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  1. I've been giving a lot of thought to this lately. Some people base their major decisions on trial results and records; some strictly deal with farm-bred and ranch-bred dogs that have never seen a trial field; and some look at dogs from both aspects. In looking back at my own working dogs, Border Collies, Aussies, and a cross-bred, I truly believe that the true value of a dog lies in what it can do for the farmer or rancher, when the pedal meets the metal, so to speak - although I do value trials for what they add to the equation (exposure to dogs and lines a person is not familiar with, and seeing how dogs work away from home, comparing them to each other under "relatively" consistent conditions). So I want to talk about two dogs who, while rough around the edges, stepped up to the plate multiple times to help on the farm and, perhaps, even to save their handler from harm or worse. First dog is our Rocket, a bundle of black and white that my husband brought home late one January night in 1986, after a brutal (for our family) 1985 and at the beginning of another brutal year (we almost lost a child that summer). Rocket didn't even live in the house for his first six months - we set him up a very cozy, blanket-lined box on the sheltered porch as I was not emotionally fit to deal with a puppy in the house at the time. A more loyal and devoted dog has never existed. He went through trials of his own, in particular being shot by a hunter so that he lost most of his vision, and yet he lived a full life working cattle for us before and after he was handicapped by that unfortunate incident. And, twice, he may have saved my husband's life, this dog that was given to Ed for free that day in January. The first time was when Ed was moving a bull. Now, we never had an aggressive bull, and we didn't keep any cow that showed aggression. But one day, when Ed was moving the bull just a short distance through a lane, the bull decided to "get his bull on" and began by shaking his head, then dipping his head and pawing the ground, and becoming more and more aroused. Ed had nothing but a stock cane with him. Rocket was on a "stay" in the barn in one of the old draft horse stalls as Ed's cattle-working philosophy was always to minimize stress - so, first, entice the cattle to follow on their own will, with or without a bucket of grain; second, use a stock cane and a dog simply to encourage and guide the cattle; and, third, only if needed, call the dog up on the cattle to really push them. So Rocket was on "stay" in the barn, out of sight, while Ed went with option one. And Ed tried using his stock cane (option two) to get the bull's attention and compliance, but that didn't work. And then he called on option three - "Rocket!" Rocket came out of the barn, sized up the situation, and went straight for the bull's nose when the bull did not yield to his presence, and latched on. Well, that bull commenced to spinning like a world-class reining horse, with Rocket firmly attached to his nose, sailing in a huge circle, around and around. Eventually the bull began to get a bit dizzy and to slow down, and finally stopped. He was reeling a bit as Rocket "detached" and stepped a few feet away, reeling a bit himself. If a dog could grin, Rocket was grinning. I'm not sure he ever had a more fun time in his life. As soon as the bull regained his equilibrium, he sedately took Ed and Rocket's guidance and went where he was supposed to go, nursing a sore nose and a bruised ego. And he never, ever, challenged either Ed or Rocket again. The next incidence involved Rocket again, but this time, a mother cow with a very new calf that had already developed pinkeye (it was a horrible pinkeye year for some reason, even though we vaccinated). We needed to catch the calf and treat it but the mother, normally a very docile cow, was distressed by having a calf with a problem and would not let Ed near her. As Ed worked his way around to try and get the calf (the cattle were on a neighboring farm and we didn’t have access to a working tub), the mother decided she’d had enough, and went for Ed. She put him down on the ground and was working him over when Rocket and our teenage son, Jim, came upon the scene. Both Rocket and Jim launched themselves at the cow, who left off head-mashing Ed into the ground and retreated as Rocket drove her off. Now, unbeknownst to them, the calf had bolted to where I was on the other side of some brush. I caught it and sat on the ground with it in my lap. I had no idea what had gone on and didn’t realize the danger I was in as the mother cow came boiling out of the brush and ran around me, searching for the calf she could smell but could not see (because it was tucked in my lap with my arms around it). When Rocket came out of the brush, she took off, and shortly Ed and Jim appeared, to tell me how close I had come to possibly being the next object of the cow’s anger. Fast forward to winter a few years back, when we went out to feed cattle one brutally cold night. It was so cold that we took the Explorer so that the dogs would be sheltered while we fed – there was quite a bit of snow on the ground, it was snowing and blowing, and the temps were in the single digits, without the wind chill factored in. Too brutal for the dogs to do their usual during feeding time, which was to either lie and stay, waiting and watching in case we needed them, or to line up behind the moveable fence line to keep the cows back until we’d set up the next group of bales. As we began our work, the bull pushed his way to the front of the herd and began shaking his head at Ed, and then went through the routine, dropping his head and pawing at the ground. We did not have the time or the conditions to deal with a bull who was posing a potential hazard. The dogs were all in the back of the SUV with the liftgate open, sheltered from the wind but facing us and the cattle so they could move into action at any time. Ed said one word, “Dan.” That’s all it took and he was out of the car, under the wire, and right into that bull’s face. He didn’t stop pushing the bull back until the bull was at the rear of the entire herd, and then Dan turned back, came through the cows, under the wire, and jumped back in the car. That bull did not make one move the rest of the chore time. I don’t even think he batted an eyelash. Neither of these dogs would ever have made a trial dog. Neither of them would necessarily ever been breeding material. They both were hampered by a lack of good training and good handling, but they both had natural talents, a drive to work stock, a desire to be part of a partnership, and the courage to put their own welfare on the line for their handler when things got rough. For farmers and ranchers everywhere, that’s the real measure of a dog, I think. I know it has been for us. So here's to those good dogs, everywhere, who get the job done - and spend their life by our side and in our hearts which is where they want to be.
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