Border collies born and breed for herding livestock
BY SHARON SEMANIE
They are considered by some as the “most intelligent” of all dogs. They are characterized as “extremely energetic, acrobatic and athletic” and frequently compete in dog sports as well as head to greener pastures to round up herds of sheep. Bred in the Anglo-Scottish border region for herding livestock, the border collie has an extensive vocabulary and, when trained properly, obeys vocal commands such as “come by” and “away to me” or shrill whistles.
Such is the life for three border collies who live in a lush farm setting off Versailles Road between Piqua and Versailles, the home of Randy and Beth Sears. As one enters the tree-lined gravel driveway dotted with blue wildflowers, it doesn’t become immediately apparent that the dogs exist. Visitors are not greeted by barks or wagging tails. The trio is indoors and, one by one, introduced as they exit the screen door of the farmhouse and scamper feverishly around the yard.
Beth, a 1986 graduate of Troy High School, earned a degree in political science from Wittenberg University. She briefly wrote newspaper articles in Xenia and Middletown before she and her husband moved to the 35-acre farm some 15 years ago. Corn, soybean and hay fields were converted into a pasture and, in 2006, the couple purchased six Katahdin sheep, a breed of hair sheep developed in the United States near Mount Katahdin in Maine. The Katahdin are considered “hardy, adaptable low maintenance sheep that produce superior lamb crops and lean, meaty carcasses” and, best yet, do not require shearing.
The farm, explains Beth, has enabled the couple to be “closer to parents” and offer adequate space for their two Haflinger horses originally bred in Austria along with a menagerie of cats, chickens and a guard llama to protect sheep from coyotes and other predators. They breed the sheep — they now have several dozen — and have them butchered as lambs or for dog (border collie) training.
Beth acquired the border collies — two of which are adopted from a shelter — and works daily to teach obedience and agility to Caelie (who works the sheep), Mickie (a retired trial dog who competed at national level) and Tag (who is described as “charming” but lacks the power to herd and is now considered as a companion dog).
“I knew Caelie had the instinct (to be a sheepherder),” says Beth, “so in a controlled situation I put her out with the sheep and evaluated how she circled around them. It was determined she could be developed.” Collie dog breeds, she explained, are not evaluated so much by appearance but rather their ability. Most range in size from 25 to 50 pounds and different variations of colors and hair which is generally smooth and long.
While they are considered smart dogs, Beth says their behavior can be detrimental. They demonstrate a high energy level and have an instinctive “herding” urge to chase down cats or cars. They are described as “very sensitive” breed capable of reading one’s body language and can be trained. “It requires working them and taking them for long walks several hours a day. Although she considers herself a “novice” handler, Beth quickly shows how adept a border collie can be as she opens the door to a pasture and yells commands or blows a whistle for distance purposes as the dog herds up the sheep during a morning exercise and directs them back to the barn. As a dog sport, Beth admits it requires lots of investment and time and is ”not learned overnight.”
“It requires a lot of structure”, she explained, noting that Caelie continues to go for training at the home of Bruce and Linda Fogt in Sidney several months at a time. The Fogts publish a magazine called The Working Border Collie, Since 1981, Fogt has turned a hobby of training stock dogs into a full time occupation and reportedly has “trained hundreds of dogs for farm use and trial competition”
Fogt has reportedly trialed extensively throughout the country and has competed and judged in trials as far away as South Africa. He’s a repeat winner of the United States Border Collie Handlers Association National Finals. The Fogs now live on a sheep farm near Sidney where they raise and train border collies.
Beth suggests that individuals interested n training border collies also check out the website for Hado-Bar Farm in Elyria where they can see what’s involved in training and determine a dog’s qualifications. Tom and Judi Bigham invite interested persons to contact them at email@example.com.
An instinctive evaluation for a border collie is $50 per dog or $40 for lessons.
When not pursuing her “hobby” of training border collies and herding up sheep, Beth has a green thumb as evidenced by her healthy garden and is also a freelance writer for an area newspaper. In addition, she serves as executive director of Bridges to College based out of Greenville. The non-profit organization, she explained, is aimed at increasing the number of students from both Greeenville and Ansonia to attend college. Besides field trips to colleges such as Edison State at the sixth grade level, the organization works to generate money for scholarships for high school graduates and advise parents about financial aid opportunities for their children. To date, Bridges to College has awarded more than $43,000 to 28 students.
(Sharon Semanie is a writer for the Piqua Daily Call.)