While there can be no question that the Nebraska Cattleman’s Classic is focused on the show and sale of cattle, on Tuesday February 19, 2013 the day was definitely the “dog and pony show.” The ranch horse competition and sale plus the working cattle dog demonstrations kept exhibitors, vendors and members of the public glued to the arena.
One of the participants in the working cattle dog demonstration was Wayne Bamber of Alden, Iowa. He and his partner, Deb Meier brought Jake and Ricky to show their stuff in the demonstration. They also brought puppies that were the get of each of the dogs.
Bamber and Meier own Leaning Tree Stock Dogs and consider themselves fairly new to the world of cattle dog trials, having only begun their breeding and training program six years ago. They have ranching and livestock in their background and had been in the horse breeding and showing business standing a Quarter Horse stud and competing in working cow horse and cutting.
Bamber had worked with Australian cattle dogs in Colorado, Meier said. When the horse market started getting weak, Meier and Bamber started taking some of the Australian cattle dogs to trials.
“We thought our dogs were bred to work cattle,” Meier said, “but we weren’t really getting anywhere. Then a friend said, ‘if you really want to have fun with this, get yourself a Border Collie.’”
They focused first on getting the right dog and found Jake. Jake was bred by Carmichael Border Collies in Timberlake, S.D. Wayne said when he saw Jake’s grandsire, he really saw something that he liked. According to the Carmichael Border Collies web site, the late Pete Carmichael began his breeding and training program in the 1960s. The family has continued his program since his death in 2011.
Once they found the right dog, the team focused on training and learning how to work with their puppies.
“I interviewed trainers from across the U.S. and Canada,” Meier said, “and when I talked to Marc Christopher, from Moody, Mo., and what he said he sounded different from what I had heard from anyone else.”
The Bamber-Meier team both work with and train the pups and were enthusiastic when talking about their breeding and training program.
“We start them on lambs when they are 8-weeks-old,” Bamber said. “Before we sell a pup we want them on stock to verify they’ll work.”
Bambers said they are careful about what kind of stock they put the puppies on because the stock plays a role in the training: not just as the subjects of the dogs’ herding instincts but also as teachers.
“If they [the pups] have a lot of drive we will move them to cattle. Sometimes you have to slow down the drive, sometimes you have to build the dog’s confidence,” Bamber explained.
“We watch what the lambs tell us,” Meier said. “If they are too aggressive with lambs we will read the stock and move them to calves.”
At their display area, Meier and Bamber had videos of each of the puppies they had brought and showed them to prospective buyers to demonstrate the kind of drive each puppy had. In working with pups, they use a large plastic rake to block the pup or shape its movements.
“What you don’t want to see is a pup that gives up if we block him,” Meier said, “you want to see that they are thinking, ‘if I can’t do it that way, how can I do it?’”
Using the rake allows them to evaluate the puppies and shape their behaviors without any verbal cues.
“We wait until we see the behavior we want and then we give them the verbal cue: so they start to form the association of the behavior with the word.”
Meier also pointed out that the rake is a tool of pressure and release — just like a trainer using their voice or their body to shape a dog’s behavior.
When asked about the predominance of the Border Collie breed in the cattle dog demonstrations at the Classic, Meier said that the Border Collie breeding programs have been more focused on selection for their working dog characteristics, where other herding dogs have been more focused on other traits such as color and coat. Meier pointed out that national cattle dog trials are a fairly new competition and those dogs that have excelled have been the Border Collies.
Meier, who is president of the Iowa Stock Dog Association, says that she thinks they have to walk a fine line between a dog that excels at trials and a dog who works on a ranch.
“In a trial, a dog has to give a part of themselves up,” Meier said. “It’s a fine line between a dog giving a part of themselves up and a dog that just quits. They have to be so controlled and be willing to let go of their instinct. But we want dogs who have enough ‘want’ and ‘try’ in them that they continue to follow their instincts through adversity.”
Bamber said it was the first year he had brought a dog to the Classic. In the past, with the sign up deadline in November for the February event, he hadn’t felt his dogs were quite ready.
Jake, the senior dog of Leaning Tree Stock Dogs is a short coated Border Collie.
“I call ’em a wash ‘n’ wear dog,” Bamber said on Tuesday, between demonstrations.
He likes that the dogs can jump into a tank to cool off and be dry and ready to go in half an hour. While Jake and his son, Ricky, were the focus in the demonstration ring, it was obvious that their puppies were what drew people over to talk to Bamber and Meier at the Classic. They had brought six puppies and had already sold one by noon.
Meier talked about the puppies they brought and the unique personality to each of the pups. She feels it is very important to match the puppy’s personality to that of the new owner. And she believes it is important that owners understand the dog and what’s going on with them.
“They can only give you what they have,” Meier said of the pups.
Meier says that she and Bamber have been able to take their program to a level they couldn’t have dreamed of in the horse world. What Meier feels is the most rewarding part of their program is the feedback they get from the people who have bought their puppies.
“We get so much reward from a person who gets a dog from us and maybe they never had a dog help them with their livestock before and then that dog becomes so important to them that they can’t imagine being without one.
“We had a customer who had had a dog and then when that dog died, he did without a dog for a while, then he got a pup from us. Then by the time the pup was 8-months-old he was really helping out and this guy decided he didn’t want to lose a dog and be without one so he came back to us for a second pup.
“That’s the reward: when someone could get a dog anywhere else and comes back to us.” ❖