NICOLE BLANCHARD Idaho Statesman
Jeff Clausen knew he had a good working dog on his hands when he brought Skittles, a 3-year-old border collie, to the Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale in California. The Melba man had spent the last year training Skittles as a herding dog, intended to help ranchers move livestock.
For three days, Clausen and Skittles participated in the Red Bluff Dog Races, showing how Skittles could drive a herd of cattle into a paddock or choose a single animal from the group simply by following Clausen’s whistles and voice commands. Skittles performed quite well – the judges ranked her fifth out of 17 dogs.
Clausen figured he’d get around $8,000 to $9,000 for Skittles at the next day’s auction, where attendees bid on dogs that would become valuable ranch workers.
Instead, Skittles launched a bidding war that broke Red Bluff’s dog sales record – set by Clausen and another red border collie, Gurdy, in 2018.
Since Skittles came in fifth place in the Stock Dog Races, she was the fifth dog to be auctioned off at Red Bluff’s Jan. 29 sale. The first four dogs – the top-ranked competitors – had sold for between $6,000 and $11,000.
People also read…
When Clausen and Skittles entered the ring, Clausen said he felt the change in mood.
“When we walked in there, the aura of the whole place changed,” he told the Idaho statesman. “Everyone started screaming and screaming.”
Several people began bidding on Skittles, who watched the crowd with interest from Clausen’s arms. Bidding quickly surpassed the day’s previous high of $11,000.
“I lost my mind at $23,000,” Clausen said. “I didn’t even know what was going on.”
“Sold!” said the auctioneer, banging his gavel as the crowd cheered and cheered. “$45,000.”
Skittles had broken the $30,000 record that Clausen set in 2018 with Gurdy, a border collie who placed first in stock dog racing.
Clausen was shocked. Skittles was a good dog, but she hadn’t performed as well as her competitors. Instead, she won over her new owners, Neal and Andrea Siller, with her bubbly and affectionate personality.
“At Red Bluff they want a dog that will go ahead and stop cattle hard. She wasn’t that dog,” Clausen said. “She wasn’t the strongest female dog in the competition, but she had the strongest personality.”
Clausen said he thinks his training technique sets his dogs apart. He doesn’t consider himself a dog trainer and it’s not his full-time job. Each year, he trains just one dog, taking the pup to work with him at the feedlot he runs and letting his children play with the dog. Clausen said some people worry that too much socialization will ruin a working dog, but he’s found that people want friendly, likeable dogs.
“Before, these cowdogs were tools,” Clausen said. “They are no longer tools, and I think today’s society wants a companion animal at the same time it wants a partner to work with.”
Skittles will round up longhorns, hang out with family
A partner was exactly what the Sillers were looking for in Red Bluff. The family runs a small Texas longhorn breeding operation in Penn Valley, California. Because they show their cattle, they were looking for a gentler dog that wouldn’t bite their cattle and hurt them, Andrea Siller said.
The Sillers had their eye on Skittles after seeing how carefully she moved cattle during herding dog races. When they had the chance to meet her before the auction, they fell in love.
“She was extremely loving and you could tell she was going to be a family dog,” Andrea Siller said.
Siller said after meeting Skittles, she and her husband were talking close with friends. When her husband knelt down to pet their friends’ puppy, Skittles ran to get Neal’s attention.
“He looked at me and said, ‘She’s coming home with us,'” Siller said.
When Skittles came up for auction, the Sillers thought they would get a good price for the fifth-place pup. But other bidders also had their eye on it. While the eventual $45,000 prize came with a sticker shock, Siller said Skittles has already proven what a valuable working dog she is — and a valuable family member, too.
Siller said his family had recently purchased 8,000 acres and would need a dog to help move their herd of around 100 cattle. Currently, they do all the work with their family and one full-time ranch employee.
“We were bringing in friends to help (move the cattle),” Siller said. “We anticipate that with Skittles working with us, we won’t need to do that again.”
Skittles’ life won’t be all work, however. The Sillers also own a construction company, and when the dog isn’t accompanying Neal to work, she lounges under Andrea’s desk or plays with the 12 other dogs in the family.
“She has fitted in perfectly with our family,” Siller said. “She’s living the spoiled life now.”
Idaho man grooms his next dog for stock sale
Clausen said it might be hard for people to understand why he’s parting ways with dogs he’s bonded with so closely. But he said he knows working dogs will have a better life doing what they were bred to do full time.
Clausen joked that Skittles quickly settled in with the Sillers and never looked back, but Andrea Siller said she could tell Clausen misses the dog.
“As soon as the auction was over and we took Skittles, it kind of broke my heart because I knew they had to have the most amazing bond,” she said.
The Sillers plan to invite Clausen to their ranch to work with Skittles and their other border collie, Ruby, who they also purchased at the Red Bluff auction. Ruby came in second place in stock dog racing and sold for $11,000.
In the meantime, Clausen is already preparing to train his next dog, another red border collie named Ponchita.