Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Working Dogs

Dogs perform a variety of tasks on a working ranch in Patagonia, Chile

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

In Patagonia, the sheep are hardy, and the dogs are hardier. At Cerro Negro Estancia (Black Hill Ranch), halfway between Punta Arenas and Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, sheep are managed by a team of gauchos, herding dogs and flock guardian dogs. Together, they drive the sheep from winter to summer pastures and back again, direct them through chutes into stalls to be shorn of their heavy coats, and protect them from predators.

The current reigning member of the team is Manta, a cross between a border collie and a Patagonian dog called a barbucho, also known as a Magellan sheepdog. Barbuchos are typically used with cattle, but when crossed with border collies, they make good sheepdogs.

The cross combines the cleverness and trainability of the border collie with the endurance and weather-resistant coat of the barbucho. The goal is to create a working dog with traits suited to the climate and type of livestock worked.

Breed is less important than behavior. If a dog has good working ability, he or she is brought into the gene pool.

The result, in Manta’s case anyway, is a dog with the black-and-white coloring of a border collie but a wirier coat and an ability to do anything she’s asked -- at least as long as it doesn’t require opposable thumbs or speech.

One dog can work up to 300 sheep. With about 4,000 sheep on the ranch, plus some 300 head of cattle, a number of dogs stay busy. At 7 years of age, Manta is still going strong, but younger dogs are in training to take over her job. Other puppies go to neighboring estancias, where they are in high demand.

Manta doesn’t work alone. She’s aided by Great Pyrenees dogs who act as enforcers against the region’s primary predator: the puma. The 3-year-old Great Pyrenees who greeted us at the estancia is a friendly family pet, but her relatives who guard flocks on the ranch don’t take any guff from the big cats, and they aren’t especially fond of people, either.

Brought up with lambs from an early age, the 80- to 120-pound dogs are fierce protectors of their woolly charges. They work independently, and a pair of them stay in the field with flocks for days at a time. Their presence alone is often enough to deter pumas and send them packing to seek easier prey. That’s good for the ranchers, the sheep and the pumas themselves, who otherwise risk being shot for killing livestock -- money on the hoof.

The Great Pyrenees originated in France, where the breed was used to protect flocks from wolves. The Kusanovic family, the owners of Cerro Negro, traveled widely and became familiar with the majestic white dogs in other countries. When they needed a guardian breed for their sheep, the Great Pyrenees was a natural choice, with a weather-resistant coat that allows them to thrive in cold weather and a serious, protective nature.

Now they breed the dogs for themselves as well as selling them to other estancia owners, who appreciate the protection from puma predation. The pumas might not like it so much, but it protects them from being shot, and that’s an important boost to the local economy, where puma trekking by wildlife enthusiasts is taking off.

Visitors to Patagonia can see Manta and dogs like her demonstrate their abilities on estancias that offer tours, as well as at local shearing festivals, which usually run from October to the end of January (summer in the southern hemisphere).


Which cats will

walk on a leash?

Q: I want a cat who will enjoy walking on a leash. Are there certain breeds or personality traits I should look for, or can any cat learn?

A: Leash training can be a great way to help your cat get some exercise and safely enjoy the outdoor environment. It’s also a good way to help young cats develop confidence.

Depending on how early you start, many cats can learn to walk on-leash, but some are definitely better candidates than others. Here are some of the cat breeds who have a reputation for taking to leash training.

-- The Abyssinian is a daring and active cat with a social personality. Going out on a leash gives him the opportunity to meet his adoring fans, so he’s generally all for it.

-- The pedigreed American shorthair is usually easygoing, tolerant and adaptable, as well as being a quick learner. This is a sturdy and often adventurous cat who may be willing to try new things.

-- Active, curious and smart, the Bengal loves to learn new things and can be a cat trainer’s dream -- as long as you can keep a few steps ahead of him. Leash training challenges his brain and helps to burn off some of his energy.

-- The Savannah is a large cat who may outweigh some of the poodles and pugs he sees on walks. Keep an eye on him so he doesn’t use his gymnastic ability to escape you and go hunting.

-- Siamese cats and other Oriental breeds typically take to leash training with enthusiasm, thanks to their endless cleverness and curiosity.

-- A Persian? That’s a cat who might prefer to be pushed in a stroller.

You don’t have to get a pedigreed cat to find one who’s willing to walk on-leash. Plenty of random-bred domestic shorthairs and longhairs successfully learn how to walk on a leash. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


FDA warning: Seizure risk

from some flea, tick drugs

-- Check the flea and tick preventives you’ve been giving to your dogs and cats. The United States Food and Drug Administration warned last month that products containing isoxazoline, including Bravecto, Nexgard and Simparica, have been linked to muscle tremors, ataxia and seizures in some animals. Another product in this class, Credelio, was recently approved by the FDA. Manufacturers and the FDA are working to provide new label information warning of potential neurological events to help veterinarians and pet owners decide if a product is appropriate. Seizures are most likely in pets with a prior history of them, according to the FDA.

-- Fans around the world bid a sad farewell last month to Uno, the beagle who won hearts after his 2008 Best in Show win at Westminster, becoming the first of his breed to take the coveted title. The personable hound spent the next year and more touring the country as an “ambassadog,” visiting the White House, riding on the Peanuts float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and, as a registered therapy dog, visiting children at Ronald McDonald Houses around the country, accompanied by his biggest fan, David Frei, longtime co-host of USA Network’s Westminster telecast. The top-winning 15-inch beagle was 13 years old.

-- You may have seen a photo on social media of a black cat with white spotting, giving him a marbled appearance. His owners believe the cat’s unusual-looking coat may be the result of a hereditary or familial pigmentary abnormality called vitiligo: depigmentation of the skin that can also affect coat color. No treatment is available, but fortunately the condition is not harmful. It is also seen in Arabian horses and some dog breeds, including Belgian Tervuren and Rottweilers, and can also affect the appearance of claws and hooves. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.