Do You Want or Need That Much Control?
by Rusty Johnson
When you go to gather your cattle do you want your dog to leave your feet at a 65 degree angle and run out wide so as not to disturb the cattle? Then, go to exactly 12 o’clock; stop, and then walk up to the cow farthest from you – bite if need be, then walk up to the next one, and so and so forth. Until he has all of them walking straight towards the barn, with him walking straight behind them.
Or, would you rather your dog leave your feet running as fast as he can, going just wide enough to get around the cattle without running them completely off? Then he gets to the other side and bites the first nose he sees sticking out. As the cattle come at a trot you see the dog wearing back and forth from one side of the herd to the other all the way to the gate.
Now I am going to tell it like it is. The first method is pretty if it works! It most often won’t work. Let me explain why. A cow looks at a dog very differently from us. They really don’t care how straight a dog walks up or how square a dog flanks. A cow sees a dog as a predator. The same as a coyote or a wolf. So she has two options, either fight or flee. Which one she chooses is determined by who she believes will win the fight. This depends on whether or not she has been bitten before, who strikes first and everybody’s reaction after the initial contact.
I now try to train dogs to win and to be as effective as I can help them to be. So now I will correct a statement I made in the first article I ever wrote for the RDT. A cowdog should not have as much control as a sheepdog. Cattle don’t handle like sheep. For a dog to have that much control he has to think about the handler more than the stock. And for a dog to work like I want him to he can’t be stopping to think about the handler.
I do want to eventually be able to stop the dog and then flank him or give him a “look-back”. But now I am putting this “handle” on the dog later in its training. If I have a young dog that is rambunctious and I can’t stop him until we get to the pen that is fine as long as he will stay on the other side and bring the cattle to the pen. This way he is of more use to me than a weakened dog with all the control in the world.
While I am on the subject of weak, I will repeat a quote I have heard from several good cattle dog trainers and I have seen it proven several times, “Every time you put more control on a dog you weaken him just a little.”
The question you must ask yourself is this. “Is my dog really strong enough to stand that much weakening?” If not, you had better leave off some of the control and let your dog have his strengths! Because all of the control in the world is of no use if your dog can’t bring the cattle to the pen.
this article was first published in The Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine October/November 1999