Hangin' Tree Working Australian Shepherds
WTCH Hangin Tree Huck Finn RD DNA-CP
(Hangin' Tree Huckleberry X Hangin Tree Cricket STDcds)
The one question we receive most frequently is why we prefer to own and breed Aussies with Hangin' Tree pedigrees. We can only say, that compared to other lines of Aussies with working abilities, we personally admire the characteristics and talents that we consistently find in Hangin' Tree (HT) bred dogs. In our travels, most of the dogs we encounter that we would be willing to take home are from the HT line. Mind you, these are general observations and we know individual dogs may vary from these statements:
HT dogs tend to be moderate in height, weight, and athletically built for speed, agility,
endurance and physical durability.
HT dogs tend to have strong working instincts and they want to work at a young age.
HT dogs tend to be extremely biddable and they desire to work for their owners.
HT dogs are intelligent, sensible and easy to train with a variety of methodologies.
HT dogs have an "off" switch and readily adapt to being house dogs and companions.
HT dogs are reserved with strangers, but not aggressive to humans or other dogs.
HT dogs have a traditional "Old School" Aussie appearance.
HT dogs are resilient and adaptable, and react reliably in stressful situations.
HT dogs are working Aussies first and foremost.
PCH WTCH Certik-Bertik CDX, TD, RS-E, GS-E-OP, JS-E, AD, SA, SJ, SG, SR, EJC, ERC, EGC, DNA-CP, or "Little Devil" (Peter's Ranch Black Bear X Four Bar X Sydney) Owner/Handler: Adriana Trajcikova-Plum MVA (Most Versatile Aussie) Champion at the 2006 and 2007 Nationals
Hangin' Tree Bullet (1991-2005)
(Hangin' Tree Partner STDcds X HOF Hangin' Tree Cinnamon Teal OTDds STDc)
After multiple interviews with Gary Ericsson, the architect of the Hangin' Tree line of Aussies, I now know that many of these characteristics were the same ones that he bred for when he created the line. Gary had established criteria for dogs from his kennel and he was religious about adhering to his plan. He invested nearly a quarter of a century in breeding a working Australian Shepherd to meet his personal needs and goals. He will readily admit to culling a great many dogs that he produced, but did not meet up to his expectations in some area. By 1992, he had a successful and recognizable line of dogs, and the dogs that were in his breeding line at that time were consistent producers of the qualities he wanted. Dogs like Working Blue, Black Bear, Dude, Teal, Trouble, and Blueberry were the undiluted end result of his efforts.
Peter's Ranch Dillon DNA-CP
(Hangin' Tree Spook OTDc STDds DNA-CP X Hangin' Tree Roja) Full sibling to Hangin Tree Dude
Becky Bailie of Starstuff Working Australian Shepherds in Michigan has had Aussie stockdogs for a long time. Please consider her following comments about dogs with Hangin' Tree backgrounds:
"Dude was a great dog in many respects and I felt very fortunate to have been an important part of his life, even though it was not nearly long enough. I have owned Australian Shepherd since the early 70's. My first dogs were unregistered, varied in type, and of unknown breeding but were very typical of what I view as an Australian Shepherd. My pedigreed Aussies have always been of "working-lines", but I have learned a tremendous amount about what kind of talent it takes to make a good, helpful stockdog and, unfortunately, not near enough dogs consistently have it. I found in Dude what I had in Gin (HOF WTCH Windsong's Imagine RTDs), the biddability and talent to be an exceptional working partner and the drive and the heart to take the pressure of being competitive in trials. Dude, as well as some of my other related (Hangin' Tree) dogs are my ideal of a good working Aussie. Each one is not perfect in every way but over all, the whole package is there..... I have found them to have the talent, drive, intelligence, devotion, temperament and healthiness that first attracted me to this special breed so many years ago. Those that have them, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do."
Becky Bailie, 2003
Regarding criticism and rumors about the HT line, I have extensively researched the claims, and personally have not found them to be based in fact. HT dogs are fully registered ASCA and AKC Australian Shepherd dogs, and have been so for over twenty years. Hangin' Tree bred and based dogs continue to be regularly successful in nearly every venue of competition and as working companions. (Additional information on rumors regarding the Hangin' Tree line of dogs continues following photos below)
CH. Windor's Bodacious DNA-VP or "BoDee" (Sire: WTCH Diamond S Bozo RD RTDsc DNA-CP X Dam: Splitfire of Windsor STDs DNA-VP (Rory's Sister) This is Hallie' half-brother
Peter's Ranch Kali STDs
(HOF Hangin' Tree Black Bear RDg RTDcs PATDc DNA-CP X HOF Hangin' Tree Cinnamon Teal OTDsd STDc) Kali is Bo's dam's, Paige, littermate.
