Working and Herding Dogs

Esther Ekman

March 13, 1941 - October 3, 1998

After battleing cancer for 2 years, it is with heart filled sadness that we must tell you Esther has passed away. Like her cattle dogs, Esther was tough and no matter how she felt, in pain, sick from chemotherapy and radiation or during one of the peroids she was in the hospital, she was always there for everyone with an encourageing word, advice or what ever was needed. Esther's knowledge of the history of Australian Cattle Dogs from their very beginning in Australia through today was unsurpassed. She devoted her life to breeding and showing Australian Cattle Dogs and you will find many of her dogs listed in the pedigrees of a great many cattle dogs being bred and shown today. In her memory, the executor of her estate, Amy Berry has agreed to provide us with pictures and pedigrees of the cattle dogs that were the very foundation of Esther's breeding stock as well as the many champions she bred and raised over her life time. Due to the number of dogs that are to be included on the list it will take some time to get all the pictures and pedigrees entered so please come back from time to time to see the new additions to the list. At the bottom of Esther's biography there is a link to click on that will take you directly to her legacy.

One would normally think that someone involved in herding dogs would be from a ranch or farm background. With me it didn't happen that way, at least not exactly.

I was born and raised in San Francisco, CA, one of those rare beings (just ask anyone in the City and they are always from somewhere else), a third generation Californian and a second generation San Franciscan. My upbringing was anything but normal (normal for the rest of the country–as most know, nothing is normal in California). My Dad was a fisherman and a hunter, so from 10 days old onward, off work time was spent surf/trout/ocean fishing or in the mountains hunting (or I should say, playing dog because I didn't enjoy the killing, just the eating). Of course, in order to qualify for dinner, I had to clean/scale/pluck the fish/duck or deer. So the outdoors was second nature.

My obsession with horses was to be expected, living in the southeastern neighborhood. Butcher Town was just over the hill. Just behind us was McLaren Park with horse stables, saddle shops and a large group of weekend team ropers and rodeo cowboys. I joined the SF Junior Horsemen's Association as a teen and those years were filled with going to horse shows, stock shows, team ropings and rodeos. Just like Texas, except for the "flower child" in the closet, and working as a "pony walker" at the polo games or polishing silver parade saddles for the Shriners.

We always had a dog. My "growing up with" dog was a Border Collie named Pal. Lest anyone think that a "city" stockdog may not be up to snuff; Dad and friends took Pal fishing on the slough one weekend. Lunchtime they pulled the boat to shore. When it was time to be off, they called Pal and here he comes down the hill herding a lamb. He put it right into the boat. Dad brought the he-lamb home to me, which I raised until he weighed 150 pounds, had large horns and butted my Dad down the front driveway head first. Pal died just when I started college.

A short while later I saw a dog that blew me away at a friend's ranch. The neighbor had brought over a couple of dogs to help him move a herd of bulls. Six months later I bought my first Australian Cattle Dog. A year later I put a CD title on him and six months later I showed him in our first conformation class (the breed was then in the AKC Miscellaneous class). Six months after that I co-founded our national breed club, The Australian Cattle Dog Club of America.

Meanwhile, back out there at the ranch, Chico did get a chance now and then to be a stockdog, untrained and without legal counsel. It's a wonder we didn't cause a wreck of preposterous nature. Although he did his share of class placings, he was not a good example of the breed, being an over-tanned blue, narrow headed with very large ears and HD (as I found later on). But... he was loyal and had the patience of Job, enduring all my mistakes in obedience training, keeping both of us out of trouble from other large animals, and could scare the daylights out of visitors by heeling their shoes if they crossed their feet too fast sitting on the couch.

In other words, he was a typical ACD and in the last 30 years I've never been tempted to have another breed of dog. I appreciate many, I admire many others, but the die is cast and my personal breed is the ACD.

While obedience training Chico, I worked under Tommy Witcher and Jean Bobbitt at St. Francis Dog Training Club. Seems I had a small flair for working with people and was asked to act as Asst. Trainer (volunteer as a member of the club) and did so for the next 12 years or so. The classes were geared for urban pet owners with out of control dogs. It was an excellent classroom, teaching me that each dog is different, and as a trainer, you must be open minded because if the dog failed to get under control with one method, something else had to be tried. If the dog or the owner failed, you couldn't just shrug it off because you realize that the dog will end up in the shelter and be dead very quickly. Having a dark side to my humor I also realized that one or both sometimes should be in the shelter and gone.

After co-founding the ACDCA Inc. with Christina Smith-Risk in 1967 and spending a couple of years gathering like minded people, we worked to get the breed fully recognized by the AKC. As with any organization, there were surprises/drama/politics/greed/legal battles/ blood and guts. You know, come to think of it, the Club is still about the same, just a bit more mature about it (dark side again)!

The first surprise was that when the AKC told us we had to run our own Club registry and all dogs had to trace back to dogs registered in Australia, we found out that most of the dogs we owned were not pure-breds and could not be registered. Not wanting to put down my two, I had to wait several years before owning a pure-bred ACD. So I learned, watched others make mistakes, worked with those that were doing right by the breed, studied and stuck it out until I could make my own mistakes.

From day one I decided that I wanted to be able to plan a mating, whelp it out, keep something (hoping it was the best one) and be able to show it to a championship, get an obedience title, work it on stock and be able to be house dog, too –all without hiring the pros to do it for me. It can be done even if you happen to be an egg with legs and have bad knees, like this writer. You just have to breed as good or better dogs than the pros are showing. You just have to be humble and not "go balistic" if your score isn't a 200. You just have to have a stockdog faster than the stock because you are not as good as Manolete with the cape (actually he had a bit of a problem too)! And you must socialize that pup not to eat more than one visitor a month.

Of course you must also realize it takes a bit longer sometimes, but lordy, what a rush when it comes together! (And this comes from someone who knew Haight-Ashbury well.) I love it! Putting a dog on the ground that can do it is the ultimate ego trip. Luckily, the dogs also have a warped sense of humor and will use it if you become an insufferable bore in their eyes.

So there you have it. I'm still actively showing and working my dogs; doing a bit of outside training; grooming other peoples pets (I like my wash and wear dogs); doing a few evaluations and some artwork. I haven't thought much about going for a judging license (too many restrictions and I'm lazy). Besides you have to dress up to be a judge.

Oh, the ACD was fully AKC recognized in 1980. I'm a charter member of our local club, Gold Coast Australian Cattle Dog Club, founded in 1979. Over the years I've held many offices in both clubs from President to COPS and Grievance Committees. I've written for the newsletters and club handouts, contributed information for other people's books and who knows, one of these days, I may even take the time to write my own book – probably on the dark side of our breed's sense of humor because it is hard for me to be too serious for too long.

Seriously though, I believe my best qualification (and pride) is when I run into some old cowboy who bought a dog from me and have him say: "That's the best damn dog I ever owned."

If you would like to go to the photo's and pedigrees of Esther's dogs please click on:

Esther Ekman's Australian Cattle Dog Legacy Spanning 39 Years


If not then select one of the options below:

Click on kelpie runningArticles on Herding/Working Dogs| to go directly to the Working/Herding Dog Menu.

©Copyright 1997 - 1999 MacKenzie & Associates All Rights Reserved