Cattledogs get the job done at the NCA National Finals in Cheyenne, Wyo.
for The Fence Post
Australian Working Dogs.
By Mrs M.Cleary.
This is my tribute to our Aussie working dogs,
Who give their best in dust and heat, in snow and mountain fog;
They’ll tend their sheep or cattle til their pads are red with blood,
Over hot and blistering ground, through burrs and outback flood.
They ask no special favour like food or brush or comb;
Just to work and give their all, be with you ‘ere you roam.
When the stock is bedded for the night, and you curl up near the fire,
That gallant heart and watchful eye, just never seems to tire.
He lies there, head stretched on his paws, and checks each tiny sound,
Until the sun comes breaking through, and the stock starts milling ‘round.
Another day of parching heat, of lonely outback trails,
But nightfall finds our dogs still there, for they are as tough as nails.
They’ll stand and fight a maddened steer, meeting death there face to face,
Or gently herd that sick old ewe to a safer resting place.
Their eyes hold love and wisdom, the like I’ve never seen.
These three breeds are on their own for a top-notch Aussie team.
My hat’s off to the Cattle Dog, the red one and the blue;
And you little “Kelpie”, and the man-sized job you do;
And the faithful Border Collie with his motto, Job Well Done;
Our own Australian Working Dogs from the land of the burning sun.
They are called different names: working dogs, cattledogs or stockdogs. They all have one thing in common; their love for their job. What a job it is; below minimum wage, no benefits and long hours. Every cattledog would rather do the job then to be a lap dog.
Their intense stare, their tight body that is ready to fly across the ground or lie down at the sound of their handler’s call are what they were born to do. They come from different regions and landscapes from prairie grasses to crags and rocky ground, mountain valleys and southern marshes. They’ve come to the National Cattledog Association 2018 National Finals in Cheyenne, Wyo., where the best cattledogs and handlers compete on grueling courses over five days of heat, rain and wind (of course there’s wind, it’s in Wyoming).
A cattledog is a born athlete and they are not happy unless they are doing what they were born to do — work with stock. As pups their instinct is to herd and gather. They will herd and gather ducks, frogs and even small children. They have an insatiable desire for running, but their minds need to be active as well. They are highly intelligent workaholics and they are unique to the canine world because of these innate traits. The cattledog is an asset to a stockman or woman. With wages going up, fear of liabilities and even difficulty with finding hired help, a cattledog is a welcome member of a ranching operation.
A cattledog must have superior intelligence and be able to complete complex tasks with humans and independently. They must be easy to train and able to discern verbal and non-verbal commands such as hand gestures and different whistle tones. They must possess the strength and confidence to charge an angry cow. They must be agile and quick with a desire to run all day.
“Most people like faster dogs. Beginning handlers definitely don’t because the dog gets ahead of them,” said Bob Wagner, treasurer of the National Cattledog Association in Greeley Colo.
Most of the dogs at the 2018 National Cattledog Association National Finals are Border Collies. The Border Collie is the whole package and by far the most intelligent canine on the planet. Their muscular bodies are bred for speed. They can move quickly in a crouching position due to a space between the tops of their shoulder blades. They have a fiercely intense stare that they use to their advantage to intimidate stock. Once they are focused it is extremely hard to break their concentration. Border Collies are very loyal and can build a strong affection for their handler. They are goal-oriented and feel the most satisfied when they have a task to accomplish. They are highly observant and instinctively protective.
The cattledog is not the only team member with focus and drive. The handlers must have an extreme amount of patience when working with their dogs. Cattle are unpredictable, and the handler must know how cattle will react to different kinds of pressure and be able to take control of their dog’s actions in a nanosecond. The handler works many hours in the field with his dog. He must be precise with his commands, telling the dog exactly what to do using a combination of commands and whistles. He is the leader. His instruction must be timed just right. If he doesn’t instruct his dog to turn or lie down at the right second the cattle could scatter, costing precious time against his score.
These handlers are as committed to the sport as the dogs are. They come from all over the U.S. and Canada. That means traveling long distances with their dogs. One handler’s wife said they had to stop every 20 minutes going across Kansas in 104-degree heat. Kent Herbel and his wife Lori travel 250 days of the year attending trials and holding clinics. “We live in our live-in horse trailer when we aren’t at home.” Lori said. Lori is the NCA official photographer and her husband Kent won the Open finals. When asked how she felt about Kent’s victory she remarked with a smile, “I’m pretty tickled.”
The handlers at the NCA 2018 finals in Cheyenne are some of the best, from as far away as Manitoba, Canada. Sixteen states were represented. Steve Knipmeyer and his dog Nikki, the Champion Nursery team, are from Bartlesville Okla. Intermediate Champion Seth Mahurin and his dog Quita are from Kansas. Horseback Champion Brian Jacobs and his dog GS Romel are from Wilton, Calif. Kent Herbel and his dog Sweep, from Putnam Okla., won the Open finals.
Grit and determination are a must in cattledogs and Brian Jacobs’ dog GS Romel is no slacker. Two months after winning the 2017 NCA Nursery National Final in Afton Wyo., Romel broke both bones in his leg and now has a 4-inch plate with six pins. This year he took fifth place in the Nursery Finals and went on to win the Horseback finals.
Bob Allen’s run in the Open finals looked like it was going to be the run of the day. Everything went smooth even the cattle seemed like they knew the signals, but Kent Herbel’s run was more than 2 minutes faster. “Everything has to line up.” Herbel said quietly. “The weather, when you run during the day, all of those are factors. Those factors have to line up and when they do it’s pretty good.” The handlers have a good camaraderie and are a modest crowd. “All of these dogs are good dogs,” Herbal said.
The NCA has been around for five years and has traditionally held the finals in rural, small towns but they speculate that the low populations might be the reason for small turnouts. Bob Wagner was impressed with the Archer Complex at the Larimar County Fairgrounds when he did clinics last fall. They hope by moving it to a larger city it will draw more spectators. Wagner said the staff at the Archer Complex were a joy to work with. There was talk amongst the spectators and contestants that the Archer Complex could be a permanent home for the NCA National Finals. I guess we’ll have to wait until next year to see.
If you would like more information on the National Cattledog Association and the results and scores visit them on their Facebook page or go to nationalcattledog.com. ❖
— Hall is a freelance writer from Platteville, Colo., when she’s not writing she is riding her horse in the mountains. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lori Herbel is the offical photographer for the NCA, she can be reached at email@example.com.