Sand Creek Grand RTDs OTDcds DNA-VP
(HOF WTCH Hangin' Tree Dude RD RTDcs PATDcs DNA-CP X Four Bar X Cola of Peter's Ranch RD STDcds DNA-CP) 2002 Nationals Most Promising Started Dog
Hangin' Tree Roja
(WTCH Hangin' Tree Working Blue RDX X HOF Slash V Cherry Cola)
Peter's Ranch Kid ATDcs OTDd
(Hangin' Tree Spook OTDc STDds DNA-CP X Hangin' Tree Dottie STDcs)
Windsor's NickyBo (WTCH Diamond S Bozo RD RTDsc DNA-CP of "Bo" X Suerte's Tri Tristan (HOF Sliver's sister)
Windor's Back In Black or "Josie Flat"
In Salmon, Idaho Gary Ericsson and his immediate family made a living breeding, training, and selling stockdogs. He generally sold Border Collies to sheep ranchers and Australian Shepherds to cattle ranchers. He had a constant waiting list for dogs and provided stockdogs primarily for the true ranchers market. He developed his Aussie line by combining outstanding individual dogs from existing ASCA kennels (Las Rocosa, Zephyr, Slash V, etc) with Australian Shepherds that his extended family had been developing for decades previously. As a part of his breeding program, he culled heavily and bred only the best stock working dogs. He prided himself on the fact that his Aussies were highly instinctual and went to work at a very young age. They were tough with stock, but receptive and responsive to nearly any type of training.
However, in 1985, Gary Ericsson was not a welcomed new trialer and breeder to the world of ASCA. When Gary Ericsson arrived on the scene, he immediately began winning major stockdog events. Specifically, he did very well at Futurity events, with dog’s of his breeding winning four major events between 1986 and 1990. During that same time period, he earned significant amounts of trial prize money. It was claimed that some specific dogs from his kennel worked in a different style from many of the other lines of working Aussies he was competing against. The claim was that this difference was a result of cross breeding.
Gary’s training methods and handling style were very different from the status quo. His dogs generally were extremely obedient and had a very diverse set of directional and stock control commands. They worked wide off the stock, or close up, at Gary’s direction, and they had a great deal of natural rate on approach. Gary, as a handler, used a great deal of crook work, personal positioning, and handler movement to assist his dogs. He downed his dogs frequently when he trialed and he could verbally command them to both approach and retreat from stock anywhere from a one–step walk to a full run. Gary was a patient and analytical trialer and had an excellent working knowledge of stock movement and control. Gary Ericsson believes that by training and working privately in Idaho, totally on his own, he developed an exceptionally high set of expectations for his trained dogs, and a breeding standard that was totally based on his own personal vision of the working Aussie. He developed a recognizable line of Australian Shepherds that was somewhat unique in both training style and character. He also says that the rumors regarding his kennel were aimed at discrediting his independent breeding, training and trialing successes, and were largely circulated by "jealous folks."
Additionally, his dogs were successful in the hands of many different handlers that previously had not been major players in the stockdog trial and Futurity scene. Prior to owning Hangin' Tree bred dogs, the names of George Costa and "Hooker" from California or Jenny Johnston and "Huck" from Montana, Roger Stevens and "Blue Bear" of Alabama or Joni Swanke and "Dude from North Dakota were not well known in the ASCA community. The dogs had true talent and exceptional trainability regardless of ownership. Gary Ericsson says that he has always felt the negative rumors about his kennel were aimed specifically at discrediting his dogs in an attempt to reduce his market share, and were largely circulated by people that were upset at his seemingly instantaneous success. To this day, rumors about cross breeding and seizures are regularly resurrected by those folks that wish to continue criticizing the Hangin’ Tree line, or just plain do not know better.
