DEAR OLD TRAINER: Every time I see a list of the smartest dogs, border collies are No. 1. I enjoy it when you talk about your own border collies and I wonder if you would explain why they are the smartest breed.
DEAR DENNIS: Border collies are the smartest because they have an advantage. For many years border collie owners and breeders refused to allow their breed to be part of the American Kennel Club.
Borders are working animals and have always been bred for ability, smarts and temperament. Looks played no part.
During the same period, other breeds were handicapped by one of the most illogical bits of AKC lunacy ever to surface: dog shows. Shows where dogs are judged only on looks, and the qualities that make dogs so great are ignored.
Only a species as noble as the dog could survive what the dog show world has done to them, but all breeds paid a price for having those noble qualities ignored in favor of looks and artificial standards.
Well, after years of that nonsense being inflicted on other breeds while owners of borders were judging their dogs on the important things: Is she smart, will she take a nap with me, does she like kids, will she chase a ball? Does he come when called, is he a fast learner, does he love on me, is he a good watchdog?
It’s easy to see why borders are smarter.
And that is still the way dogs are judged by the AKC.
A dog show today consists of unqualified people making capricious interpretations of arbitrary standards.
And when I say “arbitrary” I mean it. Breed standards come from committees. And how do they arrive at those arbitrary numbers? The members who have the most power give it some thought and (surprise!) invent measurements out of thin air that just happen to be the same as those of their own dogs.
In 1995 the AKC added the border collie breed despite howls from the border collie community. The standards they set for the breed have nothing to do with what is important in a dog. Here is an example:
Border collie: “Ears – The ears must be of medium size, set well apart, and carried erect or semi-erect. Semi-erect is defined as varying from 1/4 to 3/4 of the total length of the ear when the ear is erect. When semi-erect, the tips may fall forward or outward to the side, but never inward or backwards. The front edge of the ear should be precisely aligned with the back edge of the eye and both ears should be precisely the same distance above the eye on each side. Both ears must be the same length and color.”
In the real world, people know that is gibberish and no one pays the slightest attention. Borders dominate agility and Frisbee and IQ contests even though their ears are often different colors. Who cares?
There are plenty of smart dogs in the world, including mixed breeds. People love their dogs for all the good qualities listed above and no one cares if the ears are proportional to the axis of the hypotenuse.
That unconditional love every dog gives his human is what makes him a champion.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.