By Kent Hanawalt

Most ranch vehicles are equipped with a cowdog. They wait patiently while their masters are in the bank, the café, or the bar.

No self-respecting cowboy would admit that these dogs are pets. In fact, my children never in their lives saw me let a cowdog into the house—until I got old and soft. These dogs do, however, provide a purpose beyond companionship—especially in these days of four-wheeler cowboys.

Most of their days are pretty relaxed and boring (which is why they are always eager for a ride in the pickup). But they can get pretty excited when the four-wheeler fires up or especially when the horses are brought into the corral!

Cowdogs are priceless when moving cattle. They can shoot out to one side or another to nip up a laggard, or dive into the brush to roust out the animals hiding there. Dogs can duck under a fence to turn back cows trying to stick their heads through or to take the animals up the fence, toward the gate, and back into the field from which they have strayed.

The mere presence of a dog changes the attitude of a cow who might otherwise defy a slow and clumsy human. If a man whistles for his dog, the cow’s head goes up and she quickly moves out—usually in the appropriate direction.

My old dog Max was always behind me as I worked cattle, watching between the legs of my horse. As soon as I had a cut sorted off, he would come out from behind the horse to take that cut on up the alley or out the gate, then return to his position in back of the horse. He would reach through the sides of the chute to “encourage” the cattle on up into the headcatch or onto the truck. He would dive into the face of a cow who dared challenge me and my horse.

Cows themselves are rather dumb and boring. It is the horse and the dog—partners in the job—that provide joy in the cow-raising game.