Sarah Stremming: Border Collies in Agility – We’re all Weird Here

by Oct 15, 2020Dog Sports, Podcast, Sport Mixes0 comments

Jessica Hekman: Welcome to the Functional Breeding Podcast. I’m Jessica Hekman, and I’m here interviewing folks about how to breed dogs for function and for health: behavioral and physical. This podcast is brought to you by the Functional Dog Collaborative, an organization founded to support the ethical breeding of healthy, behaviorally sound dogs. FDC’s goals include providing educational, social, and technical resources to breeders of both purebred and mixed breed dogs. You can find out more at, or at the Functional Breeding Facebook Group, which is a friendly and inclusive community. I hope you have fun and learn something.


Jessica Hekman: Hi friends. This week’s interview is with Sarah Stremming, an internationally known dog behavior consultant with a special niche working with sports dogs. She consults at The Cognitive Canine, teaches online courses on dog behavior, and hosts The Cog Dog Radio podcast. I sat down with Sarah to talk about agility dogs, particularly the ubiquitous border collie, and what is going on with them in terms of health and behavioral issues. If you’re looking for your next agility prospect, this interview is a must listen. 


Sarah, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I have to say it’s particularly exciting because your podcast is one of my top favorite podcasts of all time. So I’m really excited to have you here.


Sarah Stremming: Thank you so much, Jessica. That’s really kind of you to say. “Of all time.” I mean, that’s, that’s pretty big.




JH: I mean, I can say that now, right? But who knows what’s going to happen in the future. So you better keep working, right?


SS: As of today… (laughter)


JH: You have to keep on top of it.


SS: Will do.


JH: All right, awesome. So obviously, the first, most difficult question: Can you tell us about the dogs in your life? I know you have a bunch of dogs and some of them who live with you are more yours, and some of them are a little bit less yours. So totally up to you which ones you want to talk about.


SS: That’s right. Well as of today there are eight in my house. Two of them are what I would say “mine” in quotations. And then let’s see… Make sure I do the math right. Five of them are my partner Leslie’s and then one is a puppy that I’m raising for my sister. So my two are Idgie who is an 11 and a half year old border collie, and Felix who’s a five year old border collie. And then Leslie has – I’m gonna do the math wrong – she has four border collies and one Australian shepherd. And the puppy I’m raising for my sister is a pug/Boston cross. 


JH: Oh there’s Boston in there. I didn’t realize.


SS: Yes, she’s a pug/Boston cross. So, that’s what we’ve got. That’s what we’ve got today. 


JH: When you sent me that picture I said, “That’s a really funny looking border collie.” I was really proud of myself for that. I thought I was hilarious.


SS: She is. And she’ll tell you she is a border collie as of now. 


JH: So she’s a good role model.


SS: That’s right.


JH: You have a somewhat unusual job. You’re not exactly an agility trainer, and you’re not exactly a behavior consultant. I’d say, maybe, you’re more like a behavior consultant. But can you tell us a little bit about sort of what your niche is and how you got there?


SS: Yeah, I used to really be both those things. So I used to go into people’s homes and work with them on behavior problems in their dogs. And then I also did use to teach agility classes, as well as pet dog training classes. And now I’m very fortunate that the majority of my work is virtual. And that happened before COVID, so I’m really fortunate in that regard. So I teach online classes, but the bulk of my business is private behavior consulting with sport dogs and their owners. And that is something that came about because I was doing both things. So because I was working in pet dog behavior, and then I was also teaching agility and I was really active in the sport of dog agility as well as obedience. And I started to get all of these clients whose dogs had problems kind of beyond, you know, getting their front cross right, or getting that weave poll entry right. And so my little collection of people who came to me for agility training were not coming to me for the agility training. They were coming to me because I could help them with those other pieces, which is definitely my strength. I don’t know why anybody ever listened to me when it came to agility training or handling but they did. (laughter)


I think it was because their dogs had those issues. So that’s where the niche kind of grew from. And I love working with sport people because I think we’ve got stuff in common. So we can really talk on the same level and they’re just really dedicated people. I think any pet dog trainer listening is going to say, “Yeah, if I could change one thing about my clientele it would be that they were really gung ho and wanted to be dog trainers who wanted to work harder on that stuff.” The sport people, that’s not a problem. They like training. They like doing stuff with their dogs already. And so it makes a really good partnership between the clientele and myself. 


JH: They can be very intense. 




SS: Yes, so can I. So we can get on the same page, right? 


JH: Oh me too!


SS: Yes.


JH: Yes. So, then we have the age old question of… There’s some amount of genetics leading into these problems that you’re dealing with in dogs. And then there’s some amount of environment. And you were talking about how fantastic these owners are, but it doesn’t mean they’re always doing everything for their dogs. So maybe you could talk a little bit about how there’s that sort of genetic/environment balance in these problems that you see.


SS: Yeah, and I wish I knew what all was what. So basically…


JH: I’m gonna figure that out for you, so don’t worry…


SS: Yeah, that’s your job and I expect that.


JH: Yeah, in a year or so. In a year. Tops.


SS: I expect that soon. What are you even doing right now, I mean…


JH: (laughter) I should be working on that. Actually, my laptop was running a calculation that would help get you closer to that purpose, and I stopped it so that I could do this interview.


SS: What were you thinking?


JH: I didn’t want the fan running during the interview…. So you are delaying it right now. (laughter)


SS: Oh, my goodness. So I like to look at it the way that our friend Hannah Brannigan looks at it. She says when you are looking for a puppy, before you have the puppy assume everything is genetic – right down to the way the dog gaits in heeling, whether or not they hold their head a certain way. They assume everything is genetic before you get it. And then after you’ve got it, assume nothing is. Assume everything’s on you. That is how I try to look at things. But it doesn’t mean that I’m not fascinated by both components and how they work together. I really am. And I have certainly seen… I have a lot of anecdotal trends stored in my head through working with the sport dog community. 


And so certainly in particular… My breed is border collies. Border collies tend to be, they are the most popular agility breed worldwide. And they’re also a really popular obedience breed worldwide. And flyball, everything. I mean, any sports you’re looking at border collies tend to dominate. And the same things that make them really wonderful at sports tend to be the same things, I think, that make life hard for them. And it’s just like me. I’m an entrepreneur, and I’m an intense person. And that does not come without mental health concerns. (laughter)


So I think of the dogs that I work with like that. Like they’re just, they’re extra. They’re intense. They… All of the things that make them amazing are the things that make life a little bit hard for them. And so there’s always a combination of factors. 


But what’s particularly, I think, of interest to your listeners might be the things that we are selecting for when we breed these dogs for sports, rather than their original purpose which is herding sheep or cattle. And then, also, versus breeding them for the conformation ring.


