Wild, flighty cows can weigh 2,500 pounds and are used to going where they please. That’s where a good cattle dog comes in. They can teach cows to stay in a herd, making them easier to move and load. And when training a cow dog, Charlie Trayer believes it’s critical to work with the animal’s instinct. As such, your stockdog should come from working parents, because if the parents don’t work, chances are your dog is not going to work, either.
“Cattle are smart, and the dog has to teach them respect, otherwise they’ll just run all over it,” says Trayer, who breeds and trains Hangin’ Tree Cowdogs (www.charliescowdogs.com). “That animal instinct is something that is passed down.”
Besides Trayer’s beloved Hangin’ Tree Cowdogs, other working stockdog breeds include the Australian Working Collie, Border Collie, McNab, Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Working Kelpie, Blue Heeler, Catahoula, and Black Mouth Cur. Each breed is a result of years of selective breeding that yields dogs with toughness, bite, work, strength, size, and great minds. When choosing a dog (regardless of breed), look for a healthy clean coat, nice face, and overall good looks; a friendly, outgoing disposition; playfulness and alertness; an eagerness to approach, curiosity, activeness, and awareness of surroundings; and strength and agility.
Ideally you want a dog that will “stop from the head” and bite both head and heel. It should have instinctual herding abilities and the versatility to both track down cattle in open range and to round them up in a pen. These dogs must be able to handle rough weather and terrain, and be smart enough to focus and block out distractions. Physically, the dog should have strong enough bone structure to withstand blows from protective cows.
Trayer believes a good cattle dog can do the work of two or three cowboys. To him, a cattle dog’s most distinctive trait is the ability to understand verbal commands and to back down as soon as it is told. Trayer uses the universal stockdog commands including; “hunt ‘em up” to initiate rounding up the cattle into a herd, “down” for lie down, “come by” to have the dog go clockwise around the cattle, “away to me” for counter clockwise, “get a head” to get to the front of the heard, and “that’ll do” to have the dog pull up.
The ideal situation is to “dog break” the cows when they’re dry and less ornery. Trayer starts breaking his dogs in pairs, because a small herd of cows and calves can overpower one dog in training. “These dogs have the natural instinct to work,” says Trayer. “But I have to teach them to work for me and not for themselves.”
Training for top dogs
Teach your dog to gather cattle the right way with Pierce’s Cow Dog Training Video. Marvin Pierce, a stockdog trainer from Newberg, Ore., says, “The dog has to have bite. That is the number one thing for me.” 503-476-4247, www.piercesstockdogs.com
Tri-Tronics’ Classic 70 collar is a simple and effective way to get your training message across. The device has six levels of intensity for different situations. 800-456-4343, www.tritronics.com
In Herding Dogs: Progressive Training (Howell Book House, 1994), author Vergil S. Holland troubleshoots training from the dog’s first exposure to stock to older dogs with new problems.
In addition to introducing readers to the various breeds and strains of herding dogs in the world, Herding Dogs: Selecting and Training the Working Farm Dog (Kennel Club Books, 2008) by Christine Hartnagle Renna, discusses the working styles, instinct tests, trials, and training for all working farm dogs.
Training and Working Dogs for Quiet Confident Control of Stock (University of Queensland Press, 1991) by Scott Lithgow takes you through the journey of raising a good cattle dog by selecting the dog’s parents to raising the dog right.