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Friday, April 28 2017

     My last post angered a small handful of Blue Heeler folks who felt I was slamming their breed of choice and implying these dogs were stupid. Au contraire. Do you say your child is stupid because he isn't good at math? Perhaps she isn't an athlete but her talents lie in other directions. The boy who cannot throw a baseball today may be tomorrow's software design tycoon.

     A child, or a dog, may be more talented in one venue than another. Is anything wrong with this child? That dog? Certainly not. To jump to the conclusion that I think Blue Heelers are stupid is to entirely miss the point of the post.

     That said, perhaps I should address another issue. Border Collies. It might be easy to also jump to the conclusion that I feel a Border Collie is the smartest dog in the world and the greatest thing next to white sliced bread. Wrong again. Animal intelligence tests have always intrigued me, but by and large, dog intelligence tests often merely measure trainability and not actual intelligence.

Einstein said, "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

     The very people incensed when they thought I was bashing Blue Heelers may be quick to proclaim their dog is smarter than a Bassett Hound, or a Bloodhound, yet stack them beside each other on a trail and the Blue Heeler receives a failing grade. Does this make him the Village Idiot? No, certainly not. He was not bred for trailing.

     This brings us full circle to the point of their rage. I dared to stack up a Blue Heeler against a Border Collie and declare the Border Collie the better working dog on cattle. Now you can argue until you're blue in the face, but the truth is that many herding dog trials allow competition from all dogs that can herd, and the Border Collies and Kelpies are whipping everyone else in pretty large numbers. Does that mean there are not certain dogs that can be very competitive against Border Collies and Kelpies? No, of course not.  Your Blue Heeler may just be the Michael Phelps at the swimming pool, but most of them aren't because they aren't bred to do that.

     Yes, I said it.

     The large majority of Australian Cattle Dogs, also known as "Heelers," aren't bred to work cows anymore.

     Most of them are bred to be good farm dogs and pets. That's not the same as working cattle. A few folks may still be breeding Heelers to work cows but you'd be hard pressed to find a line that has any significant number of actual working dogs. I'm talking about parents and siblings, and grandparents, and great grandparents, and great great grandparents who really do the dirty, dusty, muddy, sometimes bloody, work of herding cattle.

     And that's okay. It's really okay. That doesn't mean there is a damned thing wrong with your dog. There's not. But don't try to beat me over the head in indignation when I compare them to dogs who have been, and continue to be, bred for herding.

     We can also get right down to the nitty gritty and offend the Border Collie people too by saying they aren't bred to work cattle either. They're not. Most of them weren't and still aren't. That's why a lot of hardcore cowdog folks prefer the Kelpie or crosses. They feel the Kelpie is a tougher dog. I'm not gonna argue with those folks. They might be right, but it doesn't hurt my feelings any, or make me feel any less of my dog because my self-esteem is not wrapped up in my dog's working ability.

     That said, I'm still running a ranch, not a petting zoo. I need dogs that work. With the exception of two dogs who found a home here as pets only, every other dog on this farm either works, or is retired from working. That said, the bulk of the work is shouldered by just two dogs now, a two year old Border Collie, and a six year old Border Collie. The other Border Collies are retired. The Blue Heeler is older than the youngest retired Border Collie, so he's retired too. When he was actually working cattle, he was used to drive cows because that's what Heelers do best - they heel.

Let's go back to the fact that although we have a large number of dogs in this household, factor out the Livestock Guardian Dogs, and the bulk of the work is being done by just two dogs, Mesa and Trace.

     Mesa has turned two years old and is invaluable as a sheep dog now. She was purchased so that Lily could retire from working cattle but Mesa is so good on sheep and goats that she has now assumed all sheepherding responsibilities while Lily yells coaching advice from the back of the ATV. Mesa is so valuable to me as a sheepdog that I don't want to use her on cattle. She might get hurt, and then I'd be out my working sheepdog.

     Trace works cattle, but he's six years old. His style of working cows allows him a much longer career than Lily or Cowboy, who tend to go in close and get more confrontational. They are older and slower now, and confrontation will get you killed when working cow/calf pairs. Time to pull the plug and take the retirement package while they can still enjoy it. Cheering from inside an air-conditioned truck while Trace works cattle is a perk of retirement.

     Trace will retire from working cows in the next two to four years. It takes two years to train a working herding dog to the point where they are of real use, so realistically we should begin looking for another dog now before we need it.

     On our ranch we need dogs that work sheep, goats, chickens, and cattle. There are certainly individual dogs within many breeds that may be able to do the work here, but in all fairness should we not stack the deck in our favor and select from a particular line of dogs within a particular breed of dogs that has been bred for generations to herd just about anything that moves? I think so. For that reason, Other Half put his money down on another Border Collie pup and will spend the next two years getting him ready to replace Trace.

     Does that mean retired dogs get shuffled off to kennels where they are forgotten? Absolutely not. Retirement is a pretty good gig around here. It is rare that we go anywhere without a dog, or two, or three in tow, so in addition to car rides to town, there are also always rides to check cows, feed cows, and move cows. Old dogs do the easier jobs and pups learn from the old dogs.  All of our working dogs are also house dogs, so retirement just means fluffier beds that are closer to the heater.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 12:22 pm   |  Permalink   |  7 Comments  |  Email
"he was used to drive cows because that's what Heelers do best - they heel." and BITE. Only dog that really worries me when having to go on a property where there is one. Very slick operators from rear. . Many are used as tradies dogs now sitting guard over the tradesmen's tools.
Posted by Liz [Vic Aust] on 04/28/2017 - 07:11 PM
Ooh, so you're in the market for a puppy? I wish I could convince you to try one of Brina Brinkerhoff's puppies...they're English Shepherd/Scotch Collies, and she specifically breeds them as a fantastic all-around farm dog that can herd and guard. Her dogs and their offspring are proven working dogs - I've seen plenty of stories on Facebook as to what these dogs can accomplish. Best of all? Unlike most Border Collies, this type of dog usually has an excellent "off" switch. Anyway, if you're interested, her website is I'd be getting a puppy myself if I had a farm! Thanks for the post - I always enjoy reading your blog!! Sarah
Posted by Sarah Brown on 04/28/2017 - 07:44 PM
As someone that has struggled to learn math I loved your prior post and 'got it'. We all have different gifts and that really is a blessing. That is what makes a team. Thanks for sharing. Sorry not everyone got it.
Posted by Sharon on 04/28/2017 - 08:00 PM
Great post. Especially about individual differences. I had to laugh when you mentioned how kelpies and border collies win the trials. I had a catahoula (Hank, yes, Hank the cowdog) that a kelpie trainer wanted to take to a trial because he was so good --- at doing what no one would think a catahoula would ever do! We were dying to see the expressions on the faces of other owners and judges when this big, brindled catahoula put the sheep through their paces.
Posted by TinaG on 04/29/2017 - 09:29 AM
I hear ya! I had a catahoula once! Best little dog you could ever ask for!
Posted by Forensicfarmgirl on 04/29/2017 - 10:33 AM
The Einstein quote cracked me up. Thanks. 7A2W
Posted by Mary on 04/29/2017 - 11:04 AM
Each of us is smart in our own ways...and in the things that are important to us! Easier in dogs to see the interplay of genes and environment in strengthening some traits and allowing others to wither over several generations. Your dogs have the best life - work hard, and then a very lovely retirement,all without having to move or lose their humans or packmates.
Posted by clairesmum on 05/13/2017 - 10:02 AM

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