When training cattle guard dogs, keep an open mind

Reina, at 4 months, walks to the beat of her own drum. For example, while being photographed, she waded into the pasture and began to eat the forage, just like goats would. Of course she did. (Courtesy of Farei Kennels)

I remember a story my mother told us about a family getting together for Easter dinner. A young girl watches her mother prepare the ham for cooking. She cuts a thick slice off the end before placing the ham in the pan and putting it in the oven. The young girl asks why she is doing this, to which the mother replies: “This is what my mother has always done.

So the young girl finds her grandmother, asks her why and obtains the same answer: “That’s how my mother did it. Intrigued, the young girl comes out on the veranda and asks her great-grandmother why they cut a big slice of ham before cooking it. Her great-grandmother explains that when she was young and first starting out, the pot she had was only this big.

Open mind

I don’t know where the story came from, but I find it often comes to my mind when I am troubleshooting something on the farm. I find it useful to determine How? ‘Or’ What I started to do something in a particular way to decide if it was working for me. I think a big part of being successful in any business is keeping an open mind on how to achieve a particular goal.

It’s the same with dog training. They are all unique individuals. Do you remember those two puppies I mentioned last month? They grow like weeds and not everything is physical. The older they get, the more apparent the personality differences become.

Allanon is the quintessential cattle watchdog. He is stoic, serious, dignified and calm. Reina handles things in a very different way. His offbeat outlook on life and its surroundings sometimes makes me shake my head and laugh at the same time. She’s excited to do what you’ve asked her to do, but it will be her way.

Thinking skills

If you’ve never had a livestock keeper, let me explain more. Although they are often labeled as too independent for training, this is not true. They just require different and more complex reasons to perform a behavior than your average pet.

While pets were bred for obedience, cattle guard dogs were bred with more dynamic reasoning skills, in order to do work when their owner is away. Establishing strong communication and providing them with an understandable purpose behind a request is often enough to gain cooperation. It will simply be done at their own pace.

Don’t expect border collie responses. You won’t get them. But don’t let that get in the way of your expectations. It’s just that they’re different. For example, my herdsman and a guard dog are both at the other end of the field. When I shout, they both respond immediately, and they both “come in”. The cattle dog arrives there at lightning speed and the cattle watchdog at a dignified pace, but their course is the same, straight and true.

Different drum

Reina is a strange combination of the two. I find that she often has a different response to the training methods I have used with previous generations of cattle guard dogs. She does not disobey in any way and will gladly do what I ask of her, in her own way.

At around 4 months old, her recall abilities are pretty solid and she usually comes with all the enthusiasm that her lanky legs and oversized feet can handle. But, again, it’s going to be his way. She could do the trick, as this is the path we usually take when moving from point A to point B. She could pause to bring the stick or pinecone she was playing with for the travel. But she gets there.

She is also a very caring soul. She goes out of her way to check in with herd and herd members, sometimes looking dejected when new goats are unsure of her.

Most recently my oldest stallion, Colter, was spayed and retired from breeding. He is currently in the house while he heals, and his tolerance for puppy antics is unusually low. When faced with a growl, Allanon simply walked away and lay down quietly. But Reina wasn’t that easily intimidated – and started bringing her all the things she liked to play with, in an effort to make the situation better.

I imagine his thought process went like this, “Hello, you look a little cranky. Would you like a piece of cardboard to chew on? How about one of mom’s sneakers? Don’t let her catch you. Are you thirsty? Here are your dishes. I often spill my water and sometimes I am thirsty. Here’s mom’s back massage trick. It’s fun to ride. Don’t really chew it. Mom threw me a sneaker.

Colter wasn’t impressed when presented with her favorite things, but you have to admire the enthusiasm and sunny confidence in her ability to make things better.


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