Heeler, Header, Collie, Koolie or Kelpie?

Australian Cattle Dogs, as shown on the American Kennel Club web site.

Australian Cattle Dogs, as shown on the American Kennel Club web site.

MONTROSE—(January 15, 2014)   So you’re ready to choose a herding dog—but do you want a heeler, a header, a collie, a Koolie or  Kelpie?

The American Kennel Club lists 25 different breeds in its “herding” group. Ask a cowboy about his favorite cattle dogs, however, and he is just as likely to refer to them as “heelers.” The web site, Cattle Today, explains: Some breeds, such as the Australian Cattle Dog, typically nip at the heels of the animals they are herding, therefore they are “heelers”. Others, like the Border Collie, get in front of the animals and use what is called “eye” to stare down the animals. These dogs are the “headers.”

And then of course, there are the Koolies: “The Koolie has been observed to use both these methods and to jump on the backs of their charges. Koolies are therefore said to head, heel and back,” notes Cattle Today. The site goes on to note that some breeds work well with all animals, while others have been bred to work with a specific animal type.

“I have cow dogs,” said Steven Dahl of Dahl Dairy in Montrose, “blue heelers because they’re bred to bite cows, and they love to do it. In the mountains, with the brush, a heeler gets the cattle out. They’re hard headed and stubborn and they don’t like to quit—they just want to chase and chase.

“But if you have sheep you want a border collie,” Dahl said. “They don’t bite. Sheep have very thin skin, and biting cuts their skin.”

And of course sometimes, it comes down to plain old personal preference.

Josh Sinks of Nucla, who works as a brand inspector, said that he prefers “Kelpies,” an Australian sheep dog that Wikipedia notes are successfully used to muster livestock like sheep, cattle or goats with little or no command guidance.

“They’re pretty good dogs,” Sinks said. “I’ve had a bunch of ‘em. They’re smart and they listen good. They’re tough and they go all day without getting tired. They’re not too big, they’re not timid, and they’re real obedient.

“But really, I just like ‘em.”