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Headers or Heelers, anyone?


stockdogranch
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The thread in the "ask the Expert" section got me to thinking: for those of you who work your dogs on cattle (I know there are a few of us on here), do you have a preference for a natural header or a natural heeler? And why? In your experiences, which do you see more of?

 

A

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I am still hoping that the expert will pop in on my question.

 

I like having a dog that will head because I gather the cows off the pasture, not just work in the pen. I know if she starts to move them and one fool decides to turn the group, she will get up front, turn the fool, and guide the group back in the proper direction (head, turn, front foot).

Also when I'm loading from a pen into a trailer (where there is not a chute) I find the heading dog will more likely keep the group together and push.

 

If I just was working in a pen area (sale barn), I'd probably have a cur or a ACD. (heels only and works close to me).

 

Now if my female would do better on heels I would be really happy!

 

JMO.

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From my strictly small farm and novice point of view - for my purposes, I probably need a heeler more than a header to give me "push". Part of the reason for that is that Ed handles his cows gently and well, and they will often follow his voice (or a bucket) but sometimes we need a dog that will push from behind when they are reluctant to move (through a gate or into the working pens).

 

My older dog is a real header (always wants to go to the heads) and it has been a struggle to get him to drive and also to not fly around to the heads when the cattle are going along nicely (but, in his mind, getting away from him). He is not much use when we are trying to put the cattle into the working pens because tight spaces and pushing are hard for him to cope with. He is also a dog that is rather weak and lacks confidence (I am sure part of that is my fault, and we are working on it).

 

My younger dog is a heeler at this stage of the game (his natural inclination) and he is very helpful when we need some push that the older dog doesn't have, but he is also willing to go to the heads and stand up to the cattle if they are trying to avoid going through a gate or into a holding pen or trying to break up the road.

 

As my experience is very limited, I couldn't say which type of dog I see more often. I have seen a lot of dogs on cattle that tend towards cheap heel shots (that aren't deserved by the cattle) when the dog is anxious (these are often dogs trained with electronic collars and, when that form of "training" is no longer used, I don't see so much undeserved gripping). I see much less in terms of head grips but I also don't tend to see cattle that challenge a dog in that way.

 

This has probably not been very helpful at all...

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Hey Anna,

I sure like a dog that will hit both ends when necessary. If I had to choose I couldn't live without the header as most of the work we do is gathering pasture's. The little bit of corral work we do every year we always have so many neighbors and relatives over to help (read social event) that I often don't use the dog's there as people have a tendency to run over them trying to do their job for them. A friend of mine stated when visiting about a header or a heeler that he likes both but he has to have the header as he's never seen a cow get away butt first yet!!

 

Also, I see more heading dogs but honestly most of them around here will do both when necessary.

 

Have a good one!

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Obviously, the bigger the dog's bag of tricks, the better, but I too prefer a strong header over a strong heeler. Dogs that like to heel can sometimes like it too much, and piss the cattle off. A wise stockman friend of mine told me long ago, "I can be the motor; I need the dog to be the brakes" and I think that is sure true.

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Wow, lots to think about!

 

I have to admit that the reason we got our first Border Collie was precisely because we needed a dog that would fetch, not one that would drive. Our old Aussie (poorly trained by us) had no concept of outrun and fetch but was a natural at driving. Seeing what a good Border Collie could do made me realize that that was the kind of dog I needed.

 

Reading everyone's response, I realize that what is indispensible is a dog that will round up and fetch, but one with the power to push for the situations that demand it. My one dog lacks that power and confidence but the young one appears that he will have what we need in those situations. Now we have to develop his outrun and fetch, as he is very comfortable behind.

 

Thank you all for sharing - this has been most helpful to a person with very limited experience and understanding!

