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.

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