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Saturday, January 28 2017

Here are a few tools you should own if you live on a ranch:

1) Some kind of All Terrain Vehicle or a horse
2) A truck suitable for hauling feed
3) A stockdog

Let's expand upon Tool #3. A good stockdog is like a Leatherman Tool, a Swiss Army Knife, and a Trunk Monkey. (google it) I carry one almost everywhere I go. Seriously. My Border Collie is almost small enough to fit in my purse. Okay, maybe my backpack.

These are the chores in a typical day for my stock dogs:

Push sheep out of pen in morning while preventing goats from leaving.
Push goats off door as they crowd to mug the grain bucket.
Enter Buck pen as escort. Do not let bucks touch Mommy with their stinky faces.
Find Possum, the deaf Aussie.
Feed chickens. Keep Possum from entering chicken yard.
Find Possum again.
Move goats out of their pen after they finish breakfast.
Find Possum again.
Load up in truck to go to town. Move sheep away from front gate so truck can exit.
Move cattle away from next gate so truck can exit.
Say ugly things to anyone who comes near truck in parking lot.
Smile lovingly at the cashier in the Dairy Queen drive-thru.
Move cattle away from gate so truck can enter.
Move sheep away from gate so truck can enter.
Herd Darwin the Chicken back into the chicken yard with the other birds.
Take Possum on a walk. Find Possum multiple times.
Return Darwin to the chicken pen again before Possum finds her out.
Supervise Norman the Bottle-baby Calf on his walk.
Clean Norman's butt.
Make sheep that are afraid of Norman walk past him to enter their pen at night.
Point out to Mom that we missed some sheep. Pick up stragglers and push them into pens.
Take Possum for a walk. Find Possum multiple times.
Help return Darwin to her pen again.
Watch as Livestock Guardian Dogs receive an egg in payment for not killing Darwin. Point out the gross inequality in this system to Management. Receive a token egg. Leave it to go find Possum again.  Return to find that Livestock Guardian Dog has eaten the egg.

Some version of this is repeated each day. If the sheep leave the pasture for grazing then stockdog duties also include 'tending' sheep to make sure everyone stays within the boundaries and returns together as a group.  Mesa makes it her duty to find Possum for me and Lily has assigned herself the role of Kitchen Alert Dog, loudly announcing when the coffee pot and microwave alerts sound. If she had thumbs, I think she'd bring my Yeti full of coffee to me in the barnyard. Such is the nature of a good stockdog.

If you are trying to run a ranch without one, you're missing out, and working way too hard.

Don't short yourself and the dog by running out and getting just any dog. You need a dog that has been BRED to work stock. That is not your Labrador Retriever. He may be fine with your kids. He may be a terribly sweet, kind and loving pet. But he's not a bred to be stockdog. Don't set him up for failure and get pissed when he eats your chickens.

That said, do not run out and buy a wonderfully bred Border Collie (with papers and grandparents from SCOTLAND!) and then toss this pup out in the barnyard and expect him to just figure it out.

"But you said they learn stuff on their own!"

I also said I carry my dog everywhere with me.

A good stockdog knows the routine. She knows what's normal and what's not normal. A good stockdog has the desire to insert herself into the farm routine to make it flow. (Because all stockdogs are really into world domination.) A lot of professional trainers do shut their students away so the dogs can't learn bad habits. Those people know what they're doing and are trying to create the perfect learning environment for their students.

I don't do that because it doesn't work as well for me. (Mostly because I don't know what I'm doing.)

I start out with the best of intentions but I'm simply too far away from a professional herding dog trainer for regular lessons and I'm not sending my dogs away to boarding school. So I'm left with the Learning By Immersion method. We have a job to do. The dog and I. Together. I stack the deck in my favor by buying pups that are bred with the desire to both manipulate livestock (world domination) and be biddable (I get to be the bald-headed guy with the cat and the dog is happy being my minion.)

 If you have no background in dog training whatsoever and want a stockdog, invest in some lessons to at least get you and the dog on the same page. I get away with it because I've trained dogs my entire adult life so although I could benefit tremendously from professional herding lessons, my dogs still end up being pretty handy.  (Just not as good as they would have been had everyone gone to school.) Our lifestyle is such that the dogs are part of the family, not a pets, but as valuable, contributing employees on the ranch. Okay, Possum and Dillon are just plain pets, but the others punch a time clock, fill out a work card, get workman's comp, and retirement benefits.

And it starts with living with them, working with them, and letting them help. A good stockdog is more than just a collection of the right genes, it's a collection of the right experiences. Your job is to make sure your pup gets that experience so she can make it her job to make your life easier. And I'm all about that.

Mesa then.

Mesa now.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 11:43 am   |  Permalink   |  5 Comments  |  Email
I see Briar is self taught re egg collection. Very funny.But true re learning for both LGD and your trusty side kick. Can't just drop them in and expect them to do.
Posted by Liz (Vic Aust) on 01/28/2017 - 04:37 PM
That's how English Shepherd and Scotch Collie people recommend "training" pups - take them with you all day every day. They'll observe the routines, and then eventually they'll begin helping you out. :) Great post!!
Posted by Sarah on 01/28/2017 - 09:18 PM
Glad you are back. That is how we train our dogs as well. OJT. They would look ridiculous at a cowdog trial, but help us with our work. Possum might help your other dogs with their obsessive desire to work the stock. Give them one other thing to focus on during down time.
Posted by Kathy on 01/31/2017 - 10:57 AM
Yes! My dogs would look pitiful in a sheepdog trial but are so handy on the ranch that I can't imagine trying to run a farm without them. :)
Posted by Forensicfarmgirl on 01/31/2017 - 12:09 PM
This is how I have trained my English Shepherd as well. I have gotten some help from professional herding instructors as I am lucky to have a lot of them within reasonable driving distance in my area.
Posted by Anna on 02/16/2017 - 11:55 PM

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