Saturday, February 12, 2011

blue dogs and Blue the dog

I started my love of working dogs in 1995 when I bought my first dog, an Australian Cattle Dog named Jaxs. Jaxs was a ranch breed little ball of fire and she was the first dog I ever used on stock. I grew up in Montana and most cowboys had a “heeler.” I grew up knowing that if you went to a ranch and they had a heeler, you did not get out of the truck until the rancher came out. I always admired the tough little dogs, and I still do.

Even thou Jaxs was not a young dog when we had kids she was a very good play mate...u did however always know when she had enough! I think she reached that point when i took this pic.

My dad told me when he was ranching the only thing a dog did was get you hurt. Later when he saw a trained dog worked he was amazed and agreed that a dog “like that!” would have been very useful to him.

The first time I worked Jaxs on stock I walked into a round pen and Jaxs immediately ran the sheep right over the top of me. After that I picked myself up and spent several minutes twirling around to a dizzy stupor. I will never forget the feeling when I walked out of the pen “WOW I want to do that AGAIN!!”

I bought some sheep with a friend of mine, and started to learn about the sheep and dogs. I bought another ACD named Diesel, and I went to many stock handling lessons and clinics.

Along the way I meet my good friend Angie Untisz. Angie helped me get started, and she took me with her to B.C. Canada, and to Lynn Leach’s Downriver Farm. Lynn has clinics and trials at her farm, and she and Angie were 2 of my first mentors. Without Angie as a travel/training partner/cheer leader, and Lynn’s guidance and encouragement, I am not sure I would have continued with the stock dogs.

I will always be grateful to Lee Lumb and Gail Cochlan for helping me with my cattle dogs even before I had Border Collies. I remember wanting to walk to the post with the confidence and stature that these ladies have. I will always admire the way these two women handle their dogs on the trial field, and the class with which they carry themselves off the field.
I entered some AHBA ranch trials and Jaxs and Diesel did pretty well at the basic farm type trials. These trials consisted of small gathers, pulling sheep from a pen, sorting and covering stock at gates.

While I was at Lynn’s she let me work one of her Border Collies. One time working a Border Collie and I knew that was for me. It was like driving an old pickup and somebody hands you the keys to a juiced up sports car. Shortly after I saw my first ISDS type field trial and I was on hook, line and sinker. Watching the dogs gather sheep at 500 yards and drive them around the course looked beautiful and thrilling to me.

I called Lynn the spring of 2000 and asked if she would be having any Border Collie puppies. Lynn said she was having a litter from her Delmar Sprite and Lee Lumb’s Lad. Angie and I happened to be at Lynn’s when the pups were born. Corny as it sounds I always felt like Blue was extra special because I was there when he was born. Then we went back for a clinic when the pups were 7 weeks old, and I got to spend a week picking my pup.

One pup just stood out like a super star. He was bold, with blue eyes, and he just said “PICK ME!” I had a very cool named picked out for him, but on the way home Angie said he really was a “Blue” and I agreed.
The day i picked Blue
The first thing I taught Blue was “get a hold!” To bite on command. I will never forget a women telling me “that is a Border Collie NOT a heeler.” I laughed then, and now, as that bite has served Blue and I well over the years.
Blue was a very good cowdog. tough with a big head bite. He was in 6 USBCHA Cattle finals and made the top 20 4 times.

I have some wonderful trial memories with Blue, but I will always have that one moment that changed the way I look at Blue, and all the dogs that have come after him.
Blue's first sheepdog trial
Angie and I were at a friends and the sheep were up a steep hill about 300 yards. To get to the sheep the dog needed to go out and around some trees and thick brush (blind from the sheep and handler) and then along the top of the hill to the sheep, and bring them down a steep hill.

Blue was about 9 months old, and I did not want to send him and have him fail. Angie said “just send him and see if he will succeed!” I sent Blue and he went out and around the trees and brush, but when he came up at the top he couldn’t see his sheep so he came back to us.

Afraid of the failure, I didn’t want to send him again, but Angie insisted I try. This time Blue went out and around, came out on top and with some encouraging walked along the top of the hill until he saw the sheep. He then brought them down the steep hill at 100 mph, but he did it. More importantly WE did it as a team, and that thrilling feeling of team work between handler and dog has stuck with me to this day.

First trial Blue ran in a fun trial when he was one

With Blue I was like the little kid who is ridding his bike along the top of the fence with no knowledge or care about gravity. I just believed Blue could do anything and therefore in my eyes he could. I still believe that dogs can feel that kind of trust, on and off of the trial field. When you trust a dog, they trust you, and the magic of a good partnership is born.
 Cutie Pie
I bought my first farm when Blue was only a year old. There were no fences when I first move there, and no handling equipment, so Blue had do most of the work with no help. I just expected him to move ewes with lambs, sort sheep, and to do all of the jobs that needed to be done. Blue never let me down.

