Memories of Bob Vest, herding clinician, dog trainer and friend

Special note - the tributes pouring in online are a testament to a life well-lived and a man who was very beloved by people all over the world. They are worth reading, to see what a positive influence Bob had. One of the things Bob recently told me was how proud he was to share the stage with Cesar Millan as they were both presented awards. Bob was helping change lives long before Cesar began to help people in similar ways in his work. I am happy Bob got that official recognition, but recognition of your peers and friends is what tells the real story. Please have a look -

Me and Bob, with Ted and Shaman. Bob gave Ted 'Most Promising Started Other Breed' at an ASCA trial. He loved Ted and said 'you treat that dog right and he would die for you.' What a special day - Shaman finished his CKC HI to become the #1 Rough Collie in CKC herding for that year. Later, Bob gave me a bag of Evo dogfood, because Shaman had Cancer and Bob wanted me to give him a grain-free food. He gave it to me in private, not needing any public acknowledgement of a good deed. He was a very kind, good man. I am happy I knew him. (PS I have lost 40 pounds since this photo was taken! Yeah, I guess I have an ego...)

I guess many of you have read on the dog lists about Bob Vest passing away last weekend. His funeral is tomorrow, and I feel a great need to share some memories about him, because I am so sad about this news. I know that I am only one person of many who knew Bob and at that, a very small-time herder. I can’t believe how much I have to write about him! I was away in BC when I learned of his passing, but strangely had been thinking about Bob all week before he passed. He was on my mind constantly while I was entered in a tracking test, and I kept trying to remember his advice about positive thinking, and cherishing my time with my dog. Dogs are just happy to be with us and training can make that time together even more enjoyable.

I first met Bob in the mid-90s. Bob knew all of my dogs since Kate (who he said had a lot of heart) and helped me with all of them. He came to Thunder Bay every year, brought there by Tanya Wheeler of Tucker Creek Aussies. I hate to admit this, but I didn't really appreciate Bob until I got my Border Collies, Jet and Ted, even though he is known for being an Aussie man. I think it is because I had opened up to learning new things, and realized how much he had to share: when the student is ready, the teacher appears!

Every year, many of us would go religiously to Tanya’s and hear the same things from Bob, over and over. Some people even said to Tanya – Bob always tells me the same thing! I know now it is because a lot of people just didn’t improve and aside from saying “when are you going to practice these things?” all he could do was repeat himself in different ways and be encouraging.

When I got Jet and Ted, Bob became a different person. He was not a “Border Collie” person, but he did know and say things I have heard from the Border Collie trainers. Probably because his earliest teacher was Lewis Pence, who is also mentioned in the book Lessons from a Stockdogby Bruce Fogt. And I suppose that the greatest truths in herding have common denominators. I even recall Scott saying something very similar to a story Tanya sent to everyone (one of her memories) - that someone with dedication and faith could bring out the best in their dog and become the best team for it.

Bob had that old-timer wisdom and I believe he is among the first trainers who began to start freely sharing herding methods (BC and Aussie) with other all-breed people. Eventually he spent all his time traveling from clinic to clinic, become beloved by people across Canada and the United States. At one time there were rumours about his crossing his aussies with BCs. Whatever. There will always be rumours about people like Bob who become well-known. The important thing is that he focused on sharing and teaching and that seemed to be the outlet that gave him his rewards, allowing him to live his passion.

He always drove to Tanya’s and had his dogs with him. I just read on the online condolences that his dog Tyler has recently died - imagine that, not having to worry about what will become of your dog when you go. That dog only had eyes for Bob and it was a beautiful worker – and worked like a BC to my mind…the only aussie I have ever seen that really did, and I was blown over by it. Whenever Bob gave a clinic, his dog would find a spot in the shade (untied) where he could keep an eye on Bob. Bob started out with horses, and became interested in dogs.

Apparently Bob used the same names over and over on his dogs, with several Blues, Belle’s and Brownies. I found that funny. He didn’t fuss over his dogs, but I heard they slept on the bed. They seemed to adore him and were always calm and never walked on a leash – they were just glued to his side. He told me once that one of his favourite pastimes was to put a chair in the middle of a field and just ‘doodle’ by which he meant, move the sheep around and ask his dogs to do different and interesting things that simply came to mind while he sat there.

A lot of good things are being said about Bob – all true. He also worked with people with disabilities and illnesses, people in wheelchairs, people with Cancer and so on – because he wanted them to know the joy of herding. Bob would yell at people, and sometimes he would just turned his back on people who were working with their dogs and let them struggle. I learned over time that when he did that, it was because he grew tired of dealing with those who didn’t want to learn or listen, and people with egos. When he yelled at you, it was because he cared. When he got really nice and quiet and polite, it often meant he was pretty much through with you. He had the same gift I see in Scott Glen in that he remembered everyone, and remembered their names, and he always made people feel good about themselves and their dogs - a real gift. Both Scott and Bob have the same ability to convey their ideas so that you understand.

