I just got a phone call from one of your subscribers. A fellow I worked with a couple of years ago. He asked me if I could help him locate a dog with enough force to move cows. He has tried out several dogs lately, which handle yearlings fine, but he said he always has to go help them when he sends them on cows. It is certainly possible that the dogs he has tried just don’t have enough natural force to handle cows, but it is also possible that he is at fault.
This brings to mind an incident that happened up here at Vee Tee Feeders. When I first became affiliated with this Canadian ranch and feedlot, they said they wanted to start using dogs. Sis, one of the Border Collies I purchased and trained for them could really move cattle. She was the only dog we had that could gather a pasture of breeding age bulls by herself and put them anywhere. I would regularly send her over half a mile to gather a pasture of 500 yearlings and bring them to me and through the gate. Training the dog was easy, now came the hard part, teaching the people to use a dog effectively. As you noticed in the last article I wrote for your magazine, I teach my dogs to think for themselves. I tell the dog by my position where I want the stock to go, and it is up to the dog to put them there. Most people, including the people here that I have been teaching to use dogs don’t have enough faith in the dog to let him do his job. During the course of five or six different people learning to work the dogs, they have trained Sis not to push cattle at all. This is how they did it. First they would send her properly but since they didn’t have anything to do or the patience to let her get the stock gathered up and coming, they would start walking towards her to “help.” The problem was, they didn’t help, they took the job away from her. If Sis would respond to their position and move around the herd, they would call her off since she was working in the “wrong place.” In effect, they taught her to go to the cattle, then wait for someone to come and drive them. These are all people who really like the dogs. They didn’t scold her or abuse her in any way. They just took her job away from her. Her usual happy confident manner changed to one of spiritless disinterest, which indicated that she looked on this behavior in a very negative way.
If you don’t think your dog can bring the cattle, don’t send him. If you send him, give him time to bring the stock. If your dog can’t move the stock and he needs help, move towards the cattle. Be as much between them and where you want them to go as you can without turning them around. The cattle will turn to look at you as you approach which helps your dog. You are pressuring them against your dog, but leaving an opening so they can go by you. Pressure into the front corner of the herd to get some movement going past you in the direction you want. This is usually all the help your dog will need to get them moving. You can keep your position on the front corner of the herd, stepping in towards the leaders to speed them up as necessary. Or as the stock goes on by and the dog comes even, you can call him off while praising him for a job well done. As far as your dog is concerned, he moved those cattle all by himself. This goes a long way towards building his confidence.
Another place people “break a dog from pushing” stock is at a gate. People are afraid the dog is going to push too much so they either “down” him or caution him too much. Many dogs think you are scolding them, so when you get up close to a gate and need them to push they lie down or back off.
I let my dogs push. I like to stay up towards the gate. If a pup is overworking I might even move into the middle of the cattle going through the gate to keep them from bumping the gatepost. Or I may even shear them away from the gate, but I let my dog keep bringing them. If he pushes them too much they will break back and he will have to go get them. He will soon learn to slow down on his own and give them time to go through the gate quietly, but he will still be willing to use all the force he has when it is necessary.
I guess the moral of this article is Decide ahead of time what your dog is capable of doing, then give him time to do it. If you must help, do just that ..help.. don’t take the job away from your dog.
(Published in April/May 1993 Ranch Dog Trainer)