THE WHOLE CATTLEDOG:
part one: picking a pup

by Rusty Johnson

I am writing this series for those people who, like myself, love, honor and cherish their cattledogs. With the hope that I may change some minds about how cattle can be worked with good dogs and maybe help some people who have found themselves confronted with a dilemma, I present this article.

I want to state up front that I do not know everything! Therefore, throughout this series, I will refer to and quote several widely respected stockdog trainers. ButI hope my opinions will help you in some way. These are the methods that have worked for me and I welcome any questions or comments.

First of all, you must determine what you want from your cattledog. If you want a dog simply to hunt and bay, you should get a Cur. If you want a dog to drive cattle up and down alleyways or from pen to pen, then a Heeler or Corgi would suit you best. Let us
just say for arguments sake that we want a dog to gather cattle from a pasture and put them in the corrals. The dog you would need should either be a Kelpie, Australian Shepherd or a Border Collie.

Which one would best suit you is up to you. Do your homework on the different breeds and the specific bloodlines you are considering. One or two dogs cannot properly represent an entire breed. Next,determine which traits in a dog are the most important to you. I think Scott Lithgow put it best when he said: “The five things I
look for in a cattledog are: heading, herding, heeding, heeling and hardiness.” To Lithgow’s list, I would like to add another “H”, heart. What your most important characteristics are, is up to you.

Once you make your list of traits, find a mating pair of dogs that fit your list. This is easier said than done. But there are many good breeders/trainers around that would be glad to help you. Once you have chosen a breeder be sure to get to know that person. Will he guarantee his dogs to work? Will he help you with getting the pup started? Will he refer you to someone else if he cannot help you? Ask to see complete medical record of your puppy. An honest and knowledgeable breeder will do these things.

Now that you have selected a breeder and have taken care of all the details, we need to talk about personalities. What kind of personality do you have? It would be best to match your new puppy to your personality. I have noticed that people tend get along better with dogs that match their experience level and personality. For example, a soft spoken, gentle person would have a hard time with a dominant dog, as would a person that tends to talk loudly with a soft puppy.

I have a fairly dominant personality, therefore, I always pick the dominant pup in a litter (the bully). A dominant pup shows me that he/she at least has the “heart” to try to fight for its share. Most importantly, because of the demands that will be placed upon your cattle dog, it is best not to pick a pup that is hiding in a corner. Though he may be cute and pitiful, you are not picking a pup for just a pet. You need a cattle dog; if he cannot handle the small amount of stress of being a puppy, he definitely will not be able handle the stress of working cattle for a living.

By picking the breeder and a pup, you have now taken the first step in developing a whole cattledog. But I want to stress, if you have not already done so, please DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

this article was first published in The Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine, February/March 1997