What is a good dog worth? In one Idaho border collie’s case, a record-setting $30,000.
Preston-based Lightning 7 Cattle Co. cut that check Jan. 26 at the Red Bluff Bull & Gelding Sale for Gurdy, a livestock herding dog raised by Jeff Clausen, of Melba. And Clausen, a newcomer to the world of stock dog trials, said Gurdy is worth every penny.
“She’s taken me through this journey the last few years, and it’s been amazing,” Clausen said.
A cattle manager at a Melba feedlot, Clausen is hardly a stranger to working dogs, which he says can perform jobs that would’ve taken two people.
When he bought Gurdy from Broken Circle Border Collies two years ago, he had never done a stock herding trial. But with the guidance of Broken Circle’s Robin Nuffer, he began training the little red pup to work cattle, picking one or two from a herd or moving dozens from place to place. In a trial, Gurdy would have to do that work as Clausen watched from horseback, guiding her only with whistles and words.
“I didn’t realize what I had (in Gurdy),” Clausen said. “But I took her to her first trial at 9 months old, and we just cleaned house.”
Of course, Gurdy’s greatest accomplishment was last week at Red Bluff, a prestigious livestock sale and herding trial in Red Bluff, Calif. Together, Clausen and Gurdy moved a small herd of cattle through obstacles, around fences and more, earning the 2-year-old collie the highest marks at the competition. When it came time for the stock dog auction, the auctioneer rattled off numbers, bids climbing higher and higher.
“Sold, $30,000,” the auctioneer said. “That’s a brand new record, ladies and gentlemen.” (Red Bluff Daily News reports that cream-of-the-crop stock dogs typically sell for about $6,000, though one other border collie fetched $30,000 on Friday and 2017’s most expensive dog brought its owner $20,000.)
The crowd broke into cheers and whistles. Clausen was blown away.
“I rocked the nation,” he said. “But … I don’t know. I’m a nobody!”
He thinks Gurdy might be the highest-selling border collie in the U.S. And he’s got a hunch about what makes her so special.
“She’s such a personable dog, and she loves people. Gurdy is all business when you’re in (the pen), but when you take her out, she can play with the kids. She won the crowd,” Clausen said.
After Gurdy’s trials, she cuddled on Clausen’s lap in the stands. In contrast, many of Gurdy’s competitors are trained strictly as working dogs out of the fear that coddling them would “spoil” the animal.
But Gurdy was a pet, and Clausen said it’s “bittersweet” to send her to a new home.
“She’s been my best friend for two years,” he said. “I don’t think I could’ve done what I did with her without that bond.”
But Clausen has his hands full training a half-dozen other stock dogs — including Gurdy’s sister, Ruthy — and he knows a new home is best for both of them.
“Gurdy wants to work. I’m going to drop her off (with her new owners), and we’ll both be sad for a few days. But when they take her home and show her some cattle, she’ll forget all about me,” Clausen said.
There, Clausen hopes, the “always happy” dog will ride shotgun with her new owner, her chin resting on his shoulder the way she often did to Clausen.
“After the auction, I told (Lightning 7 owner Scott Hunsaker), ‘I really hope you’re a happy person. If you’re not, you’re going to have to be,’” Clausen said, laughing. “If somebody’s going to spend that kind of money on a dog, I know they’re going to be good to her.”
“That kind of money” is still astounding to Clausen, who said his competitors at Red Bluffs ribbed him with predictions that his first-timer stock dog wouldn’t be worth much. He plans to hold on to the $30,000, putting some of it away in savings for his children, who were a bit heartbroken to say goodbye to their “little red dog.”
After Gurdy’s success, Clausen said friends, family and even strangers around Melba are urging him to take up dog training or help them with their own pets. But the 38-year-old said he has no intention of training or breeding dogs for profit.
“I’m not sure that I’m ready to train a bunch of people’s dogs,” Clausen said. “I don’t know that I’m that good.”
He does have a bit of advice for training a top-notch dog, though: dedication. It sounds easy, Clausen said, but he works at least 10 minutes each day with his dogs.
“You have to be dedicated to the dog and to yourself. Every time I get home, I’m like, ‘I don’t want to work dogs.’ But I make myself go out and work the dogs,” he said.
For anyone that’s willing to learn, Clausen is willing to help. He’ll invite dog and owner down to his round pen where they’ll work with his sheep, just like he did two years ago with Gurdy. Because more than anything, a good dog is worth your time.