Question: . . . . On the goat issue, I probably out thought myself and listened to one of my neighbors a bit to much. I was walking to get the calves to gather and bring back to the pen, I had let the dog out and he was just roaming around happy to be out. I went to put the calves back and forgot about him for the moment, he came into the area where the calves were and started chasing them, chased them all to me in about 60 seconds which I thought was good and I just kept my mouth shut. Two or three of the calves decided that they had had enough, and took out after Willy, the dog. They chased him out of the field we were in. So then I thought he seemed a little gun shy and one of the neighbors stopped by that trial works a lot of dogs, and is a big fan of Bud Williams stocksmanship. He mentioned that I should use goats or sheep to get him started. I have only let him work the goats three times. The first time he was a bit timid and afraid. Second time he was better and the third time they even tried to fight him a little and he was down right tough with them. I realize that I need to position myself better . . . . and that he is not going to get it all right the first time. With that said, how should I start. 5 calves? One goat? What is the proper way to start a young pup?
Answer: It is probably a mistake to listen to anything I say about how to work a dog as most of what I say will be the opposite of what the real dog trainers say to do.
How would I start a dog? I always started a dog where the dog would be working – with whatever number of animals that it would be working, from 20 to 500, and where the dog would be working them. Never did try to start the dog on 2 or 3 animals in a small pen, this doesn’t mean that is wrong, I just didn’t do it.
Try to understand this about working a dog on animals – you have to understand what the animals are doing, what the dog is doing and what you SHOULD be doing. When the pup brought the calves to you, if you had kept moving so the dog could keep bringing the calves or just stepped out and called the dog or pushed him around the calves the calves wouldn’t have chased him out of the field. Calves that aren’t dog broke will often chase a dog, that is why it is important that the calves keep moving or changing what is done so the calves don’t get a chance to THINK and realize the dog can be run off. The calves are bigger and stronger than the pup and given time they can soon learn to run off the pup. It is possible to dog break calves without a dog and that will help keep the calves from chasing the dog when the dog is there. Sometimes we had to start a pup on 200 horned dog fighting cows in a pasture with 20,000 acres that only had a fence on one side. While this isn’t the best place to start a pup, that was what we had and had to have a working dog. I started my first sheep dog on several thousand acres with 800 head of sheep so wild they started running when they saw or even heard you. The dog had never seen a sheep and at that time I had never worked a dog on sheep and only a short time on cattle. When we first started using dogs we never had animals in small pastures close, had to start the pups on animals where they were and the number that was there. The reason for writing this is to say “use what you have and make it work.” The size of the area or number of animals is irrelevant it will always be what YOU DO THAT MATTERS.
One thing that made it easy for me was never talking to the neighbor or anyone else about what I was doing until it was possible to succeed and then they didn’t want to talk to me or if they did it was to ask me how it was possible to do these things.
Training a dog is about communication between you and the dog, it isn’t about how many or how few commands it is about what the dog understands about what you want or expect. This gets back to the fact that words or movement mean certain things and they must mean the same to the dog as to the person. What you want isn’t very important unless the dog wants the same thing. The dog is facing the same thing with the animals they are working, the animals being worked must understand what the dog is saying. If the person, dog or animals being worked are confused there will be a problem. Just trying to make a dog do what you want will not work well unless you understand your job, the dog understands his job, and is able to have the animals understand.