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Working Cattle


I start all dogs on sheep for several reasons, one being that sheep are (as a rule) less intimidating than cattle for a young or inexperienced dog. I feel that in addition to a dog having knowledge of some basic commands, s/he must also have had enough time on stock to have developed a sense of who s/he is in relation to livestock. Going back to how and why herding works, it is necessary for the livestock to perceive the dog as a threat and equally as important for the dog to see itself as capable of intimidating livestock. By the time a dog has been working sheep long enough to know how to gather them and bring them to the handler, can walk up on its stock, understands flanks, has a stop, and perhaps has a grip command, that dog has come to understand that s/he is capable of moving stock in a controlled manner. The dog has learned through past experience that if s/he has enough attitude, s/he can move even the most stubborn of sheep.


Generally speaking, cattle by nature are not as easily “persuaded,” if you will, to move just because some little 40 pound dog is telling them to. But again, it’s not just their relative size to the dog. Cattle just have more attitude than most sheep do. So the dog has to have a sense of self in proportion to the cattle’s attitude. Which means that you may have a dog who works sheep beautifully, but the dog may not have, to put it bluntly, the “cojones” necessary to be an effective cattle dog. And because of the cows’ increased attitude, dogs often need to work much more closely to cows than to sheep. Dogs need to grip, or hit cows much more often than most sheep. A good cowdog needs to learn to both head and heel–in other words, hit a cow on its nose or on its heel to move it. This results in the potential for the dog to get hurt. Cows are known for kicking, and they will not hesitate to kick your dog. So be forewarned - if you choose to work your dog on cattle, there is a very real possibility that your dog can get hurt. Accidents happen.




This is the other main reason why I do not put inexperienced dogs on cattle - dogs who have a better “handle” on them are much less apt to put themselves in a position to get hurt. And a handler who has some experience will not put their dog in a position to get hurt, either. In other words, both handler and dog have learned enough to not do anything stupid. A good cowdog will learn to watch for the leg that is coming up to kick and hit the leg with weight on it. Or s/he will learn to see the kick coming and duck under it so as to not get hurt. A handler with experience will not send his/her dog in behind cattle to gather them if they are very close to a fence unless that handler knows those cows and knows that they will not smash the dog up against the fence.


Having said all that, cattle are incredibly fun to work, probably because they are more of a challenge to both dog and handler. So if working cattle is your goal, after having learned some basics on sheep and determining if your dog has a desire to work cows, I can then begin working with you and your dog on cattle. 


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Anna Guthrie




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