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 stock dog, meant to help ranchers move cattle.
For three days, Clausen and Skittles competed in Red Bluff’s stock dog runs, showing how Skittles could drive a herd of cattle into a pen or pick a single animal from the group just by following Clausen’s whistles and voice commands. Skittles performed pretty well — judges ranked her fifth among 17 dogs.
Clausen figured he’d get about $8,000 to $9,000 for Skittles at the next day’s auction, where attendees bid on dogs that will become valuable ranch hands.
Instead, Skittles started a bidding war that broke the Red Bluff stock dog sale record — set by Clausen and another red border collie, Gurdy, in 2018.
Since Skittles came in fifth place during the stock dog runs, she was the fifth dog to be auctioned at the Red Bluff sale on Jan. 29. The first four dogs — the top-ranked competitors — had sold for between $6,000 and $11,000.
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When Clausen and Skittles entered the auction ring, Clausen said he felt the mood shift.
“When we walked in there, the aura of the whole place just changed,” he told the Idaho Statesman. “Everyone started screaming and whooping.”
Several people began bidding on Skittles, who watched the crowd with interest from Clausen’s arms. Bidding quickly blew past 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!” the auctioneer said, slamming his gavel as the crowd cheered and clapped. “$45,000.”
Skittles had shattered the $30,000 record Clausen had set in 2018 with Gurdy, a border collie who had placed first in the stock dog runs.
Clausen was shocked. Skittles was a good dog, but she hadn’t performed as well as her competitors. Instead, she’d won over her new owners, Neal and Andrea Siller, with her bubbly, affectionate personality.
“In Red Bluff, they want a dog that gets ahead and stops cattle hard. Ella she was n’t that dog, ”Clausen said. “She was not the strongest dog in the competition, but she had the strongest personality.”
Clausen said he thinks his training technique sets his dogs apart. He does not 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 on the feedlot he manages and letting his kids play with the dog. Clausen said some people worry too much socializing will spoil a working dog, but he has found that friendly, personable dogs are what people want.
“It used to be these cowdogs were tools,” Clausen said. “They’re not tools anymore, and I think today’s society wants a pet at the same time as they want a partner to work with.”
Skittles will herd longhorns, hang out with family
A partner was exactly what the Sillers were looking for at Red Bluff. The family runs a small Texas longhorn ranching operation in Penn Valley, California. Because they show their cattle, they were looking for a gentler dog that wouldn’t bite their cattle and potentially injure them, Andrea Siller said.
The Sillers had their eye on Skittles after seeing how carefully she moved cattle during the stock dog runs. When they had a chance to meet her ahead of 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 nearby with friends. When her husband de ella knelt down to pet their friends’ puppy, Skittles ran over to get Neal’s attention from her.
“He looked up at me and was like, ‘She’s coming home with us,’” Siller said.
When Skittles came up at auction, the Sillers thought they’d get a good price for the fifth-place pup. But other bidders had their eyes on her, too. While the eventual $45,000 price tag came with some sticker shock, Siller said Skittles has already proven what a valuable working dog she is — and a valuable family member, too.
Siller said her family recently purchased 8,000 acres and will need a dog to help move their herd of about 100 cattle. Currently they do all the work with their family and a single full-time ranch hand.
“We were calling in friends to help (move cattle),” Siller said. “We anticipate with Skittles working with us that we’re not going to need to do that anymore.”
Skittles’ life won’t be all work, though. The Sillers also own a construction business, and when the dog isn’t accompanying Neal to work, she’s lazing under Andrea’s desk or playing with the 12 other dogs the family owns.
“She has fit in absolutely perfectly with our family,” Siller said. “Ella She’s living the spoiled life now.”
Idaho man prepares next dog for stock sale
Clausen said it may be hard for people to understand why he parts with dogs he’s bonded so closely with. But he said he knows the working dogs will have better lives doing what they were bred to do full-time.
Clausen joked that Skittles settled in quickly with the Sillers and never looked back, but Andrea Siller said she could tell the dog was missing Clausen.
“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 out to their ranch to work with Skittles and their other border collie, Ruby, whom they also purchased at the Red Bluff auction. Ruby came in second place in the stock dog runs and sold for $11,000.
In the meantime, Clausen is already preparing to train his next dog — another red border collie named Ponchita.