I scribed for Bob for two years in a row at Tanya’s and he just wanted to share, share, share; talking non-stop about what he saw and thought about runs. With beginners, he got over-excited and even though he was judging, he would jump up - sometimes his chair would even fall over -and he would start to yell tips to get them through their run. He had just reached this point where he did what he wanted, and he wanted people to do well.

Bob loved Jet and Ted. I think one of the reasons I have a soft spot for him now is because of how tickled Bob was that I was passionate enough to move ahead with my dogs and try to learn more. He did know Mac, Jet’s grandsire, in Georgia. He was friend with Ken Arrendale and knew Mac as a puppy and helped get him started. I was so shocked! But as much as he liked Jet, Bob adored Ted. I think he would have happily put Ted in his truck. He said "you treat that dog right and he would die for you." He was very impressed that Scott matched me up with Ted, and even asked for Scott's information to share with people. He felt Ted was the kind of Border Collie you used to see, but didn't see so much anymore and commented on how much Ted suits me.
Jet flanking around Stephie and her Aussie, getting used to a set-up dog at the top of the outrun, at one of Bob's clinic in Thunder Bay. Bob knew Jet's grandsire and his owner - Ken Arrendale and Mac, and was so thrilled to have her at his clinic.

He loved that we could go into bigger areas to work with Jet and Ted. I suffered from one or two cold shoulders because of my getting BCs and remember one person acting pretty childish about it in her behaviour - literally picking up her chair to move if I sat nearby. Bob didn't miss these things. He took me aside one morning in the hallway at Tanya’s house, and said “Donna, always remember that jealous eyes can’t hurt you. You have a vision and stick with it.”

He gave Ted “Most Promising Started Other Breed” at an ASCA trial he judged in 2007. The next day, Shaman my Rough Collie finished his Herding Intermediate title on ducks. Shaman was sick with Cancer and couldn’t herd sheep. I had very little experience with ducks and Shaman had less. During my run, the ducks only had to go through the centre chute and be re-penned and I had Shaman in the wrong spot and he was bringing the ducks to me across the mouth of the chute, when I wanted them to turn right and head for home. When this hit me, I panicked for a minute. Then, a miracle happened.

I still remember this like time stood still – out of the corner of my eye, I saw Bob looking up at the sun to see where it was in the sky. Maybe he was just bored, but I like to think it was a hint. I remembered that in his clinics, he talks about ducks being afraid of shadows because they are prey to hawks, and how this can be used to move them. I followed Bob’s lead and saw that if I stepped ahead, my shadow would fall on the ducks. I stepped ahead, and the ducks all stopped where they were and ran into the chute. I called Shaman to come bye, and bless his heart he did, and the ducks flew through the chute to their pen. I have never told anyone this, but it was one of those magical moments when every second counted. Shaman qualified for his last leg. And if you can believe it, that made him the #1 Rough Collie for herding in Canada for 2007!
Going for Shaman's qualifying ribbon. Bob, smiling and happy for us, like he was for everyone.

Shaman had been a very nice dog in his day and had better trials including a HIT (after my lessons with Scott in 2005). Bob had known Shaman since I brought him out as a puppy so it was a fitting end to Shaman’s career. The rest of the untold story is that Bob called me over to his truck later, and gave me a bag of Evo from the trailer. He wanted me to have some grain-free food to give to Shaman, and said it would be ‘between us.’ He had no need for public thanks or ego stroking. I really appreciated that about him.

Bob recommended a book to me many years ago to help me with my trial nerves. He helped a bit with the writing, as he knew the author and her father. It is about competing with Cutting Horses and called Cutting, One Run at a Time, by Barbara Schulte. Bob didn’t think there are any herding dog books that were comparable, as the book is about how to focus and use positive visualization, and how to learn from your mistakes and always improve your game. In Cutting Horse competition, I guess they are a team member with a horse and have only a few minutes to do the job. I got the book and I love it. I’ve used it for tracking too.

A girl named Stephie (pictured above) was traveling with Bob for the last few years every summer. She is from Switzerland and wanted to learn his methods so she could share them in Europe. I heard she was also writing down his ideas and memories and the plan was that she would ghost – write a book by Bob. I really hope she still writes something as he was an original, full of passion and a nice man.