One day when Blue was 5 i noticed he was not acting like himself. I asked my friend Angie ( who is a vet) if she could look at him. Angie took Blue in and did a chest x-ray where she found that his chest was FULL of puss. Later Angie told me that  when the fellow vet in her office saw the x-ray he said there was no way that dog would live.

I was pregnant with my daughter Katy at the time, my son was a toddler and Marty was out of town.  A friend came to watch my son and Angie i went to the large animal hospital in down town Portland. They told me Blue would probably not make it, and that his only chance was to crack his chest and get all of the puss out of his chest cavity. By now Blue was having trouble breathing, and i remember these vets and techs standing around him while he lay on the table. I was petting Blue and sobbing, and when i went to leave this dog who could barely breath tried to stand up and come with me.

We waited all night and Blue came through the surgery. For several days the vets were saying that he would probably not make it. I went in several times a day to see Blue and day 3 i brought a cooked chicken patty from a fast food place. Blue loves his food and he was not eating. For the first time since the surgery Blue lifted his head, wagged his tail, and ate the chicken!

 We still dont know why he got the infection but something he ingested (like maybe a thorn, we had been in Texas for the national cattle finals) got in his body, and the body tried to wall it off.  The puss built and built and became a spider web of puss in his chest cavity. As Blue began to heal  they told me that is was a miracle that he lived, but he had scarring( that would effect his lung capacity) in his chest and would never be able to compete in stockdog trials, or be a working dog. 

One thing Blue taught me is that you can NEVER underestimate the heart and desire of a working dog. Blue lived that day because he willed himself to live. A  good working dog lives to work, and Blue wanted to work. Three and half months after his surgery Blue competed in a sheepdog trial with a 500 yard outrun on range ewes, and he placed. Blue went on to compete and do well for another 5 years.  This is a pic of that trial.

Holding the line
Blue and I went on to a successful career on sheep and cattle, taking me to many national sheep and cattle finals along the way. He probably taught me more about dogs and stock than all the dogs I have had, and will have in the future.

Blue is retired now and lives inside as the class clown, throwing toys around, saving Katy from Barbie, and in general enjoying his well earned retirement.

Jaxs died in the fall of 2009, right after the USBCHA sheepdog finals. This was Blue’s last finals and I retired him when it was over. It was also the same time my Border Collie Kell( Blue's half brother) won the all around stock dog (sheep and cows) award. Blue had been up for this award several times, but we never quite accomplished it. I do credit Blue with much of the success of my later dogs, including Kell. It was a bitter sweet week.

My father and grandfather were ranchers. From the time i was very young i wanted to live that life, and raise my children in that lifestyle. My dad's advice was to go to college, get a degree and stay away from ranching. My father loved to ranch, i think he just wanted an easier life for his "baby girl."

 I did the first two things and i am very proud of my police career( catching bad guys was prob not what my folks had in mind either but i know they are proud of that too), but i always kept the dream. I don't think i would have had the courage to buy my first farm ( while i was still single) had it not been for my faith in the dogs. I know we would not have made the move to the bigger ranch and full time ranching without the dogs help. I will always be grateful for the blue dogs that got me started, and the dog named Blue that took me to that next level, and changed my life.

Jaxs and Katy explore puddles
I knew i would marry Marty when he didnt care that i had 4 dogs :) If he only knew!



  1. What a great story Lana! I wonder how many of us Lynn got going. I remember my first time in that round pen with my old red ACD, Cajun. Angie gave me one of my first lessons there with Wyatt.

  2. What a great and inspiring story. I am new to herding and so far I love it and wish I can do this full time. Thanks for the inspiration that your story tells.

  3. Wow, Lana, this was just awesome. Thanks so much for sharing it. It's probably the best, most from the heart story of "How I got here" I've ever read. Seriously, thanks.

  4. Thanks Lana. Great story, great dogs.

  5. Great post Lana! Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. Lana, I really enjoy reading your posts. Keep up the good work!

  7. I am glad u all enjoyed it...I must say some tears came writing this one out :)

  8. Afraid of the failure, I didn’t want to send him again, but Angie insisted I try. This time "Blue went out and around, came out on top and with some encouraging walked along the top of the hill until he saw the sheep. He then brought them down the steep hill at 100 mph, but he did it. More importantly WE did it as a team, and that thrilling feeling of team work between handler and dog has stuck with me to this day."

    Thanks! I needed that! On my way to Zamora this morning! Suzanne

  9. Very cool, especially since I remember most of this, it was great to see it all in one story.

  10. Awww you know we all love Blue dog but I love him even more after reading this. Happy Birthday Blue! I am sending you Brody as a birthday gift. :-)

  11. This is great, Lana. Give the old boy a pat for me, would you?