Cattle WorkRanch and Farm


By February 17, 2015July 5th, 2017No Comments

editor’s note: the term ‘Cattlemaster’ is now the name of a breed of commercial cowdog; this article was written before that term was in use.


by Tony Rohne

Right now, the offspring of registered dogs are eligible to be registered in their respective registries without much consideration of the merit of those pups. It looks like knowing a “stockdog’s” pedigree back to Lincoln’s Fido is more important than knowing if the mutt is worth a flip on stock. As far as I know, no registry has a system that will record the working traits of dogs or require they do a minimum of cattle work to be registered. The National Stockdog Registry has indicated a desire to look at a system that would do this plus reflect some of the dog’s cattle working traits with its registration number. These will be only for dogs that work cattle. Without a system, our “using” dogs will be forgotten 15 years from now, or else they will be like the saying, “the longer dead the better they were.” Since “stock” can mean anything from a duck to a pig and “Cattledog” is a breed name, the term “cattlemaster” may fit these dogs.

Starting any system to find “cattlemasters” and recording their abilities will not be easy. Records tend to be as accurate as the people keeping them. Trusting people to be honest about their pups and dogs is not easy. In spite of the possibility for error, these dogs need to be rated by their rancher on their own place, on their own stock, whenever possible. Dogs act differently on strange stock and in a strange place. Cattle operators and the breeders need facts instead of a bunch of wild stories that can’t be verified. These facts need to include both the “holes” (weaknesses) and strengths of the dogs being considered. Problems should be identified so they can be bred away from.

The Queensland Working Cattle Trial Dog Association evaluates working dogs before they register them. They rate a dog for herding, temperament. blocking, and driving. Some use the terms: herding, heeling, heading, heeding, and heredity. Most of these dogs are Border Collies, BC crosses, and Kelpies. The quality of the dog varies but most are of the same working type. They don’t ask a dog to be perfect to be registered, but it does have to show it is capable of doing a certain amount of cattle work before three of their judges. They use an A B C system, but I would like to see the categories be: A – excellent; B. good; C – fair; and D – none or poor. To repeat myself, a dog would have to show he/she could at least do some cattle work to be registered.

I came up with a rating sheet for pasture dogs that work cattle and stocker calves by taking the Australian system and expanding it. Most of this will make sense to people who work dogs in the pasture even though the words may be different. This is really a summary of the weaknesses I have seen in dogs that work cattle on an everyday basis.

As an example, the good dogs work tired, hot, and hurt even after a good chewing out or two. They do not dribble stock everywhere, remember their right from left, kind of keep track of where I am, and are not a slave to their instinct. Good ones heel stock hard enough to keep the laggers with the bunch and break up the bull fights without getting kicked. Good ones stop stock, within reason, rather than scooting by the front, running against the shoulder, or flanking away from cattle when challenged. Good ones do not get stuck on one head when 150 head are running off or stick to the ground when something turns on them. Good ones mind and do a job my way. Good ones break green calves and dry cattle.

Very few dogs handle cows with new calves. I have had three dogs that were rough enough make cows leave their calves. These three were not very useful for anything but training cattle, because the jobs had to be done their way or no way at all. By no means do I want to lead anyone to believe my everyday dogs are very good. They are a lot of help but I would like to have one of these “wonder” dogs. One good enough to know which stocker calf is sick, sort Holsteins from Simmentals while I am in the shop, handle 300 cows without biting, stare cows with baby calves into submission, flip a cow by the nose, and, without heeling, boss 600 bullocks (steers) around with “bad breath.”

I have looked in parts of 24 states in the United States, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Queensland, and New South Wales trying to catch a dog like this working cattle. It never happens. We need an objective way to sort facts from fairy tales. Anyway, on the next page is my suggestion for an evaluation sheet. Additions, corrections, and insertions to this thing, are welcome as long as they are based on facts.

Good Luck!


Dog’s Name Sex Breed Age

Size Color Coat Build Owner’s Name, address, phone #


(1) the inner drive to work cattle

(2) the temperament to take hard use, correction, and moderate on-the-job abuse by the stock and the handler

(3) intelligence

(4) ability to be trained

(5) instinct to work cattle


(1) strong enough on the head to break and handle green cattle

(2) blocks average cattle and gives very little ground under average circumstances

(3) works the head properly

(4) check which applies: squares off     runs beside     flies by      yanks ears      sticky
claps      flaky


(1) preference: head _____  %   to heel _____ %

(2) heels the proper way

(3) bites the proper places

(4) bites hard enough to move cattle


(1) works green cattle    works rancher’s cattle    works green stockers    works rancher’s stockers

(2) pushes cattle

(3) ____ months experience on cattle or stockers

(4) does the dog work in a team, lead the team, or work alone

(5) gathers and keeps track of cattle and handler

(6) nose for tracking


(1) likelihood dog will reproduce him/herself: dogs back in the last five generations, plus siblings, were cattle workers of the same type and quality as this___

(2) number of working pups dog has produced ____

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This article originally appeared in the April/May1995 issue of Ranch Dog Trainer magazine