by Boe Suhr, Lone Rider Stockdogs
All the time I hear people talk about letting their dogs fetch cattle to them as they ride in the front. That's all well and good for those who have yearlings or stocker cows. For me, my dogs fetch cattle when the calves are about 500 lbs or when I have weaned them.
Now don't get me wrong, I do use my dogs - even on pairs. But, I don't fetch with them when the calves are small and the mothers defend them all the time. When I move cattle I want it to go as smoothly as possible. I prefer to ride in the drag or the side so I can have my dogs in my view all the time. Cows with little calves don't need an excuse to fight a dog. When one cow bellers, it stirs up the whole bunch. Consequently, you have a mismothered bunch at the drag, who are slowing down progress. In order to avoid this, I try to keep my dogs off twenty-five, thirty yards. That way, the cows know the dogs are there, but not in her "defensive zone." Dogs are not threatening them at that distance, but it reminds them that they had better stay with the bunch and keep track of their calf.
I am not saying that I want a weak dog. If a cow comes out of a bunch after that dog, I want that dog to stand its ground and hurt her. One that will tell her that she better not do that again. A hard bite on the nose is very important.
To hear Hank Pritchard talk about using five dogs at one time, I am in awe! I cannot work that many at once. Now, I may take that many when we are moving a large bunch or going a long distance. I keep a couple with the truck or have someone meet me somewhere down the line. I then can switch dogs and have fresh ones. It also keeps my dogs from getting so sore and used up. Sometimes, we may have to move large bunches three to four days in a row. So, I try to keep my dogs as fresh as possible.
When we have weaned the calves, and are moving the mother cows (or even yearlings), then I can allow my dogs to fetch to me. I prefer strong "head" dogs over "heel" dogs. That way I can trust my dog to not push those cows over the top of me when I am riding point. If a cow wants to fight a dog then, well... she needs to be dog broke anyway! If a cow just stops walking altogether, my dogs will heel her to make her move. If a few decide to veer off this way or that way, my dog better understand the basic principles and put them in the herd.
Once again, the controversy between trial and ranch dogs begins. At a trial, time is of the essence. The faster the cattle are brought to the pen, the better. Therefore a dog must heel. It wouldn't matter if the trial consisted of a hundred head of cows (of course this is being fictitious.) In order for them to make a quick time, they need to be pushed by a good heel dog.
I realize it would be difficult to have a trial that the fetch was not of most importance, but I don't want it judged either. On the fetch, the cattle should move with ease, rather than speed to the pen. Then the actual course would be timed and points to each obstacle. Don't get me wrong, I love trialing. I just feel that in the trialing situation dogs are stressed to rush cattle to the pen. In ranch situations every day, for us, we cannot have our cattle rushed.
What prompted me to write this article was a question a dog owner asked me. He was told the dog he purchased could fetch cows and calves while he rides the point and that would never have to eat dust again, What was never taken into account on the sale of this dog, was that individual was not familiar with the training of a dog. He only had one dog to move a large number of pairs, this dog was a young dog, but he was a "tough one." He was a little over a year old. Anyway, it was a disaster.
And now this man is discouraged at his buy and his dog! All together his pup is scared to death of getting hurt again.
I could go on about this, but that will have to be for a whole other article. I hope I have given some people some insight on my thoughts of trial dogs vs. ranch dogs.
this article was first published in Ranch Dog Trainer, April/May 1999