Should A Dog
. . . . . . catch lambs?
A discussion arose at a training day recently - teaching dogs to catch lambs. I was asked if I taught my dogs to catch - no.
Looking back I remember my first dog, Rod, used to catch the odd lamb for me, only when told, and he never drew blood. I didn’t say ‘catch it’ unless I was close. He was efficient, I was quick to get there, and he let go the moment I said ‘drop it’.
However, I am not a great fan of teaching dogs to catch; I have seen too many lambs being chased by out of control dogs, and often when the dog gets hold, the results are severe injury or death of the lamb.
Lambs are fast and if a dog isn’t skilled at catching quickly, a lot of ground can be covered in a short space of time. Before you know it the lamb is being chewed in a creek, your dog is learning to ‘worry’, and you’re trying to figure out how to get down there in time to stop it.
There aren’t many dogs able to learn the art of ‘catching’ without the killing instinct overtaking, although it is easier to keep the situation under control if you are on flat to rolling terrain. On steep country a dog can easily be ruined, beyond repair, and for that reason, it isn’t something I recommend.
But, you want to teach your dog to catch, how should you go about it?
Your dog must have a very good ‘no’ or stop command already in place, and I would strongly advise some work experience under his collar.
I would train it on a young lamb that is only a couple of weeks old, making it easier for the dog to knock it over or hold it down. And it makes sense to train in a confined area such as a sheep-yard rather than paddock.
Crouch down and stalk the lamb, encouraging him to walk up as well, ‘sis sis sis catch it’ and lunge as if to grab it - he should get the idea. Allow him to, praise - ‘good boy’ and give him a second or two hanging on; then you take hold of the lamb and give him his stop command. Insist that he does - immediately.
Don’t growl at him or hit him off – he did what you wanted – give him a harsh stop command and the second he lets go ‘good boy’ and give him a pat. Don’t let him try to bite the lamb again.
Wait a few minutes and repeat. Some dogs are quite gentle not drawing blood - perfect; but if yours has a nasty streak and does it viciously, don’t use him for this job.
This is not something you need to practice a lot as most dogs will get the idea quickly. Remember it is up to you to train him to do it, only when asked, and to stop when told.