A good cow dog is hard to find. Many ranchers are on the look-out for an exceptional dog, especially if his own dog is starting to age.
Snip came to work on the Allen Ranch in 1972. He was a mixed breed of Australian Shepherd and possibly some Dingo.
About 8 or 9 years ago, Dad decided that Stubby, his present cow dog was getting on in years and picked out a dog that he named Parvo.
I think that poor Parvo was jinxed from the very beginning. He is a very friendly dog, but totally useless with cows. But every time that Dad would think about getting rid of him, he would rally and show some initiative in trying to work the cows.
Cow Dogs are not pets. They are expected to earn their keep on the ranch. But life on the ranch is not all work and no play. Cow dogs have been known to enjoy a breezy ride in a pick-up truck or a cooling swim in the ditch.
Ranchers select their dogs by word of mouth; breeding or by sheer chance. They may pay a few hundred dollars for a choice breed or simply select a pup from a neighbor dog's litter.
The time has come in our own lives to take a page from ranching wisdom. A pedigreed dog does not automatically mean that you are getting the very best in the market. You may have paid several hundred dollars for a piece of paper that will mean absolutely nothing, if you cannot get your dog to do the job that he was chosen to do.
It is always a gamble to bet on one type of dog to get the job done. Every rancher has a different opinion as to what type of dog works best. If you happen to get a dog that is clearly not up for the job, it is time to find another home that is better suited for their temperament.
Snip was one of the most reliable dogs on the planet. He didn't have anything special about his looks or breeding. He just wanted to work.
Parvo keeps his body firmly planted in front of you as you try to walk outside. Very little progress can be made when you have to stop and push the weight of a friendly dog aside in order to walk down the driveway.
Although a border collie like Parvo has a reputation for being a great cow dog; in Parvo's case, a few wires got crossed and he is more decorative than he is useful.
A certain amount of respect must be exercised when we discuss what type of ranch dog works best with cows. We love our own dogs, but your neighbor might think that his choice of dog works much better on a cattle drive.
The wolves are at our door demanding the sacrifice of our precious herds. Will your choice of cow dog keep them at bay? Or, will they cower on the porch afraid of their own shadow? Are you able to depend on the cow dog of your choice to get the cows through the gate, or do they only bark excitedly and get very little else done?
Do we want a dog like Parvo, who is more decorative than useful? Can we afford to keep him when all he does is eat but does very little to earn his keep on the ranch?
A good cow dog is hard to find. In the past, we have had the luxury of choosing a dog who might be up for the rigors of ranch life. But a storm is coming and the sky is growing darker. We must get our cows back into the safety of the pasture before the rain comes.
Our vanity will always choose the dog that fits our preconceived notions of what breed works best for our ranch. But the time for vanity has passed by also.
A Good Cow Dog must do his job with very little instruction. A few words issued here and there by his Master is all that he needs to get the job done. You cannot send a barking dog to into a herd of cows that has already scattered into 20 directions.
We need a dog who can swiftly size up the situation and employ all of his herding skills to get the cows back into the pasture. We also need to hone our own skills of picking the right dog for the right job.