Gait in the Australian Shepherd

The Australian Shepherd may have to trail stock for many miles and at any given moment be able to display great bursts of speed to outrun and turn a maverick. He often employs many forms of gait during any given day. His ability to maneuver quickly at full speed is referred to as agility. The dog that is able to cover the greatest amount of steps without sacrificing agility is ideal. In other words, the moderately angulated, balanced individual is the most functional and therefore the most desirable.

The gait most often chosen to assess correct gait is the trot. This is a symmetrical gait in which the legs of either side repeat the actions of the other side, but they do so a half a stride later. The trot is a gait of medium speed in which the dog is supported by alternating diagonal pairs of limbs. The forequarter legs are off the ground only a split second longer than the legs of the hindquarter to allow the front feet to clear the ground in advance of the placement of the hind legs on the same side. When the front foot leaves the ground, the hind foot takes or “fills” its place.

trotWhen the Australian Shepherd shifts from the walk into an easy, slow trot, the gait is called “collected.” In the “extended” trot, the legs reach out to increase stride length and speed. (The length of stride is measured from the place where one paw leaves the ground to the place where the same paw again strikes the ground.) When a period of suspension occurs between the support phases and propulsion, the gait is referred to as a “flying” or “suspended” trot.

It can take many years of observation to apply knowledge of gait. The interplay of strengths and weaknesses between fore and hind assemblies is more clearly revealed in the trot than in any other gait. By viewing the Australian Shepherd at a trot from the side you can see the interaction of the forequarters with the hindquarters. The Aussie’s gait suggests endurance. There is an effortless quality in the stride, which is deliberate without wasting energy. The most effective movement does not always stand out and attract attention. However, its quality is never mistaken because all parts harmonize without disrupting the interworking of other parts. When viewed from the side the dog’s topline should be strong and appear level between the shoulders and the loin. When the dog is trotting there should be no bobbing, as the withers should remain level in motion. Any up-and-down movement wastes energy and indicates another structural inefficiency.

precise footfall

Precision foot timing is absolutely necessary for the tireless trot when working.

Sometimes while in the working gait, the Australian Shepherd may drop his head slightly. When alert or focusing his attention on something, however, he can lift his head while in motion.

Actual body length determines foot placement, which is governed by angulation. The Aussie is slightly longer than he is tall. Balance and symmetry are the first and foremost requirements in a working breed. This is influenced by correct static conformation, but is measured by the yardstick of performance. Correct shoulder angulation that allows adequate reach but that lacks the corresponding angulation of the driving hindquarters is of little value. This kind of dog cannot “fill” his fore tracks and ends up wasting energy. On the other hand, an Aussie with well-angled hindquarters and insufficiently angulated forequarters overdrives the front assembly by forcing the front feet and legs to get out of the way of the back ones, causing faults such as dwelling and crabbing.

Condensed from All About Aussies, copyright © 2009 by Jeanne-Joy Hartnagle-Taylor.

Judging Feet

“It has been said, “Most of the footprints in the sands of time were made by working shoes.” By the side of those footprints are paw prints.”  – Stockdog Savvy

You often hear about reach and drive, but what about feet? Feet support the entire body weight of a dog. The front feet support 60% to 75% of the dog’s weight. As a result, the front feet are slightly larger (broader) than the hind feet. Therefore, correct, sound feet are essential since poor feet can limit athletic ability and lead to impaired performance. Weak feet (splayed, flat, and broken down) are more easily affected by rough terrain and are vulnerable to both wear and injury.

Splayed and flat feet are serious faults because they lead to early breakdown and lameness. Splayed feet expose the webbing to injury. What causes feet to splay? The tendons and ligaments that hold the digits together are lax so the toes spread apart. It’s generally an inherited defect, but can be caused by an injury. When that happens, it will appear in the injured foot only, not in any of the other feet. Long toenails can increase force placed on the digits (toes) and predispose them to fractures and other injuries.

Comparison of the hare foot and cat foot

The breed standard states “Feet are oval shaped.” The oval shaped foot described in the breed standard is a semi-hare also known as a modified hare-foot. The modified hare-foot is the most functional type of foot for the Australian Shepherd, a breed that needs to be able to trot for certain distances, change directions, or alter gait instantly in rugged terrain. The longer third digital bones are also helpful for the type of quick initial speed needed for outrunning errant livestock.

