Turn of the 20th Century

Airedales herding L.H. Durant's California ranch as pictured in Country Life in America dated September 01, 1911.

L.H. Durant’s Airedales herding on his California ranch as pictured in “Dogs on a California Ranch” in Country Life in America dated September 01, 1911.

L. H. Durant, a large rancher from Los Angeles, California used four different breeds on his ranch and considered each one essential for its particular work including Airedales for tending sheep. He said, “I find the Airedale terrier a practical and useful dog on the ranch.” They were very useful in working among sheep and goats, with little training.

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According to Durant, farm collies were not deep-rooted in the west at this time. He went on to say, “The Collie shown in one of the pictures is what we call an old-fashioned sheep-dog, of which there are comparatively few even in the West, yet, I believe that they are more useful than the present sharp-nosed, high-bred type. The Collie’s particular duty is to keep the livestock away from the yard, and especially at five o’clock every night to keep the hogs from the separator house. This work he takes great pride in, and allows none of the other dogs to interfere with it. He is wonderfully successful.”

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By 1935, sheep raised in the United States were numbered at 51.8 million with 60 percent being raised in the western states. David Cook, who was the foreman for the Warren Livestock Company in Wyoming from 1920 to 1961, wrote, “From the time sheep were introduced into Wyoming, the dog has played an important role in the sheep industry. If not for the assistance of these faithful animals, herding large numbers of sheep would have been impossible. Many times the dog saved the lives of sheep and herders, especially in storms. When a storm suddenly appeared, the herder could not have gathered the herd and brought them to shelter had it not been for the dogs.”

Raising good sheep dogs was a necessary part of any large sheep operation. It was customary to give each herder a pair of working dogs and a pup. That way, if anything happened to one of the dogs, he would have another to fall back on. After many years of using almost all breeds of sheep dogs including the old fashioned collies, Cook, said, “For our purpose, the small blue and white Australian, often with a so-called “glass eye”, became the most satisfactory dog we used.” The ranch acquired their first pair, named Maggie and Jiggs. “These dogs turned out to be the breeding stock which was used to produce our future generations of sheep dogs.”

One of the main reasons the “little blue dogs” were preferred over Shepherds, the old fashioned collie was due to their staying power in the harsh western conditions of the open range. According to Cook, Old Shep was reliable, but lacked stamina for wide-spread sheep ranching.

“It is an entirely different operation than it was when I got initiated back in the teens,” Cook remembered. “The long-accustomed way of having one man and his trusty dogs tend several thousand sheep (with feed to spare) was nearing an end.” By 1973 the number of sheep had declined to 17.7 million. Fewer ranch jobs were available to the dogs and more dogs were finding their way into urban and suburban homes.

Read about Sheep Ranching On the Open Range:


Copyright © 2013 by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor and Ty Taylor.

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