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I agree with everyone--a dog's got to be able to hit both ends reliably. But I guess I am a bit different than many, in that I think I prefer one with a natural heel. If I am gathering, a heel seems to help get them going if need be. Same as on the drive or loading into a pen or trailer--a heel seems to be what's needed. More often than not, in my experience, if a dog is a natural heeler, it's not too hard to teach them to take a nose (there are a few exceptions). But I have seen some who are really strong to go to the head and hit, who are more difficult to teach to take a heel. Some strong headers (who have learned to hit a heel) will do OK till they get kicked; then they decide there was a reason they didn't like those heels! Also, some that are really strong to go to the head are forever trying to slip around to the nose, so it's hard to keep the stock moving where you want them: the dog gets behind, gets 'em going, then slips up to hit the nose. Talk about pissed off cattle! I've got a couple of young ones who are pretty much always looking for a heel to hit, and will sometimes give a little nip of "encouragement" even when the stock are already moving (read: unnecessary heel hit). They might get a little kick as a response, but the stock keep moving in the direction you want (rather than turning them), so I don't see a "gratuitous" heel hit to be as counterproductive nearly as much as a gratuitous nose hit. That being said, when you need a nose hit, to stop or turn stock, you really have to have one. Last summer I was at a trial where there were quite a few head in the mix who were really head-hunting the dogs. They'd put their heads down and come straight at the dog. If the dog stood its ground, and responded with a nice clean nose hit, all was fine. But if the dog gave any ground, or had no nose hit, it was all over--and I mean literally--the calf would chase the dog around the arena!

 

I don't think there's much I like to see more than a strong dog who calmly walks up, nose-to-nose, holds ground, gives a good, hard nose chomp, then still holds ground while the stock turn and move away. But I think a lot of headers are more fly-bys (you know, that run up and zip around to the nose kind of hit), which, in a young dog, may be their first attempts at a nose hit, and will hopefully mature into a more calm, confrontational nose hit. But I also see some headers who never graduate to this kind of confident nose hit, and always do the fly-by (which, of course, if the stock are leaving in a hurry, is a fine thing), but I'm talking about a more deliberate situation. To me, that kind of a nose hit is a bit of a cheap shot, or a little chicken-sh!t, if you will.

 

Anyway, thanks everyone for their replies. The training section had been pretty quiet for a couple of days, and this is something that I have been thinking about recently. I was curious to see what others thought,

A

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Anna,

In your experience, is it easier to teach a strong heeler to grip a nose or a strong header to grip a heel? Just curious. Both of my Twist pups very much love hitting heels, but of course haven't been put in situations where they'd need to hit a nose and haven't been worked on cattle at all (well once when they were much younger I tried them on Tom Forrester's heifers just to see what they'd do, but as they were barely started, I coudn't tell much other than that they were willing to work cattle).

 

J.

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Anna

That was a great post about different types of hits. I have to say, I have mainly (more than 95%) seen the fly by hits. One hit, this was by a Kelpie, that I saw was calm, deliberate, and professional (if you can use that to describe a dog's working ability). Cattle pressured, dog remained calm, walked up, bovine (not sure what sex) leaned forward, dog hit, bovine turned, dog got out of way of BIG kick, and just calmly went back to to work. But, most are the hits from the side- and I have seen LOTS of the dogs getting the cattle moving and then stopping them- yes, talk about irritational to the cattle!

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Julie P: I think it's easier to get a strong heeler to take a nose than vice versa, which is why I prefer a natural heeler. If the dog is not inclined to take a nose, I always start with a hit lesson on a (sacrificial) sheep's nose. I find that with quite a few, they just need to know that hitting a nose is an OK thing to do, and it's pretty easy to teach on a sheep. Once they know that that's an option, you can see them then transfer it to the cattle. Another way I'll let a youngster know about nose hitting is to have an older dog there with them, and try to set it up so that there is a nose hit necessary, let the older dog do it, younger one sees it, and may get bold and give it a try. And yet another way I like to let a young dog know it's OK to hit a nose is when I have bales of hay in the bed of my truck, and have the dogs in there (up on the hay); when I drive down to put the hay in the feeder, of course, the calves usually are nosing around the truck. The dogs feel pretty confident sitting at face level with the calves, and have no problem taking little snipes when the calves try to get a bite of the hay. Praise and encouragement, and little by little I'll notice the dog getting a little braver in the face when working.

 

Julie W: I really like the use of the word "professional"--I think it exactly sums up that calm, quiet, but deadly :rolleyes: kind of a nose hit. And, yes, I agree with your percentages on the fly-bys.