Why do judges place Australian Shepherd with cat feet? The shorter third digital bones resulting in the “cat” foot (a deep, round foot with toes nearer the base of the heel of the foot) may be beneficial for sustained, long-distance trotting. However, even though it requires less energy to operate (less power to lift), it also lacks adequate leverage necessary for unusual agility (ability to change direction or alter gait instantly) which is a hallmark for our breed. The modified hare-foot appears to be somewhat flatter than the compact, highly arched, cat foot; however too often judges confuse the slightly flatter toes of the elongated hare foot with flat, and broken down feet.*

 

The breed standard also states the foot pads should be thick and resilient. Why? The foot pad is where the “rubber meets the road.” This padding is important for traction, shock absorption, and protection from rocky surfaces, briars, thorns, ice granules etc. Thin pads should be faulted. When the heel pad – the central heart-shaped pad – of the foot is thin and poorly developed it causes a dog to stand on the back part of their foot. The third digital bone isn’t adequately supported and the dog’s weight isn’t uniformly dispersed which is evident when the four smaller digital pads tip upwards. This type of foot exposes the feet and webbing to injury and causes the foot to break down.

“Pasterns are short, thick, and strong but still flexible, showing a slight angle when viewed from the side.” Why? The pasterns (metacarpus) work in conjunction with the foot. The pastern expands which helps absorb external forces which in turn minimizes the stress on the bones that form the toes.

*Don’t mistake broken-down cat-feet for the hare-foot which appears somewhat flat. Flat, broken-down feet, those lacking sufficient padding, and splayed feet should be penalized harshly.

For more information about judging, please see my book, All About Aussies:The Australian Shepherd from A to Z  (Alpine Publications, Inc.) and The Total Australian Shepherd: Beyond the Beginning by Carol Ann Hartnagle and Ernie Hartnagle: http://lasrocosa.com/education.html

Test Your Judging I. Q.

1. Who wrote, “Selecting show dog winners is based on physical traits that may have no importance in a field trial. Are we selecting dogs on the wrong criterion? Dog show winners are selected on the basis of what looks right, not on the basis of what can be proved to be right by test.”

  1. Structure in Action: The Makings of a durable dog by Wendy E. Wallace DVM, Erin Rouse and Pat Hastings
  2. The Total Australian Shepherd by Carol Ann Hartnagle and Ernie Hartnagle
  3. Dog Locomotion and Gait Analysis by Curtis M. Brown
  4. An Eye for a Dog Illustrated Guide to Judging by Robert W. Cole

2. True or False. An Aussie built with the type of shoulder layback that produces a trotting style with good reach and drive is more agile than an Aussie with less slope (slightly steeper shoulder angle).

3. What is the functional trade-off for an Australian Shepherd with well-let down (short, close to the ground) hock joints, flatter pelvis and well-laid back shoulders versus an Aussie with longer hocks, a slightly steeper croup and pelvis?

 

4. True or False: An Australian Shepherd with large bone is better built to withstand the impact of a cow kick than an Aussie with smaller bone.

5. True or False: The difference between the cat foot and the hare shaped paw is the length of the third digital bones.

6. True or False: The compact catlike foot is designed for quick speed and jumping ability.

7. True or False: The mechanical advantage of the hare shaped foot is quick speed, turns and jumping ability.

8. True or False: Long hocks (metatarsi) contribute to speed and agility.

9. True or False: The slope of the croup indicates the backward extension of the hind feet.

10. True or False. An Aussie built with shoulders set at an angle that produce a trotting style with maximum reach and drive is more agile than an Aussie with less slope (slightly steeper angulation).

11. True or False: There is a recognizable difference between the basic structure of working and show bloodlines.

12. The slightly steeper angles (when viewed from the side) of Australian Shepherds from working bloodlines are due to:

  1. Poor conformation
  2. Unsoundness
  3. Lacking quality
  4. None of the above

13. True or False: The 45 degree angle for the “well-laid back” shoulder described in the breed standard is nonexistent.

14. True or False: The Australian Shepherd is a long-distance trotting breed able to cover as much ground as possible with as few strides as necessary.

