Category Archives: working dogs

What Exactly is a Cur Dog?

By Linda Cole

I doubt there were many dry eyes at the conclusion of the movie “Old Yeller.” Yeller was a Black Mouth Cur played by a Van Nuys shelter dog named Spike, a yellow Lab/Mastiff mix that was rescued from the shelter and trained by Frank and Rudd Weatherwax. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, a cur is a mongrel mutt or crossbred dog. However, like the feist breeds I wrote about recently, cur dogs are uniquely American and played a crucial role in the lives of early rural settlers who developed a hardy hunting dog that helped them tame the wilderness in the South where these dogs originated. Cur breeds are considered the first true American purebreds and have their own distinct hunting style.

Humans learned many centuries ago the value of having a dog around. An early warning bark from roaming domesticated dogs would have been extremely helpful for a man to defend his home and family. Dogs would have been prized hunting companions as well. Since those early years, we’ve developed breeds to do specific jobs – control, manage and protect livestock, guard our homes and families, control vermin, and help put food on the table. For poor farmers, a reliable all-purpose working dog needed to be versatile and able to earn his keep around the farm. A dog wasn’t a luxury and needed to perform his duties well for his owner to justify the cost of food to feed him.

The acknowledgment of cur dogs can be found in historical writings going back to the 1700s. However, there are no recorded documents telling exactly when this type of dog was developed, nor the exact breeds used in their makeup. Curs are a blend of different hunting breeds, hounds and terriers, as well as feist dogs brought to America with immigrants who settled in the South, mainly around the Appalachian Mountains.

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Icelandic Sheepdog: The Dog That Traveled with Vikings

Icelandic Alan LevineBy Linda Cole

The Icelandic Sheepdog is Iceland’s only native dog breed. A member of the Spitz family of dogs, this ancient breed traveled with the Vikings when they sailed from Norway and other Scandinavian countries to settle in new lands. Considered one of the oldest breeds, this primitive herding dog dates back to between 874 and 930 AD. They adapted so well to Iceland’s challenging environment and farming techniques, they were invaluable to farmers who used them to manage and move livestock.

The breed is known by other names such as the Iceland Spitz, Iceland Dog, Friaar Dog, the “dog of the Vikings,” or simply ISD. Legends tell the story of a loyal and noble dog that worked side by side with Icelandic farmers. The climate was harsh and the terrain difficult to traverse. The Icelandic Sheepdog, a crucial partner to those who worked the land, was a hard working and beloved companion of farmers.

Isolation from other dogs allowed the Icelandic Sheepdog to evolve over the centuries through natural selection and development by man. Well suited to work in and withstand the harsh Icelandic environment, these hardy dogs have changed little over the centuries. They were so respected and cherished by their owners, archaeologists have found many primitive grave sites of ISD indicating ancient farmers felt their dogs were worthy of being honored with a proper burial.

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How Guide Dogs are Matched with Their Blind Owners

guide dog siniBy Linda Cole

Future guide dogs begin their lessons as puppies. They go through extensive training and socialization before they are ready to safely guide a sightless person through a busy, and at times chaotic world. However, matching a guide dog with a blind owner isn’t as simple as it may seem.

Potential service dogs are bred by guide dog schools and begin their training when they are 8 weeks old. Volunteer puppy raisers take the pups into their home, teach them basic commands, housebreak them, and socialize them to different sights, sounds, other dogs and animals, people of all ages, different terrains and surfaces.

Puppies are exposed to things like escalators, waxed floors, kids running around screaming, and noisy traffic, so that when they encounter something new or different while they are working it’s not a big surprise. When pups reach 16 to 18 months, they return to the guide school and begin their training. Professional instructors work with the puppies over a period of four months.
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Stabyhoun: A Calm and Intelligent Breed from the Netherlands

staby mjk2By Linda Cole

Considered a rare breed, this versatile, hard working farm dog has slowly gained a following in the United States. The Stabyhoun isn’t recognized by the American Kennel Club at this time, but was accepted into the Foundation Stock Service in 2005, and will be in the Sporting Group once the breed is officially recognized. However, the Staby is recognized by the United Kennel Club. This isn’t a herding dog, but has been described as like a Border Collie – with an off switch.

The Stabyhoun, pronounced Stah BAY hoon, originated in the northeastern region of the Netherlands in a province called Friesland during the Spanish occupation from 1568-1648. During this time, Spaniards crossed their spaniels with local pointing dogs to produce a well rounded, gentle yet tenacious and smart farm and hunting dog. Affectionately known as the Staby or Bijke in his native country, the breed name translates from the Dutch phrase “sta me bij hond” which means “stand by me dog.” That’s a job this dog is more than willing to do. The breed has also been known as Friese Stabij or Friesian Pointer, and the breed name is sometimes spelled Stabijhoun.

This breed belonged solely to poor farmers who could only support one dog. He earned his keep by helping out around the farm wherever he was needed. With a keen nose and sharp eyes, the Staby was an excellent duck and upland bird hunter. He was a capable pointer and soft-mouthed retriever, and an excellent swimmer even in cold water. Today, few hunters utilize the Stabyhouns hunting skills, and most have found a comfortable life as a friendly, loyal and affectionate family pet.

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Baily, the Baja Horse Ranch Dog

Baily 3By Laurie Darroch

Baily the Baja Horse Ranch Dog was born in a home in Brentwood, California, a suburb of the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a far cry from her current residence on a growing desert horse ranch near the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.

When my friend Lynn adopted Baily as a small puppy, it was obvious this Australian Shepherd/Queensland Heeler mix was a different kind of dog, meant for a very special active life. She was meant to be a working dog. Beginning at six weeks old, her owner began training the energetic dog.

Baily is not a dog who likes solitude. She needs to be with her people and her animals. From the beginning she went to work with her human companions and was rarely left alone. The high energy and highly intelligent dog needs something to do to keep all that energy focused in a productive, healthy way.

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The Different Bloodlines of the German Shepherd

german shep gomaBy Linda Cole

The German Shepherd is hands down one of the most versatile dog breeds around. This is an intelligent breed capable of doing a wide variety of jobs. The original job of the dog was as a multi-purpose herder that could protect the flock, home and family, and be a companion pet at the end of the day. However, a split occurred that took the breed in two very different directions and created an American bloodline and a German bloodline.

Captain Max von Stephanitz is the German breeder who developed the German Shepherd dog. He wanted to create a smart, strong, courageous, protective and adaptable herding dog capable of doing his job and then returning home to his family to play with the children. Von Stephanitz was interested in the working ability of the breed, and everything he did was to preserve the characteristics and traits of the dog he developed.

In 1899, he mixed early versions of shepherd dogs to come up with the Deutsche Schäferhunde, the German Shepherd dog, and wrote the standard for the breed in 1901. Soon after, von Stephanitz created a test to evaluate each dog’s herding ability, and Schutzhund to measure their mental stability, protection ability, courage, willingness to work and obedience. Both tests determine if a dog is a good candidate to use in a breeding program. Any German Shepherd bred in Germany and Europe to this day must earn a Schutzhund I title or a certificate in herding in order to be used in breeding.

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