeds. I watched the groups. And Best in Show. The first thing I saw was the Hound Group. I stumbled on it on YouTube. From there I went to the Show website to watch the rest.

The Hound Group made me realize that I was going to have some problems, as usual, with the dogs, and with the judging. No surprise there.

First, I wouldn’t even had put the Whippet in the final four. I was delighted to see the two coonhounds placed. I remember when Bluetick and Redbone were not even recognized by the AKC, so to see that result made me cheer.

While I watched the dogs moving, the Saluki actually took my breath away. It was stunning. I honestly thought there was no way that dog was not going to finish first. Boy was I wrong.

I did not pick a winner in any single group. Nor would I ever pick a Pekingese as Best in Show. But, honestly, those are the type of dogs best suited for a dog show.

As I watched the breed judging I was almost sickened by the quality in some of the dogs. Some breeds hardly even resemble the breeds from my youth. So many are much blockier, with heavy bodies and shorter legs. One thing I learned early on in showing dogs, was that short legged dogs move better in indoor rings. They are often smaller than outdoor rings, and longer legged dogs need a little more room to get fully into stride. This has had a major impact on breeding over the years.

I noticed it in Siberian Huskies, in some of the Belgian Sheepdogs, Lakenois, and Tervuren. I saw it in some of the Smooth Collies, and in loads of the retrievers. I thought the Bullmastiffs, and Boerbels looked pretty good. Most of them needed a little more exercise. This showed in their toplines. The English Mastiffs were much smaller than I expected them to be. Gorgeous, but more like pocket mastiffs. I won’t even comment on what’s happened to the German Shepherd breed, in the show ring. If you look at those dogs, and look at the ones being successful in IPO, or flyball, they don’t even look like the same breed. The health issues they face are incredible.

In short, (I’m thinking three full type written pages is anything but short), my thinking is that Dog Shows have not been good for any breed of dog that was created for an active purpose. Whether that is running and pulling, digging out vermin, hunting down pigs or deer, protecting and herding livestock, you name it. For the Toy, and Non Sporting Dogs, it’s all fine. But for most breeds, the show ring has been a long term disaster.

Don’t misunderstand me, the dogs were all….drop dead gorgeous. Some of the Siberians nearly took my breath away. There were very few who could make my team, but they were groomed to perfection, and they behaved impeccably. How can anyone not love a well groomed Papillon, or fail to fall in love with a French Bulldog? But I wonder if there was a single musher, hunter, or farmer who thought they saw their next dog in the Westminster Kennel Club Show.

I guess when all is said and done, I had mixed reviews. Some stunning canines. But some big disappointments. Well done to all the competitors. You did well. Your dogs looked fantastic. Well done to the judges. I’m sorry you didn’t ask my advice, but you did alright. And I can’t wait till next year!

BTW, I’m still upset about that Saluki. For my money, the Best in Show didn’t even get placed in Group!

Some Changes In Content Coming!

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It won’t be much of a surprise to regular readers of this space to hear me announce some coming changes. I really appreciate your patience as I try and find my groove. A few months ago, I used this space for my Paranormal Investigations Podcast. Sadly, that only lasted a few months. It just didn’t catch on. I went back to posting mostly about my Keto Diet experience. I must admit, there have been a lot of readers of that information. Thank you. I’m going to continue it, just not quite as much.

I intend to use this space to write about my experience and life with purebred dogs. I’m in the middle of writing a new book, called, “Life Lessons Form a Lead Dog”. The book is going to be a collection of stories and adventures from my 32 years showing and mushing sled dogs. It’s a lot of fun reliving those stories. But I’ve also spent a lot of years working with rescue dogs, and other purebred canines. And I want to launch a podcast and maybe a YouTube channel, built around my experience, and to use it to promote purebreed Rescue agencies.

There are thousands of purebred dogs, in these Rescue Centers looking for homes. There are lots of people looking for a purebred dog but not knowing about these rescue agencies. I want to connect the seekers with the providers. This way, everybody wins.

I want to talk to people about how to feed, exercise, and train your rescue dog. The posts, and podcasts will not be designed for people who want to compete with their dogs, though I’ll provide the resources to do so. It will be mostly about people who want to have an excellent canine companion.

I will still post quite a bit of stuff regarding my Keto Diet experience. And I will include the occasional money management diatribe.

I’m getting close to retirement. Yikes. And I want to spend a good deal of time working with dogs and the people who love them. I don’t want to start a bunch of different websites and blogs. I will use this one. The search engines already know this site. It makes the most sense.

Please stick around and enjoy all the discussions. If you subscribed for the Keto posts, don’t panic. I will post plenty of food stuff. If you subscribed looking for Paranormal discussions, I’m sorry. I’ll only rarely post about that. Although, I expect a couple in the next month or so. But no more podcasts. I recommend you try Paranormal Round Table. Check them out on YouTube, and on Facebook.

For those who want to follow me on Social Media, I’m on FB, Twitter and Instagram as @samburtonga. I’m fairly active on them all. I post a lot of Keto related stuff on Instagram. On FB I’m all over the map. On Twitter, I have been fairly inactive, apart from replying to posts, but I’m about to kick that up with ‘Life Lessons…’. And I’ve started a new Instagram page, @lifelessonsfromaleaddog. That page will be only related to dogs, dog stories, dog photos, and dog products.

I think that will do it. You are updated. I really appreciate all of you who have stuck with this page through all it’s iterations. Have a great weekend. I’ll talk to you soon.