I quote from someone, who asked not to be identified, that was there in when these rumors first began to circulate within the ASCA community:
"Having met Gary back in 1988, Pasadena, TX Nationals and seeing his dogs work, I was really impressed. And, I believe that is back in the era that all this "crap" started up about Gary and cross breeding. And, I further believe it is because when that man and his dog walked into the trial arena, they took charge and did the job they were there to do, cleaning up in the money, trophy, and ribbons. Pure jealousy is what started this "stuff".....IMO! I was approached twice by people that were circulating petitions to get Gary or his dogs banned from ASCA. Can't remember who started this, but at the Nationals, a "friend" brought a petition into the Conformation Building, trying to get signatures compiled to have Gary and all dogs of his breeding thrown out of ASCA. Having won nearly everything at the Futurity, outside of Houston, in April of 1988 (a good friend of mine was there), I looked at "friend" and asked why this was being done. I was informed that it was because "his dawgs don't work like an Aussie (along with the rest of the crap)"! Being the big mouth that I can be, I said, "oh, beat you again?" FYI, this "friend" is no longer in Aussies, but now with BC's! Nuff said! I totally believe that this was all started due to jealousy, poor sportsmanship, ego, etc. I'm just sorry that Gary got out of breeding Aussies! And, I regret not getting to know him better. I feel very strongly about this subject and just wish people would "get over it!"
I have personally obtained three different videotapes of the 1988 Cen-Tex Futurity, and have reviewed the performances of all the final competing dogs in both cattle and sheep. There is no visual evidence that supports accusations that Hangin’ Tree bred dogs worked like Border Collies. The Hangin’ Tree dogs represented at that event were exceptionally well trained, highly instinctual, and superior to the other similarly aged dogs. They worked differently (read:better) because the were trained better.
When I confronted Gary about the rumor that he had cross bred Aussies and Border Collies and registered them with ASCA to create his line, and that Black Bear was the result of a such a cross, Gary firmly asserted , "No, absolutely not" If you saw Black Bear in person, even at the advanced age of 14 and 1/2, his structure, movement and working style bear little resemblance to that of a BC. He had a moderately upright stance, above average eye, and a strong vertical stalking behavior on approach to stock. Bear worked very fast, close and hard. At no time did have any stickiness at all in his approach. He did have a near instantaneous down, but that is attributed to strong early training, and that involved the use of a shock collar.
If there was a cross breeding or an accidental breeding involving Hangin Tree dogs and Border Collies, it occurred before 1988 and prior to the general availability of DNA testing that would have been able to prove or disprove allegations. The primary evidence brought up by those people convinced of such cross breeding is a visual observation of a dog’s working style. The names of Hangin’ Tree Huckleberry and O’Sage’s Shining Times are most consistently proposed as examples because of their lowered head carriage, intense eye and measured approach.
Here in the Midwest I was able to witness a specific two-year old working bred and ASCA registered Aussie (with no Hangin’ Tree in his pedigree) at his first ASCA trial. He was up close, erect, very loose eyed, fast, on their butts, and all those other characteristics that a familiar to Australian Shepherds. Three years later, now a WTCH, and after miles of working experience, and untold hours of training under one of the most talented trainers and stockdog Judges in ASCA’s history, that same dog is measured on approach, stalking walk-up, lots of eye, intense concentration on stock, and lowered head and body carriage. This change in the dog’s working style was completely due to the specific training his owner had designed and implemented for that dog.
Even with that example, there remains so much variation in working styles in individual Aussies, even among littermates, that observation does not prove anything. I have had the opportunity over the past five years watch the training and trialing of three male Aussies, all Hangin Tree Dude offspring, and all from the same litter. Their three working styles display almost the full spectrum of variation that can be seen in working Aussies. The first WTCH littermate works fully upright, completely loose-eyed to the point of looking distracted by everything, extremely close, with lost of bite on both ends. One WTCH littermate works with a great deal of eye, much patience, steady and slow intensity, and a lowered head and body carriage. The third littermate is somewhere in the middle regarding style and working behaviors. If you looked at the three dogs in a conformation line-up you would have no questions about them being littermates. But to see them only working, you would never make the connection, because their natural working styles are so very different. All three dogs were successful competitors within ASCA Stockdog Trials at very young ages, and these difference were readily apparent before they were either 18 months old or fully trained. This was inborn variation in instinctive working behavior (ie "style") within one litter.
