Why are non-pedigree Border collies more common than pedigrees?

Why are non-pedigree Border collies more common than pedigrees?

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The Border collie is perhaps the best-known and most highly skilled working herding dog breed of them all, and one that is still widely used in working roles as well as making for an excellent pet for active owners.

The Border collie is also one of the most popular dog breeds in the UK overall too, being ranked in 13th place out a of total of 244 different dog breeds and types offered for sale on Pets4Homes over the last year.

This means that every year, thousands of new Border collie puppies are bred to meet the waiting demand from buyers, and naturally, everyone has different priorities regarding what traits are important to them in the eventual dog that they buy.

Choosing whether you’d prefer a male or female dog, and deciding between a puppy or an older Border collie are all part of the decision-making process, and another important question that will come up along the way is whether you specifically wish to own a pedigree dog or if pedigree status is unimportant – or even undesirable.

The Border collie dog breed is quite interesting in terms of the split between the number of pedigree dogs of the breed versus non-pedigrees across the UK. It comes as a surprise to many dog lovers to learn that for some dog breeds, non-pedigree adverts are as common or even more numerous than those of pedigrees, and this difference is very acute within the Border collie in particular.

Based on data we’ve collated from adverts placed by puppy sellers on Pets4Homes last year, we’ve identified a marked preference within the Border collie breed for non-pedigree dogs, and in fact, people specifically seeking a pedigree Border collie may have to go to quite some lengths to find one offered for sale.

So, how much commoner are non-pedigree Border collies compared to pedigree offerings, and why? This article will supply the answers you’re looking for. Read on to learn more.

Are non-pedigree Border collies more common than pedigrees?

Let’s begin by sharing the basis of our claim that non-pedigree Border collies are far more numerous in the UK than pedigrees.

Pets4Homes is the largest pet classifieds portal and animal advice website in the UK, and we host more adverts for dogs and puppies for sale each year than anyone else. When a breeder or seller places an advert on the site for a dog or puppy for sale, we ask them to indicate within the advert whether or not the dog in question is a pedigree.

We can then compare the spit in numbers between pedigree dogs of a specified breed versus non-pedigrees over a set time period, to determine the ratio between the two figures and identify or rule out a marked preference among breeders and puppy buyers.

Here are our findings:

  • In 2018 (the most recent year for which we have a full twelve months of data to work from) Pets4Homes hosted a total number of 3,105 adverts for Border collie dogs and puppies for sale in the UK.
  • Out of that total, just 292 of the adverts were for pedigree Border collies for sale.
  • The remaining 2,813 of the dogs within the total were non-pedigrees.

As you can see, that’s a huge difference, and such a small number of pedigree offerings compared to non-pedigrees is rarely seen in such well-established dog breeds as the Border collie.

Adverts for non-pedigree Border collies outnumbered those for pedigrees by over nine to one in 2018, which is of course a very big ratio!

This trend is replicated in previous years’ adverts too:

  • In 2017, out of a total number of 2,772 Border collie adverts, just 266 were for pedigree dogs and puppies compared to 2,506 for non-pedigrees.
  • In 2016, there were a total number of 2,701 Border collie adverts placed here, of which 244 were for pedigrees and the remaining 2,457 were for non-pedigrees.

So, why are there so many more non-pedigree Border collies offered for sale each year than pedigrees? There are various elements to this, which we’ll examine in more detail below.

Why do non-pedigree Border collies outnumber pedigrees?

There is no one defining reason why non-pedigree Border collies are more common than pedigrees, but rather several factors that all combine to result in the wide split in numbers.

Farm dogs and working dogs

First of all, whilst today’s Border collies are more commonly kept as pets than as working dogs, this is still a breed that is widely used for working roles, and herding farm collies are a ubiquitous sight in most rural communities.

When it comes to choosing dogs for working purposes, their abilities, skills, trainability and endurance are all vital, and these are the sort of factors by which working dog types are judged.

The looks of a working dog isn’t relevant to its abilities (unless their appearance somehow compromises or enhances these abilities) and so, how closely or otherwise a working Border collie adheres to its breed standard isn’t usually afforded much importance by the owners of working dogs.

Farm collies and working collies bred from proven working stock and/or that have demonstrated good working abilities themselves are far more useful for working roles than those that look a certain way or have pedigree paperwork, and these two latter factors are rarely considered by owners seeking dogs for working roles.

The same traits that make Border collies good working herding dogs can also mean that they’re a good choice for canine sports like agility and flyball, and once more, it is ability rather than appearance that counts.

Non-pedigree Border collies are not penalised or otherwise hampered in canine sport by their lack of pedigree status, and can (and often do) compete and win at the highest levels of formal competition – and dogs that compete in canine sports don’t need to be pedigrees, unlike dogs that compete in breed showing classes.