15. True or False. The topskull and muzzle pictured in the ASCA logo are close to parallel planes. Visit this link and then scroll down to the first picture (the head study that became the ASCA logo):  http://lasrocosa.com/ascahistory2.html

Test Your Judging I. Q. ANSWERS:
1: C. Dog Locomotion and Gait Analysis by Curtis Brown. It was also quoted in the Total Australian Shepherd by Carol Ann Hartnagle and Ernie Hartnagle.
2. False. Shoulders that are set well-laid back are designed for sustained, long distance trotting.
3. False. The trade-off is quickness and agility.
4. False. Research suggests that large bones are more porous than smaller, more moderate size bones (when comparing healthy animals of the same size and age).
5. True. The two center toes in the hare foot are noticeably longer. They are not as highly arched as the cat foot either.
6. False. The shorter digital bones lack the necessary leverage action required for quick turns and agility. The catlike foot is designed for effortless, long distance trotting because it takes less energy to lift, thus increasing endurance.
7. True. The longer toes of the hare foot give more leverage for quick speed and agility.
8. True. Short hocks aid endurance for sustained trotting.
9. True. A flatter pelvis is designed for sustained, long distance trotting, while slightly steeper pelvic angles are designed for speed and agility.
10. False. Shoulders that are set are well-laid back are designed for sustained, long distance trotting.
11. True. Australian Shepherds from working bloodlines tend to have less shoulder layback (less slant compared to the vertical plane), a little steeper croup (pelvis), longer hocks and a shorter, quicker stride than their show cousins.
12: D – None of the above. The breed’s tendency for slightly straighter shoulders, a little steeper croup (pelvis) and longer hocks which produce a shorter-quick stride is due to the breed’s original, historic function as a quick and agile working stockdog.
There is a popular misconception that slightly steeper angles indicate incorrect angles and therefore produce faulty gait. As long as the individual is in balance (shoulder angulation of the forequarters is in harmony with corresponding angles in the hindquarters) the gait will be even.
13. True. It has been proven to be a misleading notion. The 45 degree shoulder was based on McDowell Lyon’s 1950 book, The Dog in Action: A Study of Anatomy and Locomotion when the ASCA Breed Standard was originally drafted and approved in 1977. Modern research has since proven this theory to be a myth. The croup with 30 degree slope (to the ground) described in the breed standard corresponds to the 45 degree angle of the shoulder.
14. False: The historical function of the breed is to work livestock. In order for the Aussie to perform the tasks of his original function he must be able to trot for certain distances as well as make instantaneous gait changes, quick and sudden turns and abrupt stops over varied terrain in close proximity to hooves and horns.
The longer extension of gait produced by well-laid back shoulders and a flatter croup naturally produces a slower reaction time to negotiate changes of direction. A dog built for sustained trotting requires an extra stride or two to alter gaits or change direction.The type of structure that best enables the Aussie to perform his inherited duty as a working stockdog is a moderate set of angles (not straight like a Chow, but not well-laid back like a German Shepherd Dog).
15. False. The topskull and muzzle pictured in the logo are oblique (non-parallel). The top portion of the skull slants or slopes very slightly towards the muzzle. Get a protractor and check it out! The slope or gradient of the line of the top skull (occiput to the stop) when extended will eventually intersect with the line of the muzzle (the stop to the tip of the nose). By contrast parallel lines remain the same distance apart and will not meet, no matter how far you extend them.

A bit of history on the prick ear and the Australian Shepherd by Ernie Hartnagle


The severe fault on prick ears has been a blight on our breed. Prick ears are naturally occurring among the bloodlines. A few of the foundation Aussies that had prick ears include Wood’s Dandy, Mansker’s Freckles, and Smedra’s Blue Mistingo.

 

In 1975, our registry was operating in its third year. The Breed was not yet established. We had set up viewing committees to accept dogs for approval. We had no official guidelines, and most of the existing Standards were little more than dumpster quality.

 

The first official Standard, the one that we are using today, was approved by the membership in 1977. Dr. Robert Kline chaired the committee, with a number of qualified veterinarians as consultants. There appeared to be an existing concern that some of the viewed dogs accepted by the viewing committee were possibly not entirely of pure Australian Shepherd breeding, most of which were endowed with prick ears.

 

The Breed Standard Committee, in needless desperation, agreed to list the prick ear set as a serious fault. They felt that this stop gap remedy would focus attention on the prick ears to discourage acceptance of these questionable individuals into the breed. This move proved to end in dismal failure.

 

In retrospect, this was unwarranted, unproven, thoughtless overkill by the committee. We, at that moment, unknowingly put a millstone around our wonderful working Aussies and have blighted his very existence and prestige among the five most popular working breeds used today. Ironically, most of these breeds support prick ears! And yet, we are the only one that needlessly faults the prick ear.

