Source: The Guardian (Extract)
Posted: March 13, 2024

On a property out of Tamworth in country New South Wales, the uncle of the Australian shepherd Viking – winner of the most prestigious title at the 2024 Crufts dog competition in the UK – is a champion in his own right.

Bradley, who was born in Russia to the same litter as Viking’s mother, is nine years old and a semi-retired multi-champion of dog shows overseas and in Australia.

“I fell in love with Bradley when I saw that photo of him as a baby in the snow and had to own him,” breeder Paulene Andrews said.

Andrews, who has been a registered dog breeder in Tamworth for 26 years, co-owned Bradley until he was old enough to safely travel to Portugal, where he gained multiple titles before moving permanently to Australia to continue his show career.

It was down under that Bradley won best in show over three consecutive years – 2018, 2019 and 2020 – gaining his Australian supreme championship.

Four years later, Bradley’s niece has been crowned the same award but at the world’s biggest dog show – beating more than 19,000 other dogs from around the world.

Dog shows in Australia are run by Dogs Australia, which hosts events around the country almost every weekend.

The best in show award is “where the dog is showing the attributes of the best breed type”, Lyn Brand, president of Dogs NSW (the state member of Dogs Australia), said.

In other words, it’s a beauty contest. Or as Brand put it, “like a classic car collection”.

“When you see people out there on the weekend with their cars that they’ve spent hours and hours of work on … It’s a bit like us breeders. It’s a passion and we put a lot into breeding certain lines and trying to produce the best of the best and then we go out and compete against other people from other kennels.”

Australian shepherds have become extremely successful in the show ring because of their “eye-catching colours” and “effortless, powerful movements”, Brand said.

They are built to do some herding, have a little bit of guarding instinct, are a loyal companion and should be able to work all day, Brand said, but also are beautiful to look at.

Andrews agreed: “They are just stunning dogs and their temperament is just so well behaved.

“They are also an extremely smart dog that wants to please you all the time. They really are soft dogs.”

The colours of Australian shepherds vary from blue merle and red merle (patterned colours) to black and red. Viking, who won the top prize, is a blue merle.

Contrary to their name, Australian shepherds are not originally from Australia.

It is widely believed they come from the US, where they were bred as sheepdogs to work on ranches, but other accounts suggest a more complicated lineage.

Shirley and Jeff Ford are recorded as the first to reintroduce the breed to Australia in the 1990s, when they emigrated from England.

By January 1994, the Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC) officially recognised the Australian shepherd, which are now one of the largest in the working dog group.

Herding and working dogs are having a moment.

Messi the dog – a seven-year-old border collie in Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall – stole the show at Oscars on Sunday night when he sat among the industry’s best to cheer on the winners of the night.

Andrews’ Australian shepherds like to “run around in the morning, play, get fed and then they’re not that active all day”. She has bred them that way so they make better pets.

“What’s a bit disappointing in this country is, after Covid, people bought Australian shepherds off people who were obviously back yard breeding and don’t know the genetics or required health tests for quality and safe breeding.”

Dog breeders in NSW must pass an examination based on the upkeep of dogs, the breeding of dogs and then premises are inspected to see if you are suitable enough to rear a litter, Brand said.

After the Crufts competition, organisers said “the health and welfare of dogs at our show is our priority”. The statement came amid backlash after a French bulldog which some argued had no discernible nostrils, was awarded the best canine in the utility group.