Working/Herding Dogs, their colors, registries and history

Working Dogs, Colors, Registries
and Other Strange Thoughts

by Esther Ekman

Read on and you will learn the history, colors and registries of the four main breeds of working/herding dogs in the United States.


Awhile back a friend who has Kelpies called my attention to a published decision by the Working Kelpie Council of Australia.

The WKC is both an organization and a registry. As reported in the Nov. 1995 issue of their News Bulletin. "As from 1/10/95 Show strain Kelpies will be deemed a separate variety." "Interbreeding between show strain and working strain Kelpies shall be classed as experimental and progeny allotted a foundation grade." "Upgrading shall be subject to requirements set down under clauses 11.6 sub clause 1 - 5 inclusive." "Details of experimental breeding programs shall be recorded in a separate register until the strain meets the criteria for working Kelpie type; natural ability and pure breeding."

"Currently registered Appendix recorded dogs who have Show strain infusions are not affected by the new by-laws they can be mated to other Appendix recorded dogs with similar infusions or of course fully registered dogs and have the progeny accepted by the WKC. Important - The above applies to fully registered Appendix dogs only and not to dogs carrying the systems prefix Show. From now on breeder/owners will need to decide which way they wish to go because if they use a new infusion of show strain the progeny will be deemed "experimental" and recorded in the special register and subject to the conditions set down in clauses 11.1.4 and clause 11.1.5 above."

When this was first reported to me it was done as a non detailed remark. I had understood that in Australia, quite sometime back, (way, way, back) the bench show people started favoring solid mahogany red Kelpies almost to the exclusion of other colors. The show Kelpies I saw in Australia and the ones I've seen in photos, seem to be a bit heavier built, have wider heads and a tad longer hair than the working class Kelpies I've seen. I also was told that the WKC was in existence, in some form, before the RAS KC accepted the Kelpies in their registry. Due to my warped sense of humor, the hour, (We'd been working on a project and were tired.) I kept getting flashes of imaginary scenarios. "Tempers flaring with gobs of black/tan and mahogany red hair flying this way and that. Yuck I've a hair ball on the Barbee!" and "Jokes about what would happen if a m/red started winning all the sheep trials in Australia, since everyone loves a winner and would want to breed to that m/red Winner." Sorry to the Down Unders, but sometimes situations strike me funny, no matter whether they are serious or not.

In order to register with WKC I believe you have to be a member. Part of their rules are that all members must guarantee that any dog they sell will work or they will replace it. The thought kept going through my mind that if all m/red show dogs didn't work, (Which was gist of what was said that day.) then those members who bred them must have more money than brains and must be going broke replacing dogs. Of course, there was more to the situation than meets the eye or mouth.

Seems that there is a parallel between WKC decisions and our (The ACDCA) decisions on AKC registration requirements in the late 1960's. (See AKC article for details.) In the Canine Journal, Jan. 1996 page 15, of the RNSWCC "a notation be included in the breed standard that apart from a small white area on the chest that white patches are not permitted." This was stated with an aside remark "White on Australian Kelpies is coming through on Working Kelpies possibly due to crosses with Border Collies."

The WKC has taken issue with this remark responding with, "..... there are very few registered strains of working strain Kelpies legally available for breeding to RNSWCC registered dogs and this has been the case for over 35 years." ".....before, and for a short time after, the RAS Kennel Club became the central registry body dogs of unknown breeding only needed to be certified true to type by a panel of three judges to be accepted for registration." "Many of the modern show strains carry lines tracing to dogs of unknown background possibly carrying infusions of working collies. With the increasing degree of inbreeding being practiced by Show breeders this source could just as easily explain the appearance of the white markings." ".... the Working Party" ..... also investigate where the additional genetic factor responsible for the tan markings in all colors has come from in strains not registered as carrying infusions of working strains. What is of interest is that the tan marking has only appeared in very recent time in the Show variety which historically has been solid colored strain. It is a factor which has to be carried by both solid parents to suddenly appear, and this is considered to be impossible in the case of solid recessive red colored dogs. We understand that your Council has adopted the right to conduct DNA testing and applaud your decision."

Interesting that in this case it is the working registry that seems to have a more solid base in their pedigrees.

As I said earlier, in my mind at the time, I was envisioning this world wide revolt, with the sides throwing red or black & tan hair balls at each other. Whiz Wamp! Zap Zoohoy! Primarily because instead of going into complete detail, the discussion centered around the WKC excluding m/red dogs in their registry.


