Cattledog trials continue to fetch interest
While sheepdog trials have been in existence for hundreds of years, Cattledog trials are a young event with American roots. One of those trials, the May 9 National Cattledog Finals Championships, was held at the Farm and Ranch Museum in Gering, Neb.
“Sheepdog trialing has been going on for over 200 years on the British Isles. Dogs have been raised specifically to control sheep for thousands of years, with statements dating back to the 1600s of breeding dogs that will ‘eye’ sheep,” notes Border Collie breeder and cattledog competitor Jim Chant.
In comparison, the Cattledog Finals have been ongoing for only about 10 years, with the championship held in Gering for the last two.
Chant explains that six or eight years ago a group was formed that began putting on a cattledog series in Wyoming in association with county fairs.
“We started with one or two fairs, and now we’re up to four. We call it the Wyoming Summer Cattledog Series and it continues to gain popularity with competitors across the country,” adds Chant.
“There’s been a learning curve, but we’re making great progress. We saw lots of great dogs this year and are just getting to the forefront of what cattledog trials can do,” adds Wheatland rancher and cattledog competitor Juan Reyes.
The U.S. Border Collie Handlers Association (USBCHA) is a nonprofit group that sanctions the trials and is in charge of the national finals.
“At each sanctioned trial we pay two dollars per dog into a kitty held by the USBCHA, and that money along with other funds are used to put on the Championship,” explains Chant.
To make the championship, dogs must acquire enough points at sanctioned events to put them in the top 60 dogs in their class at the end of the season. Class choices include an open class for advanced dogs and a nursery class for dogs under three years old by a specified date. There is also a ranch class for beginners at local events, but it is not a sanctioned class and therefore not offered at the National Championship. A dog’s points go with him if he changes ownership during the season.
Chant notes one difference between sheepdog and cattledog trials is that cattledog competitors are almost all involved in the industry, whereas sheepdog competitors are typically hobbyists.
“We’ve had several people start in the ranch class who are now running in the national trials. These dogs bring a lot of practical application in addition to years of experience working cattle, which is significantly different than the majority of dogs in sheep trials,” he adds.
To host the National Championship, a written bid must be submitted showing the cost of holding the event in a location. Chant says Gering is a great fit for the event because it combines great cattle and lots of community support with a centralized location.
Reyes adds that communities have really gotten behind the cattledog trial, which results in a better series and championship each year. He notes better premiums and higher quality dogs as two highlights of this year’s championship.
“There is a Farm and Ranch Museum group involved that has a quarter section of ground where they plant crops and hold harvest days with antique equipment. They contacted us, wanting to host the Championship, which is when we moved it to Gering,” explains Chant.
He also credits Tim and Carol Gifford for much of the continued success of the Championship. Tim is responsible for the cattle, which are a huge factor in a successful trial. Carol works on advertising the event in addition to a multitude of tasks necessary to its continued success.
“It takes between 200 and 250 head of calves, and multiple exposures to dogs so they understand what to do around a dog,” explains Chant.
During the three-day Championship event dogs are put through their paces in two timed preliminary rounds. At the end of day two, the top 10 dogs in each class move to the finals. Scores are not held over to the finals, so each dog enters on a level playing field.
The course involves testing dogs in three basic fundamentals.
The first is to gather cattle at a distance and is referred to as fetching. As the cattle approach the handler they are expected to pass between two panels to receive five points per head. Once the cattle are to the handler they are turned around a post for additional points.
Upon completion of the turn, the second phase of the work, called driving, begins. The dog is expected to now drive or push cattle away from the handler and pass through a series of panels set between 100 and 150 yards from the handler, depending on the class.
The final phase of work involves the dog and handler working in unison to maneuver cattle through a Y-shaped chute and into a pen. This close working environment tests a dog’s power in controlling and forcing cattle to places they may not want to go.
The distance a dog must go to fetch cattle varies from 300 yards for open class dogs to 225 yards for nursery class dogs.
During the final round on day three, distances are increased and the number of cattle is doubled from one set of three head to two sets of three head. Obstacles the handler and dog must complete together are also more difficult.
Reyes notes the course was tough this year and several didn’t complete it. He adds, “They were good dogs and tried hard, and the cattle were about right for working. It was a great event.”
Reyes took home top honors in the open class and was second overall in the nursery class.
“It was quite gratifying to do so well in a national trial, especially since my dogs were father and son. They are both ranch dogs and they work every day and it was nice to see that kind of dog go out and compete,” says Reyes.
“I’m retiring after this year’s performance,” he adds with a laugh.
There were 32 dogs in the open competition and 31 in the nursery class this year.
Chant explains the purpose of cattledog trials is to find the kind of dogs everyone wants to use in a breeding program to produce braver, stronger and more powerful dogs for use on ranches, farms and in feedlots.
“It’s a test where we all come together and hopefully work uniform cattle to test our abilities and see where our weaknesses are. To me, it’s about promoting the dog. We feel dogs are a valuable tool to the farming and ranching community and we are trying to breed better dogs for those industries,” says Chant.
As the Cattledog Championships wrap up their second year in Gering, Chant notes there is interest in that location as a permanent home for the finals.
“Everyone likes our uniform cattle here, and that’s important to make the contest even and fair. Gering is centrally located and the actual site is terrific,” he adds.