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Sheep vs, Cow Herding Question

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I would like to know your opinion of sheep versus cow herding. Which takes more skill, more power? What kind of dog do you look for for each each type of stock?. Do Border collies that herd cows use eye like they do with sheep? Are cow herding BC's bred differently?

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Such simple questions, and yet liable to illicit so many, varied answers. :P


The amount of skill and power is, IMHO, equal or should be for working both cattle and sheep. Yes, cows are big enough to stomp a dog, but when faced with a stroppy ram or a belligerent ewe, a dog that lacks power or confidence will find himself at a disadvantage. In other words, in a hypothetically perfect world, a really good dog has a quiet, steady confidence that enables him to move almost anything, whether it's cows or ewes.

A dog that flies in and does spectacular bites is not necessarily a strong or confident dog.

Dogs worked on cows may well use eye, but depending on the cattle, sometimes it can be harder to back a cow down by eye alone. If a dog sticks too much, or doesn't show enough forward presence, a tough cow is liable to walk right over him - or run him down.

But again, the same can hold true for a sticky/hesitant dog on tough sheep. Power is power. Skill is skill.

As for breeding, there are definitely lines of dogs that are bred for and known to be good cattle dogs, and other lines bred for working sheep. There is a certain amount of separation found in the cow dog and sheep dog breeding worlds. But there are also dogs who easily work both. Again, having tons of bite is not the main criteria for a good cow dog. Or at least not for me.

Which leads me to your most complicated question: What kind of dog do people look for, to work each kind of stock? THAT is going to garner as may different replies as there are minds to think of them. :P

Years ago, hubby and I cowboyed and we had dogs who worked cows, but we never really trained them. They just employed what they had naturally and what we could sort of teach to them. But now that I'm NOT working cows, I think the sort of dog I most appreciate watching on cattle are those dogs who can bite when called for, but who use their power as quiet, inexorable authority and who just keep coming, who think and work judiciously.

Which really is not unlike the sort of dog I like to see on sheep, so ... I guess that means that I, personally, like the same kind of dog for both kinds of stock. Strong, steady, willing to administer a little spanking when required, but also able to sense when a fight isn't necessary and let patience be his guide, to think and be wise.

Now, whether a dog is willing to work both kinds of stock, or is suited for both stocks, is another thing. Some sheep dogs find cows intimidating and some cow dogs don't dial back the fierceness well enough to work well on sheep without yanking wool. But that's why there are distinct lines of cattle-working border collies out there. Some breeders feel the sheep-working lines are too soft, so they breed for tougher, meaner cow dogs, and other breeders feel the cowdog lines are too hard for working sheep.

Now that I've completely confused you, I'll say good night. :D
Cheers ~


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What Gloria said!


A lot also depends on the cattle themselves. Many cattle are quite docile due to their own nature and due to the way they have been handled. Rank cattle can be quite the opposite, spoiling for a fight and very aggressive.


I asked Jack Knox about this once and he made the point that many dogs can be more relaxed on cattle as the cattle themselves often do not "transmit" the lightness or flightiness that many sheep possess. Things can move a bit more slowly and calmly.


In my case, with Celt who is sheep-bred and uses eye and subtlety, the cattle often seem to move with the attitude of, "I don't like the dog being here so let's move, Bertha." With Dan, who is cattle-bred and very grippy it can be, "It's that dog again, let's get out of here!"

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I have never worked sheep with a dog, just cattle. So my perspective is from the cattle side of things.


When we ran cattle, we wanted larger dogs, as did all our neighboring places. The BC's working cattle in our area were all larger dogs at least 50 lbs, some were probably pushing 65 lbs, and were very aggressive with the stock. Most of the stock in our area were pretty rank, so any dog working this stock had to be very aggressive. Some of our neighbors tried other breeds (Aussies and ACD's) but just about all of them went back to BC's. About the only other breed that worked cattle well in our area were the old Scotch Collies which were used as drovers after the BC's gathered the stock. The BC's and Scotch Collies were a pretty good combination on rank cattle. I love my BC's but I really miss the old Scotch Collie. The Lassie type Collie was pretty much a disaster working any type of cattle.

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I have worked both cattle and sheep with border collies. Some do well on both livestock, others do not. I feel it takes a confident always steadily moving forward type dog to work cattle well. I have never seen cattle respond well to a dog with a lot of eye that simply trys to use eye without going foward as well. I think a flock of sheep there is more what I would subtle movement and finese used by dogs where a herd of cattle take more direct approach.


Gloria post is right on. Dogs that are fast and grip are more often than not concerned and not confident. It is more movtivated out of fear and I will get you before you get me kind of thinking. If you slow those dogs down and put them in a smaller space then you can see more of what they really are. That way you can help them when and where they need it. They learn that fast and gripping gets the job done and no one has taken the time to show them another way to do it.

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