So we have kind of three distinct types of border collies. And then, you know, beyond that we can split each category into types also. But I’m gonna say that there’s kind of three types: conformation type, sport type, and herding type/working type. And the only type that I have never had in my house is the conformation type. So I definitely have a combination of the other two. And then I also have dogs that are a combination of the other two. 


But what gets interesting to me is the differences between these types and the problems that people show up with. Because I have all three types in my clientele frequently (laughter), but the problems are different. And it’s fascinating, actually, the different problems that we have. And so we have to say that there’s a genetic, there’s got to be genetic components there because anytime something runs in a type or a line, you can say there’s a genetic component with some good confidence. And so I don’t know, but I can certainly pick out and point out things that tend to be consistent. So I actually… I’m not sure if I answered your original question because I just talked forever.


JH: I don’t remember at this point what my original question was, but that’s cool. The goal here is just to get you talking about stuff. I’ve done that.


SS: That wasn’t hard. (laughter)




JH: So, problems that run in lines, for sure. Some of the sort of subtle stuff that you’re talking about is some of the hardest stuff to pin down genetically, not just for researchers like myself but for breeders who are like, “Well, it shows up here and then it doesn’t show up there.” And it’s sort of so hard to figure out which dogs to breed.


SS: Because in theory you breed a World Team dog to another World Team dog and you’re gonna get your traits that make a World Team Dog.


JH: And you know that the “World Team” gene is Mendelian and so…


SS: Yes (laughter)


JH: It’s recessive, but if you have two World Team dogs… 


SS: But if you double up on it, I mean.


JH: It’s fixed. (laughter)


SS: Done.


JH: Okay, we’re joking everybody. Let’s be super clear. (laughter) Super clear on that. The “World Team” gene. That would be a great gene to find. I’d do well if I found that gene. Anyway.


SS: It’s true.


JH: So what are some of the problems that you see in border collies?




SS: So it’s certainly in sport dogs across the board and not just border collies, although my clientele is heavily border collie. One of the things that I see is behaviors that get labeled as kind of “over arousal” behaviors, or arousal behaviors in general. Usually I think that that label is incorrect. But that is the label that is used. These behaviors look like barking at the handler, biting at the handler, jumping at the handler. This is one of those things that I find is different in your more true herding bred/working bred versus sport bred.


And I’m going to define those for a second. Herding bred is going to be the parents are actually working or trialing on sheep. So not just “from working lines.” And I put that in quotations. Because everybody is… Like, they’re all from working lines, you guys. (laughter) They all, all the sport dogs go back at some point to dogs that work sheep. So I’m gonna say direct relatives are actively working stock. 


So we’ve got those dogs and then we’ve got the more sport bred dogs, which might be a couple generations removed from the farm. Maybe one of the parents is working stock and the other one is not. The more sporty they are, the more handler-directed a lot of their behaviors – their problematic behaviors – tend to be. Versus your dogs that…


We’ve got a couple of dogs in my house who are straight off the ranch. None of their parents or siblings have done sports. If those dogs are going to show a problem behavior, it’s going to be more outrun-like. It is going to be that, “I’m now going to move away from you. So I’m going to move away from the pressure or I’m going to move away and then come in front of you and almost head you off.” Those dogs tend to be less kind of physical with their people. 


I could speculate forever as to why that is. I think that it has a lot to do with the toy play types of behaviors that we’re selecting for in sport dogs. It is not actually easy to get a true, working type dog as hot on toys the way that agility people tend to play with toys. Most of them will fetch a Chuck-It ball until they die, but the really intense physical tug play that agility handlers tend to do with their dogs, a lot of those dogs don’t care for.


So anyway, I think that we’ve kind of produced dogs that are a little bit more comfortable with the physicality of kind of pushing into their owner’s space. One is not better than the other, you guys. They’re both problems, and they’re both hard to fix. (laughter) It’s kind of which… What I always say to people when they’re looking for a border collie is, “They’re all weird. Which weird do you like? Which weird are you into? Because they’re all weird.” 


So I tend to see dogs that as a response to frustration… And then I’m going to further categorize that as frustration would be the response that happens when expected reinforcement or information does not show up. Information we could categorize as reinforcement. But I like to get very clear about what I’m talking about. So if there’s a lapse in information or a lapse in reinforcement when the dog expected one of those things, you then see these problematic behaviors.


And so just depending on who they are, the behavior could come out as, “I’m going to now run around three jumps before coming back to you,” or it could come out, “I’m going to jump at you and bite you or bark at you.” And it can get as weird as, I mean, I’ve had client dogs that attacked the teeter, attacked tunnels, attacked tunnel bags. So directing their aggression on something else instead of the handler can definitely happen. And then plenty of dogs that direct it at the dog that’s trying to come in the ring, as well.


And so these problems show up, specifically in agility, and I am called in to fix them. In obedience they show up, too. So I definitely have more and more of a competitive obedience clientele as I kind of get… As word kind of spreads that I do that, because I haven’t competed in obedience for a long time. The last time I stepped in the obedience ring was about six years ago. I do train it actively every day, but obedience trials are a little hard for me. So ummm… (laughter)




JH: I mean, you got to dress up. Like, that’s…


SS: First of all, you have to wear reasonable clothing.


JH: You cannot wear jeans.


SS: You can’t wear, like… I mean, right. Like you can, but you’re not, like… You’re supposed to look kind of nice. 


JH: It would be embarrassing. Yes.


SS: Right. And then also just, it’s a tough environment, going from agility to obedience.


JH: Yeah.


SS: It’s a big change. It’s very different.


JH: I’m looking into rally right now for that reason because I’m like, “Rally is way more chill.”


SS: It’s a nice soft entry point. Soft entry point.


JH: It’s a little more chill. (laughter)


SS: That was why rally was born.


JH: Yes.


SS: Obedience was, like, dying. And everyone’s like, “What can we do?”




JH: Yeah. “How could it be more mellow?”


SS: And I love obedience because I love precision. And I love, I love it. So I train it and train and train it and then force myself to go to trial like every five years. But I’m getting more and more of an obedience clientele and the behaviors are similar. So I’ve got a client whose dog bites on heeling, so jumps up and bites her. That is basically a point every time that happens, so you can actually “point out” on that.


JH: (laughter) It’s just a point?


SS: Well, it’s one point every time it… Unless it was like if he was bloodying her, she’d get excused. But basically he jumps up and kind of mouths at her and like, that’s a point for every step. And now when you think about every step of heeling, I mean, you’re in trouble.


JH: That’s a lot of points. 