Aussies do vary tremendously in their working abilities and how they manifest that working ability. Speculation regarding supposed BC cross breeding by observation of the way any dog works around stock is effectively meaningless and obviously not valid. To take this one step further, speculation about potential cross breeding that may have occurred many years and multiple generations ago, is even more pointless.
People are free to choose to purchase and breed and own the type of Aussie that they need or prefer as long as they remain within the regulations of the registry. If a dog has an ASCA registration number, it is an Australian Shepherd. The rest is just personal choice within that framework.
There is also the persistent rumor of seizure disorders within the Hangin’ Tree line. In the research I have conducted over the last six years, I have located a very limited number of examples of seizures out of specific crosses, and a very small number of adult individual dogs with Hangin’ Tree dogs in their ancestry. Here are the bulk of my findings from the people that originally developed, and those that have continued to breed, the Hangin’ Tree line of dogs.
Gary Ericsson has consistently maintained, and recently reasserted, that he witnessed absolutely no health problems, genetic issues, or epilepsy in any dogs he bred from 1980 until 1994. He did witness dogs having seizures as a direct result of head trauma and heat exhaustion, but that comes with the territory when you are raising, training and working animals to function in the stockdog world. Gary is very quick to tell anyone how stringent his breeding requirements were for working dogs that have the Hangin' Tree kennel name. He states that he regularly culled large numbers of dogs that he bred that did not measure up to those standards. The only dogs he bred were the ones he had personally identified as trainable, hard-working, and genetically vibrant and healthy. To do otherwise would have defeated his overriding goal of creating the best working Aussie he could market. Gary stressed that he and his family had been breeding registered Aussies for nearly 25 years before he registered his first Aussie with ASCA. Hangin’ Tree Black Bear remains the only Australian Shepherd genetic material used in the development of the crossbred cattle dogs that Gary is currently breeding and marketing out of his new ranch in Oklahoma.
From 1992 until 1994, Davene Peters Finkbeiner, proceeded to fully purchase the Hangin’ Tree Australian Shepherd kennel. In that purchase she received the premier two male stud dogs and seven females from Gary Ericsson’s breeding. Over the following 7 years, either under the Hangin’ Tree name, or the Peter’s Ranch kennel name, she continued to breed dogs for the working ranch market. Davene indicates that she did experience a very limited number of seizures in dogs she bred, but she identified that with only five selected individual dogs and within four crosses. That experience, and a thorough understanding of the Hangin' Tree line allowed her to avoid this issue completely in the vast majority of breedings she personally conducted. In fact, to this day, she continues to breed, although at a reduced volume, those exact same bloodlines without any incidence at all. She pointed out that other persons may have bred exceptionally tight inbred crosses with Hangin' Tree dogs without her historical knowledge regarding the line, and may have inadvertently made some mistakes in their pairings.
From 1992 until 1999, by Davene’s own admission, she bred over 3,000 Hangin’ Tree pups out 80-90 different crosses. The percentage of dogs she produced with any seizure symptoms is significantly less than the incidence of seizures reported by C. A. Sharp in the literature (~3 to 6%) for the Australian Shepherd breed as a whole.
In 1998, Mary and Gary Hawley of Payson, Arizona purchased Hangin’ Tree Black Bear as an 11 year old dog, and began to incorporate Hangin’ Tree dogs into their own breedings. They state, "at no point during our purchase discussions did Davene give us any indication whatsoever that there were problems, or even suspected problems with Idiopathic Epilepsy (IE) or any type of seizure disorder in Black Bear or any of his progeny. Furthermore, when we researched Black Bear’s lineage and progeny before purchasing him, we talked with a large number of Hangin’ Tree dog owners. Not one of our many correspondents mentioned anything about IE or seizure disorder in any of their dogs or pups.”
“Before purchasing any dogs from the Hangin’ Tree line, Gary and I had already obtained ASCA Hall of Fame Kennel status with our own line of dogs. We have had three HOF males (in 1972, 1976, and 1983). Two of our dogs are WTCHs, and one of these is a Ch. WTCH. Other dogs in our kennel have earned numerous working titles in addition to conformation and obedience titles. All of these dogs go back to our original HOF males, and our dogs have done very well for us over the past 30 years. There’s no way we would have jeopardized our successful line and kennel’s reputation by introducing a new outcross line with "defects" into it!”
