Aussie StyleHistory

Stockdog Corner: Working Aussie and the Standard

By July 20, 2017March 20th, 2019No Comments

This time the Stockdog Corner is going to be written for the pet owner, the breeder, large and small, the competitor in conformation or agility or any other doggy event. I am in hopes that some who get the Aussie Times and who are not working their Aussies will take the time to read this. It is written for those of you who probably will never work a dog on stock or may do it a few times at a clinic or fun day. It is written for those of you who have an interest in just what the Breed Standard is all about. Some knowledge of just what a real life working Aussie will be doing that proper structure will help it accomplish can only be helpful to all of us.

The idea for this issue’s column came from a discussion on facebook that made me realize how many out there do not understand what Aussies out in the livestock world really do or what they structurally need to be able to do. And before some of you say or think, “Aussies aren’t really out there any more working livestock”……I promise you, they are. As a breeder of working Aussies since the 1960’s (I do cringe when I say that since I can’t really be that old) I can definitely say that there are more Aussies out there in the livestock world right now today in 2017 than there have been in any decade before. There are also more stockdogs of other breeds in real working homes all over America. Before the internet (for some of you youngsters, there really was a world before that!) if a farmer or rancher did not have a neighbor with working dogs, they likely didn’t even know how a dog could help them. Now the information and knowledge is out there and so are the dogs and a demand for them.

I am going to paraphrase something that was said in the discussion that made me realize how many there are out in the Aussie world who have no idea what is required of a stockdog. This was in a discussion about “movement” as it pertains to what is required of a working Aussie. Basically the post said that the extended trot was extremely important in the work that a ranch does, because the dog would be trotting for many miles to get to the cattle and then after rounding them up would have to trot for miles to get back to the home place. The miles and miles of trotting in a day was mentioned in several posts. It was pointed out by several people that this is not what ranch dogs do (not that there might not be an occasion where it is done), and the posters were surprised and they admitted they just did not know.

The truth is, how would we expect people who have never seen an Aussie work on a ranch or farm and may have never been on a ranch or farm at all to understand? And yet the breed we all have chosen was formed over the first 100 – 150 years without a registry, without records, without competitions, to actually function and work on farms and ranches. The Breed Standard was written saying, “primarily a working dog” because dog Standards do state the original purpose of a breed so conformation judges will understand the traits necessary.

So in the interest of history and of preserving the breed, whether every Aussie will ever see a cow or a sheep in their life, it would be good for the breed if people understood a little of what is required of the historical and ongoing purpose.

It was stated in a discussion that the ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) has replaced the stockdog. Think about it. What has the ATV replaced? The ATV, if it has replaced anything on some ranches, it has replaced the horse….not the dog. The ATV can carry a man. It can not maneuver like a man on horseback, but it is still useful and can carry feed and in many cases, the dogs. The ATV can not run ahead of cattle and turn them back, it can not go into brush too thick to drive through, it can not cross deep water, it can not protect a man on foot when an angry momma cow wants to get him down. It can not push cattle through a chute and is too big to use in a corral.

Can a man on foot or horseback do these things? Cattle are pretty much not afraid of a vehicle. They respect a horse in some ways because it is bigger, but they are not afraid of it. But a dog that will grip on the face/nose or heels….that gets their attention, perhaps because deep down a canine is a predator and a cow is prey. Or maybe because that pinch from the dog’s teeth is unpleasant so they prefer to avoid it. A dog that barks with confidence can also be effective because again, the dog is the aggressor and the line of least resistance for the stock is to move away from it.

But back to the physical things that are required of a stockdog. Usually if the livestock are really miles away, the dog or dogs are transported there in a pickup, in the front of a stock trailer with the stock horses in it, or on an ATV. Other than some really huge ranches, cattle are not miles of open country away from where they will need to go. If the dog is going to have to follow men on horseback or trail cattle for miles, the horses and cattle will be walking. The dog in order to conserve strength and breath would be in a slow jog or walking and then jogging to keep up.

Let me move to the farm dog for a minute and this applies to the dogs on large ranches too. Dogs are used a lot when cattle are rounded up to be branded and/or vaccinated, dehorned etc. People who have livestock have corrals and chutes to do this work, and they will be reasonably close to where the stock is grazing. Once the stock is in the corral, they are usually sorted, cows from their calves for instance. Dogs are used in the corrals, but they better be quick, agile enough to duck under a gate to keep from getting trampled and capable of getting in and out of a situation fast. When working cattle through the chute they will need to be able nip one through the fence that does not want to move forward and often are used to run one into the next corral after it has been released from the chute. This would be a very short distance – a sprint.

This pen work is a situation where Aussies do well because they do like to work close and they are quick. For this reason working Aussies are used at sale barns where the job is moving stock up and down alleys and taking them out of pens and putting them through gates. The stock often has not been worked with dogs and can be aggressive, so once again the dog’s ability to get out of the way by ducking under a gate or fence is important. Feed lots also use this type of dogs in the same way. If a steer is sick or injured it will need to be separated and treated but is not going to want to leave the others. Not much long distance trotting needed.

These days a lot of stock operations use rotational grazing. This is a scientifically proven method to keep livestock on good fresh grass and not to over-graze. This can be sheep or cattle and varies from small pastures of a few acres to pastures of 100 acres or more. The stock may be kept in there for just a day or for a week or more, but they must be moved before the grass is grazed too short. Often the stock does not want to leave since there is still feed, and the dog is just what is needed to encourage them to do so. That nice extended trot can be utilized in this job and the dog also may be required to sprint fast to get stock that decides to cut back away from the others.

Aussies are used on dairies, and I knew a dairy that used them to bring the cows in for milking. Now dairy cows are usually lined up at the barn door at milking time, but in the case I saw there were always just a few cows who decided to stay out in the pasture. All it took was the dog to go out there and start them toward the barn, but it saved steps. With a pasture of heifers that needed some kind of vaccination or work, the situation was the same as on a ranch with beef cattle.

Dogs of all breeds have from the beginning been judged by written Standards describing the ideal of each breed. To ascertain structural soundness, movement at the trot observed by a judge from the side and coming toward the judge and away have been the established procedure. This is the only practical way to evaluate a dog in a small area and on a leash. However, many breeds of dogs were developed for a purpose whether it is to work livestock, to hunt in specific ways – retrieving in water, chasing and catching prey, working in brushy terrain flushing birds. Some were developed to pull sleds or other vehicles, but all are evaluated in some way by movement. It would be foolish to believe that observing a dog at a trot is going to evaluate the physical traits necessary to do any of these tasks each breed was created to do.

In judging the Australian Shepherd whether for work, play, or show, it would be well if all understood the varied types of work a stockdog may need to excel at. The Aussie was not developed to be a long distance trotting dog, neither at a jog or an extended trot. The jog trot is far more often seen than a fast extended trot as it serves no purpose. Stock is if at all possible ideally moved at a walk. If an Aussie is indeed a dog to do the jobs I have explained above, the dog must be an athlete which means a fast sprint, able to jump, duck, and turn quickly. It will be doing all of these things much more than it will be trotting, and an awareness of this allows us all to better evaluate dogs within the breed.
Note: This was originally published in the Aussie Times and is reprinted with permission from the author. Stock Corner article from July-August 2017 Aussie Times Vol 50 No 5.

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