By Eva and Leslie Rappaport
Reprinted from Collie Expressions
In order to formulate any kind of meaningful and broadly applicable standard of selection, we’ve reviewed our observations of puppy growth and development, trying to sort the many variables that have surfaced in the course of raising 64 litters. We have tried to pinpoint the common denominators of quality and were helped considerably in this effort by our vivid and ever-present memory of the great, compelling individual Collies who have enriched our lives over the past two decades.
Each of these dogs has contributed to our understanding of Collies. Each has left a mark on our yardstick of criteria for quality, and each has influenced our guidelines for puppy development and selection. What they all had in common are two great virtues: charisma and harmony.
Charisma epitomizes the strongly focused personality: alert, responsive, resourceful, and capable of long-sustained interest. Harmony reflects the balance of outer and inner beauty: a dog with style and with an unencumbered personality that feels free to make appropriate choices. Such individuals sense very early that they are special and important, and every positive experience reinforces their strong sense of self. They share an abundance of vitality, curiosity, innate intelligence, and a talent to elicit whatever they may need to secure their status. They convey to us beyond doubt, through persistent eye contact and eloquent body language, that they “belong” and are here to stay.
These future “greats” present themselves with style and panache, always standing squarely, their nice long tails (carried at the proper height) wagging with delight. Little as they may be, they don’t paddle, pound, crab, or double track; with elbows tight and back steady, they float past us with effortless grace and return gleefully bearing well worn gifts. Whatever the situation or context may be, they prefer interaction to passivity and since every appropriate behavior is promptly rewarded with lavish praise, they are convinced that they have everything to gain – and nothing to lose – from their association with people. For most people, this conviction grows with experience, but the special puppies seem to accept it on faith. With beguiling personal magnetism, these puppies draw attention to their virtues while downplaying their faults.
Physical traits are often easier to chart than personality development, particularly for a breed as rich and diverse in character and ability as the Collie. The breed specific traits can be seen as a baseline for selection: the longer the baseline, the broader the repertoire of a dog’s behaviors. A short baseline (i.e. ranging from ‘slow’ to ‘hyper’ or ‘dumb’ to ‘bright’) leaves no room for differentiation or gradations between extremes and would limit our choices to the point of boredom.
Lassie’s popularity increased in direct proportion to the breadth of her/his repertoire and the scripts’ level of sophistication. We, too, appreciate and yes, prefer the more complex, differentiated personalities; dogs with the capacity to process lots of information and transform it into appropriate, specific, skilled, effective action. These are the dogs we most enjoy, be it at conformation shows, herding trials, carting or agility events, therapy visits, or farm chores. We could sum it up as desire to learn coupled with the physical endowment to perform and the emotional expansiveness to initiate, bond, and follow through.
Incredibly, the signposts are all in place at a very, very early age. We see this attitude expressed in many, often subtle ways but at all times and in all situations, the dog’s charisma is palpably evident: the eloquent inner light is ever present.
The complexity of any breeder’s selection process increases with the number of variables being considered. Even with a clear mental image of the “ideal” Collie, any given breeding presents specific priorities which will influence the selection process for that particular litter. Needless to say, we will look for the puppy or puppies that most strongly display the specific trait(s) we sought to improve with that breeding. And so, the lofty goal of producing and selecting the individual that most nearly meets our image of perfection may become compromised in the process of juggling the nitty gritties.
Priorities change as a breeding program evolves. If we were looking for a top male or a great bitch, we would certainly consider the family background. Since assertiveness and libido in stud dogs and fertility and nurturing ability in brood bitches are strongly inherited traits, we would keep a boy dog from a prepotent male line and a bitch pup from a long line of outstanding dams – from individuals that can be counted on to produce their virtues, but not their faults.
Our criteria for judging quality change as we grow as our eye becomes trained. As our capacity to see detail improves, our sensibilities become fine tuned. Some 60 litters ago, we hardly noticed big feet; 50-some litters ago, imperfect tails were no big deal; 40-some litters ago, ears were something to “work with,” not breed for. Now we look quite early for the puppies that display the most of all possible bests the elements of harmony.
A future “great” catches your eye at birth and probably always will hold your attention. It is the pup that, at ten days, is the first to notice the papered toilet corner of the whelping box; the one who, a few days later, is the quickest to react to the presence of people – the one who waddles determinedly to the edge of the box, strains to reach up and promptly relaxes when held against a warm face. It is usually the strongest pup with the best body tone and the nicest proportions.
Such a pup inevitably gets high scores for head qualities at seven to ten days, when we remove dewclaws and take notes about head details. What we see at this time is crucial – and usually accurate. We look for a boxy, high- and long-skulled baby head with a big, mushy muzzle almost as wide or even wider than the back skull. We want the lower jawbone straight, smooth, and unlike a slice of pie, parallel to the lip and muzzle line; we’d like maximum height or volume from jawbone to lip (aka “strong underjaw”.)
We want to see forefaces that are filled out around the nose button, with the line connecting nose and chin set at a 750 angle. Blunt, well-rounded forefaces on young puppies usually remain “finished;” puppies with scant muzzles and shallow underjaws may never have sufficient finish. Also at about ten days (and regularly thereafter), we check for a level muzzle line, smooth frontal bones, and the straight flattest possible cheekbones, preferably on the same plane as the edges of the skull. Such heads rarely become lumpy or course and will most likely mature into pleasing one-piece heads rather than ill-defined, multi-planed heads that lack all precision and elegance. It is the smooth blending of the facial planes and muzzle that provides a favorable setting for the eyes. Even though the stop and eye shape may change, the eye set rarely does. The one to three weeks old puppy with optimal head proportions and planes tends to maintain stable head qualities and ultimately produces them.
Sometimes, of course, the cookie doesn’t crumble according to expectations, as when the best-headed pup lacks the all-important proud carriage or conversely, when the most animated, smoothly moving pup develops a terribly gay tail or worse yet, when the pup with the wonderful foreface and maximum underjaw goes undershot at twelve months. Still we are amazed whenever we hear of a great champion who, at four, five or six months was nearly relegated to pethood, only to bloom to perfection later in life. Our best dogs never really suffered such drastic changes, even at the critical states of development.
Ultimately, not all pretty dogs possess charisma and harmony; and puppies lacking charisma have little chance of becoming striking adults. Harmony is more than a collection of perfect components; it is a certain arrangement of components, a balance of lines, angles and weights, the total physical design displayed in a convincing manner, with charisma. With luck, we all will have the good fortune and tremendous satisfaction of sharing, through breeding or ownership, in the lives of some truly great specimens of our breed.
Kings Valley “Cliff Notes”
0-16 Days: See Text
14-16 Days: Eyes and ears open. Move from box to pen. Start solid food.
16-21 Days: Adjustment to large pen.
21-28 Days: Observe eye size, shape, set; who comes, plays, energy level.
4 to 6 Weeks: Observe range of outdoor play; use of space; footing changes. Group visits in the house; indoor games.
6 to 7 Weeks: Farm walk; exploring new terrain; following along. Eye checks.
7 to 9 Weeks: Puppy training; sit, down, stand, come. Walks in pairs; stairs. First cut; companion puppies leave (less charisma/harmony).
9 to 12 Weeks: Retrieving; early herding exposure; barn visits, individual walks. Observe expression, head lengthening, carriage, bone. Working pups leave.
12 to 16 Weeks: Individual training; gaiting; focusing; leash, care; single visits. Observe bonding, stamina, interest in learning, ability, pride. Observe rears, movement, tails, bites, toplines, fronts. Show prospects leave (or stay).