Understanding Stockdog Language
Brennan Hooper relies on his border collies on the ranch and at trials
By Dianna Troyer
Both fluent in stockdog language, Brennan Hooper and his border collie Rita are a dynamic duo, moving sheep and cattle at competitions and on the family ranch. Infinitely energetic and eager to please, Rita darts, slinks or races around sheep, depending on Brennan’s commands as they work together at home—the U3 Ranch west of Wells.
Unblinking in concentration, the 5-year- old dog stares at the sheep while listening for his familiar commands: come by (move clockwise), away (move counterclockwise), walk up (move toward the stock), come back, and stand.
Rita, along with Brennan’s other border collies, Sly, Stormy, Rosie and McClain, form a reliable team.
“I love how you can place them in such different ways to move livestock,” Brennan says. “It’s enjoyable to train them and see them progress. They’re a big help on the ranch.”
Along with verbal commands, their partnership and strategy relies on body position, timing and pressure to move livestock.
Brennan and Rita are preparing to compete at Nevada’s Best Cow Dog Trial at the 55th annual Lincoln County Fair on August 9 in Panaca. The trials showcase the partnership of handler and dog.
“It’s enjoyable to train them and see them progress. They’re a big help on the ranch.”
A clock is the final impartial judge of each team at the competition. The handler on horseback and cow dog must guide three heifers through an obstacle course as quickly as possible. Each run takes about 10 minutes.
The course varies each year and simulates working situations at a ranch. Fence panels, gates and a stock trailer are used. Teams might bring the stock in on one side, then zigzag or move down an alleyway and bring them out before finally putting the cows in a trailer.
It’s obvious Rita loves her job herding livestock, whether on the ranch or at a trial, Brennan says.
The Panaca event is not their first trial. The duo have also competed in Eureka, Spring Creek, and Lehi, Utah.
About 4 years ago, Brennan decided to use trained border collies on the ranch after seeing how his cousin’s collies were effective partners to move livestock.
“I saw how handy they can be, so I bought Rita,” he says. “Her training had already started.”
Impressed with her abilities, he eventually bought four more border collies and began training them.
To start training young dogs, he works in a square pen, comparing it to a clock. Border collies have been bred for centuries to bring animals to the handler. For example, if he stands at 6 o’clock, the dog will naturally tend to go to 12 o’clock and bring in the animals. With that idea as a foundation, he can walk to various positions and teach verbal commands.
To learn more, he joined the Mountain States Stockdog Association (MSSA). The association has more than 500 members from throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Formed in 2016, the goal is to encourage the use of skilled working stockdogs in all aspects of ranching and
to organize trials to compete with dogs. Members come together to trial, train, and improve their dogs and stock-handling capabilities.
Brennan looks forward to the Panaca trial.
“However we place, it’s always good to see others on the circuit and share training tips,” he says.
For more information about MSSA, visit the Mountain States Stockdog Association website.