Tough Dogs with Finesse

Posted July 3rd, 2009 — Filed in Stockdogs

Judith Selby, Editor and Publisher of STOCKDOGS Magazine www.stockdogsmagazine.com asked if she could reprint the McNab article from our webpage in her magazine. When I set her our permission I commented on how much Bud & I enjoyed the article she had done in the Sept-Oct 2004 issue “Bill Berch, on Catching Wild Cattle.” In her reply to me she said, “Thanks so much – I appreciate you letting me use yours and Buds work. Now that I’ve printed an article on “tough” dogs, I want to do some on moving stock with more finesse.”

I couldn’t help myself, I had to get back up on my soapbox, so this was my reply to her.

 

I think that you would be surprised at how much “finesse” these tough dogs can and will use when they have been allowed to work cattle with limited input from the handler until they understand the job that is to be done, and realize that it is up to them to do it. We are always amazed at how little confidence people have in their dogs. Even people who have worked dogs for years.

In 1989 we bought Jack, a 1-year old Border Collie from L.R. Alexander. If you remember anything about the previous articles that Bud & I wrote (that you asked to reprint), you probably know that we expect a dog to learn to work the stock pretty much on his own as soon as we indicate (mostly by position and body language) where we are taking them. The Texas ranch where we were working ran sheep and contracted to grow out Beefmaster bulls. Jack had no trouble handling groups of 240, 18-month old bulls, by himself, who had never seen a dog before. 

One day while riding home from moving the bulls we spotted a single ewe and lamb in a pasture by themselves. They were wild as deer and took off on the dead run. With the number of coyotes in the area it was amazing that they were still alive. We knew that if we couldn’t bring them in they were destined to be coyote breakfast. Bud sent Jack, hoping that he could get them stopped and that Bud could get there before Jack killed them. When we finally caught up to them Jack had her and the lamb stopped and under control. Jack handled the pair as nice as any sheep dog that we had and didn’t have any problem taking them the mile or so to where the other sheep were.

June 25 of this year, we bought a couple of CattleMaster dogs from Vaughn Kennemer and Jason Pelham. Beau was about a year old and had been worked enough that we could see his potential. Like many “started” dogs that we have gotten in the past, he worked “movement” and didn’t know what to do with standing livestock. We have a group of 500-600 pound stockers that Bud has been working him on. These are pretty gentle and well dog broke. When Beau was sent, he only brought back the calves that moved when they saw him coming, which wasn’t always very many. Bud didn’t try to influence him to go wider or to go back further, he just kept sending him back until he finally got the idea that his job wasn’t finished until he brought them all. He soon became dependable to gather everything in the pasture. 

Jerry Addison, the man who owns the ranch where we live had never seen Beau work. Last week he went with us when we shifted paddocks with about 120 head of these calves. Beau rode with us on the 4-wheeler to where we could see the water-lot with about 30 head of calves in it. 

Since the water-lot was pretty small, enclosed by a single electric wire, and was about 400 yards away, Jerry said “We’d better go down and bring them out before you send Beau.”

Bud laughed and said, “You don’t mind fixing a little fence, do you?” as he told Beau to go. From where we were standing, and from the direction the first cattle left the water-lot Beau tried to put them to the wrong corner. After a time or two of him turning calves back that were headed to the gate he figured things out and put them out with no trouble and no holes in the fence. We headed these calves down the fence-line toward the gate then sent him to bring the rest of the calves that were scattered out over the pasture. They were feeling pretty playful, and Beau had an opportunity to show his force while he got them under control and brought them to us at the fence, again, a single electric wire. 

We left him on the back end of the herd and Bud, Jerry and I walked along the side, visiting. When we got to where the calves from the water- lot had turned down the hill instead of going through the gate Bud put Beau around them to bring them back to the main bunch and the gate. Bringing cattle from this direction caused the main herd to ball up at the gate so it took us a few minutes to get them started through. During this time nothing was said to Beau. He eased off on his own, making sure nothing turned back, but he didn’t apply any pressure that would put cattle through the fence or cause them to want to break out. As soon as the calves started through the gate he brought the rest right along.

Notice the time frame. Today is October 20, 2004. Beau learned these things in less than four months, which includes the time he was laid off because of getting bitten by a snake.

I’m sure Bill Berch can show you some tough dogs that have finesse . . .