Clover: The Ranch-Dog-School Flunkout

Clover: The Ranch-Dog-School Flunkout

It's true, Clover flunked out of ranch dog school. I won’t go through a laundry list of her unsuitable qualities for ranch life (but laying down in front of large equipment comes to mind). By the time we adopted her, she was about five, and more of an accessory to the ranch-dog pack than a contributing member of it.

My name is Monica and I now live and work on our family's working ranch in Idaho, alongside my husband, three kids, 200-odd cattle, 10+ horses, 5 dogs, 5 cats, a dairy cow named Iris, etc, and of course, Clover.

In my late 20s, in the throes of transitioning from seasonal river guide life to graduate school, I found myself yearning for a dog to add to my family portrait of one. Instead, I ended up with a husband.

Every time our conversation circled around getting a dog, it seemed like it wasn’t the right time for a pup. Our schedules were hectic, we lived in rentals, and we just didn’t have the stability we wanted.

We were back home visiting my husband’s family’s cattle ranch in Idaho, where dogs are a big part of the picture (so much so that a casual observer might gently cough and say, ‘wow, that’s a lot of dogs!’), when his parents suggested we take Clover.

Clover clearly didn't help out much in the way of 'earning her keep' on the ranch.

Ranch dog to family dog was a transition that suited Clover beautifully. Her confidence blossomed. She went from being at the bottom of the ranch dog pack to a couch-loving, snuggle-whoring, Frisbee-loving wonder-dog.

Clover loomed large in our lives at that time, the blissful period between “after marriage” and “before kids.” (Enjoy it, people.) We moved up to the frozen North for work. When I look at pictures of us hoisting her up to the “Welcome to Alaska” sign on the Al-Can, I can hardly believe how young we look -- all of us. We backpacked, camped, skied and ice skated -- and Clover loved all of it.

Our pack changed after having kids. Clover would probably have preferred to remain an only child, but she took to our small human puppy with reluctant kindness. She’d grab plastic blocks from his chubby hands, then toss them back to him -- fetch on a miniature scale. She dutifully walked alongside the stroller in all shades of Alaska weather. One day, she even barked down a huge cow moose after my husband had unwittingly walked between her and her calf with the stroller. Clover trembled, she crouched down low, gave her deep-throated growl-bark, and channeled her long-dormant ranch skills of hazing a four-legged animal without going totally bonkers.

After nearly three years in Alaska, we moved back to my husband’s family ranch. Clover was suddenly the slowest of the ranch dog pack. (Excessive couch-snuggling does more for the the soul than the body.) But she rocketed back into working-dog shape that first summer.

Clover ran miles a day alongside our four-wheeler, a flash of blue merle shadowing us during chores. She got fast enough to nab ground squirrels on the fly, which she’d proudly display with her head held high. And her confidence astonished us. At dusk one day we rode into a far pasture to change irrigation water and Clover lit after two coyotes, gaining on them before eventually turning back. It was like a scene from Planet Earth -- the sun refracted off the droplets of water being kicked up as three wild canids ripped across the pasture.

Three years after moving back to Idaho, Clover’s still a mediocre ranch dog. She sometimes chases cattle when she shouldn’t. She sometimes won’t herd them when she’s supposed to. She’s still apt to lie down in front of the tractor for attention.

But she’s a better version of herself. Being an only-dog gave her the confidence to channel her inner alpha. She’s no longer at the bottom of the ranch dog pack. And… she likes it here!

Then again, Clover’s liked it wherever we’ve been. She’s endured small yards and below-freezing temps, scary moose and aggressive cows -- but she just keeps doing her doggone best wherever her pack takes her.

There’s wisdom to be gleaned from that: Circumstances may change around us, but it’s up to us to decide how we handle them.

Meeting unexpected change with a tail-wag often gets us further than a snarl.

Circumstance will inevitably take Clover from my life in the coming years. I can’t stop that. But I can choose how I’ll handle it.

I’ll try to handle Clover’s loss the way I like to believe she’d handle mine -- with an honest disposition, a kind heart, and a belief that this crummy circumstance is only temporary.

Keep your tails wagging, everyone. Our better halves would do the same.


To keep up with Monica, Clover, and their daily ranch life, be sure to follow them on Instagram -