This idea of excluding or including or attributing certain performances to dogs based solely on color, (When the person is serious and not being facetious.) has always been a real bug with me because remarks of the same have affected my breed over the years.

Being of perverse mind, the thought flew through the attic, wouldn't the WKC feel foolish if suddenly a m/red showed up and started winning all the sheep dog trials and since everybody loves a winner, everybody wanted pups from that mired? Dah! Hey, it could happen. Pity the poor soul somewhere in the wilds of the outback that works everyday with his good looking m/red Kelpie, from generations of good working dogs on his station. He's never been to a bench show and suddenly decides to trial his wonder dog and wins, not knowing his dog has been "sneered" upon. Not likely, but it could happen. Especially if you have a mind that says "Babe" could happen. That type of affliction makes my mind have strange thoughts in the middle of the night. (Like after my roommate planted uncountable tomato plants in the wine tubs on the deck in "super goat mulch" and they started growing inches over night, every night. About a week later I woke up at 3 AM thinking that I was hearing the plants encasing the house.) Hey, what could be said? I grow up on all those B horror movies.

I am more than aware of bench show breeders who completely ignore the working ability of their breed, or lack thereof. (See article titled "Picking that Special Pup".) For ages those breeders have been an annoying factor in any breed. (Gun dogs that don't hunt etc.) (Hounds that don't sound etc.)

Around seventy years ago an ACD (Australian Cattle Dog) breeder made the written comment that red heelers are more severe biters than the blues. (If I remember correctly, it was Robert Kaleski.) He also made the comment that if the blue was almost black, it showed the Barb in the breeding and the dog would be shy and skiddish. It may have been true of those peculiar litters in his time, in his area, but at the time those breeders didn't have much, if any, science in their background knowledge and could only judge that litter, at that time. (Since the first cross litters had both reds and blues, later on also, both colors would carry recessive genes that would effect the temperament. Those traits may or may not come out in the next generation. Therefore the reds he was talking about may not have produced "severe biters". Especially because one of those recessive genes would have been the blue color, since red is dominate.) In order for that comment to be true today, breeders would have had to line and/or in breed on those first "severe biters" from then to now, and that's not the way it is. The numbers to make reliable statistics just were not there. Then again..... He may have been saying blues are wissey!..... Annotational information is very important in my mind, because true scientific studies are few and far between in dogs, but it has to be qualified as such and not stated as a blanket fact. People who don't know any better pick up on such a comment and run in it into the ground.

The above statement about the reds is not true today, but it was used, some time back, as a base to prove a point by a writer/breeder of another breed. He wanted to prove his theory that a certain color of dog in his breed had temperament problems that were genetically linked to the color, not by chance or line or environment. So he talked to several breeders in different breeds that had more than one color. He talked to one ACD representative, a person that had never had reds and didn't like reds. (Are you seeing a pattern here?) The ACD person was quoted as saying that reds were vicious, untrainable and never should have been allowed in the registry. (Bye the way, the ACD person denied having said any sort of thing.) Judging from the one contact I personally know of, the rest of his information would in my mind, be completely useless, because it was so bias.

After all this fooling around, the point I'm trying to make is that "you can't judge a book by it's cover" and you can't judge a dog on it's color alone. There has to be other factors involved, whether it is line breeding to total exclusion of other colors and functions, or the possibility of a genetically color linked gene for a fault, (Such as the blue merle death gene.) or some other factor in the mix other than just color.

Just as an example of how long lasting one remark can be: When a friend and I were in Australia, we stopped overnight in Brisbane, Queensland (At one of the fancy downtown hotels. Our splurge of the trip.) so we could visit Iris Heale of Glen Iris Kennels. We took a taxi from the hotel, gave the driver the address and after about 15 minutes the driver pulls over and says "The address isn't in the area he thought it was and were we sure we wanted to go to this address because it is in an older, not too good section of town?" We said "Of course we wanted to go there and people were expecting us." When he asked why, we explained that we were ACD breeders from the US and the Heales were old time breeders etc. The guy went bonkers saying "Heelers are not a woman's dog.... Don't know why you'd come to have them....." When we mentioned that we had both colors, he went off again, "Reds, savage beasts..... Too dangerous for women to handle...." Then when we got to the place, we had to open the door while we were still moving (slowly), because he wasn't going to let us out saying, "If you get out I'm reporting your where abouts to the police, just in case something happens to you, I'm not to blame." He finally stopped when Mr. Heale came out of house to greet us. He drove away still yelling.


