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The Hangin’ Tree Cowdog
Hanging trees were once associated with outlaws but today it’s the name of one of the newest breeds of working dogs.
The Hangin’ Tree breed was developed by the late Gary Ericsson in the 1980’s and named after his ranch’s brand. A cowboy, rancher, and internationally recognized artist from Salmon, Idaho, Ericsson understood the value of a good stock dog for gathering, sorting, and holding sheep.
During the 26 years Ericsson raised Australian shepherds, one of the standouts was a male called Hangin’ Tree Buddy. The dog not only worked reliably in tough situations but was also smart, fast, and aggressive on cattle. Crossing Buddy with his best-producing female, Zephyr’s Angel Blue, he took pick of the litter and named it Hangin’ Tree Black Bear.
In 1989, Bear won the Idaho State Stock Dog Finals. Another Ericsson-bred dog named Hangin’ Tree Red Zephyr, handled by Gary’s younger son Con, was also winning many trials. The two males became the foundation sires for Gary’s vision of a whole new breed of dog. He wrote down what he wanted to create:
A cowdog that’s a gathering, retrieving, herding type dog.
A tough, aggressive dog that has the courage to stand up to and handle all types of stock.
An intelligent dog that’s easy to train.
A dog with a good disposition that’s not overly sensitive.
A short or slick-haired dog that can stand the heat when needed and shed burs and mud with minimal coat maintenance.
A dog with good bone structure that can take the abuse from being kicked and run over.
A dog that’s deep and wide in the chest with endurance that will stay when the going gets tough.
A dog that can wind and trail cattle
With the help of his oldest son Choc, Ericsson started breeding selectively to get the exact type of dog he had in mind. Daughter-in-law Katheryn says, “He never did anything without a reason, and meticulously selected the genes for his new breed, crossing the best to the best over a period of four to five years.”
The Hangin’ Tree Cowdog is three-eighths Border collie, one-fourth Kelpie, one-fourth Australian shepherd, and one-eighth Catahoula. ­­“The four breeds he used were specifically and carefully chosen,” Con says. “Hangin’ Trees are multi-faceted and highly intelligent. They have a strong work drive and exceptional endurance - additionally, a toughness to work the wildest of cattle and the sensitivity to work everything from sheep to young ducks.
“However,” Con advises, “they’re not house pets. They’re a working person’s companion, held to a standard, and are considered the ultimate tool for working stock.”
“I love mine,” says Shay Marah of Cedaredge, Colo., who got her first Hangin’ Tree Cowdog, 3 years ago. “The thing I like most is her personality and how easy she was to train.” Shay is also impressed at how versatile her dog Gypsy is at both heading and heeling cattle.
All true Hangin’ Tree Cowdogs should be registered with the HTC Association, whereby they will be DNA typed, and must meet a standard of qualifications before they can be fully registered. That DNA should trace the dogs back to Gary’s original lines.
Unfortunately, says Katheryn, “We’re seeing many people crossing the dogs with other breeds such as Heelers, which my father-in-law couldn’t tolerate.”
Ericsson began traveling around the U.S. entering his dogs in all the open trials within the Stock Dog and ABC (American Border Collie) competitions. When he consistently won, including the 1991 Supreme Champion at NAPSHA (The North American Professional Stock Dog Handlers Association) and the North American Grand Championship, people began standing up and noticing. Livestock owners expressed interest in getting a Hangin’ Tree Cowdog of their own.
Along with his wife Donna, Gary Ericsson left Idaho and moved to Oklahoma in 1994. They settled on 800 acres near Coalgate. Going into retirement, the couple downsized and purchased a small ranch in Ada. In 2019, they moved in with Con and Katheryn due to declining health.
Choc Ericsson, a senior Agent with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, was tragically killed in the line of duty on November 18, 2005. Gary passed away on February 24, 2022, at age 82. The Hangin Tree Cowdogs they created, however, will continue to carry on their legacies.
Gary Ericsson stock dog training videos are available for $45 through Facebook at Hangin’ Tree Cowdogs – Gary Ericsson – Legacy Page. If interested, send a private message and you’ll be directed to the payment link which provides invoicing and shipping information.

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2023 - Volume #47, Issue #3