Guild of Shepherds & Collies

Old Hemp: Grandfather of Border Collies

Old Hemp: Grandfather of Border Collies

Border Collie

Defined by its working style, the Border Collie is a sleek combination of rough-and-ready energy, keen focus and an amiable temperament. This breed is the quintessential herding dog. Man’s reliance on the dog traces back thousands of years, but post hunter-gatherer societies that cultivated sheep and other livestock relied heavily on dogs as they traveled great distances in search of pasture. The original herding dogs were stalwart and extremely rugged, but generally strong-willed, powerful and difficult to control. All this changed when Old Hemp arrived on the scene.

Old Hemp was born in 1894. Adam Telfer, an English farmer, was his owner. During that time, sheepherding was big business. The necessity for an intelligent, reliable and skilled herding dog was essential for success. Telfer, who was involved in competitive dog trials, was known to be an exceptional trainer and handler—and an astute breeder. After breeding an unlikely pair of his own dogs, Old Hemp was born with what appeared to be the best genetic combination of both parents. Telfer quickly found out, as did everyone in the vicinity, that Old Hemp was a dead-ringer - he never lost a trial. With his uncanny ability to read sheep, Old Hemp became a popular stud dog, fathering over 200 pups - so many that most historians agree that the progenitor of the modern Border Collie was Old Hemp.

As generations of Old Hemp offspring were produced, the classic traits of the Border Collie emerged, while others were refined. Old Kep, a relative of Old Hemp, was known for his friendly personality. At the time, most Border Collies were all work and no play, and most tended to be wary of people. Old Kep changed that perception, which improved the communication between owner and dog. Old Kep is also known to contribute “the look.” While Old Hemp was able to anticipate the movement of sheep with some natural, inborn trait, Old Kep was able to gather the flock with the penetrating stare that only the Border Collie possesses. This trait, while fascinating to watch, is also a profound resource to the shepherd. The stare allows the dog to control livestock without the roundabout movements that inevitably agitate the animals and waste energy.

As a working dog, the Border Collie is judged primarily on its actions, behaviors and skills and not on outward appearance. While the “strong eye” is considered the most important feature for gathering sheep, the Border Collie also uses the crouching position, called “clapping.” This predatory display, called a “modified prey drive,” allows the dog to get the job done with a minimum of fuss while not injuring the animals.

But, it is perhaps the Border Collie’s intelligence that makes it the leader of the pack. The Border Collie, though easily trainable, has historically surprised its handlers by its ability to assess a situation while independent of the owner. The work ethic of this breed is so ingrained, so natural, that even when miles away, in inclement conditions, the Border Collie is able to gather a flock and keep it safe - truly man’s best friend.

Article By:
Andrea Peck

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