The Right Dog for the Job

“EmmaLee!!! NOOOO!!!!” I hollered uselessly at my Standard Rat Terrier as she tried gamely to help me herd the cows. Being of terrier temperament, albeit much more laid back, she has no clue how to herd a cow. Her whole heart is in it, but the instinct and ability just isn’t there. When herding with my Rattie, we usually ended up with cattle scattered and running every which way more than the sedate, steady move in the right direction that I had in mind. I dreamed of the day that we had a solid ranch dog that could help move the cattle without me yelling “no!!” constantly, and that would help us get them from one area to the next without chasing them fruitlessly throughout the pasture.

EmmaLee in the Gunnison National Forest

We don’t have a huge herd, and we don’t move them often, so we didn’t need a high intensity dog like a heeler or Border Collie. I wanted something to help watch over the place, and guard my free range poultry, as we lost our two tom turkeys and a whole slew of hens and a duck or two to our neighbor’s mutts last Thanksgiving.  So I started searching on the internet for the perfect breed. Ever since 4th grade, when I brought home a huge, very thick book full of dog breeds, about 350 or so, I have been fascinated by the many breeds of dogs there are. The disadvantage to this is you find out there are so many, that it makes it difficult to decide which breed to look at, as so many of them have some of the traits that might suite the job at hand. Some, but not all.

So I wrote down what was important to me. The dog had to be easy to work with, solid temperament, medium size, shorter coat, and be able to herd and guard. With the other house on the property that we rent out to various people, I couldn’t get a dog that was overly aggressive to strangers. It wouldn’t be as bad of a problem, but they have to drive passed our house to get to the other one, so I didn’t want a dog that would physically stop them as they drove into the driveway. And they absolutely had to get along with other animals, as we have other dogs and cats. They couldn’t be a high energy dog, as I don’t have the work or time to devote to working with them constantly.

As I love the Australian Shepherd, that breed was at the top of my list. I had had three over a 20 year period and lost my last one at age 13 several years ago. But they aren’t bred as much for general ranch work anymore, and locating the lines that I might use was proving to be difficult. They seem to have gone the way of many AKC breeds, and have become either working dogs, or show dogs. I know many are good ranch dogs, but I just don’t have the work to keep them “busy.” We tossed around the idea of getting a Livestock Guard Dog, (LGD), as they would guard the house and the poultry if we could find one that would bond to chickens. But they don’t herd. So that was out. I’ve always love the Beauceron, (Berger de Beauce) but they are too big (we have a very small house), and they just didn’t quite fit the bill. The German Shepherd, Belgian Sheepdog, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervuren, Belgian Laekenois and the Dutch Shepherd are all breeds I would love to have, but I don’t want the long coats on the Sheepdog or Tervuren, and they are all very high energy dogs. With the German Shepherd, you have to be so careful of bloodlines, as few are bred for farm work anymore, and many have horrible hips and other problems. I found a breed called the Danish-Swedish Farm Dog, that actually look a lot like my Rat Terrier, but I couldn’t get ahold of anyone, quite rare here in the States, and they are a bit smaller than I want for a guard dog. As we have coyotes, bobcats, skunks and raccoons, I wanted something a bit bigger.

Head study - Tucker June 2011 - about 8 months old

But one breed, besides the Aussie, that I kept coming back to, was the English Shepherd. This breed is an honest, all around farm/ranch dog. Originating from the dogs that accompanied early settlers, mainly from the British Isles, they have maintained their heritage as a good hand to have around the farm or ranch. They are known for watching over the house and kids, taking care of new born lambs or goat kids, but with enough grit and tenacity to work bulls, bucks and rams. They are noted for naturally taking charge of the farm, and making sure things are where they are supposed to be. While there is variety in lines and individual dogs, they are known to be biddable and have the desire to be a working partner. So I located a litter from Peg Egertsen’s line (Cedar Creek English Shepherds – and made arrangements for a pup to come to Singing Bull Ranch.

Tucker at about five months old

That is how Hayes’ Tucker came to be a member of our family. He is an awesome dog. Not even a year old, and he has already proven to us time and time again that he was the right choice for our place. Low key, serious, gentlemanly, with a sense of humor, he is one great dog. He naturally herds the cows without any fanfare. Just gets behind them and starts moving them in the direction we choose. He’s tougher with the bulls, won’t give any ground to them, but he’ll turn away from a calf when we’re not herding them. He respects the momma cows and leaves them and their babies alone, although he watches over our bottle babies. (Orphan calves that we bottle raise.) He hasn’t quite attached himself to the poultry like I would like, but he does watch over the place, so I’m sure if anything came to get them, he would chase them out of the yard. He is well worth the time and effort it took to locate the right dog, and I couldn’t be happier.


One response to “The Right Dog for the Job

  1. Wow! I learned a lot about dogs and the important roles they play in ranch life.

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