Jolie Vermette has been working stock dogs for years.
Vermette uses the dogs on the ranch at Outlook, as well as when riding the local community pasture.
Working with the dogs every day led to becoming more involved with stock dogs.
“We train and breed a few,” said Vermette after making a run with ‘JR Vaquero’ one of her dogs during the stock dog competition at this year’s Grain Millers Harvest Showdown.
Vermette takes part in competitions across the Canadian Prairies and into the United States. She said generally those competing run border collies, although there are occasional Australian Shepherds and Kelpies.
“Border collies have a nice amount of eye and style,” said Vermette.
Having a good eye is important because the dog can actually learn to react to what it is seeing when herding.
And the border collie while generally a gentle dog, can hold its own when a cow gets unruly.
“If it (the dog) needs a bite, it’s there,” said Vermette.
Of course the best herding dogs need training, although they have a good amount of natural instinct to build on.
“We say a good dog takes two to three years,” said Vermette.
The dogs are introduced to herding at a very young age, as young as eight-weeks, giving them a sense of what their job will be, usually working with sheep to start.
Vermette said even at a few months of age border collies are likely to show the instinct to go out and gather the animals and bring them back toward their handler.
“Their natural instinct is to get around stuff and bring it to you,” she said.
To have border collies drive the flock, or herd takes some extra training.
“Driving is something you have to put onto them,” said Vermette.
It is the “fine points” of being a good stock dog the trainer “has to pick away at through training,” said Vermette, adding the stockman needs to know how to reinforce the training in the field too. In that sense anyone wanting to use a stock dog will need some training too.
The handler is essentially 50 per cent of the team.
By two years a stock dog can be pretty competent, and “at three we expect them to be performing at their prime,” said Vermette.
At that point the handler has a dog that can essentially do the job of two or three people, when it comes to working a herd of stock.
And, a good dog is a long term asset too.
“A good one that works hard will go eight, nine, 10-years,” said Vermette, adding it can depend on the health of the animal. Working cattle can be “rough and tumble” work, with a cow apt to kick or charge a dog at times. Injuries happen; sprains, broken bones and torn ACLs.
But, good dogs seem to welcome the challenge.
“A good one that wants to work, you can’t stop it,” said Vermette, adding you have to make sure to give a hardworking dog breaks because left to themselves they just go until they drop. “They don’t know quit.”
At the Harvest Showdown event Steven Rosvold topped day one as they herded cattle. The runner-up was Stacey Rosvold. They are from Ethelbert, MB.
On day two the stock dogs worked with sheep. Russ Roome of Dundurn, SK., was champion, with Jamie Gardiner from Swift Current the runner-up.
For additional Harvest Showdown coverage check out; Farmer Recognition Award winner, chore team competition, Clydesdale Cup winner, students tour event, unique jams and jellies, commercial cattle show, Council herds sheep, horse pulls