Two of Bob Wagner’s trained border collies will compete.
Trained pups can strut stu≠ at preliminary, final cattle trials
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