Two Victorian dogs have bounded past other competitors in a national working dog challenge.
Six-year-old kelpie Skyblue Jack is leaving others in his wake having travelled a mighty 345km in the first week of competition.
That's basically the same as having run from home in the Western District's Wannon all the way to Melbourne - in a week.
The Cobber Challenge has two more weeks to run.
A dozen working dogs from around Australia and New Zealand set off on a three week marathon after being fitted with GPS collars to chart their endurance.
Those collars also track the dog's speed and how many hours it has been working.
Jack from Wannon is also a fast operator, averaging 11.24km.
Second after the first week, from the other end of Victoria in the high country, is another kelpie, Glenlyon Jill.
Jill has scooted across 230km so far under the charge of 19-year-old James Leahy who works on several farms on the slopes of the Great Dividing Range east of Seymour.
Just a year out of school, James already has a team of seven dogs, though three of them are from Jill's litter earlier this year.
"You can't run stock on this country without dogs," Mr Leahy said.
"They can get to places in the nooks and crannies of this sloping, granite country that I can't on the motorbike.
"The dogs are worth two to three workers."
Our leader Jack from Wannon works alongside Ben Jeffery who is the leading hand at Mepungah Pastoral.
The operation spans 3200ha and runs 28,000 sheep and more than 1000 cattle.
Ben works with a team of six dogs including some young ones who are learning the ropes.
"There's nothing like watching an athlete in their element; half the time they make me tired just watching them," Ben said.
Third so far is two-year-old kelpie Koby from Warralong in Coolac in NSW who works with livestock oversee Emma Stocks.
Koby has 211km under his belt already.
The first New Zealand competitor to move onto the leaderboard is a heading dog, Pine, who has just over 200 kilometres chalked up.
New Zealand farmers and their dogs have been invited to compete for the first time this year.
Now in its sixth year of running, the Cobber challenge is more or less a tribute to the working dog in Australia, and highlights the valuable contribution these animals make to farming businesses across the country.
Each dog is fitted with a GPS collar that tracks distance, working duration and speed over this time.
The highest ranking dog at the end of the competition will be awarded $3000 in cash and one year's supply of Cobber dog food.
"We're thankful to everyone who applied. How much everyone values their dogs as part of the farm team shone through in the nominations."
Nineteen-year-old James Leahy reckons his young kelpie will give competitors a run for their money in the 2021 Cobber Challenge.
Glenlyon Jill clocked up an impressive 64 kilometres in only half a day of testing. By comparison, the marathon run at the Tokyo Olympics was just 42 kilometres.
From Monday, August 16, a dozen working dogs from around Australia and New Zealand will be tracked over three weeks to chart their endurance in the Cobber Challenge.
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