Articles of Interest
Sheltie Conference || Panel discussion on ideal type || Herding with the Shetland Sheepdog
Sheltie Conference 2000
By Tom Coen
I was pleased when I was informed that I had been selected by the ASSA Board to represent the US at the World Sheltie Conference 2000 in the United Kingdom. At the time it was an exciting prospect, but I didn’t realize the amount of work that would be involved in preparing for the event. Nor did I realize how difficult it would be to familiarize the Sheltie fancy around the world with our dogs, our methods of grooming and handling and our point and judging systems. My thanks to Pat Ferrell, ASSA Historian, who kindly lent me material to study. Years ago, probably twenty or so, I had studied the English handbooks that Mary Van Wagenen made available to US breeders, but that left quite a gap and a lot of catching up was in order!
The idea for the Conference 2000 was conceived about four years ago by Madeleine Lund, whose Starbelle Kennels are located in Sweden. The stated purpose of the conference was to understand the current status of breed type throughout the world with regard to the Shetland Sheepdog and discuss how to best preserve the correct type for the future. Madeleine deserves much credit for her concern for the breed and she must have been pleased to see her vision become a reality. The element that took the concept from a “good idea” to an actual event was the hard work of the ESSC committee, host for the event. Several years of effort went into the planning of the conference and the task of handling all the details would have been overwhelming. Dick and Barbara Thornley, who had been in contact with me for over a year, showed great attention to detail and saw that everything went smoothly. They and their committee deserve a huge vote of thanks and we cannot acknowledge them enough for their hard work and hospitality.
Nioma and I arrived on Thursday to give ourselves a day to adjust to the time change. We even managed to take a punt tour on the river to view the colleges at Cambridge before we succumbed to sleep! On Friday we traveled to Huntingdon, which is about two hours north of London, and checked into the Marriott hotel which was the host hotel for the weekend. The English SSC Championship show, which would be the equivalent of our National Specialty, was to be held on Saturday, October 21st, with the conference following on Sunday. The hotel proved to be an excellent choice with nicely decorated rooms, good food and a staff that was cheerful and helpful.
We were anxious to get to the show Saturday morning and were pleased to find it was only a ten minute drive from the hotel, even with our uncertainty and very limited driving experience in the UK. The show venue was an arena at the Wood Green Animal Shelter. There was bleacher seating for the spectators and benching for the dogs—something that we rarely see anymore with the exception of the Garden and the Philadelphia show. There were no grooming spaces as we know them, although there were a few grooming tables and a fair amount of poofing going on in the benching area. The total entry of 428 dogs were judged in one day by two judges with two rings, one for dogs and one for bitches, running concurrently, although their starting time was staggered by a half hour. Needless to say this made for a long day for the judges who were both efficient as well as kind and patient with the exhibitors. The judge for the dogs, Margaret Norman, is a long time Sheltie breeder whose famous Francehill dogs have had a strong impact on the breed. Mrs. Norman has recently published a book, “The Complete Shetland Sheepdog,” which is very comprehensive and includes a comparison of the English and American standards. The judge for the bitches was Gwen Beaden of the very successful Myriehewe Shelties. The only downside to having Gwen as the judge was that we didn’t get to see the beautiful CH Myriehewe Rosa Bleu, the UK’s top CC winner and a bitch we’ve admired greatly in her photos!
During the lunch break the rings were opened up for the judging of the progeny classes, which would be the equivalent of our stud dog and brood bitch classes. Mrs. Rosemary Marshall of the well known Forestland Shelties officiated for these classes, showcasing each group (there was no limit to the number of progeny included) so that you could clearly see who the consistent producers were.
From the time of our arrival at the arena, we were asked if the dogs and proceedings were at all shocking to us. Actually, to us, things weren’t so very different and within a short time we found ourselves “ringside judging” and were definitely in the ball park with both judges winners. The English dogs appear less substantial than their American cousins. In part, this is due to the difference in grooming, which is more subtle, as the Kennel Club is rigorous in enforcing the rules against hairspray and other grooming products. The dogs were clean and well brushed, but without the chalking and the denser leg hair of many of the Shelties in the US, they appeared quite a bit lighter in bone. It should be noted that the English standard calls for a “small, long-haired working dog of great beauty, free from cloddiness and coarseness” while the American standard states that the Sheltie should be “a small, alert, rough-coated, long-haired working dog. He must be sound, agile and sturdy.”
With an ideal size of 14 1/2” for dogs and 14” for bitches, we expected to see smaller size all through the entry, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. I was dying to pick up several of the dogs just to get an idea of their heft, but managed to refrain from asking until after the conference. Actually, the dogs were usually heavier to lift than I would have guessed. When speaking with breeders about puppy growth and development we were surprised to learn that in the UK they also use the Nobel size chart and they too consider four pounds at six weeks to be the top comfortable weight to expect a puppy to mature within size.