Breed recognition by the Kennel Club

The Border collie breed as we know it today has a very long recorded history, which has gone through a few evolutions along the way. However, the Border collie breed only gained formal recognition by the Kennel Club in the UK in 1971, which is relatively late in the breed’s evolution. This reflects the challenges of establishing a formal breed standard for a dog that at that point, was much more widely kept as a working dog rather than a pet and so, had a lot of variation in appearance and traits.

The fact that the Border collie has only been eligible for formal Kennel Club registration for a few decades, and that many Border collie breed lines have been established for much longer than that without pedigree registration being a factor all contributes in its way to less breeders prioritising pedigree breed lines than is often the case in longer formally established breeds.

Criticisms of the Kennel Club’s emphasis on appearance and show performance

Many Border collie owners, breeders, handlers and enthusiasts directly oppose the participation of Border collies in dog show breed classes, with the key objection being that dogs should be bred with health, temperament and working prowess first and foremost rather than appearance, conformation, or conforming to a tick-list of shared traits.

Working Border collie owners and those that use their dogs in canine sports rarely enter their dogs in breed show classes, even those that own pedigree dogs that would be eligible to compete.

The alternative Border collie breed registry

Within the UK, there is an alternative option to the Kennel Club for Border collie owners who wish to register their dogs; this is the International Sheep Dog Society.

The International Sheep Dog Society (ISDS) maintains a registry for Border collies in the UK, with the onus being on the herding ability of the dogs in question, rather than standardised appearance traits.

The International Sheep Dog Society has actually been established for far longer than the Kennel Club – and dogs can earn a place on the registry either by means of having been bred from parent stock that were themselves registered with the ISDS, or alternatively, by proving their working herding skills to earn the right to be Registered on Merit.

This distinct difference between the ISDS and the Kennel Club – the Kennel Club won’t register a dog without pedigree parents just because it appears to fit the bill – is another reason why many Border collie owners don’t see the value in Kennel Club registration full stop, and prefer to use the ISDS for registration instead.

Many Border collie owners don’t use the ISDS registry either, of course, but a significant proportion do.

Additionally, ISDS registration also makes member dogs eligible for Kennel Club registration too if their owners should wish it, which is a very unique situation in terms of pedigree dog breed registrations, as the Kennel Club rarely recognises dogs registered by third-party organisations other than affiliated Kennel Clubs in other countries.

However, a Border collie that is registered with the Kennel Club is not automatically eligible for ISDS registration in its turn, reflecting the fact that good looks or adherence to a breed standard don’t indicate working prowess.

Availability and its impact on demand

This is a bit of a chicken and egg situation! As well as looking at why non-pedigree Border collies became more common than pedigrees in the first instance, it is also important to bear in mind the ways in which such trends can become self-perpetuating.

People looking to buy a Border collie soon find that pedigrees can be hard to come by, and whilst those who specifically value pedigree status – like people who might wish to enter breed shows, or produce pedigree puppies in their turn – will search and wait to find the right dog, those who aren’t overly bothered either way or that had no distinct preference from the outset soon disregard prioritising pedigree status.

The ease with which non-pedigree Border collies can be found offered for sale and the challenges of finding a pedigree in the first place before you even get as far as picking the right individual dog all serve to perpetuate the large divide between pedigree and non-pedigree dogs of the breed, resulting in less breeders specialising in producing Kennel Club pedigree examples in turn.

What buyers are looking for from their dogs

What any given person is looking for from the dog that they choose is of course highly personal, and no two dog owners are likely to give you the exact same answer if put on the spot. Often, it is the little things and the intangibles that sway a buyer in favour of one litter or pup in favour of another, but there are a lot of major factors to weigh up too, like age, sex, temperament, and appearance.

Pedigree status is also naturally something that is very important for many too, but the vast majority people who are in the market to buy a Border collie at any given time are looking for either a good pet or a good working dog, rather than a dog to enter in dog shows or one that comes with a pedigree certificate.

This in turn once again means that without a good reason to prefer a pedigree dog that doesn’t also apply to non-pedigree offerings, pedigree status often doesn’t even factor in at all. Naturally, some Border collie buyers will incidentally find that the right dog for them is also a pedigree, but for most, this isn’t enough to sway a purchasing decision on its own.

The onus on abilities rather than looks in working breeds

As we’ve alluded to several times, proponents of working border collies and those used for canine sports put ability and temperament first and foremost as their priorities, and good looks or fulfilling all of the criteria of the breed standard is less important.

When it comes to Border collies bought and kept solely as pets, working abilities or a flair for sport might be incidental, but what constitutes a good-looking dog is highly subjective too.

It is of course entirely possible to find a beautiful looking dog and even one that adheres closely to the breed standard without accompanying paperwork, and this means that even amongst Border collie buyers who have a preferred appearance in mind, pedigree offerings are not the only options.

Even for first-time Border collie buyers who are contacting breeders and viewing puppies without a lot of previous awareness of the divide in opinions between working dogs versus pedigree or show stock, information on the Border collie owning community’s wider views on these matters soon filters though.