 

When prick ears were severely faulted breeders started taping their dog’s ears to their heads. Some even had them surgically cut which took away any lift. Therefore, we started seeing a majority of dogs in the show ring that had ears that couldn’t lift. If prick ears are only a fault rather than a severe fault people might be less inclined to tape them, especially if ears with no lift are severely faulted.

 

Churras, Carea Leonés and Other Herding Breeds From a Common Root Contributed to the Australian Shepherd Dog

CONTINUING “AUSSIE HISTORY REVISITED,” CHAPTER 3

“When Spain colonized America, they introduced two kinds of sheep — Churras (Churros) and Merinos (known for their exceptionally fine wool and fleece). Spaniards brought Churras in large numbers to provide food and fiber. The flocks not only survived in their new environment, but they flourished and multiplied. The dogs, too, were hardy individuals, toughened by exposure, and they proved to be capable of withstanding many hardships in the rough, dangerous, and uncharted lands of the Southwest.

The Spanish Churra is an ancient indigenous breed raised throughout the plateaus and sierras of Castile and LeoÏn. This region in northwestern Spain is also where the enormous flocks of Merino sheep were trailed each spring to graze in the mountains during summer since the Middle Ages. In the autumn, around October—the shepherds began their trek back to their winter pastures in the south on the plains of Estremadura and Andalusia. It is estimated that thousands of dogs accompanied them, the smaller ones for tending the flock (Carea) and the larger for guarding (MastiÏn).

Each massive flock or cabaña numbered around 50,000 sheep would be divided into smaller bands averaging 1,000 head. The droves of sheep were tended by shepherds and their dogs. Traditionally, two herders, four dogs and a packhorse or mule were employed for every 1,000 sheep. The mules were used to pack salt for the sheep, cooking utensils, food for the shepherds and dogs, and any lamb born during the journey that was too young to endure the hardships of migration.

For hundreds of years, the quick and agile Carea LeonÈs has been used to tend flocks in the mountains of LeoÏn and bordering provinces. They were developed during the centuries old, cañadas (sheep walks to and from seasonal pastures) known in Spain as the trashumancia. They worked in alongside the Spanish Mastiff who protected the flocks against wolves and other predators. They also traveled the world with the Spanish sheep. However, as the immense flocks diminished with the decline of the trashumance on foot, so did large numbers of these dogs—many of them, including the Leon Shepherd Dog, becoming a rarity.

Recognizing they could be replaced or absorbed by other breeds and lost forever—the University of Leon in cooperation with the Leonese Canine Society put a recovery program in place. The Carea Leonés is making a comeback.

Careas are reserved with strangers. They are hardy, tough and versatile working dogs with strong herding and guardian instincts (a characteristic still seen in Australian Shepherds today). They are highly capable of handling sheep or cattle and are sought after by herdsmen. Their working style is based on the type of work needed when grazing livestock in cultivated areas, unlike when flocks and herds are allowed to graze freely on mountain zones. Careas help keep the animals in check in the same way shepherds in other parts of Europe do as they lead their flocks out to graze.

The Carea Leonés is approximately 18 inches (48cm) to 22 inches (55cm) tall. Their coat is either solid black, liver red or merle (arlequinados or “pintos”) with or without white and or tan trim (shepherds spots) and is moderate in length. The Spanish herding dogs in California and the Southwest have always been known and used by early Australian Shepherd breeders. For example, Maryland Little’s Honey Bun was considered “the Spanish type.” She was from the Graatz ranch in Colton, California, with several recorded generations preceding her. Maryland based her breeding program on both Basque and Spanish dogs.

While the Spanish Merino was developed in Spain—Saxony Merinos—the Ramboullet is a strain that originated from Merino sheep taken from Spain in the 1700s across the Pyrenees Mountains to Germany and then later on to Australia with German settlers.

Eliza Forlonge, who is considered to be the mother of the Australian Fine Wool Industry, made several walking journeys (averaging 10 to 12 miles a day) throughout Germany and one to the top Merino breeding farm in Rambouillet, France. On her journeys she purchased the finest sheep she could find. Later, she retraced her journey, collected the sheep and drove them to be shipped to New South Wales Australia.

In 1796, John and Elizabeth Macarthur, pioneers and founders of the Australian Wool Industry imported their first flock of Spanish Merino sheep.  The Merinos thrived in Australia because the dry, hot climate was very comparable to Spain’s. Records indicate in 1825, Elizabeth transported Joseph Pabts, a German, to New South Wales to care for her flocks. It has also been suggested that when he arrived he brought German herding dogs with him, very possibly a strain of Old German Shepherds (Altdeutscher Schaferhund) known as Tigers.