This working dog people verses bench show people must have started in caves. Hunting wolves verses watch/pet/cleanup wolves. Not the wolves, but the owners. I would guess if you had to look at your cave wolf all day, you'd want it to look good and have a lot of coat to keep you warm. If you were the hunter, you wouldn't care what it looked like, as long as it was fast, mean and worked with you.

This attitude has cracked me up for years because the people themselves caused this split by not working together and making room for small variations due to usage. The bigger and longer the fight within a breed, the wider the variations in the dogs and the more nasty the fight gets. (I say "cracked me up" because it is easier than crying. I hate to see any split between breeders that effects the dogs and fighting breeders are always detrimental to any breed.)

What has happened over many years now is that instead of individuals disagreeing over breeding methods, the working people are mostly blaming the registries for ruining breeds. How many times have you heard the comment "the AKC ruins working breeds?"


That attitude had boiled over just awhile back when the AKC fully recognized Border Collies and Australian Shepherds. The AKC didn't form a secret society just to make working people go nuts.

What has happened is that the AKC has a Miscellaneous classification that is a list of dogs that they recognize as pure bred breeds, but are waiting in the wings for full recognition, due to lack of numbers or an active parent club. At some prior point of time, someone had to have asked the AKC to put that breed on the list. (The ACD's had been on the list from the 1930's to 1980, but no one knows who that person was that put them on the list in the 1930's.) When I started showing, Akitas, Shih Tzus, Tibetan Terriers and others that are now full AKC breeds, were in the Miscellaneous class. There is quite a number of breeds that are now full AKC breeds that were not even on the list at that time, like Shar-Peis, American Eskimos, Finnish Spitz and more. The Miscellaneous breeds have one non regular conformation class, where all breeds are judged together and they are eligible for obedience and some other performance events. Miscellaneous is the "green room" of the AKC.

Then a couple of things happened to change the status quo. The powers that be at the AKC decided that they should "clean house" and eliminate from Miscellaneous any breeds that have just been sitting there for years with no movement toward full recognition and maybe loosen up the procedures for full registration. I would think they wanted to eliminate the Miscellaneous classification altogether (Along with the conformation class.) and use the ILP procedure (Indefinite Listing Privilege) just for recognized breeds. (See total explanation in Puppy article.) So the AKC wrote letters to breed clubs asking if they wanted to become a parent club for their breed and go for full AKC recognition. There was some controversy about asking ASCA because the Australian Shepherds were not in the Miscellaneous classification like the Kelpies and Border Collies. Most believed it involved money that the AKC would get for registrations and entries because of the large amount of Aussies out there. Who knows? Maybe yes maybe no.


Kelpies have been in Miscellaneous since the 1930's. The Kelpie people, who are mostly members of the American version of WKC, The WKI (Working Kelpies Incorporated) voted not to be an AKC parent club and to my knowledge there hasn't been much, if any, activity by any other group in that direction. (I have been told there is a group that may go for full recognition, but don't know at what stage.) As of this writing (Sept. 1996) the Kelpies are still in Miscellaneous. (Oh, the AKC told them that if they didn't go for full recognition and join the Herding Group, the breed would not be eligible to enter AKC herding trials. Although they still seem to be eligible for obedience trials etc.)


There is a fairly large obedience group that have Border Collies. They and others, like minded, formed a parent club and got full recognition for the breed. Partly because they didn't want to lose the option of participating in AKC performance events (The dogs are sooo... good at it!) and partly because no matter what anyone says, there always seems to be someone in the breed that wants to go for championship points.

The Border Collie working associations had a fit, are having a fit and probably will continue to have fits. It's too bad they can't compromise and double register their dogs. Yes.... I just ducked. The reason I think this way is because, if prior to a parent club being formed, it could be supposed that there were only working organizations and working breeders. Then those obedience/show people must have bought working dogs, from working dog breeders and it is only now at this point of time, that breed will start to split into working dogs verses show dogs. Or I should say the breeders will be split. It isn't the AKC that causes two strains of dogs being developed separately. It is the breeders who react poorly toward a person that has uttered the "dirty word". (For example: If yesterday an obedience exhibitor bought a bitch pup from a working breeder and today that new owner registered the pup with the AKC, nothing has really changed. The pup is the same, the breeder is the same and the owner will still train the pup for obedience trials, which is what was the plan yesterday too. But... two years from now if that new owner wanted to buy another dog of the same breeding, or wanted to breed the bitch within the breeders line, it couldn't be done without the owner giving up the sport for which he/she bought the dog for in the first place. (By then the AKC stud book would be closed.) Now the owner has to go into an obedience/show line because the original breeder has closed the door. Therefore after a few years you now have two strains of Border Collies.) The owner could, I guess, start showing at UKC and SKC shows, but that's not the point of this example.


