Deuce declined to comment for this article, so we sat down with his human Jake Meldon, the person who knows him best, to learn more about this skilled young cowdog.
Give us a brief overview of Deuce and how you got him started as a cowdog.
“I got Deuce in the summer of 2015. He was just a little puppy. He came from a guy in Oregon and rode in a car all the way down here, and I met the car at the racetrack. He had a bunch of dogs in there, and he handed me him, drove off, and that was that.
I had another puppy before Deuce that had an accident and died, and Deuce was the second one, so that’s part of the reason for calling him Deuce. Another reason was that he was this little puppy with a big wide chest that made him look like a little running back, and there’s a Pittsburgh Steelers running back named Deuce McAllister. He’s 3.5 years old now and will be 4 in the spring.
I didn’t really do anything with him when he was little. He stayed at home for the first several weeks I had him, in the kennel. He used to whine a lot at night and one night I got tired of it and let him out of the kennel and he followed me right into our room and just laid down at the foot of the bed and I never heard a word out of him after that.
I didn’t start training him on cattle until he was probably a year old. We used to have a band of sheep here, and I would bring them into the corrals at night. The sheep knew the routine and would be at the gate when it was time to come in. So, I’d go out there, and there were some old ewes in there that were pretty mean, but they’d follow you into the corrals. So I’d open the gate and walk in front of the sheep and just let Deuce run behind them. If he tried to come to the front I’d just yell at him to get to the back and kind of just taught him to stay behind the sheep and follow them in as they followed me.
It wasn’t until he was probably a year and a half old that I really started working with him. And a lot of it was just that I’d just take him out and let him experiment, and when he’d do the right thing I’d say the command to try to get him to associate what I was saying with what he was doing. It took a long time, and he’s still not perfect about it. There’s a lot of things I wish I could have done differently.”
What are the main commands he knows?
“The main ones I use are ‘there,’ which tells him to stop, and ‘down,’ which are a lot of times used in conjunction to get him to lie down in a certain spot. Another one I use a lot is ‘come behind,’ where I want him to stop whatever he’s doing and come behind me. Other ones are directional commands, such as ‘away to me’ (go counter-clockwise around the cattle) and ‘come by’ (go clockwise around the cattle). That one can be hard because he’ll start going the right way but won’t want to go between the cattle and the fence, so he’ll head the other way, but he’s gotten a lot better at it.
A lot of the time if we’re trailing cattle, I’ll tell him to ‘get back,’ and that means go to the back of the herd and stay there. Sometimes he’ll creep up to the front of the herd, and I’ll yell at him to get back, and he has to go all the way back. And I let him come all the way up so that having to correct himself is more difficult and therefore he’ll be less likely to do it again.”
How did you learn how to train him?
“I watched videos and read articles, but it was very much a learning process for me too. Each day we’d practice, I’d learn something about him, and he’d learn something about what I was saying, but it was a long process for sure.”
What’s been the biggest challenge with Deuce?
“The biggest challenge is keeping him safe. There are so many hazards out there from vehicles, cows, if he wanders off and can’t find the house in the dark, heavy equipment, rattlesnakes. He somewhat knows his capabilities now. He’s been chased enough times by cows that he’ll get out of the way if one’s coming for him. I’ll try to give him a heads up sometimes if I see one that’s gunning for him. And then just watching how much water he’s had. If we’re out for a real long day, stopping and letting him rest at water tanks and get cooled off. ”
Tell me about his breed.
“He’s a hanging tree cowdog, which is three-eighths border collie, one-quarter Australian shepherd, one-quarter Australian kelpie, and one-eighth Catahoula. The border collie’s a really smart dog, so that’s why it’s the basis for the breed. The kelpie was chosen for its short hair and good endurance, and the Catahoula was added for it’s scenting ability. All these elements are the guy who developed the breed Gary Ericsson’s vision for the ultimate working cowdog.
I like the breed because they have short coats that don’t pick up burrs, they tolerate the heat well, they’re built for traveling. When you watch him, he trots everywhere.
When we’re out working, he really has a long trot and can keep up with us on our horses trotting all day and still work cattle. But then he’s also lightweight and pretty mobile. He can ride on the bike, he can ride on the back of the pickup.”
Why do ranchers choose to use cattle dogs?
“Dogs are just another tool for helping work cattle. There’s a time to use them and there’s a time not to use them. Some people like them I think because they’re so low-maintenance compared to another hand. They don’t need a horse or an ATV, just food and water a couple times a day and they’re happy.
Deuce makes me more efficient because I can effectively move twice as many cattle with half the steps. On the other hand, if something goes a little wrong, it can create some extra work for me to correct whatever he’s done.”
Do you see differences in companion Deuce and working Deuce?
“Not really. I spend all day with him, so he’s just the same dog. But if I’m working on fencing or a pipeline leak, he might not be as interested in it, whereas if he sees me in the corrals with cattle, he’ll be very vocal and whine. He wants to be there with me with the cattle. If I’m just in the corrals without the cattle or walking across the driveway, he might not even look up. His whole world revolves around working cows.”
What do you do when you’re off the clock?
“A lot of times I just watch TV, and he lays on his bed and takes a nap. Sometimes he’ll want to get up on the couch with me and lay in my lap. If I’m working in the yard, I’ll let him out and he’ll wander around, sniff things. He’s a normal dog in that regard. If I have to be in the shop working on a bike or something, he’ll lay on top of the truck and take a nap while I’m in there, and when it’s time to go home he’ll start whining at me. He just kind of hangs out until it’s time to do something else. I think more important for him is just being around me more than whatever we’re doing.”
What do you love most about Deuce?
“First thing in the morning, he’ll usually walk into the bedroom to my side of the bed and stick his nose on my hand and just stand there wanting pets. Or when I’m sitting on the couch while he finishes his dinner, he’ll walk around the island and come and get a couple pets before he lays down.
And then the working part, he can really be a big help some days. And it’s fun to watch him work. You can really see how happy he is when he does it.
He’s a good companion.”