A RANCH DOG

by Roy Wilson

I let you know in the other article the type of dogs I use gathering wild cattle, spoiled cattle, cows and calves, or whatever is hard to pen. Light cattle, heifers or steers can be worked with dogs with less power, grit and bite. A dog that has a little outrun to it, has enough eye to steady it, some walk up strength, and will use their teeth a little, in most cases, can handle steers and heifers. You take these dogs that are a little softer to pen a bunch of of wild cows and calves, it’s a very good chance you will be disappointed.

We all get caught up in what kind of dog we need, and get to thinking that’s what everyone needs. It sure depends on what kind of livestock you are working. At one time, I thought if you were working one dog and needed more power, and put out another dog you would have two times the power; but after working dogs through the years, I have seen a lot of times when I turn a dog loose to help another, there will be three or four times the strength with two as there was with one. They stimulate each other and really turn on. If you are doing a job with one dog and lack a little having the strength to get it done, turn out another dog and there’s a good chance you will be able to complete your job. This does not mean you can take 10 dogs with no power, guts, or bite and pen a set of ol’wild cows and calves that have never seen a dog before.

When I go to gather cattle and don’t know for sure how tough they are going to be, I take my toughest dogs. I had rather have more power than I need than not enough. No matter how tough dogs are, if you have control of them, you can stop them, and have control on how much pressure is put on the cattle. After cattle are held up, they need the opportunity to move off pressure without being attacked every time they do.

It is really a lot of fun to watch a bunch of of cows and calves after the dogs get them held up and have the dogs down on the back side. There will be an ol’cow go out to whip the dogs, they meet her head on and she is the one that gets the whipping. As soon as she turns back to the herd, down the dogs and let her move away from the pressure. Then, some of the other cattle will try with the same results. The cattle keep trying this until they give up.

Then, you will see a cow look back at the dogs and take one step away from them to see if she can get away with it, then she will try two steps and the other cattle start trying the same. Before long, the cattle are moving off the dogs. When the cattle first start moving off pressure, keep the dogs down until the cattle get several yards away from them, then walk the dogs in behind the cattle. As soon as any of the cattle start looking back and worrying about the pressure, down the dogs and let the cattle keep moving away from them. Repeat the walking up and downing the dogs until the cattle quit worrying about the dog. Ride ahead of the cattle and let the dogs fetch them to the pens.

Dry cows will dog break and move off the dogs a lot faster than cows with calves, and heifers easier than dry cows. When cows need dog breaking, if possible, wait until you wean the calves off them. Dog break your keeping heifers every year, and use your dogs when you are teaching the heifers to come to feed. When you find some of these heifers in the pasture, send the dog to fetch them to your pickup, and as they do, start honking the horn to teach the heifers to come to the horn. As they approach, string the feed out on the ground, fetch them on to the feed. Let the dogs do this each time you feed until the heifers learn to come to the honking horn and feed.

A lot of people don’t want their dogs barking. I agree that is great in open country where you can see what’s going on, but in thick trees and underbrush where you can’t stay up with the action when the dogs are trying to shut down a bunch of wild cows, they better bark a little or you won’t have a clue where they are. Some of my dogs bark while fighting the cows’ heads and trying to shut them down. When my dogs stop barking, and I can’t hear them, I know there are one of two things going on. They either have them held up and there’s no fighting going on, or they are fetching them to me. My dogs do not bark unless they are fighting to keep the cattle from running away.
Good dogs are like good horses – they need to be worked a lot. They need a regular job to become a top dog. You can’t take them out of their pen once every two or three months, and expect them to be top dogs, I really enjoy using dogs to get my work done. You know, I have never had a dog ask me for a raise, and I have never had one to quit their job and move away because I called them a bad name!

this article was first published in the June/July 1997 issue of Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine