The History of Australian Shepherds and the Spanish Shepherd Dog

 

 

The Spanish herding dogs in California and the Southwest have always been known to early fanciers and breeders. 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.

 

You might ask…what kind of dogs were the Spanish dogs? They were part of the landraces such as the Carea Leonés (Leon Shepherd Dog) 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.

 

When Spain colonized America, they introduced two kinds of sheep — Churras and Merinos. 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 (Churro) is an ancient indigenous sheep breed raised throughout the plateaus and sierras of Castile and León. This region in north-western 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 (mastín).

 

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 pack-horse 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 the dogs, and any lamb that was born during the journey and was too young to endure the hardships of migration.

 

For hundreds of years, the quick and agile Carea León has been used to tend flocks in the mountains of León and bordering provinces. However, as the immense flocks diminished with the decline of the trashumance on foot, so did large numbers of these dogs — many of them becoming a rarity including the Leon Shepherd Dog.

 

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

 

Their temperament is characteristic of the old Spanish dogs. They are reserved with strangers. They are hardy, tough and versatile working dogs with strong herding and guardian instincts. 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 their livestock in cultivated areas unlike when flocks and herds are pastured on mountain zones and allowed to graze freely. They keep the animals in check in the same way shepherds in other parts of Europe do as they lead their flocks out to graze. They would not be able to manage stock without them as they have throughout the ages.

 

Leon Shepherd Dogs are approximately 18 inches (48cm) to 22 inches (55cm) tall. Their coat is either solid or merle (arlequinados or “pintos”) with or without white and or tan trim (shepherds spots) and is a moderate length. The connection between the Carea Leonés and old Spanish lines is clear.

 

Picture:

http://bp2.blogger.com/_FDQrFrM765E/RwiWS7Hpa0I/AAAAAAAAAgY/RKoFOyIqzGg/s1600-h/Villamoros+07+072.jpg

 

Article on the Carea Leonés:

http://caninaleon.com/art%20carea%201.htm

 

 

 

 

 

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How an Australian Shepherd Saved the Day

Autumn is the time of the year when livestock is rounded up and gathered to be shipped to market.  Calves are collected and weaned and any that weren’t marked during the spring are now branded and tagged. Before snow falls, clean up rides are made to gather any strays left behind during the main gather.   Finally, the bulls are gathered and moved to winter range or corralled in pastures where they are fed for the winter.

It is no different on the Taylor Ranch in Moab, Utah. One year, during the late fall with the threat of heavy snowfall, Joe Taylor and his father, Lester needed to move several hundred cows with calves and about 70 head of bulls from the high country down to a lower elevation. Normally, they wouldn’t have moved that many cows in such rough country with only two riders, but Joe’s brother, D. L. was in the hospital from a horseback riding accident.

They considered going to town to see if they could hire an extra hand, but they decided inexperienced help would be more trouble than it would be worth. Joe and his father decided to go ahead and move the herd from the Bar A down to the Fisher Valley by themselves.

They were headed north across a big open draw. Joe was working Taylor’s Whiskey. “Whiskey’s natural instinct was to go ahead of me,” said Joe.  “He worked the sides.  He would go up the right side of the herd and then come back around behind me and then head up the left side.”  Joe noticed Whiskey went back up the left side a second time.  He was half a mile away.  “He would disappear for ten to fifteen minutes at a time.  Then I could see him leave the herd and go straight west and run with his nose to the ground.  I really needed some help in the rear.  The calves were trying to cut back on me, but he was so far away from me – he couldn’t hear me yell at him.  I was pretty mad.  A little while later, I saw Whiskey bringing a 2,000 pound horned Hereford bull back to the herd at a dead run.  Not long after that, he brought back a huge polled Hereford bull.”

Only when Joe came upon a rise was he able to see what was happening, “It’s a bull’s instinct to go off by himself,” he explained, “and how Whiskey knew to keep those bulls from escaping is not something you can train a dog to do.  It is instinct pure and mysterious.”  It is a perfect example of how farm and ranch dogs bred for the real world need to be able to think for themselves and take action accordingly.  It is also one of the reasons they are so highly valued.

Another time, Joe and his brother were tracking a couple of wild young bulls through about eight inches of snow on the ground and followed them into the junipers and thickets.  “We had been chasing them long enough they were pretty tired.  Normally, I would have never gotten off my horse, but I had just won the Working Cow Horse class that spring and I didn’t want my mare to get hurt.  Wild cattle are usually afraid of you when you are on foot, so I got off and tied her up, but the next thing I knew, I was being charged by one of the bulls.  He was about 1500 to 1600 pounds.  I had no warning.  I grabbed the horns.  As he hit me, my hand slipped off the near horn.  He knocked me down and started mauling me.  All of a sudden I felt the pressure released, so I started crawling back towards my horse.

“When I looked back, I saw Whiskey had grabbed him by the nose and Oscar (sired by Whiskey) had grabbed him by the ham and put him on the ground.”  When Joe was safely on horse, his brother told the dogs to let the bull go. “I was all covered in snow.  I don’t remember it, but D.L. told me he knew something was wrong because he heard me scream like a Comanche and came a riding.” While Joe had been butted, hooked and knocked down by cows running by, that was the only time he had ever been pinned down and mauled.  Taylor’s Whiskey saved the day – he could be counted on to ward off an angry bull or mad mother cow.

Even though a dog’s life is far too short, four words can be said of these exceptional creatures, “Good job, old boy!”

 

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