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Cow dog contemplation

Richelle Barrett Published on 27 August 2015
cow dog

Due to my husband's new occupation as a full-time rancher and truck driver, we have been debating whether to add to our family. Not with children, mind you, because that ship has already sailed – but with a four-legged, hairy kind of addition.

While I honestly would prefer to be adding a couple of horses to my existing little cavvy, I really think the time has come to add another mutt to the canine department of this operation.

Unfortunately, our labs (also known as couch weight number one and number two) have not mastered the art of chasing bulls out of the brush, helping guard the gate or even trailing a horse for that matter. In fact, if it doesn't involve lounging in the sun or swimming in stinky, swampy pond water, our black and yellow hounds aren’t even invited.

Growing up, it seemed like we always had a cow dog slinking around somewhere. My favorite was my dad's old Norwegian elkhound. He was ornery and hated the UPS guy, but he was always good with my brother and me and was my dad's right-hand man.

Of course, like most ranchers, we also had a few idiot mutts hanging around all the time because the neighbors had a breeding pair and gave the pups away for free. Looking back on it now, I see why they never charged my parents for the puppies; there probably should have been some chlorine in that gene pool.

Cow dogs, obviously, are a breed all their own. They take being a stinky mutt to a whole other level. Have you ever seen a border collie that refused to roll in manure? Or a heeler that wouldn’t find a chunk of corral jerky and drag it around for days, like his life depended on knowing where it was at all times? I didn't think so.

While they are fiercely loyal, most cow dogs I have ever met have no qualms about trying to chew off the arm of the postal delivery man, or protecting their humans from the poor bible salesman who just happened to pull into the wrong yard. For all their quirks (and they certainly have plenty of quirks to go around), they are an indispensable partner for the cowboy and cowgirl.

We haven't had a good cow dog on our place now for more than 10 years (the mini Aussie we had a couple years back that was afraid of cows and horses didn’t exactly work out very well), and I think it is time to change it up. The cows are getting complacent; the horses are getting older; and the brush seems to get a little thicker every year.

Maybe the truth is just that I am getting tired of being the sap who has to get off her horse, search for a rock and attempt her very best imitation of a brush monster every time a bull brushes up. Trust me, it is time to get a real dog.

I fear, though, I might be biting off more than I can chew by trying to add a puppy to the chaos of my household. Puppies, especially of the working variety, require a lot of work and patience, probably more than I can offer after using my limited stock up at my day job and on my young girls. While I would like to think the pup will be my husband’s trucking buddy and that he will train him to be a top-notch bovine herder, I can see the writing on the wall. I should just add “heeler trainer” to my resume right now.

If that’s the case, I guess that means I should get to pick the little tyke out – at least then I have no one to blame but myself when he inevitably chews my favorite boots apart and drags a deer leg into the front yard to share with the kids.

I hope if any of you are contemplating hiring for the canine division on your place, that you are able to find a pup that fits the bill. I know I am looking forward to being able to retire from being a rock-chucking fool the next time the cows have to be moved out of brushy pasture.  end mark

Richelle Barrett is a part-time cattle rancher and full-time wife and mother on a north-central Montana operation. You can learn more about her on her blog.

PHOTO: For all their unkempt smells and appearances, cow dogs just can’t be replaced on the cattle operation. Photo by Richelle Barrett.

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