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Life Made Easier With Stock Dogs

Cattle ranchers Glen and Dorothy Campbell have had their share of hard times. Raising Black Angus cattle full time for Glen, a part-time job off the farm for Dorothy, and a bed and breakfast business which allows visitors to explore their ranching way of life has kept these country folk busy. Health issues and poor cattle sales have also made life tougher. But the one thing that has made life easier for them is having stock dogs to help with cattle ranching. Since learning how to better use dogs with stock, they would never go back to being without them.

On their ranch, Campbell’s Angus Ranch Bed & Breakfast, they have two border collies, one of which was specifically purchased to help with the stock, and two rescue dogs – a German shepherd and a mixed breed – both of whom will help out when absolutely needed, such as in a long-distance drive or with stubborn stock.

Glen has been ranching south of Onanole, Manitoba for over 30 years and has always had a dog around. But it wasn’t until he and Dorothy got together and married that he decided to put the dog to work with the cattle. About seven years ago he started working with his newly acquired border collie Jake. Jake was purchased from someone who said that the dog was untrainable and was only asking $50 for him. At six months of age, Jake was still a puppy and the first few months on the ranch his favourite activity was digging holes all over the yard. As he matured, Jake realized that there were cattle around and started to take more interest.

Glen and Dorothy realized that they didn’t understand what to do to get Jake to work stock, so they took stock dog workshops and learned the basics of moving stock. The main stumbling block to having Jake work was Glen and Dorothy themselves. From the workshops, they found out they had been micromanaging the dog. If a dog has the herding instinct, he needs only to understand basic commands to work properly such as “down” and “come.” The most important thing they learned was that the dog is always in the right place to move stock based on where the human is situated. If the human is in the wrong place in the field, the human will be hindering the dog. Once Jake was able to move stock on his own without too much handler interference, things started to fall into place. Jake made life easier for the couple and paired up with Dorothy’s older, mixed-breed dog Lady who had previously worked stock. When they took in a stray German shepherd dog, Dorothy and Glen took him to a herding clinic for practice as well. They found that he would be able to work well with driving cattle due to his strong presence around them.

After losing Lady to old age, and excited by their success with Jake, the Campbells purchased a border collie puppy to help Jake, as he was getting up there in age. They wanted to have a young dog who was ready to work in case Jake no longer could. The Campbells found that the puppy, Zip, had a slightly different style of moving stock, and was more aggressive with stubborn cattle than Jake.

On the Campbell ranch, stock have to be moved across roads to reach pasture, sometimes short distances and sometimes several kilometres. Especially when going farther distances, both Glen and Dorothy feel that using dogs help the cattle to stay calm by minimizing or eliminating the roar of engines from four-wheelers. With herding dogs you simply don’t need a motorized vehicle to drive stock. Horses may be used in certain situations, but they prefer not to use ATVs.

Their stock dogs are also a part of the other business on the ranch – the bed and breakfast. As part of the guests’ stay at the ranch, they may participate in an “old-fashioned” cattle drive. The cattle are driven from one field to another or they may be worked on the Campbells’ own pasture if there is no long-distance drive going on at the time of the visit. Glen usually leads the cattle in a car or truck and Dorothy will follow up behind either on horseback or on foot, depending how far they are going. Sometimes friends or family help out with the drive, walking or riding behind the stock. Each fall and spring the cattle are moved several kilometres for food and the dogs are indispensable during these moves. By using the dogs to get cattle to feed areas, the Campbells are able to swath graze their cattle instead of continually hauling bales. In this way they are helping limit the amount of fuel they use which reduces their costs and helps the environment.

Glen and Dorothy both agree that the most important thing needed to get a dog working well is to spend time with it. The more time spent working the dog doing obedience or in a small pen with stock learning cues, the better the dog will be able to understand you when out in a large area and farther away. It is essential that training be done in smaller areas first to solidify the commands, before using the dog in larger working situations.

The Campbells no longer need to walk out to the end of the pasture to bring cattle in to feed, instead, they send out one dog to gather the stock. This greatly reduces the time and energy expended to get ranch chores done.

They also enjoy watching their dogs work in the manner that they were bred for. These working animals don’t need registration papers to tell their owners that they are good stock dogs; the proof is in each dog’s actions.

Glen and Dorothy realize that many dogs today are not able to work stock due to loss of instinct through breeding for looks. It is refreshing for them to see dogs that still have old-time country “values” bred into them – an excellent fit with the Campbells – people with these same old-time country values.

– Anne Bachewich writes from Sandy Lake, Manitoba

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