Memorable stock dog steers roper’s life in new direction

Stock dog trainer says it has been a ‘blessing to be able to do something that you love’ during 30-year career

MAPLE CREEK, Sask. — If dogs are a man’s best friend, then it’s safe to say that Dale Montgomery has spent the past 30 years or so surrounded by best friends.

Montgomery and his wife, Dawn, have been breeding, raising and training stock dogs on their farm near Maple Creek since the mid-1980s.

During that time, hundreds of dogs have learned the ropes from Dale, who is widely recognized as one of the most respected and experienced dog trainers in Western Canada.

“I’ve always liked dogs,” said Dale, a former rodeo star who once held the title of Canadian team roping champion, along with his brother, Jim.

“I was raised on a ranch about 30 miles north of Maple Creek and my dad always had dogs when I was a kid. So I was always comfortable around them and liked having them around.”

The Montgomerys’ involvement with stock dogs began in earnest in the winter of 1986.

Dale Montgomery says hello to his retired stock dog Ben, 12, during a break around the dining room table. Over the past 30 years, Montgomery has trained lots of “good” dogs, but only a handful of “great ones,” including his first stock trial champion, Huck. | Brian Cross photo

At the time, Dale’s days as a competitive team roper on the rodeo circuit were beginning to wind down.

That’s when a friend gave him a young, untrained border collie named Huck.

Huck was an intelligent and powerful dog with exceptional herding instincts and outstanding presence and control around livestock.

Relying on his previous dog handling experience and the only book he could find on stock dog training, Montgomery taught Huck the basics of herding and Huck steered Montgomery’s life in a new direction.

“He was a real eye opener,” Dale said about Huck.

“At the time, I really didn’t know a whole lot about training dogs. In fact, when I got Huck, I had no idea how good he was. In the end, I think he taught me as much as I taught him.”

Huck was the first dog and arguably the best in what has turned into a long and successful career for Dale as a stock dog trainer.

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Within two years of arriving at the Montgomery farm, Huck was named the best cattle dog in Alberta.

Since then, Dale has gone on to win dozens of stock dog trials across Canada, including seven championship titles at the Calgary Stampede, and numerous others at Edmonton, Regina and Winnipeg.

Over the past three decades, dogs that were bred or trained at Montgomery’s Border Collies have been delivered to hundreds of ranches and farms across Canada and throughout the United States.

Montgomery-raised border collies have even been shipped to homes in Europe and Asia.

And behind the scenes, Montgomery’s dogs were involved in the making of several movies and TV mini-series.

The most notable was the Oscar- winning movie Brokeback Mountain, which was filmed in Alberta and named motion picture of the year in 2006.

On the screen, an Australian blue heeler is shown herding sheep in the high alpine pastures of Brokeback Mountain. But in reality, it was Montgomery and his border collies that were moving livestock for the cameras.

According to Dawn, the past 30 years have involved lots of hard work and travel. They’ve also been memorable, rewarding and at times, emotional.

Saying goodbye to a dog that trains enthusiastically, works tirelessly and earns a spot of respect and admiration on the Montgomery ranch can be difficult. But the satisfaction of training dogs and pursuing an enjoyable career outweighs all of the regrets, sacrifices and heartaches.

“It’s a real blessing to be able to do something that you love,” said Dawn, who met Dale in the 1970s, when he was in the rodeo and she was working at Claypool’s, a western apparel and saddlery shop in Saskatoon.

“Some people spend their whole life making lots of money but they don’t really enjoy what they’re doing.

“I love the dogs. And of course, they got us into sheep as well. We bought a handful of sheep to train dogs. We went from half a dozen sheep to … well, I think we’ve got nearly 300 here now.”

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Dale continues to compete in stock dog trials across Western Canada and presently has 16 border collies on the farm, many of which are being started or custom trained for clients.

He still spends the bulk of each working day training his dogs, but he admits that the urge to sit back and relax is getting a bit stronger.

“Twenty years ago, every spare minute I had I’d be out working a dog because I loved doing it,” he said.

“Now, if I have a spare minute, I’m more interested in sitting in my chair with my feet up.”

Through their dogs, Dale and Dawn have developed relationships with hundreds of friends and acquaintances, including ranchers, farmers, stock handlers and dog trainers across North America.

Dale said that his most notable career accomplishment was his contribution to the understanding and adoption of stress free stock handling practices.

With the help of a well-trained stock dog, he demonstrated how livestock can be moved and managed in a calm and controlled environment, with little or no stress.

In part, it was this contribution that earned him an induction — along with Huck — into the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2014.

“If you have a good dog that’s well-trained, you can move cattle a lot gentler and easier and calmer,” he said.

“You want a dog that is sensible and calm but has guts and is able to move cattle without biting, something we call power.

“Over the years, I’ve had lots of good stock dogs, but I’ve only had a couple that I would call great dogs.”

Montgomery’s Saskatchewan Agriculture Hall of Fame biography can be viewed at www.sahf.ca/inductees/m/dale_montgomery.html.

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