Was riding home the other night after a long day and thinking how lucky I was to have such a great, dependable team of dogs. I've been meaning to write in the blog for ages anyhow and I figured they certainly deserved some special mention.
Being without a good dog in this country is completely unacceptable, especially with bigger groups of cattle. The country is by turns too open with huge spaces, too closed in and tight, and too muddy to get around in. A dog makes cattle gathering and moving possible and they are absolutely worth their weight in gold.
Back to Dealer.....from a young dog he has had a health problem. I'm not entirely sure where is stems from, but when he over exerts himself, he acts like he is having an asthma attack and, if not noticed and rested instantly, he will almost act like he's having a stroke. He shakes and staggers and whimpers, barely keeping up to a walking horse and almost seems like he can't see. It really takes a lot to put him in to this state, but it is terrifying. So long story short, I've given him to a friend of our who is living in the area and doesn't necessarily put on the miles I sometimes do. It was very strange to give him away (for him especially I'm sure) but he has bonded very well and is a happy dog. His new owner rides with us occasionally and while he certainly recognizes me and almost unconsciously tries to work with me, he does well for her as well.
Here is my Dealer dog as a pup on his first trail ride. I'm delighted he has a good loving home but I do miss my buddy. The saying "a dog is the only creature in the world that loves you more than he loves himself" is certainly true with this fella.
So currently I'm working two dogs. I have little Zip who is border collie through and through. She has all the perks and quirks of border collies but is loyal to the bone and a super tough little nut. She prefers to stay quite close to me, and although I can send her out to the sides or the front, she keeps close track of where I am. She prefers to work ahead of where ever I am at and isn't afraid to duck in a grab a nose or a heel if the opportunity arises. She has never gotten grumpy with people and even though she will protect me to the death from other dogs (or at least puts on a show like she would), she always ends up forgetting how tough she was trying to be and ends up playing with them instead. She is a fun and uncomplicated dog (just 2 years old now) and it is great to see her strength and confidence grow with her. I have the basic commands on her, meaning "lay down", "steady", "walk up", "come by" (which means to go left), "way to me" (go right) and "that'll do" which is a call off. A loud hiss will send her in with teeth a snappin'!
Zip poses in front. Magalie and her dog Bell, Raffe, Ben and Tanis with the Itcha's in the background (and happy moo's).
The border collie stare. Five Mile and the still snowy Itchas in the background.
Brady is my other champion. She is a cross between a border collie and a Huntaway, which is a New Zealand stock dog, bred to bark as well as herd. She is a big dog and looks more like a black lab mutt than a cow dog. But she is absolutely amazing and I will never be without a barking dog again for working big groups. Any old ranchers or cowboys reading this will be sitting back at that, shaking their heads in disgust right now, but I'm here to tell ya, don't knock it until you've tried it. She certainly doesn't 'yap', she just uses her voice (and her presence) instead of her teeth. And that way she is able to effect many more animals than just what is at the very back of the pack. She has a huge outrun and never leaves an animal behind. And if she needs help, I always know where to find her. I thought that her barking might cause trouble, especially with cows with young calves, but the cows really don't take offence to her and just move on. She is such a mild manner dog (when not working) that she can move and hang out right among the cows or calves. She will let the calves come right up and sniff her and wanders about only inches from the cows and they just quietly watch her, or continue their naps. Not so when she gets working though, she is a force to be reckoned with and they fully respect her. Because I was trying to work both her and Zip as pups last year after Dealer broke his leg, I put completely separate commands on her. She has a 'sit' (which just means to stop, doesn't matter if her bum hits the ground or not), a "right", a "left", a "walk up" and a call off. I've just started sending her out with whistles (works so well!), but really she pretty much does what needs to be done. It is rare to have to re correct her after being sent out. She instinctively heads for the farthest animal and doesn't give up until it heads for the bunch (or for me). If she is confused, she stops and looks back at me, waiting for confirmation or a new command. She is also a total lover of all people and super easy to be around.
The crazy hail storm didn't bother Brady one bit. But then, not much does.
One of Brady's greatest traits is the ability to relax. Anywhere and at any given moment.
Now don't get me wrong, I am certainly no dog trainer and my dogs don't work perfectly. We are not going to win any trials, that is certain. They tend to be too 'loose' as I am not very strict about commanding every move. It certainly backfires as they tend to break their "heel" command when we are riding and will take every opportunity to push or gather, even if you don't want them too. They have to be sent out of the herd if I am trying to sort, as they refuse to stay to the heel and try and 'help' instead. Tough to sort cattle out, when the dogs are busy bringing them back in. The flip side of that is that they really do think for themselves, assess the situation the best they can, and react to it. They have saved my butt on numerous occasions, often stopping wrecks (such as cows heading off away from the herd, or calves running for home) before I even knew it was happening. With them, I can manage about 3 times the cattle and situations that I could without. They work well independently, but also are quick to help each other out. I honestly could not do what I do with them.
A glimpse at the brood mare band. Bun and Lucy are sharing a back scratch with Bun's baby posing. You can just see Bubbles rump with her baby behind her. Unfortunately, the sorrel mare lost her baby this year and Twinkle (Big Momma) on the right is with our stallion for the first time.
Squirt sneaks in a quick nap while we haul the sorted off bulls to another property.
She looks terribly sad but was the luckiest cow in the outfit on this day. I found her stuck on her side in a hole, with a rock against her back. The rock luckily kept her from getting right over on to her back (which would have killed her very quickly), but there was no way she could get up. Squirt helped me pull her upright and steady her until she found her feet. Besides missing a lot of hair and a few meals, she is totally fine. Her calf was very happy to have his lunch upright again.
Heading for home.