February 7, 2002
THE TRUTH ABOUT:
THE AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD - Page 1
If one had to bring a single breed to represent the word dog in the most positive sense, the Australian Shepherd would definitely be a finalist. This is a lovely breed, balanced and moderate in size with a beautiful head, perfect triangular ears, and a lovely wavy coat. They come in sixteen possible color combinations from a conservative single color to wild patterns combining five colors. But Aussie is not just a pretty face. The breed is cheerful, intelligent, and charming, and prone to wagging its entire rear end to compensate for its bobtail. In addition, the breed loves to work and is willing to try its hand at almost anything its owner wants to do.
One would expect the Australian Shepherd to be on the top of the world. However, this could not be farther from the truth. The Australian Shepherd is universally annoyed. A significant number of Aussies are downright disgruntled.
In order to understand the current state of mind of the Aussie, let's take a quick look at the breed's history and the culminating situation that led to the breed's unhappy state of mind.
Many books and articles about Australian Shepherd attempt to document the breed's history. These explanations are generally lengthy and convoluted. Remember how you used to write a lot in those Blue Books for exam topics about which you knew absolutely nothing? Breed historians could spare us a lot of time and head scratching if they would simply go with the following:
What we do know is that Americans hate ambiguity. To an individual, Americans get twitchy when they cannot hammer out a concrete answer. To alleviate the stress generated by the breed's muddy history, American breeders have claimed the Aussie as their own. While the Australians (human variety) could probably make a case that they got there first, these easier-going folks have not waged a battle to claim rights. Thus, the label, "Made in America" has been pinned on the Australian Shepherd. Go figure.
No one has a clue exactly where the ancestors of the Aussie came from prior to appearing in the United States. They may have come from Spain, England, or some other spot in Europe. They may or may not have taken a detour to Australia with Basque shepherds. This would appear likely given the fact the dog is called an Australian Shepherd. Quick, those Aussies (human variety).
No one has a clue exactly which breeds were the ancestors of the Australian Shepherd either. It may have included breeds with picturesque names like the Dorset Blue Shag or English Shepherd. It may have included other British-type or Basque-type herding dogs. As a famous basketball player recently said during an interview when he was pressured to answer a question, "I don't know and you can't make me know." Such is the mystery of the Aussie's origins.
THE TRUTH ABOUT:
THE AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD - Page 2
A Cruel Twist of Fate
Once the dog appeared on the U.S. scene, ranchers took a quick shine to the breed and began to use it to help with a variety of farm chores. A strong and positive partnership developed. New generations of dogs were bred to enhance their skill at herding. Life was good.
There was one rough spot in the road when the Aussie began to notice another dog on the farm and ranch. The black and white intruder was called a Border Collie. However, the two were able to work out a partnership. The BC specialized in high-speed, high-drive herding. The Aussie founds its niche in its versatility, helping their owners with a wide range of tasks from herding sheep and cattle, to guarding the property and providing companionship to the children. This balance held for many generations of people and dogs. Then things began to go sour.
In the early 1970's, a new era began. The new world of dog sports burst onto the scene. Active dog owners began to participate in agility, disc catching, freestyle, trial herding, tracking, and flyball by the thousands. Aussie owners and their pups launched themselves enthusiastically into every venue. Initially everyone had a great deal of fun in the new games. But gradually, the happy-go-lucky Aussies could not help but notice something shocking — the Border Collie dominated virtually every sport. The Australian Shepherd had become second fiddle in the world of dog performance. This was a devastating blow.
Australian Shepherds Take Action
To their credit, the Aussies are dogs of action. They did not snivel or whine. When the new reality took hold, the Aussies set about organizing themselves. Their leaders aggressively recruited Aussies from around the world to participate in an effort to elevate their breed back to its rightful position — Number 1.
The first challenge was naming the new organization. The first suggestion was National Union for the Advancement of the Australian Shepherd. However, just short of publishing their first newsletter, a bright young pup in Maryland suggested that NUAAS might not be the best acronym for the neophyte group. Quickly, the name was changed the Committee for the Advancement of Australian Shepherds (CAAS).
Aussies from around the world responded to the call to join. Current membership in CAAS stands at 46,000 dogs with representatives from the U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand.
How CAAS Members Communicate
Members of CAAS meet at dog gatherings around the world. If you see Aussies seeming to sniff each other at herding trials, disc flying or agility, conformation, or obedience, take note. They are actually exchanging committee information:
Annual meetings are held at Westminster and Crufts. Between meetings, emails fly.
Did you hear that Bear was elected the new CAAS President?
Have you heard about the new dog sport they're starting for us at CAAS?
Did you hear that Buster was sent a disciplinary letter by CAAS for biting a sheep?
THE AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD - Page 3
CAAS Mission Statement
At its first meeting, the CAAS Board unanimously approved the following:
The mission of the Committee for the Advancement of Australian Shepherds is to provide national leadership in order to unify Australian Shepherds around the world. CAAS seeks to re-establish the Aussie as the ultimate breed in terms of intelligence, athletic ability, work ethic, and versatility. CAAS will accomplish this goal through the effective public relations, research and development, discipline of individual dogs who engage in poor behavior, and kicking the Border Collie's behind whenever possible.
Many CAAS members serve on one of the key sub-committees. Based on the mission, the key sub-committees are:
The work of these committees is explained below.
Research and Development Committee
The Australian Shepherd currently participates in virtually every dog sport that exists. However, as has been explained, they are unable to dominate in any arena.
Rather than whine about this situation, the Research and Development Committee of CAAS has developed a series of new sports that they believe the Aussie can win:
Freegility: In this new sport, dogs perform a choreographed routine to music on their way through the agility course. Somewhere between obstacles, dogs must demonstrate pivots, backing, and a change of pace. It is the last criteria which will favor the Aussie since the BC since has only one speed.