Tigers are primarily found in southern Germany and look like old foundation working Aussies. The shepherds (stockmen) referred to them simply as sheepdogs (no different than ranchers here who call their stock dogs either “cowdogs” or “sheepdogs.” regardless of the breed. Arbeitsgemeinschaft zur Zucht Altdeutsche Hutehunde (A-A-H) was developed by a group of shepherds for the preservation and registration of the old German herding strains that were in danger of extinction. And, yes, some of these dogs accompanied boatloads of sheep from Australia to America, hence the name by which we know the breed—Australian Shepherd.

Australian Shepherd History Revisited, Part II: Documented Early Imports

Oral histories of the early breeders and ranchers provide a valuable context or framework for the breed. The pioneer breeders were not dog people. They were sheep ranchers whose livelihoods depended on the dogs. They didn’t care what color the dogs were or if they came from Spain, Timbuktu or Australia. There were unique qualities associated with the Basque and Spanish dogs that didn’t exist in other breeds.

Early foundation bloodlines were based on dogs from the Pyrenees Mountains. Both Spain and France grazed large flocks of sheep (and goats) on Andorra’s vast mountain pastures each summer. According to Roderick Peattie, writing in the Geographical Review, 1929, “The Pyrenees are not as sharp a divide between France and Spain as they are generally credited with being. At places along the summit of the range it is difficult to judge where the water divide may be. The flocks and herds of the two people mix here” (1929). 2

Juanita Ely, a sheep rancher and one of the oldest documented breeders of record affirmed, “The blue Australian Shepherd dogs first came to Australia from the Great Pyrenees on the Spain side, as it is a small country with Andorra, a little country lying between Spain and France of only 191 square miles. There isn’t much work [in Andorra] for the boys to do so they take their little blue dogs and go into Australia to herd sheep. A lot of these boys are Basque, coming from a region in north Spain.”

She also noted, “The wool from Australia was finer and much longer staple than we had here in the United States so we brought boatloads of sheep from Australia to Seattle, Washington. The Basque herder and his little blue dog coming over to care for the sheep on the boats and so started working in that vicinity, then located in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. As these dogs were brought to the United States from Australia, we speak of them as Australian Shepherds.”3

Those “little blue dogs” (les petits bleus) so to speak were associated with Idaho, the Pacific Northwest, California and Colorado. Teddy, the little blue dog Juanita Ely got in the 1920s, was the first blue dog she had ever seen. The teenager from whom she purchased Teddy was Andorran, but he identified himself as Basque.

It wasn’t until around WWII that the blue dogs started showing up in significant numbers and ranchers started breeding them in earnest. Feo was brought to the United States from Spain with a contract herder who worked for the Warren Livestock Company* in the 1950s. Juanita Ely bought the little blue dog. By 1960, our friend, Joe Fernandez got him from Juanita and was using him, along with our little Goody (Goodie), in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico, where he was running several bands of sheep consisting of 1,500 head per band. 4

According to Ken Duart, an early California breeder, he acquired Lita, an early foundation bitch, from a Basque shepherd who brought her directly from Spain. She was an attractive blue merle female (with one blue eye). She had a moderate coat and a long tail. He said a sheepherder who had a bunch of sheep at Rolf’s Ranch in the San Miguel area had friends that came to California from the Basque sector of the French and Spanish border. When they came to the United States, they brought two dogs, which they were allowed to bring as tools of their trade without quarantine. The time was either late 1959 or early 1960.

The Basque and Spanish dogs in California and in Arizona figured significantly in the breed’s early foundation. Eloise Hart, ASCA’s first president, was ten years old when she acquired her first dog in 1930. Eloise said, “He was a stocky, bob-tailed, brown dog with an infinite capacity to learn. Blanco came to California from the Basque sheep country in Spain. His owner was forced to forfeit him, as payment for some minor violation, to a lawyer neighbor of ours when we lived near Wilshire and Vine in Los Angeles.”

Wood’s Dandy (Finley’s Texas Bob X Moreno’s Blue Bitch AKA Valdez Female) was bred by the Moreno family from the dogs they brought to California from Spain. Fletcher acquired Dandy from Chule Valdez. Maryland Little’s Honey Bun was considered “the Spanish type.” She was from the Graatz ranch in Colton, California, with several recorded generations preceding her. McConkey’s Sir Blue Silver was from the Ortega dogs and McConkey’s Tiger Britches was from Maryland Little’s dogs. Maryland based her breeding program on Basque and Spanish dogs.

