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What is a Hangin Tree Cowdog?

People often ask me, “What breed is a Hangin Tree Cowdog?”

If that is your question, let me tell you about the Hangin Tree Cowdog breed, how it was started, and what is required nowadays for a dog to be called a REAL Hangin Tree Cowdog.

The History of the Hangin Tree Cowdog Breed

Hangin’ Tree Cowdogs all trace back to Gary Ericsson and his son Choc’s cow dogs. Over his lifetime, Gary bred the best cow dogs he could find, creating the Hangin Tree Cowdog breed.

The four breeds he used were:
  • 3/8 Border Collie for their intense herding instinct and intelligence.
  • 1/8 Catahoula for the ability to trail and find cattle, and for their toughness and slick hair coat.
  • 1/4 Kelpie for endurance, herding instinct, and short hair.
  • And 1/4 Australian Shepherd.
The only Australian Shepherd used in his breed was a dog named Hangin Tree Black Bear. Bear was a super dog with courage and ability to handle any kind of cattle.
Gary named the breed the Hangin Tree Cowdog, after the name of his ranch.
Hangin Tree Cowdogs Nowadays
Here we need to stop and clarify.
Not every cow dog that is a mix of those breeds is a Hangin Tree Cowdog.
Because, all Hangin Tree Cowdogs trace back to Gary’s original dogs.
Registration confirms they trace back. The Hangin Tree Cowdog Association requires that HTCs are DNA tested before registering their offspring.
If a cow dog isn’t a full descendant of Gary’s dogs, it’s not a Hangin Tree Cowdog.
So, if Rover’s dad was a Hangin Tree Cowdog, but not his mom, Rover isn’t a Hangin Tree Cowdog.
Or let’s say your neighbor’s dog is a Border Collie, Catahoula, Kelpie, Australian Shepherd mix. But it isn’t a descendant of Gary’s dogs. Then it’s not a Hangin Tree Cowdog.
Here’s some common Hangin Tree Cowdog terms.
Unregistered Hangin Tree Cowdog
There are 2 problems with unregistered Hangin Tree Cowdogs.
  • You can’t prove they are a REAL Hangin Tree Cowdogs.
  • And, “Unregistered” might mean it wasn’t tough enough to be a registered Hangin Tree Cowdog.
What I mean by “tough enough” is that Hangin Tree registration is not just papers.
To register a Hangin Tree Cowdog you must provide photos or a video of your dog biting the head and the heels of a cow.
Not because we want our dogs biting cows all the time. But because a registered HTC needs to be confident enough to handle an ornery cow.
The cow dog must make the cattle move off when he puts pressure on them. (Known as “dog breaking”)
When an owner can’t provide a video or photos of their cow dog heading and heeling a cow, he can’t register it.
Also, if you may have a video. But, if the association decides it’s not clear enough for them to tell if the cow dog did head and heel the cow. The association board makes the final call.
An unregistered HTC could be a softer dog.
It might still be able to work cattle, if you don’t put it into a situation with a tough cow.
But it would make a better helper for a tough registered Hangin Tree Cowdog.
Some unregistered HTCs aren’t drawn towards stock at all.
Appendix Registered
Another term you will hear is Appendix Registered. To register a HTC, you must have photos of it biting the head and heels of a cow. But you can’t get pictures of a puppy biting them of course! So, “appendix registered” means that it has registered parents, and can be registered if you get proof of it heading and heeling.
Appendix papers are important. Because, if you have proof that your dog heads and heels, but have no appendix papers, you cannot register your dog.
Buy a registered HTC and you know that it is tough enough to handle a feisty cow.
But, don’t put it in a situation where cattle overpower it. You might end up with a dead dog, or one that loses it’s confidence. Take good care of your dog, and always make sure he can win. If your dog needs help, you may need to get in there and chase the cow off of your dog. Or, send another dog or two to help it.
Some people get a tough dog that isn’t afraid of cows. But it chases and bites the stock all the time, and won’t call off.
You need a tough dog, but it must also listen to your commands. Because, when a cow is doing what you want, you need to reward the cow by removing all pressure. (Having your dog back up, lie down, or walk quietly behind them.)
So, that leads us to the last class of dog.
Why Supreme Qualified Cowdogs are Better
We want tough dogs, but they must also learn quick and obey commands.
Learning to communicate with your dog is essential to being a good team.
Commands let it know when you want it to gather the cattle and bring them to you, or drive them in front of you. Or you might be walking through the corral, and you want your dog to walk quietly behind you.
Maybe you want it to load the cows in the trailer, or you need the cows to cross a creek. Being able to communicate with your dog makes it so you can work together.
We also want our dogs to have good natural instincts. All the training in the world can’t replace good instincts. There are times your dog needs to think for itself, and work with very few commands.
A dog’s instincts helps them know things like how much pressure to put on a cow.
If a dog makes a cow feel cornered, he can make even a tame cow nervous enough to fight. Or, if he is too far away, the cow won’t feel his pressure.
A dog with good instincts is way easier to train.
A Supreme Qualified dog has the natural instincts to work with cattle, and knows how to work as a team with you.
How to Supreme Qualify Your Cow Dog
To update your HTCs status to Supreme Qualified, your dog must:
  • Be registered and DNA tested
  • And, it must guide cattle through a judged course using only your commands and it’s natural instincts.
Here is an example of a course a dog and handler may have to complete to Supreme Qualify their dog.
“As the “handler”, you must stay in a 30’ circle. You will send your dog over a hill to fetch cattle that the dog doesn’t know are there. The dog may not circle the cattle more than three times. Circling the cattle can confuse them, so they aren’t sure which way to go. Instead, the dog needs to circle around to the back of the cattle, and bring them to you.
“Then the dog must take the cattle around and through a couple obstacles in an “S” curve or figure eight. Next it must drive the cattle away from you and into a pen. Finally, it must leave the cattle and come to you when called.”
Three judges decide if the dog completed the course to their standards. If it did, your dog is Supreme Qualified.
If you buy a Supreme Qualified dog, you know it has been well trained.
The HTC Association recommends Supreme Qualified HTCs for breeding. This is because a puppy can only have qualities that it’s parents pass down to it. So, it’s important to only breed good dogs.
You can find lists of Supreme Qualified HTCs on the HTC Association website. (There is a list for each year, so you can tell when it qualified.)
Cow dogs are not a machines, they will always be dogs. But it is amazing what they can help you do when you work together.
I hope that helps you understand the Hangin Tree Cowdog breed!
-David and Susanna Dagley
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