How to Train a Working Cattle Dog

How to Train a Working Cattle Dog
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Time icon1-9 Months
Work training category iconWork

Introduction

Your farm sprawls many kilometres across the countryside. On a summer’s day, it looks truly spectacular. It’s not just fields and crops though, it’s also home to a huge number of animals, from sheep to cattle. But looking after so many crops and animals isn’t without its challenges. That’s why you want to put your canine to work. Poppy is switched on, sharp, and eager to please. She also has plenty of energy that you’d like to put to good use. 

Training a working cattle dog would simply make your life much easier. It also means you’ll have a fantastic way to stimulate your dog and give her something to work towards. Then there’s also the fact that it’s fantastic exercise, ensuring she remains fit and healthy, hopefully well into old age. The obedience training will also increase your control and give you a long list of useful commands you’ll be able to use in other areas of her life.

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Defining Tasks

As you can probably imagine, training a working cattle dog isn’t always straightforward. You will need to teach her a number of commands so you can direct her, from ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ to ‘get around’ and ‘come in’. Once she's mastered the herding commands, you’ll need to gradually introduce the cattle. To keep her on task and motivated throughout, you’ll need an effective incentive. This could be food, toys, and praise from her owner.

If your working cattle dog is a puppy, then you have the perfect canine student.  She should be a fast learner and you could see results in a matter of weeks. However, if Poppy is older with a history of disobedience under her collar, then you may need a number of months. Get training right and you’ll have an effective working cattle dog who will be able to quickly help you move and look after your cattle.

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Getting Started

Before you can start training your working cattle dog, you’ll need to check that you have some tools. A generous supply of tasty treats will be needed. Alternatively, break her favorite food into small pieces. You’ll need a large space to practice in, such as fields. A long leash or rope will also be required.

You will, of course, also need cattle. You’ll then need to set aside around forty-five minutes several times a week to train. The more often you train, the sooner you can expect to see results.

Once you have all that, just bring patience and a can-do attitude. Then work can begin!

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The Obedience Method

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1

Basic commands

Before you get onto the challenging commands, you need to make sure Poppy responds to basic commands. Teach her to ‘sit’ and ‘stay’. You can do this at home or you can take her to group obedience classes in order to establish these commands.

2

Herding commands

Once you have control with the basics, it’s time to start teaching her herding commands and movements. Start by throwing a toy for your dog and then give a ‘go bye’ or ‘get around’ instruction. These instructions indicate certain directions for your dog to go.

3

Reward

As soon as she responds, you must hand over a reward. Give her a mouth-watering treat and some verbal praise. The happier she feels after, the more likely it is that she will repeat the behaviour.

4

Keep it short

Working cattle dogs need lots of rest during training, especially to start with. Don’t train for longer than fifteen or so minutes at a time. Any longer and she may lose interest. As she gets the hang of it, you can start to train for longer.

5

Add cattle

Once your working cattle dog understands the herding commands and movements, it’s time to up the stakes. Start by introducing her to a small group of cattle in a pen. Also make sure to keep Poppy on a leash to begin with. Practice guiding her around the herd until she fully gets the hang of it.

The Total Package Method

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Start early

The younger your working cattle dog is when you first start training, the quicker she will pick up the skills. After a few weeks, start teaching her basic obedience commands and asserting your control.

2

Introductions

You don’t want Poppy bolting when she's around cattle. The earlier you can start getting her comfortable around cattle, the easier it will be. Secure Poppy to a leash and slowly walk her around the cattle. Allow her to sniff and take an interest, but lead her away if she gets over-excited or aggressive.

3

Movements

Find a toy she loves and then head outside with it. Now throw the toy in front of Poppy. With Poppy on a long leash, you can then start using ‘come in’ and ‘way to me’ commands to direct her to, from, and around the toy. Note that you can use any words or phrase you like for each instruction.

4

Reward

Your working cattle dog will only continue to learn and respond if you use an effective incentive. Hand over a tasty treat or play around with a toy for a minute or so whenever she responds to your instruction. If you use a clicker when you train, click when she completes an action successfully, just prior to giving her a reward.

5

Cattle time

Once she's got the hang of the movements and understands your commands, you can start practicing with real cattle. Start with a small group and keep Poppy on a leash. Then each day, you can practice with a larger group. Only when she is confident and fully responsive with a large group should you then lose the leash.

The Natural Instinct Method

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Monitor

Keep a close eye on your working cattle dog. You want to look for signs in her behaviour indicating that she has an aptitude for herding cattle. So look to see if she naturally moves around animals and follows them. If she doesn’t display any of these behaviours then you may struggle to teach her to be a working cattle dog.

2

Fetch

Start playing fetch with Poppy. Getting her to retrieve balls or a stick will develop her natural chasing instinct while also teaching her obedience. But make sure she only retrieves the ball or stick on your command. Note that you can also use any toy to play fetch with.

3

Direction

You now need to make sure Poppy will respond to your directional instructions. So teach her to run right, clockwise, left, and counterclockwise. Common instructions for these commands are ‘come bye’ and ‘away to me’. Then also make sure you teach her to ‘sit’ or ‘stop’ too.

4

Animal friendly

Slowly introduce her to cattle in a controlled environment with her on a leash. Watch her body language and pull her away if she gets too excited. Slowly approach again a little while later. Continue to do this until she is relaxed and comfortable around cattle. You can then start practicing the basic commands around a small group of cattle.

