What is a Hangin Tree Cowdog?
The Hangin Tree Cowdog is a unique breed with an even more unique name. The breed was developed to handle cattle in various ranching situations. They are referred to as ‘the ultimate cowboy’s cowdog’ because of their courage, loyalty, adaptability, and intelligence. The Hangin Tree Cowdog is not a breed recognized by any major kennel club, but they have their own association and registry with strict and interesting registration requirements.
History of the Hangin Tree Cowdog
The Hangin Tree Cowdog is a dog breed created by Gary Ericsson, a rancher and accomplished dog trainer from Oklahoma. He needed a dog that could work cattle regardless of terrain or weather and could also double as a great companion/family dog. The breed was named after his ranch, the Hangin Tree Ranch.
They are also known as a Hang Tree Cowdog, Hangin’ Tree Cowdog, or Hangin Tree Cattledog.
The original breeding program started in the 1980s using four breeds as the foundation. The Border Collie, Kelpie, Catahoula Leopard Dog, and 1 exceptional Australian Shepherd named ‘Black Bear.’ Ericsson selected dogs that had proven themselves as working dogs and exhibited the traits he desired in future pups.
- Border Collie
- Catahoula Leopard Dog
- Australian Shepherd
- Short hair
- Herding instinct
- Good bone structure
- Trailing ability
Ericsson and his son Choc continued refining the breed until they achieved what they envisioned as the ideal Cowdog. They established the Hangin Tree Cowdog Association in 2009, which serves as the official registry for the breed. The association maintains a pedigree registry, promotes the breed, and conducts clinics for dog training.
The Hangin Tree Cowdog is a precise mix of four breeds: Border Collie, Catahoula Leopard Dog, Kelpie, and Australian Shepherd. Each breed contributed to the characteristics and abilities of the cowdog.
- Border Collie: This breed is known for its intense herding instinct and intelligence. It is one of the most popular working dogs in the world, and it excels at sheepdog trials and agility competitions. The Border Collie passed on its herding drive, intelligence, and responsiveness to commands.
- Catahoula Leopard Dog: This breed is the state dog of Louisiana, and it was developed by Native Americans and settlers to hunt wild hogs and cattle in the swamps. It is a versatile dog that can also be used for tracking, guarding, and companionship. The Catahoula passed on its ability to trail and find cattle, its toughness and slick hair coat, and its varied colors and patterns.
- Kelpie: This breed is an Australian sheepdog that was developed from British working dogs in the 19th century. It is a hardy dog that can work in harsh conditions and long distances. It is also known for its jumping ability and loyalty. The Kelpie passed on its endurance and stamina, its herding instinct and short hair, and its black or red color.
- Australian Shepherd: This breed is not actually from Australia but from the western United States. It was developed by Basque shepherds who migrated to America with their dogs in the 1800s. It is a medium-sized dog that can work sheep, cattle, and other livestock. It is also popular as a family pet and a show dog. The Australian Shepherd passed on its courage and versatility, its bob tail and blue eyes, and its merle color.
Characteristics of a Hangin Tree Cowdog
Hangin Tree Cowdogs are medium-medium sized dogs weighing between 35 – 55 lbs and standing 18 – 24″ tall at the shoulder. They have short or slick hair that can be black, red, blue merle, red merle, or any combination of these colors. White or tan markings are allowed.
They are born with a short bob tail that is often docked at birth. Ears can be either erect or partially erect.
Their eye colors can be brown, blue, green, amber, or any combination of them (known as heterochromia).
The HT Cowdog has a unique working style that differs from other stockdogs. They are gathering, retrieving, and herding type dogs that can work cattle in any situation. They are tough and aggressive dogs with the courage to stand up to and handle all types of cattle, from gentle to wild.
Their intelligence makes them easy to train, often able to work independently or with commands from their handler. Their short hair helps them withstand heat and shed burs and mud easily.
HT Cowdogs, or any cattle dog, are subject to loads of abuse that comes with their job. They can be kicked by cows or horses, run over, shoved into a fence, etc… As such, they have to have great bone structure to withstand the abuse. It’s not an easy job, but it’s a necessary job.
These dogs thrive on having a job. Without something to do, they can get bored, anxious, and destructive very easily.
The Hangin Tree Cowdog Association Inc. is the only official registry for the breed. They have three distinct levels of registration for qualified dogs: Appendix, Permanent, and Supreme Qualified.
The first level of registration is the Appendix or Litter registration. The breeder has 1 year from the date of whelping (birth) to register the litter and get their appendix registration papers (blue certificate).
After one year, the litter is no longer eligible to be registered.
The second and most important level of registration is permanent registration (cream certificate).
To get your HTC dog permanently registered, they have to possess an appendix registration already. As long as your puppy has that, clear images or video of the dog biting the head and heels of a cow have to be submitted and reviewed for approval.
I’ve noticed a lot of misinformation about a DNA test being required, but this is wrong. No DNA test is required; instead, the appendix papers are required, which are only issued to pups whose parents both have their permanent registrations.
Permanent registration can be obtained at any age.
The highest and optional level of registration is ‘Supreme Qualified’ (yellow certificate). There are many requirements to obtain this registration level, including a DNA test this time. Dogs must also have their permanent registration already as well.
The main point, though, is the test. Supreme Qualified candidates must pass a test in front of the HTCA board members for approval. To pass the test, dogs must show that they can handle and fetch cattle in a controlled manner, drive cattle in a controlled manner, and they cannot receive help from their handler or another dog. The handler is allowed to give commands but not move more than 30 feet from their original position.
This test and registration level serves to separate the exceptional dogs from the average dogs. Dogs with their supreme qualified registration registration are listed on the registry website, and it is noted on any of their offspring appendix papers.
Supreme qualified registration can be sought at any age.
The Ultimate Cowboys Cowdog
The Hangin Tree Cowdog is a breed that was developed by cowboys for cowboys. The breed exhibits the best traits of four proven working breeds: the Border Collie, Catahoula Leopard Dog, Kelpie, and Australian Shepherd. It is a breed that can work cattle in any situation, from feedlots to open range, and from cow/calf to stocker programs. It is a breed that can also be a good companion and family dog for those who appreciate its unique qualities.
The Hangin Tree Cowdog is not a breed for everyone. It is a breed for those who need a hard-working, gritty, loyal, and intelligent partner on the ranch. It is a breed for those who respect its history, its purpose, and its association. It is a breed for those who want to own the ultimate cowboy’s cowdog.