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Polish Lowland & Bergamasco Seminar

It is always a pleasure to attend a seminar when the speakers are fully conversant with their subjects, and this was undoubtedly the case at that hosted by the Southern Polish Lowland Sheepdog Club (proposed), on February 16th. The Avonscroft Museum at Bromsgrove proved to be an excellent choice of venue for a seminar, and it was great to have the use of the grass area outside to assess movement for the Bergamasco.

But the day began with a talk by Lucienne Jassica from Belgium’s van het Goralenhof kennel, and who had travelled over from her home especially for the event. She already owned Pyrenean Mountain Dogs when she became interested in Polish Lowlands, and attended a seminar in the breed’s homeland in 1969. She gave a brief but concise outline of the history of the breed, relating the story of how The Polish Lowland Sheepdog came from Gdansk to a Scottish port, where it was exchanged for sheep and other animals. As a result, this breed became the ‘father’ of the Bearded Collie.

In Poland the breed’s name is Polish Owczarek Nizinny, which has become affectionately shortened to ‘PON’, and it was a pleasure to have several of the breed available at the seminar, with virtues and faults openly discussed.

Mrs Jassica was assisted by Terrie Cousins, whose Polish import, carrying national and International Championship titles, was incredibly patient as a demonstration model. Terrie very kindly clarified some detailed points that might otherwise have been lost in translation, but the speaker’s English was a credit to her and the audience, I feel sure, benefited greatly from her extensive knowledge.

Many topics were discussed at length, and the subject of variation in size within the breed seemed a genuine cause for concern. The speaker was also at pains to point out that, with coat, the head really should look large in comparison with the size of the dog, and she felt that frequently heads are too small. Another point that came up in general discussion afterwards was that the breed standard requires a "well defined stop". This had rather thrown me, for in my opinion a stop described thus would be much more prominent than that on the Polish Lowland. It was confirmed by those within the breed that although this is what the standard says, it is not really what is meant!

I ought also to mention that those present had the opportunity to purchase an informative booklet written by the speaker, with drawings by her daughter, Katja, and edited by Terrie Cousins. This is available from the club and provides a useful explanation and extension to the breed standard.

Lunch was absolutely first rate, and my compliments to all those who had worked so hard to put together a tasteful meal that just fitted the bill, and was appreciated by us all. After this Reyna Knight took centre stage with one of her adorable Bergamasco, called. ‘Antonio’, who made sure his owner used her muscle power to lift him onto the table and then proceeded to scatter all her seminar notes to the wind. But he was a darling!

Still rare, not just in Britain but throughout the world, the Bergamasco is one of Italy’s oldest breeds, and is also known as the Shepherd Dog of Bergamo. He shares his origins with the Komondor and the Puli, so their mutual ancestors go back to the large dogs of Tibet. In the breed’s early years, the alpine meadows of Bergamo were wild and inaccessible, their terrain rugged, and the breed consequently remained close to its original type. At the end of the eighteenth century the breed was also known as the Alpine Sheepdog and as the Northern Italian Sheepdog, so the current name is fairly recent.

Mrs Knight has always been highly impressed by the temperament of the breed, and it is easy to see why. The Bergamasco clearly has a passion for work, and exhibits both courage and tenacity, his ancestors having tackled wolves in their homeland. But he also has that important quality, discipline, and is a wonderful companion animal. The speaker stressed that one cannot be harsh with the breed, and that it had to be coaxed into doing things.

Clearly the coat is perhaps the Bergamasco’s most outstanding feature which sets it apart from others, forming as it does loose matts, not cords. I found it especially interesting to note how the coat changes in colour, and the importance of understanding ‘genetic black’ and ‘genetic grey’, it not being possible to mate together two genetic greys. Many people are understandably aghast at the very thought of living with such a coat, but Mrs Knight told us that it only needs bathing a couple of times a year (which is just as well as it takes days to drip dry), and that it should always smell wholesome.

It was wonderful to see both Polish Lowlands and the five Bergamasco present running free on the grass when the seminar was over. Their obvious pleasure was so very well-deserved.

Indeed this was a pleasurable and informative day for all who participated and my sincere congratulations are due to all who took part in the organisation of the day’s event.