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Dog Training

Working Dogs

. . . . . . how they evolved

You may be of the school that thinks Noah had a male and female sheep dog aboard the Ark, but I, like so many others, believe that all dogs have evolved from wolves over many thousands of years, and that man bred certain traits from these early dogs to meet his needs at that time.

The earliest depiction (rock paintings) is of dogs and man (bow in hand) pursuing sheep, indicating that dog’s earliest vocation was hunting. And if you think about it, man didn’t have to do much in order to turn the hunting dog into one that herded sheep, as that natural instinct for stock and working them, in order to find the weak and easy prey, could, with selective breeding and training be a dog that could help protect and shepherd those early flocks.

I can see some of you rolling your eyes, thinking “I don’t need a history lesson”, but it is actually very relevant, in my mind, with a lot of dogs that we have through our hands today.

Most young farm dogs will chase, in some form or another, sheep - whether it is eyeing them, or hurtling after them, maybe jamming them in a corner and then barking or biting - and all this stems from a hunting instinct that is never too far from the surface. It is our responsibility to guide and train this natural “hunting” instinct to one of acceptable “working” for us.

Thousands of dogs have been shot over the years because the owner has not realized that a very large percentage of dogs start off, in those early stages, a little too vigorously, but with a bit of basic knowledge and patience from us can end up doing an honest days work for many years.

Yes, there are young dogs, perfect in every way. Some only need a few commands taught, in order to understand what we wish them to do, but they are the exception rather than the rule, and are few and far between.

I think a good example to help you understand, is swimming; if we find ourselves in deep water we will instinctively flay our arms and legs about, but in order not to drown someone needs to have taught us the movements we should make in order to keep our heads above water and to get from A to B.

The point I am trying to make is, please – don’t be too hard on your young dogs, don’t expect too much. It is all about training.

A pup is a pup and as it grows and develops it will learn from life’s experiences. It will learn both good and bad – from other dogs, from the person who rears it, from the person who trains it and from the person who works it. And if gentle, correct training starts from about 8 weeks old you shouldn’t have too many problems when the time comes for it to go to work.

If you have a pup now, or you are contemplating getting one, think for a moment about your time and your personality. Are you prepared to spend one on one time each day, for at least ¼ hour (½ - 1 hour preferable) for the next 6 – 12 months? Can you control your frustrations and temper? If not, give the pup away now & buy a trained dog from someone else.

Because if you keep the pup - shut up without daily exercise, with little handling, no day to day guidance, no human bonding – then you may as well shoot it now and save yourself the cost of feeding it.

It WILL end up either physically under developed or mentally nuts as in hyper or terrified. And if that isn’t enough – it’s cruel.

Let’s also think about dogs you have had in the past or have now – they probably have some habits that are very annoying. I guarantee you that 99% of the time it is a man made problem.

Something was done that shouldn’t have been done e.g. a dog that is hard to catch, has probably, when it was young and had done something wrong, been called up, “here Joe”, caught, then beaten. It therefore associates - being caught with pain, especially if those are the only times it is ever handled.

Something wasn’t done that should have been done e.g. a dog that races in front of a bike, barking, as you set off. It should have been taught to quietly stay behind or beside a bike early in it’s training when it was learning right from wrong.

Whatever it is, somewhere along the line, someone made a mistake. Occasionally, it is a dog problem, but not often. And this is why some people need to change the way they think in regard to their dogs. Not only will your day to day stock handling be easier and more enjoyable, but your dog will be a happier and harder working asset, rather than a liability that has you pulling your hair out.

I have seen time and time again, people trying to work untrained dogs, bikes roaring around the paddock, exhausted dogs not knowing whether they are Arthur or Martha, stock going in all directions and a very red faced, frustrated farmer who must be wondering “why the hell am I farming?”

Believe me, there is nothing more satisfying than mustering a large mob of either sheep or cattle that are in optimum condition and that are relaxed and unstressed, due to good stockmanship and well trained dogs.