Friday, January 25, 2008


Alix was my first border collie and she was the “first” at everything except working sheep. Not only was she the first border collie in my household, she was my first flyball dog, my first tracking dog, my first obedience dog, my first agility dog. To date she is the only female border collie I have owned. Her “shoes” will be hard for another little female to fill. Despite Alix’s foibles, I am forever grateful to her and her breeder, for opening up the doors of the border collie world to me.

I got her as a seven-week-old puppy. Her parents were Roxy and Star, both very good and titled obedience dogs (UD). Roxy was the most incredible dog I’d ever known…she was smart and independent and as Alix grew, everyone could see the similarities.

Of all our activities, flyball was clearly Alix’s favorite. She was not the fastest BC and she was certainly not the quickest to learn the game; it took almost two frustrating years to get her to run clean, and stay in her lane. But once it “clicked”, she rarely if ever made another mistake in approximately eight years of racing. She would run like clockwork for other handlers, and was a great “school horse” for beginner handlers. She seemed to know just when to pass and when to start. We enjoyed many memorable tournaments together all over the U.S. Just as memorable were the demonstrations that she performed in at various venues, such as at the U of I basketball halftimes, the NIT tournament, and at dog shows and stadiums all over the Midwest and in California. She took me places I never dreamed of, from McCormick Place in Chicago, to center court at the Assembly Hall in Champaign-Urbana, to Las Vegas, NV.

After starting in flyball, we took up tracking. She passed her TD easily on her first try. She was not a good candidate for TDX because she wanted to “critter”. But, moving on to obedience, she earned her CD, CDX, Canadian CD, and U-CD and U-CDX over the years. Always happy but never precise, we made the judges and ring stewards laugh. When we moved to California, agility became part of the training schedule and obedience training for Utility eventually got shelved.

Whenever we went to an agility trial, Alix was convinced that it was a flyball tournament. She would do her little dance with her front feet, and bark like crazy…then sort of melt like a deflated balloon, realizing that it was agility instead of her beloved ball game, which she played through her ten-year-old year. In fact, when she was ten, she earned legs, titles, or points in three sports: obedience, agility, and flyball. She was a true campaigner.

As soon as I got Alix as a puppy, the dream began to try working sheep, but we had no opportunities. It was something I kept in the back of my mind all the time. When Alix was a year old, in 1991, I went to watch the famed Bluegrass Sheepdog Trial in Kentucky. That was my first sheepdog trial, and what a place for me to start! It was incredible, with all the well-known dogs and handlers of the time. I went home from the trial, still wishing to participate but had no way to do so.

As a middle-aged dog, she got to try working sheep for the first time, mostly after we moved to California. Any instinct that she might have had, was pretty much gone by that time. However there were little glimpses here and there, as shown in this photo where she is the BC heading the runaway ewe.

If impossible wishes could be granted, I’d ask for a “do-over” with Alix. She was a lot of dog for a first-time border collie owner/trainer. I made mistakes and have thought of how I wished I had trained her, had I known more. If I could have that “do-over”, I’d train her completely operant with the clicker; she responded so well to that system in her later years, but unfortunately had a lot of “baggage” from the other training that I was exposed to early in her career. She remained very forgiving in training, but in real life, the baggage was often exposed. I had to watch her carefully around dogs and people that she didn’t know, and some that she did. After her retirement at age 10 and a half, she ruled our household for another five years. The boys all adored her and she lived a peaceful and happy life, playing heartily with the boys and observing life from the backyard. She left us a couple of months after turning 15. Her body and her will, which had been so strong, for so long, just seemed to give out.

Alix, always fondly remembered: June 21, 1990 – August 24, 2005.

1 comment:

barkingadchoo said...

What a lovely testimonial to the special girl who showed you a whole new world, and then some!