Two of Bob Wag­ner’s trained bor­der col­lies will com­pete.

Trained pups can strut stu≠ at pre­lim­i­nary, fi­nal cat­tle tri­als

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Tom McGhee Tom McGhee: 303-954-1671, tm­cghee@den­ver­post.com or @dpm­cghee

north­ern colorado» At about 45 pounds each, Slik and Zoe are small com­pared to the cat­tle they boss around each day.

The two bor­der col­lies take on herds of Charo­lais cat­tle with ma­ni­a­cal ea­ger­ness, cir­cling crowds of the 1,500-pound beasts with a slinky run, dodg­ing hooves that spring to­ward them with­out warn­ing, and star­ing the bovines into im­mo­bil­ity.

“There is no treat for train­ing bor­der col­lies. Their treat is their work. When we dis­ci­pline them when they’re work­ing, we take the stock away,” said Bob Wag­ner, who breeds, trains and works the dogs on a 6,000-acre ranch near the Wy­oming bor­der.

Zoe and Slik will be com­pet­ing in stock dog tri­als at the 2016 Na­tional Western Stock Show in Den­ver.

The event, with pre­lim­i­nary cat­tle tri­als on Jan. 22, and fi­nals on the fol­low­ing day, is pop­u­lar with vis­i­tors to the show, said Mar­shall Ernst, the stock show’s se­nior di­rec­tor of live­stock op­er­a­tions. “You get a lot of ur­ban guests to our show. Peo­ple love dogs in the first place, and for ur­ban dwellers, it is pretty unique to see dogs work­ing cat­tle, and to see how well the dogs be­have and lis­ten to the han­dlers’ com­mands.”

Wag­ner, a molec­u­lar ge­neti­cist, moved around af­ter fin­ish­ing grad­u­ate school at Har­vard. He lived in Maine and up­state New York, work­ing in sci­ence and rais­ing sheep and cat­tle on the side.

He moved to Colorado 20 years ago to start his com­pany, Gene Check, af­ter de­cid­ing that the Front Range was an up-and-com­ing en­vi­ron­ment for sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy firms.

The Gree­ley-based com­pany does ge­netic test­ing on live­stock, dogs and other an­i­mals, to check for sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to dis­ease.

“There is good ac­cess to col­lege grad­u­ates, and it is a very wel­com­ing en­vi­ron­ment,” he ex­plained of his de­ci­sion to move to Colorado.

He met his wife, Jan, a physi­cian, and the two raised crops and sheep. Even­tu­ally the cou­ple switched to pure­bred Charo­lais, a hardy breed of beef cat­tle.

“For the first few years, we worked them on four­wheel­ers. I am not a horse per­son,” he said.

Jan de­cided that dogs would make it eas­ier to work the stock. She got him a bor­der col­lie that had been trained to work cat­tle, and they be­gan breed­ing the dogs.

They now have 19 reg­is­tered bor­der col­lies, and they both train and sell the dogs. One of their trained dogs sold for $7,000 three years ago, but most bring up to $5,000, he said.

A stock dog can sell for more, said Paul An­drews, the stock show’s pres­i­dent. At the 2015 show, a dog sold for $12,000.

Aus­tralian cat­tle dogs and other breeds are also used to move cat­tle, but Wag­ner sticks with bor­der col­lies.

Wag­ner’s dogs are bred from work­ing dogs, and the traits that make them su­pe­rior herd­ing an­i­mals make them poor pets.

They have a strong need for ex­er­cise, at­ten­tion and a job; life with­out an out­let for their drive can lead to de­struc­tive be­hav­iors.

Two-year-old bor­der col­lie Slik makes a quick move in front of the herd of Charo­lais cat­tle. Bob Wag­ner breeds and trains bor­der col­lies who herd cat­tle. Kathryn Scott Osler, The Den­ver Post

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