More Than Skin Deep...
To start with a puzzle......
How many Beardies do you see in the picture below?
Here are some close-ups to help you......
And the answer........?
None! All of these delightful dogs have been carefully bred from a mixture of Poodle and Border Collie and have no Beardie blood at all. They all belong to the same owner and compete very successfully in the agility ring - where they are usually mistaken for Beardies.......
What about this one then.......?
This is Cassie, the adored childhood companion of Anna Benson, who named her after the Beardie who won BIS at Crufts in 1989 - and this Cassie would not have looked out of place in the show ring herself.
But this Cassie is the result of an illicit mating between a Kennel Club registered Old English Sheepdog and a smooth coated Border Collie from a neighbouring farm and does not have a drop of Beardie blood in her veins!
Below Cassie as a puppy - looking like a typical Working Beardie and nothing at all like her Old English mother.
How does this happen? The answer is quite simple....
All of the dogs above have a Border Collie parent or grandparent, from which most of them have inherited the white 'Collie' markings, while the other breeds in the mix (Poodle in the first examples and Old English Sheepdog in Cassie's)have contributed the shaggy-all-over coat pattern - and the combination has resulted in Beardie-look-alikes.
The inheritance of coat type and pattern is extremely complicated and I have included links to some informative (and sometimes conflicting) articles at the bottom of this page for those interested in the relevant genetics. From my own observations, however, it seems that the shaggy-all-over coat pattern is genetically dominant, so that a cross between any smooth-coated or smooth-faced breed and any shaggy-all-over breed results in shaggy-all-over offspring (but see footnote 1).
And, of course, the Beardie is by no means the only breed to have a shaggy-all-over coat. The Kennel Club divides breeds into seven groups; Gundog, Hound, Pastoral, Terrier, Toy, Utility and Working ........and every one of these groups includes breeds with the shaggy-all-over coat pattern.
Nor are 'Collie' markings restricted to the Collie breeds - numerous other breeds have white markings which include a facial blaze, collar and lower legs. (see footnote 2)
Which means that a vast number of mixed-breed combinations are capable of producing medium-sized, shaggy-all-over Beardie-look-alikes, which have no Beardie ancestors at all.
Since it is possible to produce Beardie-look-alikes without any Beardies in their pedigrees, it is hardly surprising that a crossbred dog which really does have at least some Beardie ancestors can be well nigh impossible to distinguish from a pure-bred Beardie. And a cross between Beardie and Border lines can be even more convincing......
Above : Jill Taylor's lovely young Poppy and (below) Beth Ellis's charming Pippa (at eight months old), both believed to be Border/Beardie crosses.
Since both Poppy and Pippa were re-homed to their present owners, their parentage cannot be verified - but the very handsome Beardie-look-alike in the following two pictures has a full pedigree which shows him to be the result of a cross between a Border Collie sire and a BorderxBeardie dam - and therefore only 25% Beardie.
We have seen that any medium-sized, shaggy-all-over dog with 'Collie' markings may be mistaken for a Beardie and that a Beardie/Border cross can be especially Beardie-like in appearance - even when the percentage of Beardie blood is very small - because the two breeds are so similar in size, proportions and markings.
When a Beardie is crossed with a breed of very different size or proportions, however, the resultant progeny are unlikely to be mistaken for Beardies but the shaggy-all-over coat pattern and some other Beardie characteristics may persist through many generations.
A lovely example of the persistence of Beardie characteristics is the beautiful Lurcher bitch, Olive, shown below. Three quarters Greyhound and one quarter Border/Beardie mix, Olive is just one eighth Beardie but still shows the Beardie influence in her coat pattern and facial expression. Interestingly, of all the dogs shown on this page, Olive, with her calm, wise, enquiring expression, is the only one who reminds me of my own Beardies. I think she's gorgeous!
Olive was bred by David and Sally Hancock, who specialize in breeding Lurchers of the traditional Greyhound x Collie (Beardie, Border, or both)mix.
Above: Hancock's Boycey - Greyhound x Border/Beardie mix - and Below: Hancock's Woody - Greyhound x Border/Beardie. It is worth noting that these two handsome lads both have exactly the same percentage (25%) of Beardie blood as the last of the Beardie-look-alikes pictured above.
