5th annual Cattledog Trial puts close relationship between the handlers and their dogs on display
A natural instinct from their hunting days, border collies can be the perfect animals to hold stock and control their movements, as long as the dog listens to the commands of its handler.
Jeff Meyers, a trainer and handler from Hayden, explained it as a partnership between himself and the dog, as Meyers and several other trainers had the opportunity to put their partnerships on display this weekend during the Routt County Cattlemen’s Association fifth annual Cattledog Trial at Romick Arena.
The trial took the dogs through a plethora of tests and tasked them with controlling three heifers at once. The border collies naturally worked opposite the callers, listening to whistles and voice commands to determine how to move the cattle.
“That is one of the things that makes the border collie ideal for this line of work and this kind of competition — their ability to go around the stock and bring it to you,” Meyers said. “She does not need to be next to me or want to be next to me; she wants to get around (the heifers).”
To score points, handlers had to command their dogs through a series of tasks with a time limit, and every heifer to conform counted as a point. The contest is a simulation of how things may go at a ranch or farm, but not a perfect representation. At a ranch, precision and speed are not always so important.
Training these dogs takes time, and Meyers said he prefers to start the training on stock when they are between 10 and 12 months old. He said the dogs need to have a certain level of maturity because training puts so much pressure on them. They need to be old enough and have a strong enough connection with the handler to withstand that pressure.
Meyers said he starts his dogs on sheep to build their confidence because sheep commonly stay together and roll off the dog well. Once the dogs master that, they graduate to small cattle.
Dogs are first taught to learn five commands:
- Come By — Dog moves clockwise around the stock.
- Get Away — Dog moves counterclockwise around the stock.
- Lie Down — Dog sits tight and waits for the next command.
- Walk Up — Dog walks straight toward the stock to push them back.
- That’ll Do — Dog stops working and returns to the handler.
“Any dog that has those five basic commands is going to be really helpful around the ranch and farm,” Meyers said. “They can help you with a lot of stock. To come out here and compete like this requires refinement, and they have to really be precise.”
Sara-Jo Gahm, a handler from Everett, Washington, said a handler’s relationship with its dogs needs to be tight. Every dog and handler have different strengths and weaknesses, but a handler must make their dog feel like they are there for their four-legged counterpart.
According to Gahm, a good handler is someone who communicates clearly with their dog and always puts their dog in a good position.
“I generally like a dog that both has some power to convince the cattle to move but also wants to be a team player with me,” Gahm said. “You want that combination of being tough on cattle but also sensitive to my directions and trying to work with me and not for themself.”
The Routt County Cattlemen’s Association’s hosts the trial every year to offer an agriculturally focused event and to include those who may not be familiar with the county’s deep-rooted agricultural history.
“People like dogs but a lot of people have no understanding of a working dog and that relationship with cattle and how that is supposed to go,” Meyers said. “This is a chance to show our skill but also for people who don’t see that kind of thing to get that perspective.”
To reach Tom Skulski, call 970-871-4240, email tskulski@SteamboatPilot.com.
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