At the same time the AKC accepted the Border Collies, Australian Shepherds were also accepted. There was a huge commotion about the AKC doing that because, as I was told, the members of ASCA had voted down being parent club and going for recognition. (Aussies were not at the time in the Miscellaneous classification and were entered on the list only for the time it took to process the individual registrations for the stud book.) What the members of ASCA didn't seem to understand is that it doesn't matter to AKC who forms a parent club, as long as one is formed and as long as there are enough dogs of that breed to warrant their own classes, it is a done deal. It would not have mattered if there had been three clubs of ASCA's size out there or none, if there is a group of people willing to form a parent club and petition for full recognition, they would have gone ahead with the procedure.

Earlier when I made the comment that the AKC had loosen the recognition procedure, it was because back in the '60's when our fledgling ACD parent club (The ACDCA) tried to get the AKC and the powers to be in Australia to agree to let us use Queensland Heeler as the name of our breed, the AKC told us that the country of origin had to be the first word of the breed name (as in German Shepherd/Belgian Shepherd etc.) and Queensland was a state not a country. So we tried Australian Heeler, Australia said no, that the breed has been registered and shown for a hundred years as Australian Cattle Dog and that was that. We wanted that change because of the never ending confusion in people's minds with the Australian Shepherd. During these communications we had officials in both countries make unofficial remarks that the Aussies would never get AKC recognition because the breed was not of Australian origin and they didn't think any of their organizations (I think there were two or three at the time.) would consider a change to American Shepherd. Things do change!......

Just the other day I had to do a "deep sigh". A woman called asking about the ACDCA items the club sells. We hit it off and started yakking about the dogs. She has horses and unregistered working ACD's (See the article about the AKC and ACD's) and we had gotten into remarks about some show breeders etc. (She had dropped in at a show, watched the ACD's being shown, asking one of the exhibitors if they worked their dog and had gotten one of the answers that drives me up (and her) up a wall, "Oh no, he is a too valuable, he might get hurt.") Then she had made the comment, "look what they've done to the Australian Shepherd now that it is an AKC breed. They can't work anymore." I wasn't in a position to go into an involved explanation, but I will do so now.

All the commotion about the AKC recognizing the Aussies didn't have anything to do with their working ability. It was a clash of organizations. ASCA (Australian Shepherd Club of America) wanted to stay the "big cheese" in Aussies and they incorrectly thought they would have control whether the breed went AKC or not, by their actions alone, but again, all it takes is a small group of people in the breed to form a parent club, ask for and get full recognition. If nobody asks them to do this, they don't do it. Since the 60's ASCA has always had it's own conformation shows with championship titles, it's own obedience trials with obedience titles and it's own working trials with working titles. So Aussies have been in the show ring for thirty some odd years and nobody has ever told me that ASCA ruins working breeds.... In reality, nothing has changed except that a lot of Aussies are now probably being double registered. (Hey! Two sets of titles are better than one. Right?) I don't really think that ASCA is going to fold up and leave, they have been at it a long time, but time will tell, I guess.

While thinking about the Aussie commotion, I started having a few flash backs. When I first got into showing, it was first in obedience trials. Then I was talked into trying conformation classes. As a novice (or even now) there is always someone in the ring that is so far ahead of your ability, as to be awe inspiring. Sheila Farrington-Polk and her Tri Ivory Aussies was one of those persons in my novice years. Many, many times we would be in the same conformation class at non AKC Fun Match Shows and at Rare Breed Shows. (At that time Aussies were sometimes lumped into the Misc. class or we'd have separate breed classes and meet in the group ring. Oh bye the way, there were almost always larger entries of Aussies than ACD's.) I mean this woman could have a 12 week old puppy entered in 3 to 6 months conformation class, have it gaiting, free stacking (even if she took the leash off) and looking good. This is awesome training ability. Guess what? She is now a well respected all breed pro handler at AKC and other KC shows and was such long before the Aussies were AKC recognized. She still has awesome training ability.

