How Do I "PAL" My Rescue Border Collie and What Does That Mean?

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Many rescue dogs come to us with no pedigree "papers" and the dogs are neutered and spayed. This means that they will not be allowed to show in AKC conformation classes (a competition geared towards evaluating non-neutered, pedigreed breeding stock). However, you can still do a lot of AKC activities by obtaining an "PAL" (Purebred Alternative Listing) registration number from AKC. Many rescue Border Collies successfully participate in agility, herding, obedience and tracking right along with the Border Collies who do have pedigrees.

AKC Purebred Alternative Listing Information (formally  Indefinite Listing Privilege (ILP))

NOTE: The American Kennel Club® has announced the enhancement and renaming of its Indefinite Listing Privilege (ILP) program. The new name -- Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL) program – will officially take effect February 1, 2008.

AKC allows purebred-looking dogs to obtain an “PAL number” which allows the dogs to compete in companion (obedience, tracking, agility, rally) and performance events (for our breed, that would be herding). PAL’ed dogs must be spayed or neutered and may not compete in conformation; an PAL isn’t considered a “registration” so much as an allowance to participate in some events. Because there are so many unregistered Border Collies in our country, and many owners pursue PAL registration with adopted rescues, etc, the subject is worthy of special mention here.

When applying for an PAL status, there are some key points to remember. First, the department within AKC that reviews the applications is also reviewing applications for over 160 other breeds and looks at several thousand applications per year. So, clearly these staff members cannot be expected to be experts on our breed, and it’s unfair to expect them to spend hours on your application because you neglected to submit it complete and with good photos. They do their best to fairly and honestly evaluate each dog and determine whether or not it looks purebred in the photos provided.

But, this is a very subjective task, and is made harder with Border Collies because they have such a large allowable range in appearance (different coats, different colors, different ear sets etc). Many mixed breeds look like Border Collies, and some Border Collies look like mixed breeds! Thus, there is a significant phenomenon of dogs that don’t look very much like Border Collies “slipping by” and getting PAL numbers, and an equal number of dogs that DO look like Border Collies that get rejected PAL numbers by AKC.

BCSA is concerned about this issue and has been working closely with AKC staff to review PAL applications when it’s a tough question to definitively say whether or not the dog looks purebred. When AKC staff doesn’t feel confident on one, they send it to the BCSA Board to get ten more expert opinions. Sometimes owners who have had their PAL application rejected by AKC will contact BCSA directly and ask for help. Our board is always happy to review photos of the dog and offer up a vote on whether or not we feel the dog looks decidedly purebred; and we’ll forward our recommendation on to AKC staff for further review. AKC has overturned a few rejections based upon our input. That said, know that often our votes are not unanimous, because even people very familiar with the breed can disagree whether an individual dog looks purebred, it is indeed VERY subjective!

The most critical factor in preparing a PAL application is the photos. Realize that you live with the dog and see it ever day; see its expressions, way of moving, coat color in many lights, how it vocalizes, what it likes to do, and many other subtle clues that suggest a dog’s parentage. But the PAL application only contains two still snapshots of the dog, one from the side, and one from the front. So, the application reviewer is only getting to see a very small sampling of the bigger picture that you, your friends, instructors etc. see of the dog. It would be more useful if PAL applications came with a lengthy video of the dog, but of course that’s not practical. Therefore, it’s vitally important that you choose these two photos wisely to give your dog the best chance at an accurate evaluation.

Different photos of the same dog taken in different light, from different angles, different levels of photo quality, with the dog showing different expressions and postures can radically influence a viewer’s opinion of the dog’s lineage. If you’re not thoroughly knowledgeable about the breed, get some help from someone who is, to evaluate your photos for quality and clarity.

Important things to consider:
• Lighting: make sure that the light is good and that the dog can be seen clearly, especially if the dog is black or dark colored. Be aware that bright sunshine can lower the quality of the photo, and indoor shadows can hide the dog’s features.
• Focus: ensure that the photos are sharp and crystal clear, and that they are taken close-up so that the dog fills the frame. Blurry or distant photos don’t help at all!
• Angle: take the photos from the dog’s level, and straight on front and side; not from above or at diagonal angles
• Background: Avoid photos with clutter, horizon lines that are near the dog’s topline, or other visually distracting features. Don’t use photos with another dog in the picture.
• Expression: try to choose photos that capture the dog’s natural facial expression. Sometimes when we “force” a dog to pose for the camera, placing his feet, nagging him to stay, etc it can cause him to exhibit an uncomfortable, nervous or worried expression. It’s best to snap the photo when the dog is unaware and acting natural. Border Collies typically have a very “keen” and intense expression when they are focused on something, so it’s a good idea to use a photo that best illustrates that your dog possesses this feature. Also, if your dog is feeling nervous, he will squint his eyes and pant; so choose an eyes-wide-open and mouth-closed expression for the clearest head illustration. For most Border Collies, throwing a tennis ball behind the camera should do the trick!
• Ears: If your dog has prick or semi-prick ears, try to use a photo that shows his ears up and forward in an expression of interest; as this best illustrates his true head type. If his ears are “plastered back” because he’s feeling nervous, his inherent ear set will be harder to see.
• Side profile: again, try to choose a photo with the dog in a natural stance or walk. Sometimes when we try to “stack” a dog in a foursquare pose, if he’s not used to it, he’ll shift his weight, tense up or “hunch” and otherwise change his body posture such that it doesn’t best illustrate his body shape. AKC’s form asks that this shot be taken on a flat surface; because if the dog is standing on a hill, it can really change the way his body shape appears. AKC also asks that this photo not be taken in grass, because, believe it or not, foot shape is another clue to a dog’s breed identity; so be sure even the feet are clearly shown. And, tall grass can obscure the height of the dog, the length of his hocks, etc which are also key features in evaluating his breed type.
• Eye-stalk behavior: because our breed has such a distinctive, unique and strong eye-stalk behavior when exposed to livestock (and often other moving things: toys, cats, cars, etc) and we know that this gene is usually lost in even a single generation crossbred. The Australian Kelpie is really the only other breed that consistently possesses this genetic trait; so if your dog has strong eye-stalk, this narrows down the guesses of his breed background considerably. So it may be useful to use a photo that shows your dog in an eye-stalk crouch. But, if you do choose an extreme crouched posture for the photo, use this one for the “front view” so that the side view photo still clearly shows the dog’s legs, feet and height.
• Grooming and condition: it seems simple, but be sure your dog is clean, brushed and groomed for the photo. A wet, muddy dog or a matted coat can make it harder to get the gist of the dog’s natural appearance. Also, if your dog is quite overweight, this can obscure his natural athletic structure, rib cage and waist shape, making him seem more like a “muscle breed” than a “running breed.” So don’t apply for an PAL until you have him in good working condition.

If, despite your best efforts, your PAL application is denied, feel free to contact the BCSA Corresponding Secretary and ask for a second opinion. Send the SAME photos you used in your application so that we are seeing the same information that the AKC staff was given. If, even then, a majority of our board votes against the dog being definitively purebred, take heart. There are many non-AKC venues in which you can still participate; and AKC is considering adding mixed breed competitions to companion events in the near future.

For more information or questions about the PAL/ILP program, go to http://www.akc.org/reg/ilpex.cfm or e-mail PAL@akc.org.

Page Updated 03/20/2015

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