You can see more of the Hancock's Lurchers at http://www.hancocklurchers.co.uk/
All the dogs I have shown are lovely in their different ways and most of them have been purpose-bred for particular characteristics. Many of them are Beardie-look-alikes but none of them are Beardies.
So does it matter if other mixed-breed Beardie-look-alikes are sold or re-homed as 'Working Beardies', as many are, especially by re-homing centres which have found that crossbred dogs of unknown parentage have a better chance of being adopted if they are described as members of a breed?
For the many people who simply want an attractive pet and like the shaggy-dog look, it probably doesn't matter at all. Indeed, the average pet owner, perhaps out at work all day, may well be very much better off with a shaggy mixed-breed dog - such as a 'Labradoodle', perhaps -than with a true Working Beardie, resulting from many generations of selective breeding for high intelligence and inexhaustible energy - and having an insatiable desire to take an active part in whatever his people might be doing, whether managing a flock of sheep or helping with the housework.
But if, like me, you feel that the unique Working Beardie character is what makes him so special and that his remarkable problem-solving ability and talent for improvisation are his greatest assets, then only a genuine Working Beardie will do.
Sadly, the genuine Working Beardie is becoming increasingly rare and many - perhaps most - of the dogs advertised as 'Working Beardies' today carry a high percentage of Border blood.
I am a great admirer of the Border Collie - a breed unrivalled for his ability to learn a task and repeat it again and again without losing his enthusiasm, concentration or accuracy. This is the characteristic that makes him a firm favourite in sheepdog trials, agility, flyball and obedience competitions - all of which require a dog that will carry out commands with precision, never deviating from the course.
But this character is totally different from that of the Beardie (see my article on 'Temperament' near the top of the menu) and when the two breeds are mixed, although the progeny will almost certainly inherit the Beardie coat pattern, the Beardie character is likely to be lost. So the Beardie-look-alike resulting from a Beardie/Border cross might best be described as a Border Collie with a Beardie coat.
Jill Taylor's Poppy, shown above, seems to be a typical example of a Beardie/Border cross which looks like a true Beardie but has a very different character. Jill also owns a Brambledale Beardie, Glenys, and - although the two look so similar that they could be taken for sisters - Jill is struck by the difference in their characters:
"Poppy is still very willful and noisy......she likes to chase everything that moves - trains, tractors, birds, toy remote control airplanes, in fact pretty much anything including the broom and the Hoover. I am trying my best to curb this behaviour but it seems to be deeply ingrained. On the upside, she is very bright, willing and a quick learner. "
Poppy's obsessive chasing behaviour is something that I see regularly among the numerous Border Collies here in West Wales, where car-chasing Collies are an every day hazard for drivers on country roads and it is not unusual to see dogs which have lost a leg as a result of a misjudged chase - but still persist in their habit.
Beardies love to chase too, of course, but the essentially thinking nature of the true Beardie is very different from the obsessive character of his cousin. When I watch my Beardies chasing - whether each other, a ball, or a rabbit - I see them constantly changing tactics according to the situation, always aware of what they are doing and of everything else around them.
If we are to preserve the true Beardie character we must recognize that a true Beardie is very much more than a medium-sized shaggy-all-over dog with white markings - and that what makes him so special is very much more than skin deep.
copyright Lynne Sharpe May 2014
Footnote 1: Although the shaggy-all-over coat pattern generally seems to be dominant over the smooth or smooth-faced coat pattern, I have seen one KC- registered Beardie bitch with two Border-Collie-type daughters, from two different litters, both sired by KC - registered Beardie dogs. This was in the mid-1960s, when 'Beardies' of unknown background could be registered if approved on inspection and I can only assume that these very handsome Border-look-alikes were the result of Border ancestors on both sides of the family.
Footnote 2 : It should be remembered that some genuine Beardies have very little white marking and that the Breed Standard describes a dog "with or without white markings."
Copy-and-paste links to articles on the genetics of coat type:
http://sloughi.tripod.com/preserving/geneticscoatlengths.html *(This is the only coat-genetics article I could find which actually mentions the Bearded Collie.)