Frisbeehund:The Aussie has demonstrated its ability to perform complex routines that involve catching Frisbees hurled down big fields. A few have managed to qualify in the traditional sport of Schutzhund that involves dogs in tracking, obedience and protection work. Frisbeehund will combine the best of both sports by asking the dog to catch a number of thrown discs, then chase and tackle a threatening person who bursts out of the crowd and races down the field shrieking. This new sport will favor the Australian Shepherd who brings a protective nature to the playing field.
Freestyle Barking: The Aussie is a world-class barker. This new sport will capitalize on that ability by asking dogs to demonstrate their supreme vocal skills in both herding and agility. The dog's score will be based on his/her effectiveness in moving the flock, completion of the agility obstacles, and both loudness and frequency of barking.
THE AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD - Page 4
Public Relations Committee
This group works on presenting the Aussie in the best possible light to the dog lovers of the world. At present, the committee is organizing the International Australian Shepherd Olympics (IASO). They are accepting bids from a number of cities to host the event.
At the IASO, there will be a variety of events that highlight the Aussie's versatility, skill, stamina, and courage. Events will include traditional dog sports from agility to carting. However, the talented Aussie may also demonstrate their skill in non-traditional dog sports such as fly-casting, golf, or archery.
In addition to the single events, there will be an Aussie decathlon that will consist of six events rather than the usual ten, since few Aussies can count to ten. The competition will include: rear end wagging to greet new friends, fence jumping, using "the eye" in a variety of settings including holding a human on the toilet, demonstrating their skills as a human shadow, outthinking their owners, and following a track to the hot dog stand.
Traditionally, the Olympic games open with a torch-lighting ceremony and a parade of athletes into the stadium. The format will remain the same at the IASO although the canine athletes will be followed by a large group of human pooper-scoopers.
Demonstrations of the new dog sports described above will be held daily in the large stadium.
This committee is trying to address an issue that has become common in many breeds with a working background. The issue is that selective breeding has lead to two distinct lines of Aussies: those bred to work and those bred for show aesthetics. The difference between the two lines is stunning. The working lines are high energy, smaller, lighter boned, and often reserved. The show line is heavier, hairier, lower energy, and often more outgoing.
The Unification Committee is fighting an uphill battle because the two lines of Aussies have developed disdain for each other. Listen carefully when a conformation Aussie and working Aussie pass. You may hear one whisper, "Ruffian," and hear the other hiss, "Sissy showboat."
This committee's major charge is to limit Aussie behaviors that detract from its image as the perfect dog. The behaviors that frequently draw the attention of this committee are:
THE AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD - Page 5
How CAAS Interacts with Humans
CAAS members know that they cannot de-throne the Border Collie without assistance from their human partners. The Board of Directors authorizes key information that must make it into the human arena. Then, the most common strategy is that CAAS members are assigned to send anonymous letters to Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) or the American Kennel Club (AKC) members. A second, more dangerous strategy is that emails are sent using the dog owner's account, however, humans often intercept the email replies.
Recently, Marion Peters who lives in Hackensack, New Jersey received the following email:
Dear Ms. Peters,
The AKC wants to acknowledge submission of your detailed proposal for three new dog sports: Freegility, Frisbeehund, and Freestyle Barking. Your proposal has been forward to our Performance Sports Division where it will be reviewed.
Ms. Peters struggled to understand this email, decided that it had been sent in error, and sent it to the trash. Her Australian Shepherd, sitting by her right elbow, fought the urge to dance a small jig that her email had been delivered and that her owner was so clueless.
If you doubt the truth of this article, consider this story about an Aussie sent from Cindy, a Laughing Dog reader, after she became aware of the existence of CAAS:
This week my Aussie learned how to unlatch the baby gate into the computer.
He watched me do it for a while, and then suddenly he did it himself. Next he figured out that the best time to open it was when I was in the bathroom and couldn't do anything but yell at him. Is this the first step toward his using the computer?
The answer, Cindy, is yes.
THE AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD - Page 6
How Far CAAS Will Go
Within CAAS, there is a group of canine skeptics who believe that the current positive actions described in this article will not accomplish the organization's mission to re-establish the Aussie as the premier breed. To pacify this group, the Directors have set a deadline of December 2005 to re-evaluate the situation.
If there is no sign of progress at this time, a new set of strategies will go into effect. Although these plans have been kept under wraps, a few leaks suggest that activities being considered include:
How You Can Know If Your Aussie Is Active in CAAS
Membership in CAAS is large, as mentioned earlier. If you are interested in determining if your Aussie is part of this organization, there are a number of telltale signs. Check for the following bits of evidence:
1. Dog paw prints on the computer keyboard
2. Mystery email that refer to an activity about which you have no knowledge
3. The occasional blank stub in your checkbook (used to pay CAAS dues)
4. Strong interest in other Aussies at dog events with particular interest in ear sniffing
5. Mail addressed to your dog, particularly if it follows an incident in which your dog has been naughty.
Supporting the Cause
When you close this article, take a good look at your Aussie. If you believe you know his every thought, think again. Behind that loving gaze and that big grin lie the heart of an activist, the fanaticism of a revolutionary. If you support the work that CAAS is doing, leave that computer turned on and get your pup his own email account.
In writing this article, I have drawn heavily from The Australian Shepherd-Champion of Versatility by Liz Palika and Australian Shepherds-All About America's Favorite Dogs, a publication from the editors of Dog Fancy Magazine. I have also utilized information from the outstanding breed websites at www.asca.org and www.australianshepherds.org.
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