Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Heather Smith Thomas: Notes from Sky Range Ranch — Fearless Fred, Part Three

Fearless Fred: The Pup Grows Up

Fearless, “fabulous” Fred (as she is affectionately called by the Thomas family) immediately took over Michael and Carolyn’s household from the time she arrived as a tiny pup.

Fred dominated the household from the time she arrived.
 Here she is at 7 months of age, queen of the house.

Young Fred always thought she was a human, not a dog. She is also very protective of her “family.” Michael recalls that when they were driving through Rapid City, South Dakota, on their way to Iowa to take Nick to college, they pulled into a gas station where there were statues of grizzly bears and wolves. “At the entrance was a bear on its hind legs in an aggressive stance, and Fred went nuts in the car. If we’d had the windows down, she would have been out there in a flash, chewing on that bear.”

Fred always thought she was a human.

At home she always tried to dominate the cats, but since they were there first, she developed a truce with them. Their spats are now just friendly rivalry.

Fred tried to dominate the cats early on, but they held their ground.

Last year — her first year working cattle — when Michael and Carolyn were helping Bruce Mulkey gather cattle on the range, Michael and Fred crossed paths with a young wolf that was much bigger than Fred. “She thought she was running it off, but it was actually luring her away from me and over the hill, planning to have Fred for lunch. I couldn’t call her off the wolf and had to run my horse around the hill as hard as he could go, until we caught up with them. As soon as it had her around the hill, it stopped and turned on her, and that’s when I caught up and rode right into the middle of them. The wolf ran away, and Fred stayed with me. She was no match for the wolf when it stopped and attacked her.” She would be ferociously protective, however, if she thought any of her family was in danger.

Aside from helping herd cattle, her favorite thing is going everywhere with them. “She’s traveled with us a lot,” says Michael. “The first year we had her, she went with us to all of Nick’s cross-country meets that fall, and the next spring she went to all of his track meets.” She was the self-appointed mascot for the high school cross-country team and track team.

“She’s been to Montana several times, including trips to Carroll College when we went to visit Heather,” says Carolyn. “After she knew where Heather lived on campus, whenever we’d visit we’d let her out of the car and tell her to go find Heather, and she’d lead us right to Heather’s dorm room. Even if we went in a different door, she knew where Heather’s room was.”

Fred traveled all over Wyoming with them when they were looking at ranches and went again to Iowa and back when they drove to get Nick from college this spring. Fred was really glad to see him. She gets stressed when the kids go off to school — and depressed because part of her “herd” is missing. She was totally happy while both kids were home for the summer.

Nick says she loves to travel, but she hogs the car seat. “She likes a lot of space, and it was pretty cramped with five of us in the car (and all my stuff) coming home from Iowa. She tries to push everyone else out of the way and takes all the space she can get. I was sitting next to the door, and she was leaning against me. I sat forward, and she just moved herself right behind me. So I just had the front of the seat and she had most of it, behind me. She’ll often sit right in the middle, as tall as she can, trying to be a person,” he says. She’d like to drive, if she could.

Nick started taking her with him when he ran cross-country behind their ranch, when he was still in high school and she was just a small pup. She started running with him before she went on her first cattle drives. “The first time it was just her and me at home, and I didn’t want to leave her in the house by herself when I did my daily run, so I just took her with me. The first few times she went with me, she’d sprint off, and we’d have to take breaks because she’d get tired. After she got used to it, we ran together at the same pace, but on our way home she’d race me along the road from the top of the hill back down to the house,” says Nick.

Nick started taking Fred along with him on his
cross-country runs when she was just a small pup,
and she still enjoys running with him today.

The ranch is along a canyon, and Nick had several loops he’d run — over the range or up the creek canyon and back (with a couple of thousand feet elevation difference). “The farthest we ever ran together was 10 miles. She enjoyed it, and whenever I went outside she’d want to go with me, in case we were going to run.” Running that first spring and summer with Nick got her in shape for going on long cattle drives later that year.

Fred and Nick love to play and roughhouse together, and they have their own special game of football. “We run around, and when she grabs me I go down. Once she stops, I throw the ball, and she runs and gets it and runs around with it while I try to catch her. When we’re indoors, she’ll grab one of her toys and run around the house, and I’ll chase her,” says Nick. She’ll also grab her toys and throw them up in the air if no one will play with her — playing her own game of catch.

If no one will play with her, Fred brings a stick to anyone
handy — here she's playing tug of war with Michael.

After her cross-country runs as a pup, Michael started Fred on cattle that fall, when she was 6 months old. “We started her on calves in October. We didn’t have the old dogs with us that day when we moved some weaned calves — so she didn’t have any role models to follow. For a few minutes she was a little intimidated because there were about four hundred calves. Within 20 minutes she was trying to work them, and by the time we’d taken them half a mile, she was so enthusiastic that she drove about 30 of them through a fence,” says Michael.

“We had two groups of calves to move,” Carolyn recalls. “This was her first time working solo, without the other dogs, and she’d moved the first group out of their field and into the next one with no mistakes, but on the next group she just got a little carried away.”

[to be continued] . . .

Fearless Fred, Part 1: A Very Special Cow Dog
Fearless Fred, Part 2: Puppyhood

Heather Smith Thomas raises horses and cattle on her family ranch in Salmon, Idaho. She writes for numerous horse magazines and is the author of several books on horses and cattle farming, including Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses, Storey's Guide to Training Horses, Stable Smarts, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Your Calf, Getting Started with Beef and Dairy Cattle, Storey's Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, Essential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook.

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