Ina Ottinger of Casper, Wyoming, stated that her parents imported two dogs from Spain in 1937. She had the original shipping certificates. She continued breeding that line of Wyoming ranch dogs into the middle seventies. She also acquired a little red merle male that looked just like Las Rocosa Sydney that was brought to the United States by a Basque sheep shearer during the World’s Fair in Seattle. When the herder left to go back home he couldn’t take the dog with him so she bought him. Some of the offspring are found in pedigrees as Wyoming Ranch dogs. 4

By 1974, there were only 16.5 million sheep in the United States. The sheep industry continued to decline and Basque herders were no longer recruited from Spain. However, the foundation for the breed was already established from a relatively small group of dogs including Ely’s Feo, which is documented by registration. Feo went on to sire Hartnagle’s Goody, the beautiful little blue female (later registered as Wood’s Blue Shadow) who is behind the pedigrees of countless Australian Shepherds today, including the Dr. Heard’s Flintridge, Hartnagle’s Las Rocosa, and Fletcher Wood’s foundation bloodlines.

Unfortunately, as we’ve explained before, under the old registry system, each time that a dog changed ownership, the previous owner’s name was deleted and the new owner’s name was entered as the prefix to the dog’s name. Thus, part of history becomes obscured. Take Ely’s Spike for example. On some pedigrees, Ely’s Spike is listed as being sired by Sisler’s Spike, when in fact; Sisler’s Spike and Ely’s Spike are one and the same. Juanita Ely got Spike from Gene Sisler (Jay’s brother). Spike’s sire and dam are listed as “Unknown.” The old-timers may not have known the name of the sire and dam, but they knew where they came from. Spike came to this country from the Pyrenees Mountains with a Basque herder. Spike had a harsh coat very much like the dog pictured with the sheepherder on the Drumheller ranch on page 32 in The Total Australian Shepherd: Beyond the Beginning.4   Sometimes when the dog changed hands it became foundation registered with a totally different name and “Unknown” ancestry. This activity all took place in the early years from the 1940s to the 1960s when the foundation dogs were first being registered as a breed. Even though their names appear in pedigrees, many of the early dogs weren’t registered. They had already lived and died.

For more on the Australian Shepherd see also: All About Aussies: The Australian Shepherd from A to Z (Alpine Publications).

Sources
2. Peattie, Roderick, “Andorra: A Study in Mountain Geography,” Geographical Review, vol. 19, no. 2, 1929.
3. Douglass, William A., Basques in Australia, Basque Studies Program Newsletter, issue 18, 1978.
4. Hartnagle, Carol Ann, Hartnagle, Ernest, The Total Australian Shepherd: Beyond the Beginning, Hoflin Publishing, 2006.  http://www.lasrocosa.com/totalaustralianshepherd.html.

Copyright © 2010 by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor and Ernest Hartnagle. All rights reserved.

