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      “If it’s a merle it’s not a Bearded Collie”

       A response to the above claim, made by all six of the UK Bearded Collie clubs. 

If readers have a mental image of typical Breed Club committees, it probably doesn’t have much in common with the public image of the gutter press. So the recent spectacle of the  massed ranks of  all six of the UK Bearded Collie clubs rushing headlong into print to publicise a highly controversial campaign, without first taking a few moments to check the truth of their claims, may have raised a few eyebrows.

The claim that "no KC Registered Beardie has been registered as merle" is simply untrue and the evidence for this is in the KC's own library, where records list 130 Beardies registered from 1912-1939. The colour descriptions given on some registration cards are open to interpretation but at least one Beardie (a bitch named Collairnie Floss registered in 1933) is clearly stated as being blue merle, while many others are described in terms such as “grey and light grey” and “black and stone grey” which suggest that they were probably merle.                                                                                                                                         

The ambiguities make it impossible to say how many of the total registrations are for merle Beardies but even if Floss were the only merle (which is very unlikely, given the mode of inheritance), her registration is enough to disprove the clubs' claim. Interestingly, KC librarian Ciara Farrell, who very kindly supplied me with details of the records, commented that neither she, nor her colleague Colin, had ever been asked about the colours of registered Bearded Collies before, so it seems that the need to check the truth of their claims before publication did not occur to the Breed Clubs.

    The clubs' second claim - that "merle has never been included as a colour in the KC breed standard" is a little more complicated as I understand that the Breed Standard only became a KC Breed Standard in 1964. The official Breed Standard in force from 1912 - 1964 described colour as "immaterial" but mentioned that eyes should "match the coat in colour, the typical wall eye (otherwise called china or marble), either single or double, suiting the mirl (sic) coat."

     I was a member of the committee of the Bearded Collie Club (then the breed's only club) which 'tidied up' the standard, prior to its acceptance by the KC in 1964 and I clearly remember the discussion about colours and the decision to limit the description of eye colour to "Eyes: to tone with the coat in colour", which, it was felt, covered all combinations and needed no further elaboration. There was certainly no intention to exclude merles.
           So although the clubs' claim about the KC breed standard may be strictly true, it is at least highly misleading and will be taken by most readers as meaning that merle is not - and has never been - acceptable in KC registered Beardies.



But why should all six of the UK Bearded Collie Clubs be prepared to act in such an extraordinary way, with complete disregard for the truth? Why should they seek to mislead their members and the wider public, when records – including the KC’s own – show that their claims are simply false?  

The answer would seem to be that this is just the latest tactic in a campaign to prevent the registration of any Beardies from parents not already on the KC Breed Register, despite the obvious benefits of the opportunity to re-introduce the traditional characteristics of the breed and to enlarge the dangerously limited KC gene pool.

The KC’s list of ‘breed average COIs’ (Coefficients of Inbreeding) shows the Beardie as having the highest score in the whole pastoral group – an alarming 14.6%. The international Beacon Open Health Registry, however, reveals an even more serious situation. Of the 386 UK KC-registered Beardies on its data base the lowest COI is 14.3%, while the highest is 43.2% and the average figure for the UK Beardies is a truly horrifying 25.5%. (Beacon figures are based on a ten-generation pedigree and are calculated using Breeders’ Assistant software.)

The UK breed clubs, however, are determined to prevent any new blood from finding its way into the KC Breed Register.   Hence the reference to the working dogs as so called ‘working bearded collies’,” which seems to deny that there is – or ever has been – such a dog as a real Working Bearded Collie.
The clubs present themselves as the devoted guardians of “the Bearded Collie breed as we know it today”, which was, they seem to believe, found under a gooseberry bush in the late 1940s. The claim here seems to be that the only true representatives of the breed are the modern show-type Beardies descended entirely from the tiny nucleus registered on the Kennel Club Breed Register between the late 1940s and 1960s..... and that any other dogs described as Beardies – especially those still doing the job for which the breed evolved -are imposters.  Yet written and pictorial records of Bearded Collies go back a very long way and prove the Beardie to have been widely recognised, not only as a working dog but in the show ring as well, long before the advent of the breed clubs.. A surviving catalogue of the  SKC’s ‘thirtieth grand show’, held  in Edinburgh in 1908, includes a class for Bearded Collies and one of  the prize winners is shown below.  Dogs of this type are still to be found working in the hills of Scotland, England and Wales but if ‘The Laird’ were to make an appearance in the show ring today, he would no doubt be dismissed as a mongrel by the current ‘breed experts’.

(Photograph taken from Dog Shows Then and Now: an Annotated Anthology : West Redding; Images in Print 1999 by  Anne M. Hier and reproduced by kind permission of the author.)


A beautiful and typical Bearded Collie of the early 1900s: Lord Arthur Cecil’s famous  Ben.       

Note that Ben, The Laird and their contemporaries were described simply as ‘Bearded Collies.’ It is only in recent times that dogs of this type have been referred to as ‘Working Bearded Collies’ to distinguish them from the new and very different type created by the dictates of the modern show ring and the Kennel Club closed-register system. If the two types are now too far removed to share one breed name, surely it is the new type which should take a new name, leaving the older name,‘ Bearded Collie’ to the traditional working dogs who are its true heirs.

The Bearded Collie Clubs are not alone in their attempt to rewrite history so as to present the KC show  version of 'their' breed as the only genuine article and to dismiss as ‘crossbreeds’ the very dogs who are still doing the work for which the breed was developed. A similar situation has arisen in several other breeds which still have a healthy population of the original type remaining outside the KC system. 

I believe that the problem stems from the huge growth in the popularity of dog shows since the 1950s.  Whereas many dogs competing in the show rings of earlier times would also have earned their living as working sheepdogs, gundogs and so on, the vast majority of today’s winners in any breed are the result of many generations of selective breeding for the show ring alone. Once breeders lose sight of the dog’s original purpose, there is a tendency to concentrate on developing those points seen as ‘breed characteristics’ until these are exaggerated to a grotesque degree. The unfortunate dogs resulting from such ‘improvement’ are then claimed to represent ‘The Breed’, while their luckier cousins who have continued to live, work and breed ‘down on the farm’ or in the field are regarded with scorn or open hostility.

It is perhaps not surprising that breeders and exhibitors whose experience of ‘their’ breed is limited to the show version should fail to recognise the virtues of their ‘unimproved’ country cousins. But the claim that the lines bred only for their ability to work are riddled with diseases and deformities unheard of in the show lines defies common sense.

                             Dr Lynne Sharpe     November 2011    copyright 

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