Nation’s smartest dogs to round up money — and cattle — for local students this weekend in Steamboat |

Nation’s smartest dogs to round up money — and cattle — for local students this weekend in Steamboat

Casey, a border collie, works to herd three heifers at the Routt County Cattlemen’s Association Classic Dog Trial in 2018. Casey competed in the intermediate class with handler Jeff Christiansen, of Texas.
Eleanor C. Hasenbeck

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In the second year of what they hope becomes a popular tradition, Routt County cattlemen are getting ready to host 50 of the most confident little dogs ever seen.

Oh, and the dogs’ handlers will be in town, too.

Head over to the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena at Howelsen Hill this weekend for the Routt County Cattlemen’s Classic Stockdog Trial where some of the nation’s cleverest cattle dogs and their handlers will be rounding up heifers using standard verbal commands first established in Scotland in the late 19th Century. Competitors can use verbal commands or whistles during the competition.

Last year’s competition was the Routt County Cattlemen’s first. Organizers Erika Murphy and Jeff Meyers had hoped to give out more than belt buckles this year, and sure enough, the event was so popular with last year’s attendees, that not only is there a waiting list for competitors, but sponsors have made it possible to offer cash prizes.

“Word of mouth spread that it was a good trial and fun. I think (competitors) liked it because we have a beautiful setting, and it was relaxed,” Murphy said. “They came and camped or stayed at a hotel and got to do other things outside of the competition.”

There will be at least four current and former national champions attending the Routt County competition. Better yet, the organizers added an interesting competition called the “Grandstand Challenge,” which offers a $500 prize. That’s where three handlers from the “Open” class — the best of the best — will be drawn randomly out of a hat. They’ll then sit in the grandstands Saturday with the audience and send out whistles or voice commands from the stands.

“The dogs won’t be able to know exactly where the handler is,” Murphy said. “This competition shows that the person doesn’t necessarily have to be with the dog all the time.”

If you go…

What: Routt County Cattlemen’s Classic Stockdog Trial
Where: Brent Romick Rodeo Arena
When: Saturday, Sept. 14 — 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. competitions:
Open 1, Nursery 1, Intermediate 1, Novice 1, Intermediate 2, Youth; 5:30 to 9 p.m. competitions: Grandstand Challenge and Open 2; Sunday, Sept. 15 — 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. competitions: Nursery 2, Novice 2, Open 3, Nursery 3, Intermediate 3, Novice 3; Jody Camilletti Dog Obedience Classes: Saturday, 9:30 to 10:30 and noon to 1 p.m.; Sun. 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.
How much: Free, donations are accepted

Murphy’s husband, Jeff Meyers, said while almost all handlers use the same British-made “Logan” whistle, every dog knows its owner’s tone.

“My dog is so use to hearing those sounds, he could pick that whistle out of a thousand handlers standing there,” said Meyers about his border collie named Luke.

There are four levels of competition: Open for expert handlers; Nursery for dogs under 2; Intermediate for less experienced handlers; Novice for beginner handlers and a new youth competition for kids 12 and younger.

The dogs are tasked with taking several heifers in and out of various obstacles, winning points for completing tasks and doing it quickly. At the beginning of each different competition, the arena announcer walks the audience through the obstacle course, so they can see what the dogs have to do.

Standard (Old Scots) sheep and cattle dog commands

Come Bye Me (or Come Bye): Flank the stock in a clockwise direction
Away to Me (or just Away): Flank the stock in a counter-clockwise direction
Lie Down: Stop, lie down and wait for the next command
Walk Up: Approach the stock in a straight line
That’ll Do: Stop working (or whatever else you’re doing) and return to me

Meyers said the competition raises money for the local 4-H and Future Farmers of America students, and while it’s free to attend, they will have money jars for donations. They raised several thousand dollars last year from donations, entry fees and sponsorships.

Meyers said local cattleman Justin Warren from the High Tide Ranch will pick up about 100 heifers donated by the Raftopoulos ranch in Craig and bring them in Friday. Ranchers Phillip and Belinda Rossi from South Routt have been busy coordinating the volunteers, and rancher Jody Camilletti from Milner will be offering special dog training sessions for the audience Saturday and Sunday morning in the warm-up area. Attendees don’t have to bring their own dogs for the training.

“It’ll be a fun family event,” Meyers said. “Sponsorship has been overwhelming from banks and businesses, even from Denver and Fort Collins. They really want to be part of this community event.”

Competitors will be coming from South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Washington, Tennessee, Colorado, Iowa and Oklahoma this year.

Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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