Well-trained cow dogs are probably the most valuable “hands” on a ranch. When I was young, our family had a black English Shepherd called Oso (bear in Spanish).
If a cantankerous cow decided to quit the herd, my dad would say, “Get her, Oso,” and he’d chase her down. Before long she’d decide the herd looked like a really nice place to be after all.
Oso was a wonderful cow dog, but he had one personality quirk we had to admire even though it caused us trouble.
Always, it seems, when you get to the gate between pastures with a bunch of cows and calves, after everybody has gone through the gate, at least one calf will manage to crawl through the fence and head back where he came from. The baby can’t figure out how he did it, so he runs up and down the fence bawling. Mama, of course, runs up and down the fence on her side, also bawling.
When this happened with Oso along, if Dad told him to get the calf, the dog would run up to the baby, bump him with his nose, then look back at Dad. The message was, “He’s too little. I might hurt him.” A cowboy can’t argue with that logic.
Years later we had an Australian Shepherd named Scottie. His job was to put our kids’ flock of show sheep in the corral at night for protection against nighttime mayhem.
Dogs, like people, need a job, and Scottie loved his. From mid-afternoon until chore time he met everyone who went to the pasture, his unmistakable body language saying, “Is it time yet? Can I pen those pesky sheep now?”
One ranch my husband and I lived and worked on was in “brush” country. A rope was seldom useful in the thick juniper, mesquite, piñon, cactus and caliche, so the cattle had a great time avoiding cowboys. The ranch’s flatland-raised horses were no help, either.
Cowboys often returned to the house with shirts half gone and bodies loaded with cactus spines. Chaps, saddles and horses suffered, too.
The foreman finally came up with a wonderful idea. He brought in a pair of leopard cow dogs. It was, as they say, a stroke of genius. The dogs’ names were Spic and Span.
From then on bringing cattle out of the brush was easy. Those dogs went to the animals’ heads, stopped them, and brought them out. Spic and Span were treated like royalty. They had a wonderful, roomy kennel for nighttime and the days they didn’t work. The cowboys loved them.
The dogs, like our Scottie, lived for their work. One morning when the boss went to their kennel to feed them, the gate was open and the dogs were gone.
Panic ensued. Cowboys spread out in all directions, whistling and calling. About 10 o’clock the dogs were found. A bunch of yearlings, just shipped in for summer grazing, were bunched in a pasture corner, Spic and Span making sure they stayed put.
From then on, evening chores included checking the kennel gate.
Glenda Price has been a contributing editor to New Mexico Stockman magazine since 1982. Contact her at: