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training options for cowdog

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Hi Everybody! I don't know much about herding dogs, but it looks like this is a place where I could get my questions answered.


My husband and I recently got a Border Collie puppy ... mainly to replace our old pet dog who died, but also because we though she could help us with our cattle. We have a small herd of Herefords which are pretty gentle and easy to move, but sometimes when they get loose or won't load on the trailer we thought how nice it would be to have a dog to help. Anyway, we got the puppy from a breeder who doesn't have cows, only sheep. We saw the puppy's parents herding the sheep, and they could do everything we would want a dog to do. The breeder said she couldn't guarantee the puppy would be able to work cattle, but that she would help us (me) to get her started on her sheep when she was old enough. There is another dog trainer near here who everybody says is very good ... including this breeder ... who will train dogs to herd cattle or sheep, but won't work with me, just with the dog.


So basicly my question is ... would I be better off taking my pup back to the breeder when its old enough and both of us learn together on the sheep, or would I be better off sending the pup off to that other trainer who would train her on cattle but wouldn't train me? The puppy is only 3 months old now, so I have awhile to decide.


Also, are there any things in particular I should do raising this puppy to make it easier for it to be a herding dog? The breeder said not to let the pup get in with the cows, and that it would be better to keep her from watching them at all ... does this really matter? It will be hard to do ... our old dog used to just lie on the porch in full sight of the cattle, and I sort of thought this dog could do the same?


Sorry this turned into a book practically ... thanks for any help you can give me.


Gail at Haystack Hollow

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Most people don't start their dogs on cattle to begin with- they use goats or sheep. I'd take the pup back to the breeder, get her (and YOU) started on sheep, and then if you want later, send her to the cattle dog trainer for further expereince and training. At least this way, you'll have an idea of what the dog is supposed to do.

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I think your breeder is right about keeping your pup away from the cattle. Certainly you need to keep her from getting in with them, first because she might get hurt, and second because you don't want to risk turning her off livestock by the scolding, chasing her down, etc. you would probably have to do if she DID get in with them.


For now there's probably no harm in leaving her where she can see the cattle, but the time will come, before too long, when she will suddenly see them in a new way and "turn on." From that point on, it's better to keep her where she can't see them (except when she's with you) until she's old enough for her training to start. That's because she will fixate on them -- assuming she is a well-bred pup -- and since she can't be working them in the right way, nearly anything she thinks or does while she's fixated on them will be wrong, and undermine her later training. For example, if she just lies there and stares at them for hours on end, she's likely to find that very satisfying, and that may make her sticky and not free-moving when you start working with her. OTOH, if she runs back and forth along the fenceline, she's likely to find that very satisfying, and it may interfere with her sense of balance, and make her unwilling to go around her stock and take the pressure of holding them to you. Livestock is a very powerful stimulus for a good dog, and it's best to minimize a young pup's exposure to that stimulus until s/he can be taught the right way to handle it.


In the meantime, I'd concentrate on widening her experience of the world in general, so that she takes new experiences in stride, and teaching her a rock solid recall (coming when called) and to respect and respond to a correction.


Good luck with her!

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