Another difference that was immediately apparent was in the area of foreface-specifically the interpretation of roundness of muzzle, the “fit” of the muzzle to the skull, and the finish of the underjaw.
The eyes on the Shelties in the UK tend to be set somewhat more obliquely and their dogs do not have the fill in front of the eyes that ours do. The taper of the head in the UK is generally greater than that of our dogs. Their standard calls for a head “tapering from skull to muzzle” and ours calls for “tapering slightly from skull to muzzle.” These interpretations, unlike the absolutes of angulation, movement, tail length, full dentition, and so on are what make the world go round. The UK Shelties impressed me as being particularly virtuous in the area of frontal bone and the croups were more graceful or “sweepy” in many cases. I had expected to see more reach of neck overall and have concluded that its lack may be a worldwide problem, as is tail length.
The stacking of dogs in the ring is discouraged, but most of the dogs were willing showmen that free baited well. It was admirable that in such a large entry only a few exhibited noise sensitivity.
After giving the differences between our dogs much thought, there are two contributing factors that I feel I should mention. First, Nate Levine, “Father of the American Sheltie” and responsible for many of the early imports, leaves no doubt about his preference for the Collie type in his writings. He visualizes the ideal head as “smooth, chiseled, one piece, refined and elegant.” To me, this has always meant possessing the desirable head qualities of the great Collies but with the size of the head in proportion to the whole dog, no part being out of proportion to the whole. A heavy headed dog would not meet this requirement. Second, since World War II there have been no influential imports to either country. The English Shelties for the most part (but not always) descend in tail male line from Butcher Boy (BB). The American dogs on the other hand all descend from the Chestnut line (CHE). This difference in descent would have accounted for some difference in appearance.
Basically, there was much in common with our National entry. There were some dogs with exceptional quality and many who could nave been improved. Some skilled breeders had a string of dogs that exhibited recognizable family quality. Certain exhibitors demonstrated an understanding of the standard in their presentation. These people were rewarded by the judges.
Now for the winners of the top awards. Best dog and winner of the dog Challenge Certificate (three are needed to make up a champion) was Hillhead Blue Shadow, a beautifully colored two year old blue dog who had a very nice way of going. Reserve was CH Morestyle Monsoon, a three year old darker sable dog who was very impressive from ringside. The bitch CC winner was CH Edglonian Rather Merry Maid, a well made, nicely balanced golden sable with excellent skull, beautifully presented although not being the most cooperative on this day. Reserve went to the eight year old veteran, CH Seavall Sheen, who possessed lasting quality and the rare balanced elegance of silhouette that is so elusive. The dog and bitch then competed for Best In Show, which is decided upon by both judges. If the judges ware unable to agree, a referee is called in to break the tie. This day, however, it was the dog who was Best in Show with the bitch winner as Runner-Up.
The winner of the dog progeny class was CH Milesend Storm Warden with an impressive and consistent group of get who also accounted for numerous top awards in the classes. A son of the great sire, CH Tegwel Wild Ways of Sandwick, Storm Warden is obviously a strong sire himself.
Top brood bitch was Highbrook Hyjinnie with an attractive group of progeny.
A personal highlight of the day was a quiet visit with Mary Davis, longtime breeder of the Monkswood Shelties and president of the ESSC. We reminisced about people and dogs from the past that we had known in common and touched on the current situation in the breed. The clear thinking, realistic attitude that I have always admired in her writing was even more apparent in person. Mary has a wealth of knowledge and is a truly remarkable person.
At the conclusion of the show, everyone headed back to the Marriott to get ready for the Gala Dinner, which was a black tie affair. The amazing Thornley’s, with their attention to detail, even had a seating plan which encouraged interaction between attendees and everyone had a fine time. To the credit of the Marriott, it was the best banquet food we’ve ever tasted.
Early Sunday morning found the other presenters and myself in the conference room to familiarize ourselves with the room layout and the equipment we would be using. I think it’s fair to say that we were all a little anxious about the day—at least I know I was wondering why I had put myself in that position. Before long the attendees, more than two hundred in number, from so many different countries and all parts of the world, filled the seats. Dick Thornley welcomed everyone and the conference officially began.
First to speak was Malcom Hart of Hartmere Shelties, which were first shown in the UK in 1967. Malcolm has been judging for over twenty years, serves as lecturer and assessor for the Training of Judges Scheme (Judges Education), and is the author of the newest book on the breed. Malcolm presented an interesting and enlightening talk on the origin and history of the breed, which clarified and started us thinking about why the early authors of the standard wrote it as they did.
