November 9, 2005 . . . . Can you tell me about dog breaking cattle? I’m a little curious about your approach, how you start, what you’re looking for, etc. I’ve been working with some cows that I was told are “dog broke,” and they seem to know what to do around a dog, but they will occasionally really go out of their way to get after the dog.
As far as “dog breaking cows,” we suggest that you first introduce the cows to a dog when the cows are dry. If you are knowledgeable and have good dogs you can work cows and calves that have not been worked with a dog before, but most people feel that a dog causes more trouble than they solve in a case like this.
What you want to accomplish is to teach the cows that they must respect the dog but not be afraid of it. You want a dog to use as much force as is necessary to turn the cow back, but then he should be willing to let her go back to the bunch without harassing her. Don’t call the dog off or lay it down to accomplish this, just “push” the dog over to work something else (read the Stockdogs information on this web site). Don’t make your dog back-off or lie down when a cow wants to fight it. This teaches the cow that she doesn’t have to respect the dog. Some people want a dog to “punish” the cows. In this situation, the cow feels that the dog is a threat to her, so naturally, she feels the dog is a threat to her calf and is often the very worst kind of “dog-fighter.” You certainly can’t fault her for this.
Remember that all of the animals you work with are learning and changing all of the time—just let a novice ride your good cow-horse for a month or so and see what happens. Just because a group of cows are “dog-broke” doesn’t mean they will do exactly what any dog wants them to do. They know if the dog has the power so they will respect it. I think a better word than power is “presence.” Our better cow-dogs seldom had to bite, but the cattle still respected them.
Here is an example of a dog with “presence.” When we were in Canada, we always had a straw bed for the cattle. Picture 600-800 yearlings cuddled up in the straw, temperatures at minus 30 or so. It was a tough job for a couple of people to get them up and going early in the morning. You had to almost personally get each animal up. Normally it took at least two dogs to get them moving, and they really had to work at it. Tuffy, the Kelpie that we brought back with us from Australia, could easily get them up and moving by himself with no trouble at all. When the cattle saw him coming, they would start standing up. Cattle know if a dog is weak, and they take great joy in chasing it. They also know that some dogs are not to be trusted so they are afraid to turn their back on it to go back to the bunch or to leave their calf unprotected.