DEVELOPING THE WHOLE CATTLEDOG
Part two: Socializing the Puppy

by Rusty Johnson

So, you’ve decided what kind of dog you want. You selected a breeding that filled the requirements of your list. Then, you got to know the breeder. Now you have your puppy at home with you and you’re a little lost. Just before you brought it home, the breeder informed you that you should not begin formal training with your new cattledog before he is one year old. Now what do you do for a whole year?!

Before we continue, let me say your breeder was right. But who says the early training has to be formal? ‘That’s great,’ you say, ‘But what do I do now? Do I just pitch it out to run around until it’s ready for training?’ No, this is a good way to get a pup killed. If the puppy has any good breeding behind it at all, it is going to have some curiosity, and is going to get into things. He could be kicked or run over by a horse, a momma cow, or even a grouchy ram, etc., or hit by a car, or even be shot for running your neighbor’s stock. Then if he survives all of this, when he is about a year old and you’re ready to train, you’re going to step into the picture and say, ‘Hey, I’m the Boss now.’

‘Ha ha ha,’ the dog will think to himself. ‘Wait a minute, let me get this straight, I’ve been doing this on my own, the way I want to, all this time, and NOW you’re telling me I have to do it your way? Yeah, right.’

I have had several dogs given to me that were the epitome of what I have just describe. Every one of them took at least three months of untraining the bad habits before I could start retraining them for stockdog work. That is, if they even make it. Some simply refuse to be retrained. Even if they do ‘make it’, it’s just not pleasant for the dog or the handler.

Secondly, you ask, ‘Should I put the puppy in the kennel or on a chain and keep him there for a year so that he won’t learn any bad habits before I start his training?’ No, if you do this, you will wind up with a neurotic mess that can never be trained. Once a man sent me a dog to sell for him. I later found out that the dog had not been given any attention as a puppy. He had just been chained up all the time. When I went to pasture with this dog, he would put his nose to the ground and run round and round in a three foot circle. Another one I took to train had been raised in a small backyard all of his life. When I turned this dog loose, he would run all over the pasture nonstop for hours regardless of where the stock was.

‘So what do I do?’ you ask. ‘I can’t lock him up and I can’t set him free!’ The answer is you should do both. I think Tony Rohne said it best, ‘I start my pups the first time I roll them over to see what sex they are.’ A puppy is much like a child, in the fact that they have to learn something during this developmental stage. It might as well be the right things.

You should keep the pup in a kennel when you can’t be right with him. Then, take him with you as much as possible. The more your pup relates to you as his leader, the better off you’ll be when it comes time for more formal training. I like to take my puppies for a walk one at a time. If the pup runs ahead of me and ignores me, I simply turn around and walk the other way. Magically, the pup always turns around and chases me down. So, I have the pup wanting to be with me and looking for leadership from me without any gadgets or any force.

Tony McCallum likes to let his children play with the puppies. I think this is excellent for the pups and the kids don’t seem to mind either. My wife, Lisa, and I don’t have children yet, so we have to do it ourselves. Thank goodness we’re both kids at heart.

Either way, you should spend an average of at least thirty minutes each and every day with your puppy. ‘That’s a lot of time!’ you say, and you’re absolutely right. Why do you think started and trained dogs cost so much money? Time Is The Answer.

An old horse trainer once told me something that made a lot of sense to me: ‘There is no substitute for wet saddle blankets.’

That old horse trainer was my dad.

this article was first published in The Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine April/May 1997