The next speaker was Jan Moody, representing the UK. Jan is a long time dedicated breeder who bred her first Janetstown champion in 1961 and has been active as a championship show judge since 1974. Her assignments have included Crufts in 1991 and the ESSC shows in 1985 and 1996. She was instrumental in the introduction of the current Training of Judges Scheme and is the author of the book “Shetland Sheepdogs—The Sheltie,” which is very well received. Jan’s presentation included slides of various faults and virtues and touched on the important topics of overpopulation, the careful planning of breedings, as well as her concern over certain breed problems and the need for testing. Interested in preserving the breed’s past as well, Jan has recently taken over responsibility for the club’s archives.
Barbara Phillips from Benalla, Austria, was the next presenter, representing Australasia (Australia & New Zealand). Barbara established her Nigma Kennel in 1961 and over seventy champions have carried the prefix. A Working Group judge since 1974, she has judged in Denmark, Finland, Sweden and New Zealand as well as all the states of Australia. Barbara’s program included slides of early imports to her country, top producers and top winners. She enlightened us as to how champions are made, the show scene and her thoughts and concerns for the breed presently. I particularly appreciated that Barbara’s talk reflected the practical dog sense and realism that results from years of working with nature.
Finally it was my turn to speak. I had my work cut out for me. My worst fears were confirmed when I asked for a show of hands from those who had ever attended an ASSA National (excluding Nioma and friends from home, Jean Simmonds and Gina Loffredo). When only one hand went up, it became very clear that I was facing an audience of over two hundred with no experience of us, our Shelties, or our show system except for photographs and books at best and hearsay at worst. The time allocated each speaker was roughly a half hour. I had put together a slide presentation that covered the evolution of the breed in the US since 1915, touching on the pioneer breeders, the early imports, kennels of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and finally several of the most influential kennels from the sixties to the present. I included in the slides many ASSA winners as these dogs had won in the keenest competition in this country. The top producers were emphasized as they had the greatest impact on the course of the breed. The final slides showed some of the breed’s greatest winners.
Having given an overview of the last eighty-five years I then felt I could share my concerns of overpopulation, the disappearance of so many longtime dedicated breeders, the lack of positive virtue and inspirational dogs excelling in the qualities that are the essence of breed type. I also mentioned that there is too much reliance on grooming and presentation and the emphasis on winning as an end all rather than a by product of a carefully planned long term breeding program. On a positive note, I mentioned that American Shelties fare well in group competition, and that temperament and uniformity of size are much improved. Bottom line is that my intention was to give the audience a more informed view of the American Shelties, including the evolution of type and what I see as the current condition of the breed.
The final morning speaker, Helge Lie, represented mainland Europe. Helge acquired his first Sheltie in 1968 and has imported more than twenty Shelties from the UK since 1972. He is an active judge and will have the honor of judging Shelties at Crufts in 2001. In addition, he was Chairman of the Norwegian Kennel Club from 1988 to this past April. Helge’s presentation was the sharing of results of a survey he had sent to each breed club in Europe. Included in the information was the year of the club’s formation, membership, number of shelties registered annually, and photos of noteworthy dogs from each country who responded to the survey. Watching Helge’s presentation made me realize how uninformed I had been about the Shelties in Europe.
The conference then broke for a delicious buffet lunch that was accompanied by much animated conversation.
Following lunch Dr. Keith Barnett spoke about hereditary diseases, particularly those affecting the eyes. Due to the diligent efforts of committed breeders, the incidence of Shelties affected with Collie Eye Anomaly in the UK seems to be on the decline, but vigilant screening of breeding stock is still of utmost importance.
After Dr. Barnett’s program was completed all speakers of the day were asked to come forward to form a panel. Before lunch, Dick Thornley requested that the audience turn in written questions to be directed to the panel members. It soon became apparent that several individuals were particularly threatened by the American Sheltie and for some reason they felt it necessary to attempt to polarize the conference into choosing either the English or American Sheltie. Such polarization, the you or me mentality rather than the you and me mindset could have proved disastrous to the open communication that was the intent of the conference. After repeated reassurances that no one was hoping to convert anyone else to their point of view, the conference got back on track and the sharing of ideas and concerns from across the world continued.
Did the conference accomplish its goals? I can only answer from our own experience and we found it educational, stimulating and thought provoking. Being with so many fellow breeders with shared interest and concerns was an experience we’ll never forget. Nioma and I were honored to have been a part of it and extend our sincerest thanks to everyone who helped make Conference 2000 a reality.
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