What is really weird to me, is that the week before Bob died, I could not stop thinking about him. I was out tracking with my friend Dan and used a Bob Vest story to describe something to him about pressure. Bob would say that when you plug one hole in a bucket, another hole will pop open and if you don’t train right, you will lose all the water in the bucket. I was curious what other interpretations of this story were, so I wrote to the herding lists and got a huge number of responses from the American list. I am not sure if it was because it is July and I am used to seeing him every July, or why he came to mind. Someone was going to go to his clinic last weekend and ask him in person what he meant by that analogy. I asked her to tell Bob hello from Donna in Canada. She emailed me privately to tell me that he had died – it looked like a heart attack. I was surprised - and not surprised, but certainly very sad. Bob was very proud of his new dedication to healthy living and eating after some health scares, and it was something else he shared with people who would listen.

I keep shaking my head that because of my question to the list, everyone was suddenly talking about Bob’s ideas right before he died, and it was all so positive. I hope he read a few of those, or heard about them. They would have made him laugh, probably, but also would have let him know just how much everyone appreciated him over so many years.

We don't always do a good job of telling people what they mean to us when we still have them around. When I read his obituary (below) it barely seems to give enough acknowledgement to Bob’s passion and talent with dogs AND people, but I guess he did have ‘another life.' Many condolences to Bob's family and thanks to them for sharing him with us - we have all lost someone very special.
Big hug after Shaman qualified for his CKC Herding Intermediate title under Bob, on ducks. Shaman had Cancer and was unable to keep up with sheep. We pulled it off.

Last year I gave him a hug and a card and thanked him for being part of my herding journey and he said “It changes your life, doesn’t it?” I am grateful that I had that last chat and hug before I moved to Alberta. It was a hard time in my life and Bob was so supportive and encouraging about my move too – telling me how strong I would be, and that he was proud of me. He was very interested in my new boy Caden, from German Shepherd herding lines, and I know I will always wish Bob could see the things I do with my dogs in the future...maybe he can.

I had a feeling I would not see him again, as he never comes out west. He gave me his address and asked me to let him know how I was making out. Since I have not done anything noteworthy on the herding front since moving, I am sad to say I never wrote to him.

I have posted a picture of me in July 2007 with Bob and me, Ted and Shaman. (By the way, I have lost 40 pounds since then!) They say that we all create our own ‘families’ of people who come into our lives, and it is sort of hitting me that Bob felt like family. I know he was very close to Tanya, and I am very grateful to her for bringing him to Thunder Bay every year. I know this is a hard loss for her and my other friends in Thunder Bay as well and we are probably all having memories. I thought this blog would be my chance to talk about Bob, possibly for the last time.

He was such a force of nature, it is hard to believe we would lose him. Happy Trails Bob. We will miss you, but are honoured to have shared some time with you during this part of the journey.

Here is his obituary: if you want to see tributes to a man whose life was well-lived, please click on the link to Bob's obituary and read the emails coming in from all over the world.

Robert Eugene “Bob” Vest, 71, of Coggon, died peacefully in his sleep on Saturday, July 11, 2009. Funeral services will be held 10:30 a.m. Friday, July 17, 2009, at Stewart Memorial United Methodist Church, 212 E 4th St, Vinton with Pastor Lanette Sue Van officiating. Visitation will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, July 16, at Van Steenhuyse-Russell Funeral Home, 1212 First Ave, Vinton and one hour prior to services at the church on Friday. Following services, his body will be cremated.

Bob was born November 19, 1937, in Vinton, the only son of Robin and Alberta Aten Vest. He graduated from Washington High School in Vinton. Bob worked various jobs throughout his life, such as for the City of Cedar Rapids and Benton County. He also did tuckpointing and worked for D.C. Taylor. Some of his jobs were also his hobbies. He worked as a horse trainer and participated in shows; he also worked as a farrier shoeing horses. He took special interest in helping lame horses. He traveled the world as a dog clinician and was a gifted dog trainer.

Bob is survived by two daughters: Elaina (Dennis) Kriegel of Coggon and Carolyn Trinkle of Cedar Rapids; four sisters: Dona Vest, Bernice Wilson and Carol (Dick) Wood, all of Vinton, and Cathie (Jim) Struck of Marion; eight grandchildren: Nathan (Nicole) and Sarah Trinkle, Tyler Trinkle-Pender, Dawn (Mark) McCormick, Brandon Kriegel, Jesseca Zaruba, Shannon and Dusty Kriegel; and four great-grandchildren: Emily and Brenna Trinkle, Eva Zaruba and Braydon Kriegel. He was preceded in death by his parents; one sister: Emma Thomsen; two brothers-in-law: Wallace Wilson and Ralph Thomsen; and one nephew, Robert Allen Thomsen. Van Steenhuyse-Russell Funeral Home of Vinton is caring for Bob and his family.

Online condolences may be left at"Bob"%20Vest

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