Australian Shepherd History Revisited

Part I. Influence of the Basques
In an interview, Louis L’Amour once said, “Historians follow the main line. One historian follows another one, adding maybe a detail here and there or questioning something the other fella has said. They don’t go off to the right and left and they don’t go out there in the boondocks to see what was happening.” But that is what has occurred with the history of the Australian Shepherd.
Much of the breed’s written history was compiled by dog historians whose association with the early Aussies was no closer to the subject than a library shelf. The thoroughly researched “facts,” for the most part, are gleaned from library sources and then laced with suggestion and imaginary reasoning, “probably was,” “would have been,” “may have.” The eyewitness accounts from actual owners who knew and used the breed were, in most cases, discounted for lack of published documentation.
One historian’s view, which has been published over and over, proposes the Basque and Spanish herders and their sheepdogs had very little to do with the breed’s foundation stating, “It appears that the theory of Basque origin probably came about from the understandable assumption by some breeders who obtained their first dogs from Basque sheepherders, that the dogs themselves must be of Basque background, and it makes a romantic picture to envision the Basque sheepherders being followed around the world by ‘their little blue dogs,’ but this picture, nonetheless, is erroneous.” Another author wrote that many of the Basque immigrants to both Australia and North America were not shepherds in their homeland.
In actuality, the Basques who lived along the coast at the western end of the Pyrenees were fisherman and have a long history with the sea. However, those living inland were among the earliest people to domesticate animals and sheepherding has been a way of life for them since the beginning of time. Not all Basques who came to the United States to herd sheep on western ranges were shepherds in their homeland. However, a fair number of were, and when they came to the United States they brought their dogs with them. They arrived on a three-year visa under contract the Western Range Association. Large numbers of Basques with their sheepdogs were recruited to the western sheep ranches due to the labor shortage created by the war.
During WWII, The Western Range Association negotiated an agreement with the government of Spain to recruit sheepherders. “Severe labour shortages in the 1940s led to Public Laws 587 and 307 in 1950 and 1952, respectively, which authorized recruitment of greater numbers of Basque sheepherders (Land & Douglass, 1985). Basques came by the thousands from Spain to Idaho, where they comprised much of the work force in sheep operations.” But, in the mid-1950s, with the return of troops from Korea, Idaho sheepmen lamented that ‘the Immigration Department started sending our Basque herders back to Viscaya…and we had to work out an agreement with the Department of Labor to secure H-2 status [for the sheepherders]’ (Shadduck, 1990).
“By the mid-1950s, labour had become a serious problem and, in 1956, Drumheller hired Gregorio Zorrozua as foreman who soon hired an exclusively Basque crew of herders and tenders (Washington Wool Growers, 1983). Despite references that insisted that few Basque immigrants had previously worked as sheepherders (Douglas & Bilbao, 1975), sheepmen in Washington State recruited Spanish Basques who had worked with livestock for many years before their arrival in America, including ‘herding sheep for a transhumant outfit that trailed from the arid lowlands to the Pyrenees summer ranges’ (McGregor, 1982). The Drumheller sheep business lasted until the 1970s.
“One of the few legal channels for Spanish immigrants in the twentieth century were contracts for sheepherding, with Basques from northern Spain receiving strong preference by potential employers (Douglass & Bilbao, 1975). Although imports of livestock as well as packing materials and crop seed were strictly regulated (for diseases and contaminants) after the first half of the twentieth century, little attention was paid to wool (R. Westbrooks, pers. Com.) or to the personal possessions of immigrants, such as dogs (J. Kirkelie, pers. Comm..). A retiree in Aragon [bordering on France with the Pyrenees] related that, when he went to California to herd sheep in the early 1970s, sheepherders coming from Spain brought only a few personal items; but in his father’s generation (i.e. during the period immediately after World War II), many of the immigrants brought their herding dogs with them. (A. Oros, pers. Comm.). That herders brought their dogs was corroborated by another interview in which a Basque immigrant and his four brothers all brought their dogs, with sheep fleeces as bedding, when they flew to the U.S. in the 1940s under sheep herding contracts (J. Larranaga, pers. Comm.).” *1

*1. Roche, C. T., Vilatersana, R., Garnatje, T., Gamarra, R., Garcia-Jacas, N. Susanna, A., Thill, D. C., “Tracking an invader to its origins: the invasion case history of Crupina vulgaris,” Weed Research, Volume 43, Issue 3, European Weed Research Society, 2003.
Note: The Warren Livestock Company ran 25,000 head of sheep over 284,000 acres between Casper, Wyoming, and Greeley, Colorado. It was one of the largest sheep companies in the west.
Copyright © 2010 by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor and Ernest Hartnagle. All Rights Reserved.

The Australian Shepherd: Also known as Aussie

Origin: Western United States

Height at shoulder: 18–23 inches (46–58 cm)

Weight: 35–70 pounds (16–32 kg)

Coat: Moderate length, medium texture

Color: Black or red, solid or merle, with or without white and/or copper (tan) trim

Ears: Semi-erect

Tail: Natural bob or docked

Australian Shepherds were developed in a time when ranches were measured in sections (square miles), not acres. Sheep outfits like the Warren Livestock Company ran 25,000 head of sheep over 284,000 acres between Casper, Wyoming, and Greeley, Colorado. Ranches today can be compared to the size of a postage stamp on a football field. They were the preferred breed during the largest part of the twentieth century. They were favored by stockmen for their stamina, and intuitiveness to handle stock in the tough, demanding conditions of working large flocks in the American west. For all practical purposes the Australian Shepherd can be considered a post World War II breed. According to foundation breeders the breed was based strongly on Basque and Spanish dogs that were brought to the United States from Spain in the 1940s and 1950s.

