People who are familiar with my method of working livestock know my number one aim is to work my animals with the least amount of stress possible. In fact, I have found ways to work livestock that actually takes existing stress off of them. It is just a bonus to me that I can also get the job done faster and with less cost than conventional methods.
One thing that is very stressful for animals is to be in a herd situation where they are being bumped and crowded by other animals. Making turns is one place this can happen. This is also where a ewe can become separated from her lambs, or the cow lose her calf. My aim when driving stock is that mother and young one(s) are together from start to finish. If I wind up with over two unpaired animals on the back end of the herd, I feel I have failed, and I don’t fail often (or gracefully).
This is how to use the movement of animals to help make a turn. When a herd of animals is moving it is almost perpetual motion. The lead animal draws the animal behind it. As this animal moves up it puts pressure on the lead animal to keep it going. It takes so little to keep this going, but it also takes very little to stop it. If the movement stops, it may take a lot to get it going again. If you get too much movement, it may be hard to stop.
When driving animals, the direction of the herd is important. However, the direction of individual animals within the herd is just as important. As you move to different positions, you should at all times be aware of any change of direction of individual animals, as this will tell if your position is right or wrong.
If an animal within the herd turns, this will stop or turn the animal behind it. It will also take the pressure off the animal ahead of it, thus letting it stop or turn. This can set off a chain reaction that may turn or stop the entire herd.
When working livestock with a dog, I try not to use the dog to get direction. I know where we are going. The dog may not. The dog can get movement, I will get direction. If you have good movement in the herd it is easier to get direction. Therefore, the dog should be on the opposite side from where you want to go. You then need to move along in a position in relation to the herd that will maintain the direction you want. This may be along the side or even in front of the herd.
In order to make a nice smooth turn, one side of the herd will need to move faster than the other side. If you are in front of the herd, move in the direction that you want to go. Your dog will see you sooner on that side. This will push him to the far corner, which will make that side of the herd move faster. This will result in a turn that does not cause undue churning to the animals in the herd.
For instance…If you are on the right side of the herd and want to turn to the right…Move back along the right side of the herd. This will push the dog off the back-right side to the back-left side, speeding up the left corner. At the same time, you will be just ahead of the back-right corner slowing it down. The leaders will lose sight of you, which will tend to make them hook to the right to keep you in sight.
If you are on the right side and want to turn to the left… Move up the side of the herd. Put pressure on the head of the lead animal on the right. Not too much, just enough to turn it slowly across. This will slow down the animals on the left. Also, as you move up, the dog will come further to the right, making that corner go faster.
If you send the dog up the side to change direction, he may turn them too far, or not far enough. Also the dog may go clear to the lead and stop all the animals. This might upset some people. If you send the dog up the side to turn the animals, you will need to be in a position to see the dog and tell him where to work. This will take the pressure off the herd causing the loss of good movement, which is essential in making a nice, smooth turn.
It is much easier for a dog to do its job if we are consistent in doing ours. I have been able to do some pretty difficult jobs with very green dogs by keeping things simple.
(Published in June/July 1993 Ranch Dog Trainer)