5

Complex commands

Once she has mastered the basics, you can upgrade to more complicated instructions. Teach her to outrun so she runs past the cattle to stop them. Then use the directional commands to teach her to fetch. With this, she will work the cattle back towards you. As she gets the hang of it, you can upgrade to larger groups of cattle. Continue to practice regularly until she knows what’s expected and respond to all of your instructions first time.

By James Barra

Published: 05/25/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Benny

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mini texas cattle dog

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5 Months

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Question

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benny pees and poops in our house every day. we have an appointment to get him neutered next week. how do i potty train him?

Feb. 25, 2022

Benny's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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Hello Ty, You will need to crate train him for potty training. Check out the Crate Training method from the article linked below. Make sure that the crate doesn't have anything absorbent in it - including a soft bed or towel. Check out www.primopads.com if you need a non-absorbent bed for him. Make sure the crate is only big enough for him to turn around, lie down and stand up, and not so big that he can potty in one end and stand in the opposite end to avoid it. Dogs have a natural desire to keep a confined space clean so it needs to be the right size to encourage that natural desire. Use a cleaner that contains enzymes to clean any previous or current accidents - only enzymes will remove the small and remaining smells encourage the dog to potty in the same location again later. The method I have linked below was written for younger puppies, since your dog is older you can adjust the times and take him potty less frequently than the method suggests. I suggest taking him potty every 2 hours when you are home. After 1 hours (or less if he has an accident sooner) of freedom out of the crate, return him to the crate while his bladder is filling back up again until it has been 2 hours since his last potty trip - at which time you will take him outside to go potty again. When you have to go off he should be able to hold his bladder in the crate for 4-5 hours - less at first while he is getting used to it and longer once he is accustomed to the crate. Only have him wait that long when you are not home though, take him out about every 2 hours while home. You want him to get into the habit of holding his bladder between trips and not just eliminating whenever he feels the urge, and you want to encourage that desire for cleanliness in your home - which the crate is helpful for. Less freedom now means more freedom later in life. Crate Training method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-puppy-to-poop-outside If he is marking, the crate will only be half the battle. During the 1 hours he is out of the crate between potty trips he will probably still try to pee to mark his scent - since the issue isn't needing to pee but wanting to "claim" things by peeing on them. To deal with that behavior if also present, use the crate training method, but also keep him tethered to you while he is out of the crate between potty trips using a 6 or 8 foot leash. Have him wear a belly band - which is a sling/diaper for male dogs that catches urine, and when he tries to lift his leg to mark, clap your hands loudly three times. Use a cleaner than contains enzymes to remove the smell from any new or previous accidents - since lingering scent will only encourage more marking and only enzymes fully remove the smell. Look on the bottle for the word enzyme or enzymatic. Many (but not all) pet cleaners contain enzymes. The belly band will keep marking from being fun and successful for him and stop the spreading of the smell - which encourages more marking (and keep your things clean). Attaching him to yourself with the leash will keep him from sneaking off to pee uninterrupted, and clapping will make peeing unpleasant for him without it being too harsh. Reward him with treats when he potties outside so he understands that pottying outside in front of you is good, it's only inside where he shouldn't do it. Under ideal circumstances potty training generally takes at least 3 months, and 6 months before pup is alerting they need to go outside - opposed to waiting on you to initiate the trip outside. Keep things consistent with training so pup stays on track and is potty trained well long term, opposed to expecting too much from pup too soon and giving too much freedom too soon, which could set pup back with training if accidents begin occurring frequently again. The more accidents you prevent the better potty training tends to go. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Feb. 28, 2022

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Bailey

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Queensland Heeler

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6 Months

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she's been sitting around the house a lot and when she sees cows she runs away Im going to start her on leash hopefully that helps but I still need help getting her started it isn't as easy as I thought any tips?

Aug. 30, 2020

Bailey's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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Hello Maci, First, work with pup on the leash, I suggest using a long training leash - not a retractable one but a long line that you can coil up or uncoil to give different lengths. Start with pup far from the cattle and work on obedience around them, rewarding pup for responding to you and staying calm around them. At first, you simply want to get pup over their fear of them, spend a lot of time going for walks and practicing obedience around the pen. It wouldn't hurt to have pup's herding instincts also evaluated by a professional. Some club events, herding trials, and other canine sports competitions will offer this for a small fee. You can also have professional herding trainers within driving distance evaluate pup with their animals. Safety always needs to be a priority with novice dogs though. Once pup is not afraid of the cattle, you will work pup on the long line around them, working on pup's control around the animals. I suggest joining a stock dog forum online, so you can ask other rancher's and shepherds your training questions as you go. Joining a herding club or breed club could also be a great resource for you. Regardless of where pup is at with the cattle, pup will need a high level of off-leash obedience, so work with pup on all the off-leash come, stopping, fetching, driving, ect... type commands pup will need once around the cattle later. Practice these commands in a calm location first, then gradually increase the level of distraction and difficulty as pup improves - the cattle will be a VERY high level of distraction, so pup really needs to learn these commands well for everyone's safety and effectiveness later. What all you teach pup will partially depend on how you want pup to help you with the cattle too. Do you want pup to fetch them, round them up and herd them into a pen, drive them away from you, hold them somewhere, ect... For now, start teaching commands away from the cattle, spend time simply getting pup used to the cattle from a distance on a long leash, and find resources that can help you learn along the way, like a trainer, club, or stock dog forum you like online. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Aug. 31, 2020


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