When it comes to working style, Lacy Dogs most closely resemble Catahoulas and Blackmouth Curs. They work in a completely different manner than the European herding dogs developed to move sheep across hill and dale or the Continental livestock guardians created to protect their flock. Curs have the ability to work much rougher animals in much tougher conditions. And the Lacy is no exception. Developed to gather and move range hogs, Lacy Dogs herd with a gritty, loose eyed, upright, heading style.
Hog Dog Origins
When discussing Lacy stock dogs, it is important to acknowledge that they developed their style and instincts primarily on feral hogs. They had a specific purpose that was dangerous and difficult. It required great intelligence, independence and an aggressive approach. Lacys without these traits would not have survived the rank animals they faced.
“I was fortunate enough to help my father, John Henry Lacy, round up hogs on our ranch when I was growing up in the Depression days. We didn’t drive the hogs, we just followed as the dogs led them to the pen. One rider could round up a large number of hogs with just he, his horse and his two dogs. There was a pen in the pasture which the dogs knew to take the hogs. We would go into the pasture, this one being about 1,000 acres, with the dogs and they would locate the hogs and round them up into an area. The dogs would nip the hogs and begin their run toward the pen. The hogs would chase the dogs and when the hogs no longer ran after the dogs, the dogs would return and nip a hog again to begin more chasing by the hogs. This continued until the dogs reached the pen and ran through the open gate with the hogs in wild pursuit. There was a hole in the pen on the opposite side of the gate which was too high for hogs to go through but which the dogs could jump through and escape the hogs. The riders just followed the hogs to the pen and shut the gate, thereby penning the herd with no trouble or danger to the horsed or riders. This is still very vivid in my mind’s eye even 65 years later. This is the same way the hogs were taken to Austin to the packing house — led by the dogs, followed by the riders.” – Helen Lacy Gibbs
“Ranchers have ‘trail’ dogs that can follow a hog trail across ‘rock, thorn, and water.’ They have ‘lead’ dogs that can excite the outlaw hogs into chasing them into an open corral, or brush clearings where the stockman waits with lariat. They have ‘catch’ dogs that work in pairs, one grabbing a hog’s ear, the other its flank. At the proper moment, they pull in opposite directions, flattening the dangerous porker on the ground in a split second. They hold it until their masters ties its legs. Comparable in size to the wire-haired terrier, the Lacy dog is, as the Llano ranchers say, ‘tough as a boot, hard as nails, and enduring as a pocket knife.'” – Sam E. Harris for True West Magainze
These descriptions of Catahoula working livestock are nearly identical to the manner in which Lacys herd. It is amazing how similar the story is of the Catahoula and the Lacy, two distinct breeds developed to fit the same need in two different regions. The Catahoula may have been king of the swamp in Louisiana, but the Lacy Dog clearly dominated in the Texas Hill Country. A rugged and rocky region with dense brush, the hunters and ranchers of the area required a smaller, quicker and more agile breed. But to this day, Catahoulas and Lacys have a similar working style, highlighted in the passages below.
“The breed developed when livestock were turned loose to fend for themselves, then were rounded up for market or branding. People from the bayous eked out a living from fishing, trapping, and running a few wild hogs and cattle back in the woods. This stock was wild and unruly, living off acorns and berries, not seeing humans only very rarely. The hogs in particular were nearly impossible to drive. They would turn on most herding dogs and fight rather than run. The Catahoulas were essential to gathering and penning the pigs, and their herding techniques are described by H. Ellen Whiteley, DVM in her article ‘Catahoula Hog Dog Brings Back Memories of Home.’ Stragglers were picked out by the dogs and forced into a ‘fight.’ Distressed screams from the enraged boar brought the other hogs, especially the lead boar, to the rescue with champing jaws and raised back-bristles. The dogs then turned and ran, escaping the slashing tusks, just fast enough to tantalize the hogs into continuing the chase, which soon led directly into the waiting hog pens. The Catahoula deftly jumped the back fence, and the hogs were trapped. Good dogs were worth their weight in gold. A natural selection of breeding stock occurred, since inept or slow specimens rarely made it through the first year of work.
