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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.
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.
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!
The Obedience Method
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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