The success of any working dog depends on the bond between dog and handler, so obtaining a well-bred dog is important. Buyers can choose to purchase:
- A pup. It is hard to predict how a pup will turn out when viewed before weaning, so it is important to go to a reputable breeder to check the pedigree and see the parents working.
- A half-broken dog. This dog is usually aged from six to nine months, has started to work, and responds to basic commands. It is important to check the reasons for sale, and whether you will be able to form a bond.
- A fully trained dog. This is a good option, as you can take plenty of time to see the dog working and learn the commands that it understands. A reputable breeder will guarantee the dog and replace it or refund your money if it proves unsuitable.
- A dog bought at an auction. Dogs are available at special dog sales and sometimes at farm dispersals. There is limited time to see them work, and the final price depends on the competition.
The New Zealand Sheep Dog Trial Association offers advice on these points.
Male dogs are often preferred, because female dogs come on heat, become pregnant and need time away. Some farmers claim that female dogs have a softer nature and may be less headstrong. But temperament depends more on strain than sex.
No chips on Rusty
Since July 1 2006, dogs in New Zealand have been required to have a microchip inserted (by a vet or council officer) under the skin on the neck. The tiny transponders, about the size of a grain of rice, contain information about the dog and its owner, and can be read remotely. The aim is to keep closer tabs on dogs and their owners, thereby minimising attacks, especially on children. However, farm dogs are exempt from the rule.
It is not popular to de-sex working dogs, or bitches not needed for breeding, as many believe this leads to obesity and sluggishness. Veterinarians do not support this view.
Selecting for colour
As shepherds need to see a dog at long distances, the preferred colours are black-and-white, or black-and-tan, rather than solid black. Red and ginger dogs are not easy to see, and white dogs look too much like sheep.