Eventually, this herding style was adapted for cattle. Unlike other herding dog breeds, Catahoulas are ‘headers’ and are used for herding cattle and sheep by a method of agitation and intimidation of herd animals as opposed to the method of all day boundary patrol and restricting the animals being herded from entering of leaving the designated area.” – Tumbling Run Catahoulas
“Being a ‘bay’ dog, their natural instinct is to stop the cattle and hold them in a group or bunch. To keep them from moving, holding them at ‘bay,’ until the owner arrives. In order to accomplish this, a Catahoula will work from the front, in ‘header’ fashion, barking and moving in a semi-circle face to face with the animal. If there is a need to put pressure on an animal to stop, the dog may bite at the nose area quickly, for a split second, but should never ‘hang’ on. A Catahoula will naturally make a wide circle around any cattle in sight to gather them into a herd. After the cattle have settled, the owner can then start to push or move the cattle from behind, while the dogs cover the area in front of the herd to quell any thoughts of escape.” – Cat’s Cradle Catahoulas
“The Catahoula has no equal when it comes to driving cattle. They can make a Brahma Bull go through the eye of a needle. Yet, they do not cut or injure cattle. Rather, they aggravate or tease cattle into following or chasing them, always leading the cattle to the desired destination. It is a pleasure indeed to see several of the dogs working together; some leading and coaxing, and some bringing up the rear.
The sport of wild hog hunting is one of the most dangerous sports. The wild boar possesses the jaw that can cut off the leg of man or horse. A less skilled dog would last but minutes with such an opponent, but the Catahoula has no equal in the game of ducking and dodging. In the days when hog hunting was a serious business in North Louisiana for the purpose of gathering the year’s supply of meat, huge pens would be built in the woods with a large V opening for the hogs to enter. Then the Catahoulas would be set loose for the hunt. When the dogs located the hog herd, one dog would aggravate the hogs, causing then to chase them. As the dog aggravated, he would continue to work his way to the pens, while the remaining dogs would close in the rear. Whenever the lead dog tired, he would drop to the rear and a fresh dog would replace him. This may seem simple, but one slip, one mistake in dodging could cost the life of the dog. It takes great skill and precise timing to stay out of the reach of the tusks of the wild boar. In this skill, the Catahoula excels. It is a skill that cannot be learned or taught. It is a skill that lies deep in the long ago breeding of the strain.” – Richard J. Bertrand for the Animal Research Magazine
The other distinct trait of Lacy cow dogs is their eye. When many people imagine a herding dog, they think of a Border Collie, nipping at heels and staring intensely at their quarry. In addition to having a tendency to head stock, Lacys naturally work with a much looser eye. Despite their small size, Lacy Dogs use their body more than their gaze, concentrating on moving the herd rather than intricately positioning individual animals.
“Loose-eyed dogs generally work with an upright posture, often using their bodies in controlling the stock through movement, blocking, sometimes even bumping the animals, and usually showing an inclination to push right up to the stock with little apparent concern for the flight zone. The dog takes in the whole picture, glancing around from time to time while nonetheless being aware of the position of the stock. The loose-eyed dog usually has a ‘looser’ balance, balancing more on the group as a whole than on an individual, or moving freely past a balance point and then reversing to recover it.”
– Herding on the Web
“Loose eyed dogs don’t ‘stare’ continually and have more of a tendency to ‘look around.’ They verify by sight where the handler is and where they are going. This is not to say that a loose eyed dog does not have eye — it does. It just does not use it continually or as strongly as a pressure or controlling maneuver on livestock. Loose eyed dogs are more likely to exert or relieve pressure by body movement. Raising, lowering, or moving to the side, of the head/neck or whole body is seen.
There are many good points to using a loose eyed dog. They have very free movement around stock and don’t get sticky. A more complete view of a large herd or seeing exactly where they are going in pens and chutes is helpful.”
– Kyle Trumbull-Clark for the Aussie Times