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  • Writer's picturekier scott

Sheep Dogs Vs. Cow Dogs

This blog is brought to you by Diamond T Cowhorses and The Bullpen Arena. Check out their full range of products on their Facebook page. They've been long time supporters of Herding East and I personally recommend them. Thanks again to Tom and Micaela Thorlakson for their excellent friendship and support.


I recently had a conversation with Calin Duce of Duce Stockdogs about what the main differences were between good sheep dogs and good cow dogs. Now, for anybody who knows Calin, you would know he's a cow man through and through. Where as I grew up on a sheep outfit, and have all the biases that go with that. Despite this, our conversation didn't go as one would expect. Before I dive into our conversation, I probably should give the relevant background information. Essentially, there is a great divide between cow dog trainers and sheep dog in a few fundamental philosophies, specifically concerning power, toughness, and whether or not a dog is mechanical. Most cow dog people will say that they need a dog with a lot of power and toughness as well as to be able to think on their own. This, inevitably, leads them to say that sheep dogs have none of those things. Often, cow people will say sheep dogs are weak and are mindless slaves. Where sheep people will say that cow people mix up power for aggression and style/obedience for mechanical training. Now, my back ground is sheep first so you can probably discern what side I fall under. What was surprising was where Calin fell. He basically said both sides were wrong. Calin put forward the idea that we all really want the same thing. We all want an effective dog. We all want a dog that can move stock wherever we so choose in the most effective and efficient way possible. He even went a step further and said that it was pride that was holding us back in all agreeing. Both sides of the fence see the other and grow a bit insecure. Yes, we may hate aspects of the others training but we still recognize the benefits. Cow people see a dog taking every whistle at 500+ yards and rather then asking how is that possible, they say "I don't want my dogs mechanical like that". Where sheep people will see a cow dog nose bite on a cow that's turning and they'll immediately say "well I don't want a dog that bites". Yet the foundation of those two examples are solid foundations. I'm a firm believer in getting a dog to trust you enough to work at large distances. Yet, if the dog can't hear me, I expect them to think for themselves and get the job done. In the case of the cow dog, that dog can not allow animals to break off and scatter. If preventing them from scattering means a hard nose bite, then so be it. It all comes back to having the most effective and efficient dog possible. A dog that is a true stockman through and through. That's what every trainer is looking for. If we took the time as a community to embrace each other and learn, imagine how much better our dogs would be. And yes, there are people who are already closing the divide, people like Calin Duce. Yet there is plenty of work left to do. And this wonderful practice of training stock dogs requires us to build the dogs together and not as individual camps.

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