Dale Duxbury’s purebred Border collie, Ruby, did exactly as she was told, but that didn’t wind up being a good outcome for the Wessington rancher and his best friend at Thursday’s North American Sheepdog Trials.
“In the heat of the battle, I asked her to take a left, and I should have sent her to the right. And she did exactly what I told her to do,” Duxbury said.
That misstep meant that Duxbury, communicating with his dog with both voice commands and a series of whistles, wasn’t able to complete the penning of the sheep in the time allotted during the afternoon preliminaries, but he said it was still a good run and he had fun at the Pennington County Events Center.
Stock dogs come by their instincts for herding and chasing livestock naturally, said Duxbury, son of the late Robert “Bob” Duxbury, former state legislator and state secretary of agriculture.
“The dogs know more than the people," he said. "They have to train us more than we train them."
Duxbury said it takes about six months for dog and owner to get to know each other. A stockman starts with basic commands — sit, come, stay, left, right — and from there it’s a matter of learning to communicate.
“The better the stockman, the better the dog,” he said.
Duxbury and Ruby herd cattle every day, Not working with sheep on a regular basis was another disadvantage at Thursday’s trials, he said.
Many breeds are capable working dogs for handling stock. Duxbury is partial to Border collies and their boundless level of energy. His wife, Sandy, even has a Border collie license plate for her car.
Even after their run, Ruby crouched near the arena and kept her attention squarely focused on the next contestant.
That focus is another quality of a good stock dog, Duxbury said.
“You watch any of these dogs. They want to work. They love this,” he said. “You help them along, and they just get better and better.”