Surprisingly, in 2001, Davene then posted to an electronic list that several of her crosses including the cross between Peter’s Ranch Razzberry and Black Bear had produced a number of dogs with seizures. Of note, the dogs that she claimed had produced seizures were no longer owned by Davene, unable to be located, or were no longer alive. Davene’s assertions could therefore not be verified or refuted.
Since in 1999, the Hawleys have produced five litters out of four very different dams and have produced 30 pups sired by Black Bear. Sixteen of those dogs are now more than 7 years of age. There have been no health or genetic issues, and the pups have excelled in stockdog, agility and performance events. Additionally, one son is a Certified Service Dog, and one daughter is a WTCH and a Certified Therapy Dog. The Hawleys have been so pleased with Black Bear’s pups that they have kept three of his sons, and have purchased another five Hangin’ Tree line-bred dogs for their kennel. Additionally, they have produced or sired another 34+ pups with at least 50% Hangin’ Tree pedigrees with absolutely no health or genetic-related issues.
Over the past five years I have interviewed, either personally, by telephone, or via email, over 35 individuals and kennel owners that both own and breed dogs that have strong Hangin’ Tree connections. Additionally, I have sought out any Hangin' Tree bred dog that I can find anywhere that has documented seizure activity of any type. I have been able to locate thirteen adult dogs from all these sources that have ever had a seizure. Three of these dogs had observed head trauma that initiated the seizure. Two of these animals had seizures as a direct result of working heat exhaustion, and again, these seizures were observed by someone other than the owner. Additionally, two of the remaining dogs were under the age of eleven months when the seizures began and according to clinical information I secured, neither were diagnosed by their vet with epilepsy. The remaining six dogs had seizures that were from no known identifying reason. Three of these dogs are currently on regulatory medication.
You don’t have to be a geneticist to know that you must consider ALL the dogs in any pedigree, and not just any one line or individual. The Hangin' Tree line of Australian Shepherds, as it currently exists, is the result of over 45 years of selective breeding. Several thousands of dogs, with similar and dissimilar pedigrees, make up this line. From all these dogs, a very few people have ever come forward to say that they have a diagnosed Hangin’ Tree bred Aussie with seizures. Where are the multitudes of dissatisfied puppy buyers that now have grown dogs with seizures? Why have we not heard corroborating evidence from the thirty-odd currently successful and reputable working kennels and breeders that have been producing dogs with solid linebred Hangin’ Tree backgrounds. This limited number of dogs hardly seems sufficient to indict a whole line of dogs, and certainly insufficient to condemn any individual dog. Please read:
Do I know if there are incidences of seizures within the Hangin’ Tree line of Australian Shepherds? Sure, and I think the problem can be considered numerically as a relatively minor one. Please understand that there have been incidences of seizures in nearly every identifiable “line” of Aussies. There are seizure disorders in all dog breeds, all canines (wild and domesticated), and, in fact, all mammals, including humans.
Is this issue so numerous that the Hangin’ Tree line should be singled-out, condemed or abandoned? Absolutely not! There are literally thousands of Hangin’ Tree linebred dogs with absolutely no history or evidence of any seizure-related or genetic disorder. If it was a huge problem with this line, where is the documented evidence and diagnoses of this problem? No one can find much. Any experienced working dog owner knows that there are many possible causes of convulsions, and that a dog that has a seizure does not necessarily have an inherited disease. I will quote from Jeannie Joy Hartnagle, "Convulsions are not a disease but a symptom of another disorder. Seizures can be caused by epilepsy, viral infection, internal parasites, distemper, high fever, accidental injury, or tumors." Additionally, there are a multitude of toxic substances in the environment with seizure-inducing properties for dogs.
With as tightly inbred as some Hangin' Tree dogs are, it is actually surprising that there are not more inherited problems. I interviewed, at-length, a mammalian geneticist at Kansas State University, and he concluded after reviewing many of the prominent pedigrees of known Hangin’ Tree dogs, that he felt this must be a very genetically healthy line of Australian Shepherds. Based on the level of inbreeding, he would expect a significant number of genetically transmitted issues to have appeared by now. The fact that they have not was most surprising to him.
Ultimately, every dog purchaser will all have to draw his or her own conclusions as to the truth in this matter. Before deciding, please be sure to check out the motives of those individuals who continually recirculate these unsubstantiated rumors.
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