Dog trainer teaches best friends to handle cattle

Bill Boyd enjoys spending time with dogs he's training, from those a few weeks old to 12-year-old Rusty.

CHILOQUIN, Ore. — It isn’t that Bill Boyd isn’t friendly, it’s just that he often finds himself being more comfortable around man’s best friends.

“I’d rather be around them than people,” Boyd says of spending time with working cattle dogs. “They’re amazing.”

Making good dogs even more amazing is what the 78-year-old Boyd does in his semi-retirement. During his many years working on and managing ranches, he learned the value of working cattle dogs. “It took me a couple years to get educated,” he says of training dogs, mostly border collies.

His education with working dogs and training them spans a career that’s included stops at ranches in California, Arizona, Texas and, since moving near Chiloquin 16 years ago, Oregon. Before the move, he spent nine years as cow boss for the San Emigdio Cattle Co. near Bakersfield. The 100,000-acre cattle ranch ran upwards of 1,500 cows and 12,000 yearlings, mostly Beefmaster, a breed known for being heat- and insect-resistant, because in Southern California “you needed something that would travel.”

Working with cattle and dogs came naturally. Raised near Bishop, Calif., he drops his hand below his waist as he tells, “I’ve always wanted to be around animals since I was this high.”

Boyd earned degrees in animal husbandry and farm management at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, but his real-life education came while working on ranches.

“I didn’t understand dogs at that time,” he says. He gained that understanding while moving cattle, and by using the dogs to teach cattle to come to him. “If the cattle come to me,” he explains, “they don’t get bit.”

He’s also learned the dogs inevitably will “take a pounding. When you’re working cows and calves they’re going to get run over.”

His dog, Rusty, a 12-year-old border collie, has had his share of broken bones but he still jumps at the opportunity to work cattle or sheep.

“He had it in him and he’s not afraid of anything,” says Boyd, explaining he looks for characteristics he says are inbred in dogs that can be fine-tuned to work on ranches or perform in dog trials.

Rusty and Boyd’s other dogs are kept in individual kennels in a barn behind his house. It’s a wide-ranging group that includes Billy, only a couple months old, and 2-year-old Cinder, who Boyd has been training the past year and will be entered in competition and put up for sale at the Red Bluff Livestock Dog Sale on Jan. 22-26. “She’ll make a good ranch dog.”

Working with dogs — some his own, many belonging to others — begins when they’re as young as 9 or 10 weeks old, first with sheep. “You can’t take dogs to cattle ’til they’re about a year old. If they have confidence, they can work them. It’s just bred into them.”

Some dogs are trained for dog trial competition while some owners want their dogs trained to be obedient or to work cattle.

Because of his background, Boyd says dog owners seek him out. “You’re legitimate,” he says of the reputation he earned by working with dogs on large ranches. “It’s an advantage because I’ve worked with wild cattle. ... I can train dogs real quick.”

He’s passed on his cattle- and dog-handling skills to his children. Two live nearby. His daughter, Jody Boyd, manages the Dixon Ranch in Fort Klamath while his son, Craig, who previously managed yearlings for the San Emigdio Cattle Co., works on the Buckhorn Ranch, which summers cattle in the Fort Klamath area. Two other daughters, Lora and Kristy, live in Bakersfield and Lake Tahoe.

Boyd and his wife, Nedra, live on their 80-acre ranch near Chiloquin. High school sweethearts, they married two years ago following the death five years ago of Merna, Boyd’s wife of 50 years, from Parkinson’s Disease. Nedra, also 78, has two sons and ranched for 22 years near Fruitland, Idaho.

Over the years, Boyd has been the headliner at Bill Boyd Stock Dog & Dog Trial Clinics on Horseback. Although his business, Bill Boyd Stock Dogs, slowed when he suffered back problems, he’s again training dogs, although he says he wants to slow down.

“I’m trying to retire,” he claims, but that hasn’t happened. Not yet. He’s still enjoying working with Rusty and his other best friends.

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