DEVELOPING THE WHOLE CATTLEDOG Part 3: Beginning Work

by Rusty Johnson

If I remember right, we left off last time socializing. Before we move on I want to state: “Even though we are now trying to teach the pup something, socializing should NEVER stop!” The more the pup stays with you the easier training will be. This is especially true if you have a Kelpie. Kelpies, as a whole, are a more independent thinking breed than Border Collies or Australian Shepherds. Regardless, socialization is important for a working dog no matter the breed.

Everything that I do with my pups, once they show an interest in stock, I have copied from four very successful dog trainers. They all have two things in common: their training schedules are not set in stone (each dog progresses at his own pace and may take a different route). Secondly, they all approach training the same as the leader of a wolf pack would approach training his subordinates.

There is no set way to train every dog. By this I mean, every dog has his or her own tendencies, strengths, weaknesses and personality. Whatever you’re doing with your pup remember he sees you as the alpha male (leader) of the pack. So you should try to approach everything as the alpha male of a dog pack would. A wolf or dog uses growling, whimpering and body language (posturing) to communicate.

Next time you go out to train your young dog try to see how long you can go without using words. Only use voice inflection and posture/body language to control your pup. I think it will help you to understand how your pup sees the world.

The first thing to do that I think is very effective, that I got from Elvin Kopp’s video, is that I put a choke collar with a lead on the pup (five months of age and up) and simply ask him to give me his attention. I growl softly and pick up on the lead. As soon as the pup looks up at me I release the pressure and praise him. There is no jerking or screaming. Simply pressure and release. This way all through training, if the dog makes a mistake I simply growl at him. He stops what he’s doing, looks at me, and through voice inflection and body language he figures out what I really want.

The way I introduce a pup to stock, I try to (for lack of a better word) copy Roy Cox and Tony MaCallum. If a pup wants to go to work, let him! Be sure the job responsibility fits the capabilities of the pup. Do not overload your pup. If he can’t win, don’t try it. If the pup is very young and can’t run very well yet, I’ll probably just put some baby goats, lambs or bottle calves in a small pen and let the pup simply chase them around for a couple of minutes. (Just for fun.)

When the pup is about 6 to 7 months old I may let him work some larger calves. All the while encouraging him to make a mistake I simply growl to let him know it was wrong and go on. The two things I want to teach a pup to do first with stock is to cast to the front to stop cattle and to fetch to me. These are the two most important traits I breed for so that is what I want to develop first and foremost. If a pup can’t do these things naturally, I just let someone else have him and get a better pup. As Roy says “You can’t make chicken salad from chicken poop.”

One thing that is helpful to remember when starting your pup is, most of the time you can accomplish what you want your pup to do, simply by repositioning your stock. For example: if your pup refuses to cast around to his bad side, use a fence to prevent him from going the other way. If he wants to go bad enough he will go your way.

Scott Lithgow believes and suggests in his book, along with the help of Dr. Don Morris, that animals reared in a complex environment develop more complex and larger brains than do animals reared in simple environments. Lithgow and Morris also point out that there may be a similar learning of the odour of the dog’s preferred prey at a later age, perhaps in the 60 to 90 day period. (Appendix pg. 173)

To close this section of the series, I want to quote a very profound statement that Scott Lithgow made in his book, “I believe that to understand dogs and stock and the psychology of training them is as important as using the techniques.”

this article was first published in The Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine June/July 1997