SS: Especially my obedience clientele tend to be very high level obedience competitors. They are not trying to get a title. They’re trying to win. They’re trying to get an OTCH. So if you’re going to lose two points, even, on a run on biting, you’re losing out on that first place that you have to get. So, we see some of those behaviors. We also see social concerns, meaning like the judge is kind of scary and weird, which they are. That’s real. The dog is not wrong. 


JH: I mean, they’re standing there staring at you and following you around…


SS: With a clipboard. They’re taking notes on you. 




SS: They’re taking… They’re literally judging you. And then they’ve got to like stand over the dog, touch the dog. Like there’s a lot of things that are hard in obedience as far as the person is concerned.


And then you typically have a lot of stressed out dogs in that environment. So that’s also hard to deal with. Border collies… Another kind of, I think, big thing about them that we’re not going to change unless we actually change them (which we don’t actually want to do) is that their ease of socialization is low. So their acceptance of new people and new dogs and novelty, in general, is hard for them. That’s not something they’re going to be good at. Again, they’re me: entrepreneur, intense, weird personality, new things are hard, new people are hard, new places are hard. (laughter)


And so there’s a lot of things that we can do to help them in puppy raising and in breeding, but like, it isn’t overall gonna change. So we need to then have training and behavior solutions to help them to cope with the environments that we expect them to be in. And I mean, we expect, we expect so much.


We’ll go back to that World Team gene. Let’s talk about. I went to World Championships last year and watched. I can’t imagine a more intense environment for a dog to compete in. I really can’t. And then they had to get on a plane. They had to lie in the belly of the plane to get there and…




JH: I was at a nosework trial last weekend, and we were, you know, standing and waiting for our turn. And my dog was like, “Why are we standing here?” and I was thinking, “Dude, if we were in an agility trial there would be another dog right behind you with its nose in your tail, and there’d be another dog behind that, and they would all be hyper as hell and barking, and there’d be a dog in front of you running around the ring. The teeter would be slamming and the same thing would be happening one ring over.


SS: It’s really hard! It is sensory overload. And these are sensitive dogs when it comes to sensory input. And then we’re literally putting them in loud, intense, crazy… I mean you’re dropping them basically in a rave, or frat party. I mean, it’s just a nightmare, right?


JH: Yeah.


SS: And then we actually rely on their just unflappable desire to work to override those things rather than actively teaching them.


JH: Yeah. 


SS: Teaching them how to deal with those things. The majority of people are just relying on the fact that the dog would die before they would stop working. And I actually think that’s why they’re the number one sport breed. Not any other reason. Because most of them will. 


JH: They’re very “work-y.” I like the workiness a lot. 


SS: The workiness is their most attractive quality. It’s really, it just comes with all the other crap. 




JH: So for people who want to work on the environmental side of that, I will refer you to Sarah’s excellent podcast Cog Dog Radio, and she also does classes. So at the end of this, we’ll have information on how to find all of that. 


Let’s, however, focus on the genetics now since this is more of a breeding podcast. We were just talking about the hellish noise of an agility trial, which I find challenging. And I know I’ve heard you say that sound sensitivity is a big issue in the border collie breed.




SS: Oh, Jessica. It is, in my opinion, the most insidious genetic problem that we have. And I’m gonna… I put it above epilepsy. And a lot of people, I think, would say I’m wrong. Would say that’s because I have (I’m knocking on all the wood in my room)(knocking noise) not experienced that yet. 


JH: My dog just sat up. (To dog) “You didn’t hear that. I have headphones on.”


SS: Right. So I say “yet,” because if I have this breed for the next however long (which I intend to) that will happen to me at some point. Because it’s everywhere. And I’m sure we’ll talk about it in a minute.


But noise phobia, noise sensitivity, noise reactivity. There’s a lot of different names. Noise aversion. Nobody can kind of agree on what to call it. We know generally what we’re talking about. It is, in my mind, the biggest problem that we have because it is in virtually every single line. Dr. Karen Overall, who I interviewed on my podcast about this issue, speculates that 80% of the breed is affected. 


JH: I mean, I think they’re probably all affected at some level.


SS: That’s what I think. So I think 80% are clinical, is kind of what she’s saying.


JH: Exactly.


SS: Whereas it’s actually a trait that they’ve all got. And it actually makes sense. If you’ve ever seen a working sheep dog trial… So not like an AKC herding trial but a true working sheep dog trial… I probably just irritated a bunch of people. Fine. It’s fine. Go to a working sheep dog trial. You will see the difference. I like to… there’s one where I live called the Vashon Sheepdog Trial that I was fortunate to get to go to pre-COVID. So, we’re talking about huge vast expanses of space that that dog has got to hear a whistle across, and has got to care about that whistle.




JH: And it’s on YouTube, too. So if you can’t get to a sheep dog trial, you don’t have to go. 


SS: You don’t have to go, but if you can go I encourage you to go because it’s phenomenal. But truly. It’s on Youtube. Yes, you can see it.


So that makes sense, right? That they would have extra sensitivity to sound. And then they’ve got this workiness that helps them override any fears that that might engage.


JH: It helps them focus on… So I think I have sound sensitivity, right? And so… 


SS: I absolutely do. I would qualify myself as really sensitive. 


JH: And so one of the things that I find is I cannot stop listening to a sound, and it makes my husband crazy. My husband’s musical. And so we’ll be watching TV and they’ll be playing some music on the TV, and it’ll remind him of some other song and he’ll start singing another song, while the effing song is on the TV in time, right? And he doesn’t get why this is a problem for me. Like, my head’s gonna explode. 


SS: It happens every day in my house.


JH: And so I’m telling him, “You have to stop. You have to stop talking now.”


SS: Every day in my house. I will be listening to a podcast in one room and Leslie will walk in and she will have a podcast on her phone. Neither of us are wearing headphones because we’re just in our house, and I have to pause mine immediately. I can’t even deal with it. I have to pause mine immediately because it will give me a rage blackout to try to have them both go. So yeah, I’m absolutely exactly the same.


I also have also experienced chronic pain and it is associated with that. So if I’m having a really high pain day, I hear noises that I wouldn’t hear normally. I mean we could go off about that, about how I think that more dogs than anybody understands probably also experience chronic pain and that’s responsible for some of the behavior problems that we see.




JH: Well, so as you know I have this border collie that I’m still trying to stabilize. I got him some number of months ago from a shelter, puppy mill initially. So he has intense noise sensitivity. He just can’t cope with chipmunk sounds, of which we have quite a few. (laughter)


SS: Yeah. And it’s almost like he has picked that as his thing to obsess on. It would have been… Exactly. It’s just that in your environment there’s a lot of those so that’s what he picked out.


