When Steve Peterson bought his first border collie to use on his family’s eastern Wyoming sheep and cattle operation, he had no idea the magnitude of changes it would bring to his life.
From a highly successful dog trialing career to using his dogs to educate thousands of children about agriculture, there is no doubt he made the right purchase.
“What first got me into border collies in part was a visit to my oldest brother Paul, in Oregon. Si West told us about a guy who had Rambouillets near Lebanon, Ore. At the time we were looking for some outside bloodlines to use on our own registered Rambouillets, so I went to his place.
“I had never seen dogs work like he had them working. I ended up buying a pup and a ram from him and taking them both home. I think that was in the spring of 1979,” said Steve.
He continued, explaining he didn’t have a clue how to train or do anything with stock dogs at the time, but raised and sold a littler of pups, leading to his first contact in the dog training world.
“A guy from Colorado came up and bought a pup from me. I wasn’t home, but my wife Jeannie was here. This guy worked for the phone company and could call unlimited, and he got to calling and keeping in contact with me, and eventually he and Jeanne convinced me to go to a dog training clinic in Buffalo, S.D., put on by Glen and Peg Brown,” said Steve.
While he still had no interest in trialing, Steve enjoyed the clinics for their ability to help him improve training his dogs for use on the ranch.
“There were also no trials in our area, or anyone from Wyoming who competed for that matter. But, I finally attended a trial in Flasher, N.D., of all places, in 1987, then went to a few in northern Colorado, and those kind of got me going in the sheepdog trials,” said Steve.
He says that he never did trial extensively, but that didn’t stop him from qualifying for the national final sheepdog trials multiple times, including when they were held in Sheridan, Wyo. and in Meeker, Colo. in the early 1990s.
“I also ran in the national finals at Redding, Iowa three years ago this spring, and since then have hardly done any sheepdog trialing except at the Kaycee, Wyo. invitational each summer,” said Steve.
Kaycee is a special place for him – he lists winning the Sheep Herders Rodeo five times as one of the highlights of his trialing career.
“It’s not a big show, but it wasn’t easy to win it in the first place, and to win it five times was pretty special and memorable,” he said.
When asked what the most challenging aspect of training a winning dog is, Steve responded that while it may sound simplistic, the answer is more about the dog than the training.
“Finding a dog with the right instincts is the most challenging part. You have to find a dog that suits your personality so that you can get in communication to the point you speak the same language. Not all dogs suit all kinds of people, but when you find the right one, getting them to work for you isn’t as hard as it looks,” explained Steve.
He continued, saying that when the right dog comes along, working with them really isn’t work anymore, its fun.
“I’ve had two dogs who were really enjoyable for me to work with. The first was out of a litter of pups I raised when I first went to Jack Knox’s clinics. There was one among them – a little smooth coat, almost all-black dog called Floss. She was the first dog I successfully trained and ran in trials. I enjoyed her and had a lot of success with her,” recalled Steve.
The second dog, Sam, was the result of Steve reserving a pup in a litter that didn’t happen.
“Jack Knox called one day and said the litter I had reserved a pup from would never be, but that he had a young female I had seen work with a litter out of a dog he called Hope.
“I bought the pup, and he was living in Virginia so he stuck it on a plane at Dulles airport and I picked it up in Rapid. He was the greatest dog I ever had. I wish I could find another like him – I’ve never had anything close since. He wasn’t necessarily the easiest dog to handle, but it was just unbelievable the stuff he could do, both at home and at a trial,” said Steve.
Steve’s success with his dogs expanded his opportunities in the sheepdog trial world far beyond that of a competitor. He has been asked to judge trials at the Wyoming and Nebraska State Fairs as well as the North American International Livestock Exposition in Montana. Furthermore, he was involved in the creation of the Wyoming Stockdog Association in the late 1980s and served as the organization’s first president for several years.
“Another really enjoyable thing I’ve been able to do with my dogs is present to classrooms. The first one I did was in Torrington, Wyo., more than 15 years ago, and every year since I’ve taken some sheep and a dog down there and demonstrated working stock with dogs to the fourth grade classes.”
Steve also presents regularly at Lusk, Wyo.’s Ag Expo for elementary students, and said interacting with the kids and being able to answer their questions about both the dogs and sheep are a highlight of his year.
“I think the most memorable questions are about the sheep more than the dogs. There are so many kids in our area who don’t know anything about sheep. I’m always surprised but happy when they ask things like why are they branded with paint,” he said.
Looking back, Steve said he is still amazed at how his desire to get a dog to use at home has opened so many other doors over the years.
“I have always used them on the ranch, and they are a great help to me in that area. I never expected to be judging trials or doing demonstrations with my dogs, or anything like that. But I have really enjoyed meeting so many interesting people from all over the U.S. and Canada, and the opportunities that came from meeting those people.
“In the end, some of the best experiences are those instances like when your sheep get onto the neighbors and you and a dog are able to get them back without getting anything mixed up. I’ve actually had that happen successfully, and it was memorable,” said Steve. The ultimate reward in working dogs is still found in using them to work livestock on the prairies of his own ranch, he said. ❖