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Just Who is Bob Vest?

A few of Bob Vest bred aussies are in the heritage of Chevreherd Australian Shepherds. You can find additional photos of Vest bred dogs in the Vest Photo Album

Conversations with a Stock Dog Trainer

by Melanie Snyder Block (originally published in the Aussie Times, ASCA's breed magazine)

 During 1987 I had the lucky opportunity to attend several stock dog training clinics instructed by Mr. Bob Vest (then of Vinton, Iowa).  I would enjoy sharing what I learned from him during those days:

 Bob says his family has "always" had Australian Shepherds--since the late 1800's, anyway.  Bob shared a photo of his grandmother from 1915 with a blue bobtailed dog. Bob related to me that years ago his grandfather had a red merle female Aussie, "Brownie", who earned a certain amount of notoriety.  It was Brownie's job to keep his grampa's rabbits from wandering far from their warren.  Bob's grampa would let the bunnies out into the front yard and when they had eaten their fill, this little Aussie would herd them back into the pen!.  Bob shared a photo of Brownie with a litter of puppies in around 1940.

When Bob's family moved from Phoenix, Arizona in 1942, Brownie rode to Vinton, Iowa on the specially adapted running board of a Model A.  Sadly, Brownie was poisoned in 1944, but even in death she was unusual. She came inside and died at the foot of grampa's bed. Funeral services were carried out by Bob and he charged the neighborhood children a penny to see her grave.  So reads the great stories of this dog, and other merled, naturally bob-tailed Aussies that followed.

It was around 1960 that Bob was dealing with horses in Kansas and met a man named Anderson.  Anderson also had Aussies and Bob admired his dogs.  A friend of Bob's from Iowa, Vern Thorp, acquired Aussies from this Anderson and eventually, Bob acquired a blue merle dog from Thorp named Charlie Brown.  Bob thought Charlie Brown was such a good dog that all of Bob's Aussies are now line bred from this Anderson dog.

A red merle son of Charlie Brown, Vest's Chargin' Tank, was also one of Bob's favorite dogs.  Tank's dam, Hackett's Angel, was Anderson-bred; her grandsire on the top side was Anderson's Blackie (Charlie Brown's sire) and her grand dam on the bottom side was Anderson's Princess (Charlie Brown's dam).  Blackie was reportedly quite large, and Princess was said to be a small blue merle bitch, only 17 inches tall.

The first Aussie that Bob completed triple ATD titles on was Vest's Chargin' Belle Starr (spelling varies with registries).  Belle was sired by Tank and out of a Flintridge-type female, Lady in Waiting.  Belle was able to pass on her tremendous style when she was bred back to her grandfather, Charlie Brown, and then to their son, Vest's Chargin' Bell Star Doc.  Bob is presently working with Belle's great and great-great-grandchildren, and he says they just keep getting better.

Bob says that he has found that inbreeding works well with his dogs in producing the type of workers that he likes.  Bob believes that well-planned inbreeding/linebreeding is the only way to preserve the genetic strength for producing the qualities you want your dogs to have. 

Bob has been an ASCA-approved Stock Dog Judge since 1977.  He also instructs herding clinics across the country.  But an earlier story from his lifetime of training dogs was also documented in an old Aussie Times (1980?) by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle: 

 "The art of training and handling good dogs lies in the hearts of men, not in their billfolds, or in the billfolds of others.  If the saying is true (Actions speak louder than words), then Bob Vest has made a mark in the hearts of Aussie Fanciers.

The performance record of "Quick Chuten" Bell Star attests to Bob's ability as a trainer and handler. His first Australian     Shepherd, a little blue merle male called "Mike" paved the way to a long-term interest in stock dogs.  Bob used Mike during the 1960's in his operation while breaking and training horses.  "Charlie Brown" may conjure an image of Charles Schultz' famous comic strip character to many.  To Bob, Charlie Brown creates the memories of his second Aussie, along with "Fatty".  Fatty was by Charlie Brown and out of one of Mrs. Hackett's females.  He used both Charlie Brown and Fatty when breaking horses to lead or load.  If he had trouble with one loading, or if he was ponying one that would set back and pull, Bob could whistle the dogs in, and they would move in and take hold.  They were also helpful when riding along the edge of water.  If you wanted a colt to go in, but he was reluctant, you could get on their case; but nothing worked better than a dog coming in to nip the colt once or twice on the heels.  The next time it would happen, all Bob would have to do was whistle for one of the dogs and the colt would remember and jump right in!

In 1975 there was a trial and clinic in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Bob said that he remembers that it didn't look too difficult, so he entered the clinic under Ernie Hartnagle.  "Those sheep worked quite a little different than the horses," Bob remembered.  After talking with Ernie, he went home and bought some sheep.  "Then I started using Tank."  Bob tinkered with Tank and his sheep in an indoor arena a little every day.  Bob attended another clinic under Ernie in Missouri and then went home and worked all winter.

When spring rolled around, Bob attended a clinic under Mr. Lewis Pence.  Bob became friends with Mr. Pence. He invited Bob to attend a few Border Collie trials." He would sit and visit with me and critique the runs. Not to make fun of any dogs or handlers, but to help me understand and to help me and my own dogs a little better."  Mr. Pence sought permission to shed off five head of sheep for Bob to work.  "I said, oh, that doesn't look too far.  I figured that my dog could fetch the sheep just as good as those other dogs.  I sent him out and he got about half-way out there and then he went totally deaf.  He ran right through the middle of them and split them all over.  Mr. Pence just chuckled and said, "Keep practicing."

Bob did just that!  He read every Border Collie book and Aussie article available on training.  He put them together and figured out what would work best for his own dogs.  It worked out extremely well for his type of dog. "Tank taught me that I was putting too much control on my dog, by making him work the way I wanted him to work, rather than the way he wanted to work.  I never allowed him to be himself.  It was always, up and down, go left, go right, and I never allowed him to think for himself; which seems to be a thing that all of us tend to do when we first start handling dogs."

Bob remembers Lewis Pence telling him he "had a lot of problems and faults that I was blaming on the dog that were actually my own fault.  I asked him if I should get another dog and start over.  Mr. Pence said that if I would get rid of this dog that I created the faults in, the next dog would have the same faults because I wouldn't know how to correct them.  He told me to go ahead and try to correct the faults and the next dog would be better.  I did this and it worked."

Bob says of Bell Star:  "I was going to sell Belle once, and I tried to give her away a couple of times, but nobody ever took her.  I guess the good Lord meant for me to have Bell Star.  With the things that I did wrong with Tank, I was able to improve Bell.  I worked her and made fewer mistakes which made it easier to develop her into a better dog.  The best thing that I ever did was allow her to develop her own style.  I worked around her instead of making her be the way I wanted her to be."  Bell goes everywhere with Bob. She sleeps at the edge of his bed.  "She is not just a dog to me, she is a very special friend.  She makes me feel good when I'm down.  She does those things a dog does for a person, that if you don't really enjoy and love a dog you can't really understand how a person can feel this way about a dog."  (end Hartnagle article)

Bob has always worked with his dogs in some way, whether in obedience, hunting raccoon, or sledding! He watched a sheepdog trial and thought, "My dog can do that!"; however, when he went home and into the sheep pen with his dog, he found out that he had some things to learn!  Learn he did, and now he is happy to help out and encourage others to succeed in this effort of stock dog training.

Copyright 1982 [CHEVREHERD Australian Shepherds]. All rights reserved. Page last edited: 06/20/03