JH: Yeah. And I have gradually come to realize that he has GI pain. When… And it’s amazing that when he has the GI pain, sometimes the chipmunks… So I don’t know if you guys know this because you don’t focus on chipmunks the way I do, I imagine. But in the last six months I’ve started learning a lot about chipmunk sounds, and sometimes the chipmunks will start going, just like (imitates chipmunk sounds), and they’ll do it for like two minutes straight. And Fitz will have a meltdown. And he’ll just be like, “I can’t cope,” if he’s having a bad pain day. If he’s having an okay pain day, he’s like, “Oh, that’s really annoying.” And I’m like, “Okay, buddy. Why don’t I throw a ball for you?” And he’s like, “Okay, let’s do that instead.” So just like the difference between whether he has pain on board as well, or not, is incredible.


SS: Absolutely. And I think that I, unfortunately, understand that better than I want to. But it’s something that I observe, I mean, kind of across the board. And they have also… There are studies that have linked the increase in sound sensitivity later in life in so many dogs to arthritic pain. 


JH: Interesting.


SS: Which totally makes sense. So I do think that noise phobia, which to me… I’m going to call it noise phobia if it presents classically like a phobia, which is essentially debilitating, rather than just noise reactivity. So like, I’ve got five, nope, six border collies in this house. (laughter) There are six border collies in this house. One is full-on deaf. He’s 14 years old. So I’m not going to call, I’m not going to count him. But also he was the least reactive to noise of any of our dogs basically his whole life. I’ve got Stig. Stig is nine. And if I make a loud noise, drop something, whatever, he’s certainly going to notice. He’s certainly going to react. He may even get up and leave. But he is not going to have a panic attack, even if there’s a fireworks show happening.


And that’s fascinating when I put that up against Idgie who’s 11 and a half, who didn’t present with any kind of noise reactivity at all until she was about seven years old, and there was a traumatic noise event in her life. She has decided the Instant Pot is scary. She wants to be with me all the time. She’s a recovered separation anxiety dog, so she doesn’t like to be in a different room from me if she can stand it. But if I’m cooking, and I’m using the Instant Pot, she goes in the other room. And, you know that yes, if there are fireworks, she will panic. If there are gunshots, she will panic.


And so there are definitely like… All of them are going to notice noise. None of them are going to be that dog that doesn’t notice the Instant Pot. The problem is when they start to extrapolate it to everything. So, if Idgie hears a beep somewhere else, maybe on my computer… I was watching a client video and I have all of my clients use timers in their training so they don’t go too long. And my client got this timer that’s this really loud, obnoxious beep, which she apologized for, but she doesn’t have border collies. So she didn’t know that this is gonna cause a panic attack in my office. (laughter) And so it’s just really, to me it is fascinating when it happens on a debilitating level and it has never been a problem.


It was never a problem for her (Idgie) competitively speaking. But it is a problem for a lot of my clients’ dogs competitively speaking. I definitely have more than one border collie client that cannot compete indoors, period, because the acoustics are just too hard for them to deal with. The noise is just too hard for them to deal with, whereas outside they can, they can do it. And it happens so often. And it happens in so many dogs that, gosh, I just wish that this was something we were looking at a little bit closer as border collie enthusiasts and border collie breeders. When I talk to people about it, they tend to say, “Oh, that’s not a problem.” And then if I dig deeper, I find that, actually, there probably is a problem on the level that maybe it’s a problem for Idgie. It’s just not a problem in competing. So it’s maybe not noticed and…




JH: It’s normalized, right?


SS: Yeah, or maybe it’s a problem for the dog when they’re on the airplane. But I’m not with them when they’re on the airplane. So I just plan to get to Europe two days ahead of time so my dog can recover from the plane ride before we compete. I mean, things like that are totally normalized. And to me, it’s too normalized. It’s not talked about enough. And we also have to, like, decide what’s acceptable and what’s not, because it exists in most of them.


But like, if your dog walks into… I’m remembering my very first border collie. We walked into an obedience trial once and it was this huge warehouse-type building, and he just suddenly flattened and was like, “I can’t deal with the acoustics in here.” And at the time I knew it was about noise, but I didn’t know… I guess I didn’t know enough to say, to go, “Oh, that’s the issue. That’s what we have to attack.” I just knew that he was afraid of thunder. And that sometimes, if a noise happened in class, he would freak out. I was in an obedience, a group class once and somebody decided to whip out a staple gun and start working on a project in the building and my poor dog fully panicked and needed to run to the car. 


JH: Yeah. 


SS: And the attitude in the obedience world then, and probably now, is that he had to work through it. 


JH: Yeah. 


SS: You know, that kind of thing. So it’s a problem. It’s a huge problem in the breed. It’s way too normalized. And it’s not talked about on an honest enough level which, I’m sure as we will get into, is kind of the problem when it comes to breeding these guys. But again, noise sensitivity, noise phobia, I think is, just by sheer numbers, the biggest problem we have. 


JH: Yeah, it’s a big tangle with dog breeding. A lot of the time I like to say it’s not a scientific problem, how to breed a healthy dog. It’s a social problem. In this case, it is a bit of a scientific problem as well, I suspect. Because, as you said, it’s probably the case that exactly what we’re breeding for – that attention to us, that ability to work at distances, that sensitivity – is probably exactly the same trait that goes hand in hand. 


SS: Yeah.


JH:  And that, as you breed away from the sound sensitivity it may be that you’re also breeding away from some things that you do want. You may not be able to piece them out, unlike, you know, a lot of the other issues that we talked about where it’s like, “These dogs are great, except for all the cancer that they get.” Well, they’re not great for the same reasons as getting cancer. Those are two separate things that could be improved upon.


SS: Right. 


JH: But this is going to be a much harder thing to do, which means that it’s even more important to talk about it and really address what we’re willing to accept, right?




SS: I think so. I think so. 


JH: So, all right. Well, so you mentioned epilepsy. So, what do you think?


SS: The other fun one, right? Probably the second most insidious problem that we have, I think, simply because of how devastating it often is. And I’ve now spoken to several neurologists who feel as though idiopathic epilepsy, in the border collie specifically, is the hardest for them to control. That’s more than one neurologist unprompted saying that. I can’t say that that has any kind of actual hard data behind it. But it is certainly something that is being expressed by some of these specialists. And it is also something that I’ve witnessed. So I’ve had several client dogs who turned out to be epileptic and, too many times, this ends really tragically because it can’t get controlled. 


And I also have, again, just anecdotal comorbidity with epilepsy and noise phobia and other anxiety problems. Which I’m not going to infer…


JH: Brain intensity. We’ll say brain intensity. 


