A good cow dog can do the work of half a dozen good cowgirls. They show up to work every morning, are always on time, and never grumble when the labor is too hard. They will trot alongside your horse day in and day out, never falling a pace behind. When the day is over, no matter what, they will always lick your face and let you know how much you mean to them.
DOG DAY AFTERNOON
For generations, these hard working dogs have been an essential feature on ranches and livestock operations across the world. Although differing in breed and purpose, these working dogs are absolutely necessary to the working ranchers that use them simultaneously as very skilled labor and a beloved companion.
For Laura Stimatze and Sonya Blomberg, cow dogs have always been close to their hearts. Both women are lifelong cow dog owners, breeders, and trainers and have specified their breeding to produce world class, unique Border Collies. These dogs are quick witted, physically talented and trained to a “t.”
Left to right: Laura Stimatze with one of her cow dogs, photo by Savanna Simmons; Sonya Blomberg and her cow dog Boss, photo courtesy Rodear America Cowdog Association.
Although still typically black, white, and athletic, their specific breeding of cow dogs is something of a marvel. Both women and their families have chosen to start with a base line of Border Collies known as the McCallum dogs. Named for their forefather, Tony McCallum, these specific cow dogs deviate greatly from their British counterparts. The McCallum line was specified in Australia to work cattle and emigrated to the United States in the 1980s. The traditional Border Collies can trace their lineage to British dogs specified to work sheep on the English countryside.
Besides their fundamentally different jobs, the McCallum dogs in Laura Stimatze’s and Sonya Blomberg’s packs have now been concentrated even greater through selective breeding, training, and the dedication of these breeders and their families.
Laura Stimatze cow dogs demonstrating their working ability during Art of the Cowgirl at Corona Ranch in Phoenix, photos by Ken Amorosano.
Laura Stimatze and her family have always focused on McCallum dogs. She loves this specific breed because they are ideal working cow dogs while still respecting and obeying their owners. “One of the things that pulled us towards this line is that they are fairly sensitive, but still tough on cattle. We were finding dogs that were tough-minded and hard to train. Some people call them timid, but I call them sensitive and they are very smart. It is easier to get them trained and organized.”
For Laura, her ideal McCallum dog is a strong, smart ,and agile animal. They are born with light bodies, long legs, and a short coat. More than anything, they are born with herding ability bred into them. “First and foremost, they have to bite a nose. I prefer a dog that bites a nose and a heel,” she said. “I will not keep a dog that only bites the heel. Another thing we look for is a strong bite, to teach the cow quickly.” Although a high standard, Laura bases her criteria on the safety of both animals. A dog that goes after a face is able to turn the cow and control its forward movement, not only chase it forward. Additionally, by going for a heel, a dog is much more likely to sustain kicks regularly. By supplying a strong bite once, the cow can learn quickly and adapt to the dog’s command, making both the dog’s and the cowgirl’s job easier while taking away the stress of continuous bites from the cow.
For Sonya Blomberg and Sweet Iron Ranch, while their breeding started with McCallum dogs, they have used the best aspects of the foundation breed to create an even more specified cow dog line. “We started with the McCallum dog, that started my first dogs and we built our own lineage for 32 years,” Sonya said. “From there, we built on the style we like and what is needed.” Now using the best traits of the McCallum dogs, the Sweet Iron Ranch has concentrated their best dogs to create many new generations of working cow dogs.
A Laura Stimatze cow dog rests before working, photo by Joy Thiessen.
These dogs are born to work and trained to do so. By the time they are seven weeks old and leaving the pack, they know basic commands. From there, the training never ceases. In order to get the young dogs accustomed to working animals, Laura Stimatze uses a small herd of 2-3 goats. These smaller herd animals allow the puppies to use their herding urges and learn to move animals while maintaining safety at their small, less athletic stages.
Although started with basic commands and moving goats, the real work does not start until these dogs are matured. “I don’t start any formal training until their legs are able to keep up with the stock,” Laura said. “I do not push them until they are matured.” For every dog, maturity comes at a different time, and it takes the knowledge and legacy these women have built up to know when a dog is truly ready to work.
While there is still a need and demand for working cow dogs on ranches across the world, these dogs are also being raised to compete nationally in Working Cow Dog Competitions. These competitions allow the dogs to show off their skills in a measured environment. Instead of working cows on the range, the dogs are put through a series of obstacles and courses in an arena. Although basically the same, when training the dogs for the smaller competition environment, many trainers have changed their regiments slightly. The dogs work in smaller areas and need to dominate the cattle’s movement from the start. Their commands are quicker, more precise, and there is never a second guess in their mind. These competition dogs are just the beginning of a whole new training era for working cow dogs.
Based on the Australian McCallum breeding, both Laura Stimatze and Sonya Blomberg have trained and bred their Border Collie packs to specify in cattle work. They are an essential worker on ranches across the country and have dominated the competitive working cow dog scene. They are agile, intelligent, and a cowgirl’s best friend.
From our November/December 2020 issue, on newsstands now.