This occurred in the time period when 40 to 50 million head of sheep were grazed in the open ranges throughout the western half of the United States. Many of the herders that came here were shepherds in their homeland. They arrived (on a three-year visa) under contract through the Western Range Association. When they got here, they wrote home and told their brothers to join them, which they did and brought their dogs. During that time in history hundreds of Basques and their dogs were recruited in to the western sheep ranches due to the severe labor shortage created during the 1940s and 1950s.

The “little blue dogs” started gaining recognition because they started showing up throughout the west as the herders brought them in. In response, the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) was founded. By 1974, there were only 16.5 million sheep in the United States. The sheep industry continued to decline and Basque herders were no longer recruited from Spain, but the breed’s underpinning was laid. See also: Australian Shepherd History Revisited.

And although all Australian Shepherds have the same basic appearance that sets them apart from other breeds, there is a distinct difference that occurred in the development of the show bloodlines. The original foundation working dogs were built with the structure to sprint and outrun sheep and cattle. In 1977, when ASCA, the Australian Shepherd Club of America adopted the current breed standard, a different kind of Aussie began to emerge. The standard aided by the show program saw the advancement of Australian Shepherds with greater front angulations and flatter pelvic angles ideal for trotting effortlessly for long distances. The trade-off for the development of the trotting Aussie was paid for with the sacrifice of speed and agility so crucial for herding to make abrupt stops and turns at full speeds necessary to outmaneuver livestock. For more on Australian Shepherd history please visit:

To learn more about Australian Shepherds please visit:

http://www.lasrocosa.com/education.html

Or check out the book All About Aussies: Australian Shepherds from A to Z, by Jeanne-Joy Hartnagle-Taylor.

Jay Sisler — A Life with Dogs

When Jay Sisler was a little boy, he wanted to be a sled driver in Alaska. He taught his father’s bird dog and some of the family’s cow dogs to pull him around the ranch on a cart. Jay’s professional career as a dog trainer began by accident. He was working with horses when he got stepped on and broke his ankle. While he was healing, he taught his two young cow dogs tricks.

He divided each task into small segments and used leftover pancakes, petting, and praise to teach the pups to balance on bars, stand on their heads, jump rope, walk on their front legs, play leap frog while hopping on their hind legs, and feign an injured leg, among countless other tricks. Stub and Shorty were eager to please. Though he trained many dogs over the years, Jay said, “If I hadn’t had real good dogs when I started, I probably never would have learned to train dogs. I’m sure that some of the dogs I’ve trained since would have discouraged me before I got started.”

Jay’s philosophy was to never force a dog to do something but to persuade it to do the behavior voluntarily. For example, if to teach a dog to stand, he wouldn’t lift him into position; instead, he coaxed the dog into position. He felt that you had to take the necessary time to teach a pup slowly. If you pushed a dog into something he couldn’t do or understand, he would become discouraged and wouldn’t be able to do what was expected of him.

Jay got his first job in 1949, when a promoter offered him $10 to perform at a rodeo in Star, Idaho. That launched his rodeo career and opened the door into show business. Besides performing at many of the largest arenas in the United States and Canada, he toured with Roy Rogers and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. His dogs were featured in several Walt Disney productions: Cow Dog (1956); Run, Appaloosa, Run (1967); and Stub: Best Cow Dog in the West (1973), featuring his Australian Shepherds, Stub, Shorty, and Queen, performing their trademark tricks and working an ornery 1,800-pound horned Brahma bull in the picturesque Santa Inez Valley.

In 1959 Jay purchased the 300-acre property he had worked as a boy and paid for it with the earnings from his highly successful rodeo act — he said it was “a ranch the dogs bought.” Part of the property is set on a plateau overlooking a valley bordered by the Payette River on the south. Jay was called to greener pastures in 1995, but his extraordinary way with animals will continue to inspire generations to come.

Copyright © 2010 by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor. All Rights Reserved.

Australian Shepherds and Sheep Ranching in the 1930’s

We had as many as 25 dogs on the ranch. Usually a full-band herder would have two or more dogs with him throughout the year. Often he would also have a puppy in training by following another dog. The puppy would also learn discipline from the herder. On our ranch we found the Australian Shepherd breed were the best and most reliable sheep dogs. They were a fast, medium-sized dog that could work day and night without getting tired. ” Milan DeRuwe. The rest of the story originally published in The Pacific Northwesterner, Vol. 45, No. 2 (October 2002), from an issue titled “Gone Forever: The Sheepherding Life of the 1930s” can be found at:

http://www.washington.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8971

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