It is all in the gather
By Trent Loos
It turns out that good help working livestock is really not hard to find if you are looking in the right spot. I just spent a couple of days at the National Cattledog Association National Finals in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and was once again amazed at the feats that can be accomplished by a team of a homo sapien and a canine working in tandem.
This year the field was big as 19 states were represented at the National Finals and 120 dogs qualified to compete.
The National Cattledog Association is a particularly new association but has a very targeted list of goals they are fulfilling. At the top of the list is the following mission: Educate ranchers as to the value of well-trained cattledogs for humane, low-stress cattle handling through demonstrations, clinics and public cattledog competitions or trials.
Without question the use of a good dog creates a low-stress handling technique, and I would be willing to bet that the individuals that use these dogs in competition understand better than most that if you want to beat the clock, slow and steady is the answer. As in so many areas of life today, we are always running mach 30 but the winners were never the teams that rushed through the course; they simply took their time.
In the open division, Jeff Mundorf from Red Oak, Iowa, won the competition for the second consecutive year with a 4-year-old female named Stash. Reserve champion in this division was Keith Gilleon from Louisiana with his 3-year-old, Rockin G Roc.
In addition to the on foot class, I really enjoyed the horseback division. For anybody who ever worked a dog with stock (yes, I said “worked” and I did not say “chased”), you will know there is a difference in handler to dog communications from atop your favorite mount as opposed to walking on the ground.
Another Louisiana cowboy, Robin Dillion, won the horseback division with Slick, and Nebraskan Tim Gifford and his dog Jean were reserve.
Understanding the predator prey relationship is an absolute must for handlers to compete well. A dog has the natural instinct to gather and that goes way back to the days of dog packs when the worker dogs would bring the prey to the leader of the pack for the kill.
When you combine the predator prey instinct with the flight zone of stock you have the whole concept of how this works. Now after you understand where the dog should best be positioned to move cattle in a certain direction then you must communicate that to the dog from some distance away. In fact, this year the cattle were turned loose into the pen out of sight so the dog had to trust that the handler was giving him good directions without the benefit of seeing the herd.
I realize there are many of you that believe these well-trained competition dogs are somehow not like “real” ranch dogs. I would agree to some extent that these dogs are extremely well trained and have many hours spent with them on a daily basis but the natural instinct is there in noncompetition dogs as well. I decided to test my dog’s skills on my first day home so I took Eve out to the field for some work. It was extremely enjoyable and the neighbor’s corn field was only minimally impacted by my cows before we got there. It is a process that requires you to maintain your calm and convey that, along with your directions, to your partner. Something that requires a little “self-training” as well as dog training!
If you have the opportunity to witness either a competition or a demonstration of this marvelous livestock handling technique somewhere this summer or fall, I hope you take the time not only to watch but also to pick up on something that can be taken home and used. Every time I am fortunate enough to hang with this bunch, I gather more than just stock. I gather new information on reduced stress livestock handling and that is better for both the two-leggeds and the four-leggeds involved in this process.
Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com, or email Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org.