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Rodeo Dogs

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Rodeo Dogs

A cowboy and his dog are never far apart.

Photo © Mary Vogt
The majestic silhouette of a cowboy sitting atop his horse on a distant hill is truly a sight to behold, although the image isn't complete without a trusty cowdog by his side. Dogs have been as useful to cowboys as horses for hundreds of years, driving cattle and herding strays into the pen at the end of a long day. Dogs are still a common sight on working ranches across the country, and they're also popular on the rodeo circuit. It's not unheard of to see a pack of pups wrestling near the arena as their owners try and score the big prize.

On the Farm

Working dogs are a handy tool on the ranch. While calling them tools may sound a little harsh, that's exactly what they are. Working dogs are trained to move livestock to the pasture from the pens and back in at the end of a grazing cycle. The dog runs behind the cattle, barking and pushing the cattle in the right direction. Some breeds, such as Australian cattle dogs and Corgis, are notorious heelers, nipping at the feet of stubborn cattle to move them along. Farm dogs are good for more than driving cattle; they also serve as guardians and observers, watching their property for intruders and alerting their owners of trouble. Good farm dogs must be tolerant of visitors and children, and should be wary of strangers without displaying noticeably aggressive behavior. Training a good working dog takes years of hard work, and the dog must have natural herding instincts in order to be an asset to the cowboy.

Traveling Companion

Rodeo cowboys from working ranches often take their dogs to the rodeo, but competitors that don't live on a working ranch also arrive with their canine companions in tow. These furry road warriors often travel hundreds of miles a week as their owners traverse the rodeo circuit, snoozing in the seat or sniffing the breeze as the miles fly by. Many a cowboy has watched his furry companion's ears flop in the breeze as he travels from rodeo to rodeo. Once the cowboy is parked and set up his gear, he will often let his dog out of the truck to meet and greet everyone at the rodeo. Rodeo dogs often get to partake in the festivities of the rodeo, watching the action from behind the chutes, barking with the cheering crowd, and gobbling up dropped bits of tasty food. The fun really begins when dogs owned by other cowboys and cowgirls converge in a single spot; plenty of sniffing, barking and playing prove that the cowboys aren't the only ones to have a good time.

Breeds

While there is no breed specific to cowboys or to the rodeo, there are a few that are more common than others. The jovial border collie is a popular choice as a farm dog. Their intelligence, quick learning style, and drive to work make them an asset on the ranch and a great companion at the rodeo. Australian cattle dogs, commonly referred to as red or blue heelers, also pop up at rodeos all over the country. These dogs are tenacious and smart as a whip, weaseling their way into the hearts of cowboys for decades. For those with an eye for a smaller dog, there are few better choices than Jack Russell terriers and corgis. Both high energy breeds, these little dogs have all the ferocity and drive of bigger dogs, jammed into a smaller package. Even mixed breeds can be found on the rodeo circuit, since cowboys are more impressed with a dog's working ability and personality than appearance.

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