SS: Exactly. Well, thank you for saying it that way. Because basically, I’m going okay, I’m not anywhere near being a neuroscientist, but it seems as though these things all work together. They’re not separate systems. 


JH: They do, right? So the brain has just this balance of activation versus deactivation, right? Up and down. And all of this other stuff that you’re talking about is up. Is about the neurons being activated.


SS: Right. It’s interesting, and it’s a thing. And there’s also… Again, this is all speculation, but some people in border collies speculate there being links between… Essentially we talk about border collies sometimes as being almost on the Autism spectrum. Like if we could say that about them, which we can’t technically say that about them. It’s not really fair to say that, because we can’t talk to them about their experiences and those kinds of things, but… And it isn’t the same as maybe like a child. But there are a lot of these really similar traits that go with kind of Autism Spectrum Disorder, the things that border collies do and have and experience. And there is hard data in humans on increased risk of epilepsy in people with autism. 


And so, again, I don’t pretend to know any answers. But that seems like a huge red flag to me as far as these behaviors that happen, and then this increased risk. 


When it comes to epilepsy. We don’t know. We know that it’s polygenic. We know that. We feel like it’s coming from a lot of different places, which is why we can’t identify… You know, it’s why we can’t just have Embark or one of these, you know, companies just identify it and be like, “Yep, this dog. This dog is positive.” 




JH: The “Epilepsy Gene.”




SS: Right. “The epilepsy gene has been found!” 


SS: Yeah, that’d be nice. That’s not happening. Because it doesn’t… It seems to not work like that. What I really feel like we could do though is actually utilize a database. There are several databases for epilepsy. They only work if people use them. So that would be one way to go. 


Every single time I buy a border collie I ask about epilepsy, of course. And I tend to not buy dogs from people who I think are withholding information from me. So I trust it when they tell me, “Not that I’m aware of.” And also I asked these two people who own these dogs and, “Not that they’re aware of.” And that’s like the best we’ve got right now. And that’s not good enough. Saying, “Not that I’m aware of” isn’t good enough.


You know what I’d rather… So you know people talk about buying a dog and they go, “Okay, well in this pedigree… In this five generation pedigree there’s epilepsy, and here it is.” I would almost prefer that to, “Not that I’m aware of.” Right? Because now I can say, well, if it showed up once in five generations, I’m so much more comfortable with that, than “not that I know of.”




JH: Well, because “not I’m aware of” means it certainly did show up at least once in five generations if you don’t know. It’s just how close because…


SS: It probably did. I mean, right? Because it’s everywhere. Anybody who tells you there isn’t epilepsy in their lines isn’t aware of how this problem actually works. Because it’s in all the lines. It’s everywhere. It wouldn’t be as big of a problem if it weren’t everywhere. And we can’t test for it. So we rely on the honesty and the integrity of everybody involved. And that’s where breeding is a social problem and not just a science problem.


JH: And that’s why it’s a social problem. And also to make it super clear that it’s not that there are these horrible people coming and breeding border collies and saying, “Okay, I’m gonna do this, and I’m gonna lie. I like lying, and I’m definitely gonna lie about the epilepsy.” Right? 


SS: I don’t think anybody is actively lying. I think people are sometimes interpreting information in a way that suits them. But I don’t think I’ve been lied to as a buyer. I think sometimes information has been withheld. When it comes to epilepsy, I don’t think a single one of these breeders lied. I think that they all told me the truth as they know it. They don’t think…


And I also know for sure that nobody… That it’s every breeder of this breed’s worst nightmare to produce. I mean, we talked on the FDC Facebook group. We talked about it a little bit and a couple of the border collie breeders on there who I really respect said, “I haven’t produced it yet. And I think if I did, I would quit. I would walk away. I couldn’t do this again. I would be too devastated.” That’s a problem too, actually.


JH: Cause they’re good breeders.


SS: They’re great breeders and we need them and we need their good work. So I think that this kind of black stain that exists on any breeder who is known to have produced epilepsy at any given time, that in and of itself is a problem. If a breeder is standing up and saying, “I produced it. Here’s where. Here are the dogs involved, and here’s what I did about it.” That’s what you should actually be seeking out. 


JH: We should applaud that.


SS: Yes, we should applaud that.


JH: So I don’t know how much you can say about what sort of, what you’ve observed about what happens when a breeder comes out…




SS: Well, what actually happens is that everybody, you know… Then this breeder list… I mean Facebook is full of these groups, right? Where people go, “Hey, I’m looking for a breeder of border collies. What do you think about XYZ?” And everybody goes, “Epilepsy. There’s epilepsy.”


When, you guys, there’s epilepsy everywhere. So what I care about is not whether or not you’ve produced epilepsy before, what I care about is what you did about it. And what I care about is your integrity when it comes to it. And if you’re producing it, just like I said, “That it’s not something I’ve experienced yet, but that I accept that that “yet” is accurate. And I accept that it will happen at some point, because I plan to have this breed, for better or worse, for a long time.” And so also, as a breeder, you should, if you haven’t produced it yet, embrace that word “yet,” because you will, and know what your plan is for when you do. 


Because maybe if you have one litter every five years, for 20 years, you won’t. Maybe. But if you’re what we think of as a breeder, which is somebody who’s kind of actively involved in breeding and looking to produce more dogs and looking to improve lines, etc, etc, you’re probably going to produce it at some point. And what matters is what you plan to do about it. Too often, honesty is completely punished. 


We said off air, which is the perfect analogy. You said it’s like punishing a growl. When you punish a dog that is growling, all you will do is break the growl, not the bite. The bite will still exist, and you will have no warning attached to it. So when you attack a breeder for coming out and saying, “I produced this problem, and this is what I’m doing about it,” you punish that breeder into not breeding anymore. Or worse, you punish that breeder into silence and lying and, you know, dishonesty. Things like that, because…


JH: And it can be lying to themselves, right? 


SS: Oh, I’m gonna say 100% of the time they’re not actively lying to people. They’re dishonest with themselves to avoid that issue in the future.


JH: Because it’s scary. 


SS: Because it’s terrible. And I feel for them. And I mean, this is me like talking. I’m not a breeder. You know, it’s something that I’ve thought about, but it’s not something I’ve done yet. And, you know, we have a couple of males that I think are prospects, but I don’t have any girls. Because there are too many bitches in this house, let me just tell you. (laughter)


JH: And raising a litter is kind of a lot of work?


