Training Stock Dogs Part 1

Check out Part 2 of our Training Stock Dogs Series!

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Photo courtesy of Terri Mason.

Part 1: Best Traits & Picking a Puppy

For any farmer or rancher who has livestock to work, the greatest investment they can ever make is in a good dog. Not just a dog you can sic on cows to chase them, but one you can maneuver into any position you want in order to move the stock in any direction you want.

The benefits of a good dog, and the thousands of footsteps they can save you, is hard to imagine — unless you have actually owned or witnessed a good dog working. To train a dog to the point where it is an extension of your arm, be it a few feet or half a mile, does not happen overnight. It is not that difficult to achieve this, but it takes time, dedication and understanding about dogs — and mostly, a lot of patience. A love for dogs and patience are the most important ingredients that a dog handler must have. If you don’t have patience, forget it; it’ll save you a lot of aggravation and the dog a lot of misery.

As for the dog — most importantly, it must have the working instinct in it; you can’t put it there or train it into them. Most well-bred Border Collies have this instinct as they have been bred for generations solely for their working ability. Other qualities a dog must have are: Balance, Power, Intelligence, Personality and Disposition.

BALANCE

Considered by many to be the most important feature bred into a Border Collie, balance is simply defined as the position a dog must be in to bring the stock to you and

keep them to you. This also involves the dog working at the proper distance from the stock to keep them under quiet and smooth control and moving in a straight line. This is also referred to as “pace” — and a dog with natural pace will keep animals moving smoothly and calmly.

Balance is one of the things a dog is born with or without. Dogs with poor balance can be improved with training and experience, but one with natural balance is far superior.

POWER

To me, power is the number one ingredient a dog must have, but it must be under control.

Power, self confidence, an attitude of superiority, or whatever you call it, is the dog’s ability to convey the message to an animal that he has control and authority over it and it must move. A dog with true and quiet power will stand and hold its ground when an animal challenges it and will use its teeth only when necessary.

Power is not displayed when a dog flies in and bites too quickly without giving the animal a chance to move. All this will do is get the animals upset and on the run, or on the fight.

INTELLIGENCE, PERSONALITY, DISPOSITION

These three qualities, along with power, balance and pace are present in varying degrees and will determine a dog’s “trainability”. That makes every dog different and there is no one way or set method to train a dog. Each dog will need to be handled slightly different.

Intelligence is a very valuable trait. An intelligent dog has the capability of learning something quickly and remembering it. But an intelligent dog with a poor personality and/or disposition can be very hard to train. A dog with lesser intelligence, but with a proper personality and disposition, although may be slower to learn, can quite often become a very willing and dependable worker. Hopefully it will have the proper amounts of these traits and when properly handled, will be a first class dog.

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Photo courtesy of Terri Mason.
STYLE AND APPEARANCE

Two more traits in a dog are style and appearance. These don’t directly affect his working ability, but will influence his training and trialing success. If someday you intend to trial or compete with your dog, one with a classic working style will catch a judge’s eye more so than one that is more nonchalant.

As for appearance, you may as well like what you are looking at, as you will be spending a lot of time

training your pup and later, working with it.

It is easier to enjoy the dog’s company when you like to look at it and it is important to develop that special bond between man and dog, to make a good working team. That is why, when picking a pup from a litter, you may as well take the one that appeals to you.

PICKING A PUPPY

There are many different theories when it comes to selecting a pup such as; “Take the first one that comes to you, it’ll be more outgoing and friendly.” That might be true, but it may be too outgoing and too independent later on in life.

You also hear; “Take the one that sits back and watches; it’s observing what’s going on around it.” That may be right, but it might end up too shy and timid to take the correction and discipline required for training.

Some also say; “Pick one somewhere between the boldest and the shyest pup.” Personally, I think that might be your best bet, but there is still a chance of it being just an “ordinary” good dog and not a real “winner”.

I kept a shy pup one time (Jane) that nobody wanted and although she was always kind of shy around people, she was a tremendous and powerful dog. Another time I kept what I, and two other very knowledgeable dog handlers thought was the pick of the litter, and he turned out to be okay, but not outstanding. In any case, picking the best pup is mostly luck.

When looking to buy a pup, your best insurance is to buy one from someone who has top quality dogs. Both parents should be excellent, all around stock dogs, with the kind of style, work ethic and personality you like.

These Montgomery pups, part of a litter of 11, are from a multi-generation lineage of champions on both sides. The pups were born in the house and once their eyes opened and they became more active, they were moved out to the straw-filled puppy pen in the warm barn.

Next issue: Bringing Up & Starting Your Puppy

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