 

A

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JBP: On the question you posed in the 'ask an expert' section. I have a young male dog, 11 months, that is like what you describe your dog as being. I never have to worry that he's not going to bring the cattle, however he's difficult to drive with or to get a off balance flank. He does have a clean heel bite, no grabbing flanks, and I've worked quite a bit on that. The way I've done that is to put him on a long rope (I think mine is 25 foot) and take him into a small lot. The cattle I used were a mix of dry cows and heifers due to calve this spring. I used the rope to keep him from going to the head and moved the cattle around the outside of the pen, now and then sending him to the head to turn the cows and change directions around the pen. Eventually he'd want to nip at the heels of one since I wouldn't let him go around to where he'd prefer and I'd tell him 'push' and praise him. I use a different command for a heel bite as I do for a nose bite. Push is heel. Get 'em is nose. Or if my cattle are trying to leave 'get ahead' or 'getta head' depending on how you look at it :rolleyes:

 

Anyway! Another thing to keep in mind when trying to get a clean heel bite, or head bite, whichever, is a dog's approach to the cattle. If they just run around or dive in there in 'kill mode' they're going to tend to get a hold of anything they can which can quickly develop into a (bad) habit! If you teach these kinds of dogs that have a tendency to bite dirty that they can have a calm steady approach to cattle they'll all the sudden start biting clean because now they're thinking rather than just reacting. I do this all with a rope like I described above, correcting them and not letting them to the cattle if they won't approach calmly. There's a bit more to it than that though and I'm not sure about explaining it in text. Really, you can even do this without a rope but I find the rope pretty handy in getting my point across. Have you ever seen 'Ben Means' rope method? I've not seen him in or person or his video but I was shown this method by another person and it's what I do, or at least I do as I was shown, I was told it was Ben's method. If you're anywhere near Kansas you might consider coming out to Joe and Laura Stimatze's seminar in March, they've talked about different methods for teaching a dog a heel bite.

 

Hm, I ramble. Hope that helped some. Maybe if I have more time later I'll try and clarify whatever I was mumbling about up there :/

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Ramble all day; I love posts like yours. Gives me things to try and work on!

Never heard of the Ben Means method.

 

I have a few mama cows fixing to calve, they are moving slow, it's a good time for me to work them nice and easy. I will let you know how I fare.

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Good luck!

Here's Ben's website, The Perfect Stockdog. I think maybe I'll go ahead and order his video.

And while I was browsing around, here's an article Ben wrote on 'bite' which applies to the topic of this thread. ClickyClicky

And for further reading entertainment Cowdog Central Stories. And the Cowdog Central main page.

 

Oh yeah, worked my black pup this morning. I think maybe he's finally figuring out this driving thing, the cows aren't going to escape, (really!). I was chipping ice in the creek so the heifers could get a drink and had my pup there just doing nonsense stuff (in other words, no reason to be working the cattle other than playing with the dog). I find that if I'm doing 'other stuff' while working a dog I'm less likely to nitpick at the dog. So anyway, I'm beating ice with a sledge hammer and send the dog off to get the heifers and bull off the bale feeder- 150 yards or so. He brings them over and lays himself down out there holding them to me without me ever saying anything (this is the thing I really like about this dog, he's never going to be a really 'tough' dog but he's smart and has so much stock sense!). Anyway, I have him walk up, flank him, and split the cattle down the middle (like a sheepdog shed, I guess?) and take one group off yonder reminding him several times not to go around to the head and stop them!! Then we have a quick lesson on 'look back' and I let him gather the groups together and bring them back while I chip ice. Rinse and repeat. Then when the cattle are settled back near me I flank him around and have him drive them off. He looked like he was going to get ahead and I was about to redirect him when he apparently reconsidered and fell into wearing behind them, driving them away quite pretty like! I probably had a funny expression on my face but recovered quickly and finished up with the ice and walked up the hill to the gate. Had him fetch them to me so to leave them near the feeder where they started out and quit on that note. We'll see how things go tomorrow :rolleyes:

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Oh wow-

My ex (now, we know why- LOL) told me NOT to herd his cattle- giggle. yea, right. He had come home to a few bashed fences, heck, my dogs are tough. Actually, he could spot which dog it was- I just think some dogs are made for trails and some dogs are made for stock work at home. I've had both of them. One where I "needed " some bite, would be DQ'd, but needed it at home. Anyway, love your dogs for what ever job they do, as long as it suits your duties.

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