SS: And I hear it’s kind of a full time job. And I already have, like, two of those. So I have full respect for these people. But I also wish that we, as a community, embraced honesty a little bit more. And, you know, reached out to the breeders who are being honest, and just say, “Hey, thank you for that.” And, “Hey, I’m interested in buying a dog from you in the future because of your honesty here.” So rather than this myth of, “epilepsy is something that shows up in only some lines with only some breeders who are being careless.” It’s just not true, guys. It’s everywhere.




JH: Yeah, and I can say as someone… So what I study is what we call “the genetics of complex traits.” So I’m interested in personalities specifically. But complex traits are traits like personality, risk of cancer, risk of epilepsy, where there’s definitely a genetic component. We know there’s a genetic component, but there’s not one or even three or probably even 10 genes. There’s probably a lot more than that. And there’s the environmental component as well, right? Which also doesn’t mean that you did something wrong to raise the dog. (laughter) But it means, you know, who knows what the environmental triggers for epilepsy are? You know, it may be toxins, which is what everybody sort of wants it to be. Because then it’s like, “Well, if you don’t do this, or that then it’ll be safe. You can control it.” But it may just be that the dog had some intense experiences, and that sort of ups that activation in the brain at a bad time, you know.


SS: And also, let’s talk about intense experiences. That’s all we do to dogs. That’s literally all we do to sport dogs. So if that’s a factor then everybody in sports has higher risk with their dogs than another, than a normal person. And so kind of accepting that, understanding that, and moving forward with it rather than, “Okay, well, then they have to just be a pet.” Well, I hate to break it to you guys. They don’t want to be. So…




JH: As humans we are not good at finding the happy medium.


SS: We’re really not.


JH: We like to do one or the other, right?


SS: So true. That’s so true. I think epilepsy is something that I would like to see more…. better use of a database. Or because there’s like more than one there should probably be one. And we should all probably commit to using it.


JH: And it’s going to need a cultural change, right?


SS: And it needs, it would require a cultural shift. There are a lot of… There are European countries like Sweden, for instance, where you’re required to put the dog in the database if they have epilepsy. Done. That’s all. You have to. 


JH: What happens if you don’t? 


SS: Well, good question. I don’t know.


JH: Guns, I’m sure. 


SS: They’re probably met with guns. I have a couple of friends in Sweden who say there is a lot of legislation on dog owning.


JH: Yes that’s true. (laughter)


SS: There really is. Like, you’re not allowed to use a crate, for instance, unless it’s used for traveling. And I don’t know about you, but my life would end if there were no crates in this house. (laughter) So things like that. I don’t know what happens to you, but you’re supposed to.


JH: I mean one of my dogs would never get to eat if there were no crates. 




SS: That’s pretty much what I would say. In this country there would be a higher rate of behavioral euthanasia if crates were not allowed. So just interesting things like that. I don’t know what happens to you. I can’t speak to that. But I also know that it is different culturally, too. It’s like, “Well, that’s your duty and your responsibility.” Rather than, “Yeah, I don’t have to.”


JH: Yeah, I don’t know how to change the culture. But it does seem like finding ways of sort of pulling together like minded groups of people to start being like, “Okay, we’re going to support each other. And this is how we’re going to do it,” might be a way.


SS: And maybe, maybe rather than, like, clutching your pearls over somebody producing epilepsy, like clutch your pearls over somebody lying about it. 


JH: Yeah. 


SS: Or blaming the owner on it, or saying the neurologist is obviously wrong. 


JH: Yeah. 


SS: Like, let’s get upset about those things rather than the fact that the epilepsy exists in the first place. 


JH: Yeah, I like it. So, alright. Border collies can come from sort of ranch lines, or they can come from sport lines. And then we’re sort of not talking about the conformation lines as much as you just don’t have as much knowledge of them. But I think you do have some knowledge of the sort of landscape of breeders who are producing sport dogs. And that’s kind of what I’m interested in, because they should be the place that you’d want to go, right? 


SS: In theory.


JH: Because they’re theoretically producing the dogs with the goal of them doing the job that you want them to do. As opposed to, I know that you have ranch bred dogs. Not all of them, but some of them. Which theoretically shouldn’t be the dogs that you want, right? Because they’re not being bred for the goal that you want them for. But, can you talk a little bit about the differences in culture?


SS: Sure, there’s definitely… It’s actually 50/50 in my house where they are from. So we’ve got two ranch dogs, two sport dogs, and one dog that is literally a cross between the two. (laughter) And then there’s a rescue we have of unknown lineage. So that’s, and I would…


JH: And there’s your fake border collie. Your flat face…


SS:  Yeah, my “brachy” border collie. So interestingly enough I think that, you know, we have to understand that the ranch dogs were the original dogs that were brought to sport because they were the only dogs that existed. And there was a reason that they were selected. And there’s a reason that they were good. And there is, in my opinion, no reason that they can’t continue to be good and can’t continue to be what you want.


The training and the culture of the sport has changed more in the favor of the sport dogs in a lot of ways. Meaning that the sport dogs tend to basically… In my opinion the sport dogs started to be different when people stopped wanting to do any kind of work to build desire on the part of the dog to do the thing that you want to do. Because when you buy a dog that is straight off the ranch, they were born with desire. It was the desire to move stock, though. So if you aren’t going to move stock, you now need to build a little bit of desire to do your sport in them. This is not actually hard to do, but it is a little bit of a lost art. People don’t want to do it anymore. They want to take the dog out of the crate at the airport and have it latch onto a tug. That’s what they want. So we started to breed dogs that were more like that. From, again, from where I’m standing, this is just kind of my observations having been in the sport and the breed for 20 years and having watched it change, really, in that time. 


Yes, in theory, if you want to do something with your dog, you want to look at parents who did that thing. That makes sense. That makes complete sense. There are a lot of really fabulous qualities in a lot of the sport lines that are really fantastic. The ease of socialization tends to be higher. The affection towards the human tends to be a little bit higher. So historically we have these dogs that actually don’t even live inside. They just go out, and they work the sheep, and they come home, and they go sleep in the barn. Idgie came from a rancher where the dogs didn’t live inside. Stig came from a rancher where the dogs didn’t live inside. And their level of affection towards the humans reflects that. They’re both pretty standoffish. Maybe that’s what you like, though, so that’s fine to go with that. 


But the sporty dogs tend to be more needing to be in your skin than not. (laughter) That’s something that we’ve kind of worked for. And so what I see, again, like I mentioned, they’re a little bit more willing to be physical at the handler. They tend… The sport dogs tend to be louder. They tend to bark more. Border collies are a quiet herding breed. They don’t move the stock with their voice the way that an Aussie does, or a Sheltie. And so they tend to be a little bit quieter. Barking, I think, came along with some of the other traits we were breeding for. I don’t think anybody intentionally picked out barking. (laughter) But I think it came.


