Working dogs still dominate the lineup
A good herding dog is more than man’s best friend, it’s a herder’s trusted sidekick.
A well-trained dog can help lead 100 heads of cows or sheep from one field to another, said longtime rancher Peter Wells. This reliability has made good pedigree dogs, especially border collies with their natural instinct for herding livestock, more popular than ever.
Wells joked that part of their appeal is that they cost less than a ranch hand and don’t cause as much trouble in their spare time.
“They’re so well trained (they’re becoming) a full extension of the breeder there,” Wells, 69, said. “Compared to 20 years ago, there are hundreds, thousands more dogs actually working.”
Working dogs will be in the spotlight again this fall at the North Thompson Stock Dog Association’s Dogs with Jobs competition on October 15-16 in Barriere.
Roland Fowler knows all the benefits of a good working dog. Over the years, he has owned several bloodline dogs. His favorite was Nikki, and he always keeps a picture of her by his bedside.
“I have very fond memories of moving my herds of animals on my own with my horse and my dog, he’s a very precious animal to have with you,” said Fowler, 70. “My dogs worked alone. They knew what I wanted to do and understood it, so I guess I got lucky that way.
While Fowler’s dogs were purely used on the range, Wells focused on training the dogs for the ring.
In the 1980s, Wells purchased an outstanding cow dog named Bronco Murphy. Together, they embarked on the training and competition of sheepdogs. Bronco Murphy never won major competitions, Wells said, but the “wild spectacle” he put on was a real crowd pleaser.
Thanks to this notoriety, Wells was invited to organize an annual herding dog competition at the Williams Lake Stampede which he dubbed Top Dog.
The event, which ran from 1992 to 2007, saw dogs enter the arena and challenged to herd three cows into a pen within a set amount of time. The prizes were modest, usually consisting of a few hundred dollars, dog food and a belt buckle, but that was not the point.
Wells said he just wanted to promote the importance and value of working dogs.
One such competitor was Fowler’s partner, Shelley Minato, who bought her border collie Tess shortly after moving to her farm near Gateway in Forest Grove. Tess was Bronco Murphy’s granddaughter. When they tested Tess at five months old, she was “all business,” intently watching nearby sheep with that “border collie eye,” Minato said.
“We went to obedience classes and she graduated first out of 24 dogs,” Minato, 63, said.
In 1998, she and Tess won the BC Stock Dog Novice Cow Dog Championship title. “It earned us points and respect for competing in the Top Dog event at the Williams Lake Stampede.”
The following year, they earned Top Dog billing, with full points and a time of 3:15. They again competed several times over the years before Top Dog ended in 2007.
Fowler and Mina agree that there are two different training disciplines for the ranch dog versus the trial dog.
“A ranch dog thinks for itself. With a trial dog, the dog waits for a command,” Fowler said. “A lot of the time with border collies especially because they’re quite enthusiastic, in trials you have to slow the dog down while at the ranch you just let that dog do its own thing.”
Minato and Wells will enter the Dogs with Jobs contest and invite other local dog owners to join in, especially those with descendants of Bronco Murphy.
“We’re all excited about this and now is the time for me because I have three dogs of the right age with the right training that could win,” Wells said.
“We are trying to get entries right now before the heavy hitters from Alberta and the United States do. We want this event to be as full as possible with as many amateur handlers from British Columbia. “
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