ASCUK is the foundation Australian Shepherd Club in the UK and was formed in 1986 by a few dedicated breed enthusiasts.
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I would like to thank and extend my gratitude to the Australian Shepherd Club of the U.K. for providing an all-day Australian Shepherd workshop. The turn-out was incredible including judges, novices, and all performance venue participants. The facilities were incredibly suited for the full day, including a full kitchen in which club members graciously provided a hot lunch and beverages for us all.
We scheduled a grooming, handling and breed seminar. Truthfully, based on the numbers and interest I think we could have held a full day of grooming, another full day of handling and a final day of breeding seminars! It was so much fun to be in the company of such an active and enjoyable club.
If the weather had cooperated a bit more we could have convened outside on the large grass area for our handling portion, but the indoor hall was ideally suited for our activities.
In the grooming portion we focused on rudimentary skills to present our dogs to best advantage to the judge using little or no product and minimal and natural appearance. While we are allowed to use more products in the States, I have found that most coats, especially correct coats, can be managed without and in a fraction of the time.
We spent time on coat maintenance, nutrition and management as this is all part of the overall grooming process. Although constricted by a tight time schedule we were able to groom and identify grooming issues by dog and illustrate fixes. It would be fun in the future to spend the entire day on grooming and actually work on each animal from start to finish.
Dogs and handlers were patient and well behaved and it was fun to share in the enthusiasm. Those who attended have some fun techniques to try and perfect.
The surface of the hall did not allow for full movement for the handling portion of the seminar, but we were able to accomplish much. We targeted how we as handlers can more easily, quickly and efficiently show a judge our dogs’ strong points in a short period of time. I did spend some time on hand stacking, although the preferred method appears to be free stacking. Everyone had a chance to move and showcase their dog and received individual input as to what they are doing well and minor areas for correction.
The most apparent correction I saw that was needed in many of the dogs was a focus on weight and condition. This breed is an incredibly active breed that needs to be in top physical weight and condition in order to perform and function. Presenting an out of shape, overweight animal in the breed ring is quite a glaring flaw that needs to be remedied.
While we concentrated on the nuances of handling, club members work tirelessly in the background and the kitchen getting our lunch prepared. The minute we finished, tables were ready and it was delightful to sit down and enjoy a meal as a group. It was nice to get caught with old friends and meet new ones.
After lunch we put up the dogs, fired up the laptop and projector and delved into the nuances of the breed from a judging perspective as well as a breeding point of view by going through the points of the breed standard. We used both the U.K. and AKC standards and I provided a side-by-side comparison to fully illustrate the qualities of the breed we should be learning and preserving.
It was important to have judges there as well as owners, handlers and breeders; it made for a good mix and viewpoints. It is important for judges to be reminded that we do not have a preference in ear sets, eye color or coat color and that there is no size disqualification in our breed. Additionally we have different styles within the breed that all still meet breed type, so it is important to recognize this. Soundness and breed type must be considered when placing animals in the breed ring.
We finished the seminar by discussing how to improve the overall health of our dogs. While there is a current focus on genetic testing, pedigree analysis and looking at all health issues as genetic in origin research today indicates that environmental factors are also at play in the health and wellbeing of all dogs. The last ten years have focused solely on genetics as the causes of manner serious illnesses and we have had little effect in reducing those numbers. How could even know if we are reducing the incidence because we do little to track the numbers of affected animals or the rate of incidence.
By acknowledging and giving credibility to environmental causes as a basis for some of our health issues, we can dramatically and quickly improve the health of our dogs. Some known causes of the major afflictions we have in the breed including cancer, seizures and autoimmune disorders are now being directly traced to such items as the time of the first vaccination (breaking down a mother’s maternal antibodies is proving to be quite detrimental); over-aggressive combination vaccinations versus just core vaccines (Parvo and Distemper virus); use of medications such as metronidazole (NOT on the MDR1 list of harmful drugs) or the continued use of the Leptospirosis vaccine (most U.S. vets will not give a puppy or adult this vaccine); early spay neuter causing a 70-80% increase in early onset cancers and high rates of incidence of torn ACL injuries. The list of environmental causes of major health issues in our breed increases daily with more and more results of research studies becomes available.
We ran late on Sunday evening with many people having to drive long distance to get home…a long and full day, but one I hope was rewarding and thought provoking for all.
I was thrilled to be able to return to Yorkshire and the hospitality of the Gatenby's. We spend several days sightseeing including visiting the surgery of James Herriot and the home of the Brontësisters. Having spent countless years reading literature based in the moors, it was truly inspirational to travel and spend time in this remarkably beautiful part of the country.
My deepest gratitude is extended to the ASCUK for allowing me to spend such quality time with such an inspiring group of breed enthusiasts. I enjoyed the diversity and quality of all the Aussies as well as the wonderful, warm, thoughtful and gracious participants and club members. I think we should do this again!
Nanette L Newbury (Stonepine Kennels USA)