Jessica: I’ll go throttle them if they did. (laughter)




SS: Pretty much. But I think it came with the other traits that we wanted. And what’s interesting when you’re breeding for something like sports, which is it’s not an innate kind of quality. It’s not the same as herding. You can put a dog from herding lines down – they’re eight weeks old – you put them in a pen with ducks, and they immediately start to exhibit herding behaviors. Same puppy, you put them on an agility course, they’re not weaving poles, right? Fascinating, right? 


So what you’re selecting for is, really, a dog that fits into the training that you are going to be doing, and our agility culture has really specific kinds of training trends and needs. And so what I think we’ve done with the sport bred dogs, for better or worse, is make dogs that are easy to exploit. They will never quit. They will do 20 reps in a row of something for, not even for reinforcement because they did it wrong 20 times, and do it that 21st time. And your stock dog is probably going to find something better to do on at least the 10th time, right? So they’re worky too, but we have certainly bred for more…  I don’t know if the snoring of this puppy is getting recorded, but it could be so just telling you guys that if there’s snoring…


JH: I’ve been listening. It is, because I’ve been listening to it and I thought it was something playing with a toy, but that’s a puppy snore.


SS: That’s a classic brachycephalic behavior of the pug/Boston cross puppy (laughter) who’s literally in a Sherpa bag right next to the microphone. So my bad, but that’s why she’s sleeping quietly. So, that’s fine. 


So anyway, we breed for these traits. And I often think we don’t know that we’re breeding for them. But instead we say, “This dog’s good at agility, so we’re gonna breed this dog.” And then the things that make him good at agility might be a propensity for biting a tug and pulling on it, or generally speaking, working with the handler. And so we get, you know… When it works really well, we can get a highly sociable dog who’s relatively resilient and still very worky. When it doesn’t work well, we get all of the worst things that the ranch dogs can have, too, but kind of amplified.


And, again the – the snoring comes in right when I pause. Again, one of the traits that I think that we select for the sport dogs tends to be that physicality towards the handler. So being able to push at and come in, which is woven into our toy play, opens the door sometimes for some of their anxiety-based behavior problems to have aggression involved. I think that it would be easier… All of my dogs in my house are pretty lovely, but if I were to rank them on who I think I could push to bite me, the sport dogs are at the top of the list. Not the ranch dogs, even though the ranch dogs don’t want me to touch them. So what is that? (laughter)




JH: Yeah that is interesting. You know, it’s really interesting how when we, you know, we select on certain criteria. So, we think we’re selecting on “the dog is a World Team dog…” 


SS: Right. Jumping abilities, speed. Yes.


JH: But what, as you say, what we may actually be selecting on could be something quite, quite different. Plus, there can be the stuff that gets brought along with it, right? Like the noise sensitivity or the epilepsy. Yet we are… So either where we’re selecting for something we don’t realize that we’re actually selecting for. Something else, but it’s good. Or we’re selecting for something, we’re actually selecting for something else, and that brings in something bad. It’s just, yeah, it’s a tough job. (laughter)


SS: It’s a mess. And I really don’t envy anyone who is trying to do it well. And I think that you would be smart to look into dogs that were bred to do the thing that you want to be doing. But then further than that, ask questions about their temperament that are very specific. 


Don’t ask, “Are the dogs sound sensitive?” Ask specifically, “How is Fourth of July in your house?” if you’re in the United States. Ask specifically, “If you’re hiking in the woods, and there are gunshots, what happens?” Ask specifically. This is a big one that I have all my clients who ask me for these questions to present to breeders. This is a big one. You’re walking your dog on a leash on a trail and an off-leash dog approaches with no handler in sight. We all know this, right? 


JH: That never happens.


SS: You just hear, “He’s friendly” from, like, down the trail, right? 


JH: Yeah.


SS: How does your dog react? 


JH: Yeah. 


SS: Like, ask those specific scenario-based questions, because otherwise you’re not going to get real answers. And here’s the biggest issue, in my opinion, that is happening. The breeders don’t know the answer, because their dogs don’t leave the house. 


That’s not, certainly, I’m not saying 100% of breeders. But your higher volume breeders who tend to be the accessible ones that you can get a puppy from easily, maybe don’t know. They, maybe, have 5, 10 breeding animals. Who knows, 20? I, you know, I don’t care how many they have. I don’t even care how many litters they’re producing. I do care if they can’t answer those questions. 


And these are, I think… That’s one of the issues. And I’m not… A rancher is not necessarily going to be better. I mean, if I had asked Idgie’s breeder who’s a cattle rancher in Idaho, she would have laughed at me. I would have said, “How’s the Fourth of July?” She would have been like, “The dogs are in the barn.”


JH: “Trail walks… We don’t go on trail walks.”




SS: Right, like, “What do you mean a dog approaches on the trail?” She probably would have been like, “Well, you know, when the farrier comes he brings his corgi.” And that’s fine, you know. Like that would have been, you know, that’s the kind of answer you might get. And I think if we’re breeding these dogs for sports, we need better answers than that. We need to know them better than that. We need to push for better temperaments so that, if for no other reason, so the dogs lives are easier. The dogs that have to then go live in those conditions.


JH: Yeah, so not that breeding high volume is necessarily wrong. I think you and I are both on the same page that it can be done well.


SS: Yeah. 


JH: But one of the ways that it has to be done well is that you have to actually know your breeding stock. And…


SS: Yes, and know them!


JH: And take them to agility trials and…


SS: Yes! 


JH: And live with them like pets.




SS: Because if you’re not, you don’t know them. And I’m sure that that would be irritating to some people to hear because they would say, you know, “How dare you? Of course I know the dogs that I’m producing.” But I’m… If you don’t hike them on a trail in the woods, then you don’t know what happens if a deer walks across the trail. And you don’t know what happens if an off-leash golden retriever who’s lovely comes running right up, right? 


And in my life I need my dogs to roll with that. I need my dogs to recall off of wildlife easily and I need them to accept rude dogs that approach on the trail. (laughter) And it’s when… Once they’re in my possession I take responsibility for those things. And I train very hard. And I work very hard on those things. But before they’re in my possession, I’m asking those questions that if you don’t know the answer, then I’m probably going to move on. Which is a place that I’ve gotten to gradually over time. (laughter)


JH: One of the things I say to people is, you know, get a dog from a breeder who’s, you know, with the parents, or doing all the things that you want your dog to do. 


SS: Yeah.


JH: So if you want your dog to go on hikes, get it from someone who takes their dog on hikes. So maybe there’s nothing wrong with someone breeding dogs, and, basically, all the dogs do is hang out on the property and produce, if that’s what you want to do with your dogs, right? That works great, right? 


