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Hi, everyone!


I have been training my bitch for over a year on sheep. She is responding pretty well. I thought it was time to present her to some very small calves.

She understands she can work them too, but she doesn't seem to be concentrated. She smells around the floor and seems to be more interested on the manure than on working. When I give her commands, she sort of ignores me and keeps on smelling/eating manure.

On sheep she would never react that way.

Any help?

Thanks a lot,



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I believe that some folks might suggest that what she is doing is "displacement behavior" (or showing an interest in "something else") because she is feeling stressed or pressured by this new type of stock. That is a possibility and, with exposure to the calves in a way that isn't threatening or frightening, she may begin to relax and turn on to working them. A working dog that is not over-stressed should not be eating manure or otherwise being distracted.


I have no idea how interested in stock your dog is (or how young she is). I think that some dogs that are just plain not interested in stock or a particular type of stock, may just be more interested in the new and intriguing manure. Just like some young dogs/pups may take a few experiences with sheep or other stock to "turn on", so might your dog with calves/cattle.


So, I think it's likely one of two things - she's either stressed at this new stock and eating the manure as a way to "defuse" her stress by doing something else (and ignoring your commands) or she is just not that interested in the calves at this time.


Has she been exposed to calves/cattle before, in a situation where she couldn't work them but could observe them (or, better yet, observe a dog working them)? My dogs work our cattle but long before they ever began training on or working the cattle, they were able to see them and come along with me (under my control) when I was interacting with the cattle. This allowed them to become familiar and comfortable around the cattle, and to develop a desire to work/control the cattle before they actually began training on them. When they were started on cattle, it was with dog-broke young stock that would respond properly to the dog, and the dogs were ready and eager to work the cattle.


I am sure someone else will be able to give you much better advice on this problem. Best wishes!

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Dear Sue R,


Thanks for replying and giving your advice.

I have another dog who works very well on milk- cows. Our cows are very calm and gentle. I will put the bitch who is not very excited with this experienced dog and see if she "learns" something with him.Tomorrow I'll have a go.

I hope it works. If you or anybody has more to say, I will be glad to hear.

Thanks a lot.

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I hope this works out well for you! Sometimes it takes the encouragement that a confident, experienced dog gives, for a younger dog to "get it". Big stock can be a little unsettling for a younger dog that isn't accustomed to it, in my opinion. Once the young dog realizes that he/she can work the larger stock, then the size is no longer an issue.


Our dogs had a bit of the opposite problem. Being used to adult cattle, they were quite confused by the arrival of tiny calves. When we had the first one in the house because she was chilled, the young dogs had to pass by her in the mud room to go outside. But our old Aussie (for an intact male, he is the biggest mother in the world to babies of all kinds but especially calves) let the young dogs know with just a curl of his lip that the calf was under his protection.


I had to physically move those young dogs through the mud room - whatever Mac "said" to them with that little lip curl was enough to put the fear in them, and they transferred that fear to baby calves. They were afraid to go near any baby calf that whole calving season.


In addition, little calves don't respond to a dog like a larger calf/cow does that's experienced with dogs, so that was another puzzle for the young dogs to figure out. It has taken them two years of work to become comfortable working the calves.


Dogs are like people - some adapt very quickly to new things and others take a bit of time, encouragement, and experience to become comfortable.


Best wishes for success!

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Caroline - Mac puts many mothers to shame. A calf in the house belongs to him and he will lick it clean and dry, and not leave its side. We are allowed to handle the calf but woe to the cat or Border Collie that considers entering the room where it is lying down!


Mac just loves the babies and will not work little calves - once they hit a certain age, then they are fair game to work but not when they are under a couple of months of age.


When I used to go out and check cows and calves in the field with Mac (prior to getting the Border Collies and when Mac was young and agile enough), he would go and sit with his back to the herd. The little calves would be consumed with curiousity and would carefully approach him for a sniff. He would sit perfectly still, gazing into the distance as "his babies" came up for their exploration of this interesting, hairy black creature not too different in size from them.


Nobody messes with Mac's calves. His best friend and neighbor dog from young years past, Maggie, made the mistake of coming into the pasture behind the house on her way home from exploring one day. It was a mistake because cows and young calves were back there. Mac ran out and shoulder-rammed her off her feet and sent her packing home. Any other time of year, he would have been ready to join her in some roaming and romping.


He takes his responsibility for the babies very, very seriously. He's not even too sure he wants to give them back to their mothers when they are warmed up and ready to go back out. He'd rather we kept them in the house for him to mother.


Mac grew up with a bottle calf - Babe was born when he just turned one year old. He still refuses to work her after 13 years. Until recently, she would still put her head down to him and he would pretend to "attack" her poll, like they did when they played as youngsters. He's now too unsteady on his feet to be around the cows in general.


Babe would always let him lick off her newborn with her. They have always been best friends - there are days I've wondered whether he thought he was a member of the cow herd or she just assumed she was a dog, or both...


Here is a picture of Mac (he's the happy-looking one), Babe (she's the tired-looking one who figured she'd just take a nap where the urge hit her), and Rocket (the digusted-looking one - a serious stockdog, he found it repugnant to lie down next to a lowly calf):




Glad to make you smile!

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Hello, Sue!


Well, I was with both dogs (the experienced one and the new one)together and brought the cows to where I wanted. The new one was a bit shy, she was accompaining me, a bit insecure but she had some reactions when she saw the other one working. She even worked the cows for a while with the other.

I think that your suggestion of putting an experienced dog with her was very good. I'll have to try some more times until she feels sure to work alone.

I thank you very much.

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That sounds very good! Allow her to gain some confidence with the more experienced dog but do not overdo it to the point that she becomes dependent on the other dog. I'm sure you will recognize when she becomes comfortable enough to work alone.


In other words, when she looks like she can try it on her own, allow her to do so in a situation that is easy and non-threatening so she will continue having a positive experience. Either the calves if they are dog-broke and respond properly to the dog or the dairy cows if they tend to be cooperative will do.


I think that, for her, allowing her time to progress positively and build her confidence is important. She is still quite young, is she not? And, if she isn't that young age-wise, she is still young in her training life, with only a year on sheep.


I started my Celt on cattle just when he turned a year of age, at a clinic on dog-broke calves (about 400-500#). At home, he worked with just a few younger animals as well, but they weren't as dog-broke or suitable and I'm sure that didn't help his confidence.


Now that he is a three-year old, he still has confidence problems but his increase in experience is helping him with his work. He may never be a very confident dog on cows but he is learning how to deal with them and so is improving.


He rarely works the cattle alone as we use both dogs much of the time, since they are working about 25 mother cows and bred heifers, a bull (seasonally, of course), and 18 unweaned calves. He can, by himself, work with smaller numbers but, with this big a group and the cows having calves along, he can use the back-up of another dog.


If the cows are not cooperative, the dogs can need my assistance, as well. Do not forget to help your dog if she needs it - don't face her with something she can't cope with or that will damage her confidence. Be ready to move in and give her the back-up she needs if the cattle/calves are too stubborn or reluctant to move for her.


Neither of my dogs has power but they just do their best, which is all I can ask. I have high hopes for my pup to have some power and the confidence needed to help out when he is old enough to work cattle with them. At 4 1/2 months, he is totally eager to get to working the cattle and I have to keep him on lead around the cattle to keep him safe.


Best wishes!!!

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