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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Born to run: meet Skyblue Jack, the hardest working dog in two countries

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Even for the most ambitious of joggers, 1,012km in three weeks would be a stretch. It equates to running a marathon every day for 21 days, and still having over a hundred kilometres left in the tank. But for Skyblue Jack, it’s all part of his day job.

The six-year-old kelpie has run his heart out to take out this year’s coveted Cobber Challenge, the Amazing Race of pets that pits 12 Australian and New Zealand dogs against each other in a battle to find the hardest working hound.

The competition sees wonder-dogs from each state wear GPS collars to track their distance, average speed and working duration on their farms.

“It was a big three weeks,” Jack’s owner, Ben Jeffery, solemnly acknowledges.

“But it’s his everyday job … it’s quite normal for him to work that hard. He’s a gun, he’s heads down, arse up and just works, he’s quite happy to work all day.”

The leading hand at a 3,200 hectare farm in Victoria’s west, Jeffery has been working around the clock this season because his boss has been unable to return to Mepungah Pastoral due to prolonged border closures.

On any given day, Skyblue Jack has been out with him – mustering sheep for drenching, checking on lambing ewes and shifting sheep and cattle across paddocks.

“I average close to Jack, if he did 60 kilometres in a day I probably did 100 on the bike,” Jeffery says.

“I love my dogs. I couldn’t do my job without them. And I knew with Jack that I cracked a great bloodline, so it’s been awesome to put him to the test and capture just how hard he works.”

The dog’s stamina saw him clock a record 1012.6km over a three-week period, working 87 hours during the challenge with an average speed of 11.59km/h.

Skyblue Jack was running just over four hours a day – up to 48km each trot – to get the job done.

But he may not have even made the competition if it wasn’t for an idle moment Jeffery had while mustering sheep.

“As you do, you get bored because you’re going so slow, so I happened to find the competition on Instagram,” he says.

“I thought I’d enter and see what happened, but I never thought for a minute I’d get accepted. Then I got a phone call from Cobber – and sort of thought: ‘oh, right!’

“I was never aiming to break the record, but once we got two weeks in and I was close I thought it was becoming possible.”

It hasn’t been an easy ride for Jack, who entered the competition just months off the back of a serious injury following a fight with another dog.

“We had to amputate one of his claws and connecting bone, like cutting his thumb off,” Jeffery says.

“But he came out of the surgery fine and was back working within a month … I had to condition him over the recovery to not run as much.”

Jack has taken his newfound fame on board with his trademark humility and grace.

“I’ve used the prize money to secure another breeding dog. [Skyblue Jack] is getting used to cameras and photographers, but at the end of the day, he’s just a working dog,” Jeffery says.

“Jack’s happiest when he’s working – I even had to hold him back on a few days to make sure he still had plenty in the tank. He is thriving. It’s like my dear friend and stockman mentor used to say: ‘take an old dog for a hard road’.”

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