QUESTION AND ANSWER:
STARTING COWDOGS ON SHEEP? YES OR NO?

Question: I just got 2 pups, two different breeds. I have 280 head of momma cows and 60 replacement heifers. They have never been worked by a dog. My question: Do I need to buy some sheep or goats to start the pups in their training? My pens and fences will not hold sheep/goats so I would have to go to some effort to build something. What would be the harm in keeping some cattle in the pen to train my dogs? If a dog is trained on sheep will he then work cattle?

Gary Stegall
Don’t put pups on cows even if they are a year old. One can ruin young dogs in a hurry. When they are a year old if you don’t have sheep, put them on 3 to 4, 300 lb. calves, dog broke, if you have them. I like sheep better because they don’t kick (me) and you can see your dog better. Some people have good luck starting on calves, they are experienced handlers and they usually have trained dogs to dog break the calves.
My first dog, I had unbroke sheep and a young untrained dog, it was very frustrating, dog running sheep all over the place. I didn’t know where to be or how to stop the situation. When you get upset and angry things really fall apart fast and you don’t get much accomplished.

Yes, you can start dogs on sheep and then work cattle, if you have a cattle dog to start with. If the dog doesn’t have the breeding to work cattle, it doesn’t matter what you start them on, they still won’t work cattle.

Brad Cook

To answer your question, ‘Can a dog be trained on sheep and still work cattle?’, it has been my experience that if a dog is going to be used to work cattle, then he needs to be trained on cattle. If he is a pretty tough dog, you will have to really push him off to be able to work sheep/goats. Getting him to come on strong to cattle is a whole other training in itself. I would suggest that you get some fairly lightweight calves (250-350#). Either some you have pulled of your cows, or some you have purchased.

Start out in a fairly small pen that the dog cannot get out of, push the dog to the opposite side of you, and try to let him fetch the stock. Be able to be in the position to block him if he wants to come all the way around to your side and push him back. If he is an overly aggressive dog, you will need to put a cord on him and keep him under control. As he develops confidence on the lighter stock, then you can progress to heavier and then onto the momma cows. It takes a super kind of dog to make one that will work pairs and do it effectively. Hope this has shed a little light on vour problem.

Lee Adams
You do not have to have sheep or goats to train your dog. A lot of people train their dogs just using cattle. But, I find it easier to start pups on sheep and then move to calves. If you start your dogs on calves you need to use broke calves, bottle fed or bucket broke calves work as good as anything. If you want a cow dog starting them on cattle will not hurt a thing.

If a dog has enough courage to work cattle they will move from sheep to cattle very easily. If you have a dog that is intimidated by cattle it may be hard to make the switch. I recommend two videos that might be a big help to you. 1) The Perfect Stock Dog by Ben Means. 2) Will I Grow Up To Be A Cow Dog by Tony McCallum.

Finis Hallmark
Yes and yes. Start the working dog in a round pen and on sheep, ducks or roosters. If you use goats, try pygmy goats. No harm in keeping cattle up in pen. If a dog will work sheep, it will work cattle, if it is aggressive.

Robert Alford
Yes, you can use another form of stock to train a cattle dog. But beware. Just because a dog is tough on other forms of lighter weight stock does not mean that the dog will work cattle. To train a dog you only need two things; a dog that wants to herd and stock that is relatively broke to a dog.

Carl Larsen
I like to start my dogs on sheep and goats because I can see what the dog is doing and he can see me. But many trainers start their dogs on cattle and do fine. I have more success getting things well started with smaller stock then moving on to cattle. If you are going to start with cattle be sure they are light, say around 3-5 hundred pounders. It is very easy to turn a pup off, especially when he feels he is going to get hurt.

this article was first published in Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine, October/November 2000