The other flash back was about the AKC herding trial program. When the AKC formed the steering committee, our Nat'l Breed Club, the ACDCA was picked to put on the first matches and trials. We were picked to do this because we've had a working trial at each National Specialty since the mid '70's. (Actually we had a three part class called a Versatility Trial. In the conformation part, the dogs were judged on traits that would affect the dog's working ability. In the obedience part, it was basically the novice class, but with a couple of practical exercises added. In the working section, each year the course was a little different, but essentially it was moving 5 head of cattle from A to B and penning them. Each section was worth 100 points, the judge deducting points from there. In order to qualify for the club's VQW title (Versatile Qualified Worker) the dog had to get at least 50% of the points in each section.) Anyway when the AKC started the trials, all ASCA trial judges were "Grandfathered" into the program as AKC trial judges. The same was true of some Border Collie judges, AHBA (American Herding Breeds Association) judges and anyone who had judged our VQW trial. So ASCA judges have been associated with AKC for quite awhile, for at least seven years.


Even though some registries like AKC have judges education, training and testing programs, the registry itself does not have control over the working ability, or lack of, of any breed. Nor do they have control over bench show dogs having exaggerated, fad based, structure changes that would effect that working ability. Only National Breed Clubs, (They control changes in their breed's standard, not AKC.) breeders and owners have any control over what is produced in their breed.

The only exception I'd make to the last paragraph would be that each group's trial courses are different and there are some differences in what is emphasized in judging. I will agree with a friend of mine who has trialed a great many of the various courses, that the AKC course judging seems to stress more whether the stock is going in a straight line from A to B etc. with the dog being in a peculiar place, rather than whether the dog is using his position to control the stock. It would seem that the stress is on a robotic performance, rather like an obedience routine, instead of letting the dog think for itself. I would hope that because the AKC events are fairly new, that this thinking could change.

Fledgling conformation judges are suppose to talk to breeders in the breed they are going for, to be educated on breed type. They go to seminars on the breed, usually organized by the Parent Clubs at their National Specialties. Then they are suppose to audit that breed in the ring with the regular judge, (Or at least I think they still do this or maybe not, I haven't seen one lately.) partly to see how the judge judges the breed and partly to learn actual ring procedures. Then they have some sort of written test on the breed standard etc. Then they are provisional judges for awhile, reevaluated and either rejected or get certified for that breed. If breeders or exhibitors don't feel the judge is qualified they can protest at any point. If the breeders and exhibitors feel that a judge is ruining the breed by bad choices in the ring, they can ask that their local show giving club does not hire that judge again. If the judges do not put up a breeder's dog one day, the breeder does not have to change their dogs to fit the judge. That is their choice, not the registry's choice. Exhibitors should study what is being done on their breed club level with seminars and/or the breeders from which the perspective judges are getting their first level of education. If there is a problem it is up to the that breed's fanciers to try to correct what might or might not be wrong.

The same type of procedure is in place, in some form or another for working trial judges in any organization. If the exhibitors don't feel the judge has done a good job, they do and can have influence on whether that judge is asked to judge future trials. The registries do not control the exhibitor's opinions. Writing or speaking to the judging committee of the overseeing organizations may help to correct what an exhibitor might see as a problem. (As long as it is presented in a manner that doesn't smack of "Sour Grapes, you lost and you are miffed.") Mind reading is stage performance.

Since there is no one looking over your shoulder at your ranch or farm, if your dog doesn't work the way you want, it's your fault, not the registry his papers are from. Especially if you bred the dog in the first place.


As a final thought, it is really too bad there isn't a world wide central registry that would handle the paperwork for all the breeds in the world. It would be one less thing breeders would have to fight over and everyone would have access to all the dogs in their breed, no matter what they ended up doing with the dog. Working dogs would be available to add ability to bench show lines. Type could be added to working lines and the guy on the ranch could have a registered dog without being embarrassed, that he might be getting too fru fru.

If there had been a world wide registry at the time, our problem with the cross bred ACD's never would have happened. McNiven and his cross breds would have been suspended period, end of story and all the ACD's in our country would have been pure breds from day one. Ah, those idyllic dreams of peace and enlightenment!

Sort of like the taxi ride back from Heale's place in Brisbane. That driver recognized Mr. Heale from the shows, found out that we'd been at the Melbourne Royal Show and wanted to know who won what etc. Thought that it was great that we had ACD's, that we were visiting breeders there, (He had German Shepherds.) AND.... the fare was $3.00 cheaper for the ride back to the hotel. He got a bigger tip!

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