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.

Era of Positive Training

People who equate positive training techniques with the era of modern thinking never met Jay Sisler or saw his magnificent Australian Shepherds in action. Sisler, a rancher and rodeo competitor from Idaho entertained rodeo audiences during the 1950s and 1960s with his dogs and their amazing tricks. His extraordinary training ability was showcased on The Wonderful World of Disney in Stub, The Best Cow Dog in the West and Run Appaloosa Run.

Jay was a self-taught trainer. He was a kind, soft spoken man who encouraged his dogs — to balance on bars, stand on their heads, play leap frog, walk on their front legs and so much more—with kind words, bits of pancakes and petting. All of his training was done without the use of a leash. As the dogs grew he phased out the pancakes. In that way the dogs worked for him and not for the food reward. If seeing is believing—you can check it out for yourself on YouTube:

Jay Sisler Home Movie 1

Jay Sisler Home Movie 2

A Few Good Aussies

Some of our greatest lessons in life come from dogs. Through the years we’ve been blessed with so many great ones. My mother always told us that our dogs were God’s way of demonstrating unconditional love and forgiveness. Always ready with a smile. Regardless if you have 5 cents in your pocket or $500.00…they love you just the same.

 My father has always said, if there was one dog he could bring back…it would be Hud. This is from a work my mother is putting together titled, A Few Good Aussies. 

A Dog Called Hud

By Elaine Hartnagle

 When Badger — our foundation stud dog — entered his twilight years, we traveled many miles across the country looking for a suitable replacement to follow in his footsteps. It would be no easy task as Badger exhibited so many exemplary qualities. 

 Finally, Hud came into our lives. He filled the bill beyond our wildest expectations. He was everything we had hoped for and more. He was bold and beautiful, a handsome rascal. He was a clown, but he was dependable and you could trust him with your life. If a mad mother cow or grizzly bear had you pinned to the ground he would protect you without any regard for himself and he never held a grudge. 

 As tough as he was, he was equally as gentle with babies. Late one night one of our imported Manx cats had a litter of kittens. The silence of the following morning was broken by the sound of slurping. Startled by the thought that Hud may be feasting on the newborn kittens, I jumped out of bed only to find that he was affectionately helping the queen wash them.  

Kittens were not the only babies he lent a hand to raise. He helped raise our five children. Hud was intelligent, loyal and fun to have around. He participated in all the family fun including holidays.  Every spring, the kids would recruit Hud for the Easter egg hunt. They put his marvelous tracking ability to the test. He would help them find the treats. One year in particular, we hid a banquet of chocolate bunnies and other such goodies nestled in the hay pile. When the children woke up, they called Hud to help them, but he was no where to be found, so they started the hunt without him. They soon discovered his location in a pile of wrappers as he was polishing off the candy. That was Hud.

 Hud passed his sense of humor on to his pups. Some years later, we sold one of Hud’s sons to a rancher.  One day while the man was working some really tough stock, caught up in the moment he got frustrated and threw a rock at the dog. The dog picked up the rock and took it back to his owner. Like Hud, the dog didn’t take offense against his owner. When that man saw the dog’s response to his thoughtless act — it humbled him. The dog never held a grudge. Another lesson learned from dogs.

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