Heading and heeling in cattle dogs has been discussed at length.

by Ben Means

These are some of my observations as I see things today. Simply put, if a dog gets in, and bites, and gets away, it was right for him, whether he is a left-handed dog or a right-handed dog. Yes, there are dogs that are right or left on heeling and heading.

Fifty years ago almost everyone wanted a heel dog only. Now days some people prefer a dog to never go to the heel. To me they are asking a lot of a dog. Let’s say 100% total is perfect, and you have a dog that is a tough rascal. He’s a 110% total head dog, and absolutely no heel bite. Would this be as good an all-round dog, or as easy to keep in position, as a tough dog that is 70% head and 20% heel, or 90% total. I doubt it.  It would be like having a hand help me at the stockyards, and I told him he could only bring me cattle by tapping them on the head, and never touch the other end.  He would be pretty limited as a hand.

Everyone has their own preference as to what percent they want on each end.  We need to respect that. For cattle dogs we need to be alike only in breeding for that mean streak, that makes a dog want to bite.  Usually you don’t have much control as to which end the pups are going to work best.  Personally I try to avoid breeding to a body-biter, i.e. (flank, shoulder, belly).

If your market is mainly cow/calf dogs, you probably want more heel in a dog than someone that’s breeding for a yearling dog.  The reason being, cows don’t need to be headed as much to be kept together.  Also it is hard to punish a cow by biting her on her old hard head.  Since she is going to be around several years you are going to train her not to come out of a bunch.  You do this by working hardest on her most vulnerable part, the heel, before she can make it back to the bunch.  I like to use two dogs on cows, a good head dog and a good heel dog.  Yearlings on the other hand tend to be curious at first.  Often they will come up and present their nose to a good hard biting nose or head dog.  Next comes their trotting or running mode.  You sure don’t need heel here.  Instead of stopping and bunching like cows, yearlings tend to run.  The good head dog shines here.

Both head and heel dogs need the instinct to circle and hold, both need to have the strength to stay there before and after they bite, and both need to be in position before they do either one.  Remember biting is only 5% of working cattle, unless you have a dog that won’t bite.  Then it becomes 95%.  Most all cattle dog breeders are looking for better dogs.  What we’re doing now, is using the best we can find or afford.  Am I right or wrong?

Watch for pictures to be posted at a later date.