In turn, this tends to result in a level of bias among even many first-time buyers of dogs of the breed, who have come away with an impression that working type Border collies are simply a better option, and/or that pedigree Kennel Club registration isn’t afforded a lot of importance in the Border collie owning community as a whole.

Inbreeding and health

Border collies in general (regardless of their pedigree status) tend to be robust and hardy dogs that aren’t prone to getting ill regularly and that quickly brush off the odd graze or bruise.

However, there are a number of hereditary health issues that can be found within the breed as a whole, which are passed on from parent dogs that carry the markers of such conditions to their young.

Buying a healthy puppy and avoiding one that will later develop a health issue as a result of their heredity is obviously hugely important to conscientious puppy buyers, and once more, pedigree status comes into play here too.

One potential advantage of choosing a pedigree Border collie in terms of health is that there are several pre-breeding screening schemes in place for the breed that allows breeders to have their parent stock health tested prior to mating, which enables them to avoid breeding from dogs that may pass on health defects to their litter.

Breeders of pedigree Border collies are more likely to undertake the recommended health tests than those breeding non-pedigrees, but this is by no means always the case. Breeders of non-pedigree Border collies are also able to get their dogs health tested using the same protocols, and many do.

However, there is an even greater flipside in terms of breed health that potentially puts pedigree Border collies at a disadvantage. In order to maintain the right to register Border collie puppies with the Kennel Club, they must in their turn be bred from Kennel Club registered parent stock.

This means that there is a limited gene pool of unrelated pedigree Border collies available to choose from to produce mating matches, which results in a degree of inbreeding within the pedigree specimens of every dog breed that can be registered.

When you factor in the small percentage of pedigree Border collies in the UK compared to non-pedigrees, the likelihood of inbreeding (the degree to which any dog’s genetic makeup is comprised of related dogs and shared genes) for the breed as a whole increases; and the higher the level of inbreeding, the more likely the chances that hereditary health issues will spread across the wider breed, and the higher the chances of any given puppy inheriting health issues.

Kennel Club breed registration limitations

Even Border collies bred from two Kennel Club registered parents may not be eligible for pedigree registration in certain situations, and whilst restrictions don’t serve to greatly inflate the number of non-pedigree Border collies compared to pedigrees, this is another element that contributes to the big picture that is worth bearing in mind.

Border collies that are bred from two merle-coloured parents can’t be registered with the Kennel Club due to the high risk of hereditary health issues that is present in double merle dogs, and there are also a number of restrictions placed on the registration of dogs of all breeds that apply to Border collies too.

Border collie puppies bred from a dam that has already had four registered litters cannot be registered themselves, and neither can pups bred from a dam that was under one year old or over eight years old at the time of mating.

Pups bred from a dam that has already had two prior deliveries by caesarean section can’t be registered either, and nor can pups bred from the mating of close relatives (like father/daughter, mother/son or brother/sister).

Pricing differences

Finally, it is worth looking at how pricing variances might affect the level of supply and demand for pedigree versus non-pedigree Border collies, and the impact that this has on their respective numbers.

Based on the average advertised prices shown within adverts for Border collies for sale in 2018, the average asking price for pedigree dogs of the breed was £579, whilst for non-pedigrees, it was £360.

The Border collie is objectively a relatively economical breed to buy when compared to the averages for equivalent breeds of a similar size, and means that few people who would ideally like to own a pedigree dog of the breed would be unable to afford one.

However, given the relatively low average Border collie prices, a difference of over £200 between pedigree and non-pedigree offerings is not insignificant, and may be enough to sway a purchasing decision if all other things are equal.

The fact that non-pedigree dogs of the breed are priced at just £360 on average will be sufficient to ensure that some buyers won’t even consider a pedigree dog of the breed and paying more at all.

Coupled with the impact that the average pricing disparity between pedigree and non-pedigree Border collies has on prospective puppy buyers, you also need to factor in its effect on breeders and how this can impact on their motivation (or lack of motivation) to produce Kennel Club eligible litters.

Breeding dogs of any type isn’t a cheap undertaking, and it is by no means a guaranteed way to make a profit. Even many breeders who produce excellent quality dog with waiting buyers operate at a loss or only just break even, and when it comes to breeds where the average price range is low, the margins are even more acute.

Breeding pedigree dogs is usually more expensive than breeding non-pedigree examples – registering litters with the Kennel Club costs money, as does undertaking pre-breeding health tests and removing adult dogs from the prospective parent pool and caring for them for the rest of their lives if they are proven to carry health defects.

All breeders of Kennel Club registered Border collie puppies are strongly advised to have their parent stock screened for a total of six different health issues that are prevalent within the breed, and Assured Breeders are required to undertake the eye testing and hip scoring protocols on parent stock as a mandatory process for all litters they produce to maintain their Assured Breeder status.

This means that for many Border collie breeders, producing pedigree breed lines may be uneconomical, as the cost of doing so isn’t reflected in their eventual profits – and so there is a greater incentive to produce working lines and non-pedigree dogs instead, despite their lower average sale costs.

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