SS: I have an increasing number of clientele whose dogs are working line Belgians. So working Tervuren, Malinois… It’s the black ones that I can’t pronounce.


JH: Yeah. I can’t spell it either, so…




SS: It’s the G ones. So the G ones. (Groenendael) I haven’t had a Laekenois which is the curly ones. And I probably said that wrong. Whatever. Working line Belgians. And a lot of them are from kennel-type situations. The owner, the breeders, have a kennel. The dogs do not live in the home. They come out, they work, they go back in the kennel, and the dogs are perfectly content and wonderful with that. And they really struggle in a home environment. Not to mention the fact that they struggle in an agility environment, too, because it’s really not what they’re made for. 


But these are the, you know… Actually way back I had a pet dog client that I was in her home and she had purchased this import dog that she had gone and seen the situation the dogs were living in. It was a working kennel. These dogs had never been in a home. They come out, they bite the guy wearing the sleeve, they go back in. And she wants the dog to live in her home and be a delightful family pet. And he’s really, really, struggling with it. Because if he’s not in the kennel, he’s “on” and he wants to bite something, or he wants to attack. He wants to dig at something, or he wants to chew something, or he wants to, you know, bother her old dog. Because that’s the way they live. 


So really asking the questions of “how do the dogs live?” “Where the dogs live?” And those real questions of, “If somebody approaches you on the trail, what happens?” You can tell if they’re speculating, too. You can tell they’re like, “Ummm, my dog would probably not like that very much, but…”. They don’t know. And that’s okay, if that’s okay. But if it’s not, it’s not. And one of my big questions now that I have this household with a ton of dogs in it, is, “So all of your dogs live in your house peacefully?” That’s it. That’s actually my number one question now. Because I need it.


JH: With eight dogs I would think so. 


SS: Seven and a temporary. (laughter)


JH: I have three and sometimes I make jokes and my husband is like, “nope.” I know I was lucky to go to three. We are not going to four.


So we have talked a great deal about border collies. What would you think about a dog that was only part border collie?


SS: You know, I think that sport mixes are a great idea. I don’t understand all of them. I don’t understand the purpose of all of them. But it’s not necessarily for me to understand. There are a lot of border collie people who are very upset about the fact that border collies are being bred with a lot of other things. But I think, you know, it’s stemming from necessity. It’s stemming from people who would like, maybe, those worky traits, and then maybe some other traits of some other dogs.


JH: Toning it down a little.


SS: Maybe soften it a little bit with something else. Maybe soften it. Maybe make the size different. Maybe make the coat type different. You know there are a lot of different things and I fully, fully support anybody who is breeding dogs with integrity and with a mind for the health and temperament of these dogs. And just because I wouldn’t necessarily select many of the sport mixes doesn’t mean that I have a problem with it. And I think that I’d be surprised if you didn’t find me with one eventually. I’m casually looking at a few because I would, I do think I might like something smaller. I’m not sure. But, generally saying…


JH: Here’s the thing about 35 pound dogs. You can pick them up if you need to. That is my thing. You can tuck it under one arm.




SS: Well, and my border collies, my two – my two of the six – are both under 35 pounds. So they are nice-sized dogs. I’m a little bit interested in this possibility of, you know, if our lives ever returned to a semblance of normal again, a dog riding in a plane, in an airplane cabin, with me in a bag. So that’s kind of my thought. But, essentially, if we’re all being honest, and we’re all utilizing the tools that we have as far as health testing, and as far as…


You know, I think health testing is wonderful. But I think treating it like the “be all/end all” is a big mistake in dog breeding. Health testing is great. But I actually think of it as a bare minimum, not a gold standard, at all. I think it’s a bare minimum. And then from there, we need to look at things like epilepsy, like sound sensitivity. Like when we’re involving border collies, if you’re going to cross them with something else, in my opinion, it should be to improve the situation. The way that the situation can be improved is in those areas, in my opinion, not necessarily other areas. Because when you get a good border collie, in my opinion, there’s nothing better. 


There’s no better sport dog, and there’s no better companion in my world, in my opinion, when they are mentally sound and their needs are met. I think that there’s nothing better than them. So if you’re going to cross it with something else, what I’d like to see is a reduction in those problems. The reduction in obsessive… Well, I guess, technically, we just call them compulsive disorders in dogs and not obsessive compulsive disorders. But, you know, maybe a reduction in some of those compulsive behaviors like light chasing, shadow chasing. Maybe a reduction in noise sensitivity and reactivity. That would be a big, big one for me. And then, of course, utilizing breeds that don’t also have a high incidence of epilepsy would be a good idea. For sure. So I think it can be great. I think it can be a really great thing.




JH: No, that’s my dream as well, to at some point have that sort of perfect mix of some herding and some retriever and some small and get something worky but sweet.


SS: Worky but sweet, which a lot of the sport bred border collies really are. A lot of the border collies, in general, not just sport bred are…


JH: Worky sweet, not crazy. How about that?


SS: There we go: Worky, sweet, not weird.




JH: A little weird is ok. I’m weird.


SS: No, we’re all weird here. That can be the title of the episode. (laugher) 


JH: That’s a good one. I was thinking, “What can I call it? It could be, like ‘Breeding Border Collies’ but she’s not a border collie breeder so I might get in trouble with that.”  


SS: You might. “We’re All a Little Weird Here.” There we go. “We’re All a Little Weird Here.”


JH: How about, “Border Collies: We’re All a Little Weird Here”? 


Thank you so much, Sarah. So if… I mean we’ve sort of dropped a lot of hints about how people might want to find you other places. Where could they do that?


SS: The best place is my website which is, and “canine” is spelled out. Everything is there. And then I certainly have, obviously social media. The Facebook page is The Cognitive Canine. And as well as Cog Dog Tadio has its own Facebook page. But if you go to the website, there’s one of those handy little things that you can subscribe to. And if you do that, you will get updated on the podcast anytime I write a blog, anytime I put out information on new courses, and things like that. So the website is probably the easiest place to go.


JH: Perfect. All right, and I’ll make sure that’s in the show notes, as well. Well, thank you so much. This has been really interesting.


SS: Thank you so much. It’s one of my favorite things to talk about, of course.




JH: Yeah, I always like talking about border collies. All right, thanks again, Sarah.


SS: Thank you.

Thanks so much for listening. The Functional Breeding Podcast is a product of the Functional Dog Collaborative and was produced by Sarah Espinosa Socal. Come join us at the Functional Breeding Facebook group to talk about this episode or about responsible breeding practices in general. To learn more about the Functional Dog Collaborative, check out Enjoy your dogs.

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