Central States Fair goes to the dogs in first Cattledog Challenge

About 25 dog handlers and 50 dogs from as far away as Virginia gathered at the Central States Fair’s Kjerstad Event Center Tuesday morning. They were there for the Black Hills Cattle Dog Challenge.

The event tests the communication skills of the dogs and their handlers as they navigate three head of cattle through an obstacle course.

To build a successful cattle herding team, Tim Gifford, a Cattledog Challenge organizer and dog handler from Harrisburg, Neb., said that human and dog have to start developing a human-canine creole to communicate their intentions.

"But once you teach them your language and they kind of teach you theirs, you use the natural ability of the dog and just use your body pressure to communicate with them and then start interjecting words or commands."

And the relationship between human and canine transcends communication – they need to see each other as equals and develop a  mutual respect.

"They’re our partners, they’re not machines, said Jamie Spring, this year’s Cattledog Challenge judge. "So having a good rapport and speaking to them in a way that makes sense to them is really really important."

Given that the dog is face-to-face with the cattle being herded, the dog must also learn to communicate and establish good canine-bovine rapport.

"I’m just looking for the dog to be in an appropriate manner to handle the cattle in a way that keeps them quiet and settled, but moving in the direction they need to be," said Spring.

And while the winners will receive awards of cash and buckles, according to Gifford, the reward for success is far greater than material items.

"When they’re moving when you ask them to move and they’re stopping when you ask them to stop and things are just clicking along, it’s a rush. It’s an adrenaline high for me," Gifford said.

Gifford and the other event organizers hope the Cattledog Challenge becomes an annual event at the Fair.

Categories: Central States Fair