Charles R. Long, Resident Director of Research and Professor
Texas Agricultural Experiment Station
Texas A&M University Agricultural
Research and Extension Center at Overton

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Border Collie littermates Bob & Sweep bred by Mary Bowsher of Ferris, TX
Using dogs for working cattle may save costs through labor reduction. Several cattle handling tasks may be accomplished using dogs; the requirement for human help is usually reduced.

Example Situations. These descriptions represent actual cases in which dogs are being used to handle cattle in Texas and elsewhere.

Example 1: Dogs are used in large, brushy pastures to locate cattle by
scent, bunch them by circling and barking, and hold up the
herd by baying in front. Riders can then drive and pen the
herd while it is being held together by the dogs.

Example 2: Dogs are used in growing yards and feedlots to move cattle
from pens and through alleys or to push and hold cattle up
to feed bunks and other tasks.

Example 3: Dogs are used in some regions with riders to cover large areas
(with fewer riders) and push cattle to a central gathering point.

Example 4: Dogs are used daily to assist in routine ranch work, with or
without a horse, to move cattle, to assist in the working pens
and many other tasks.

Other examples exist, but these are sufficient to illustrate the diverse uses of dogs in cattle operations.

Breeds of Stockdog. The tasks described above are not accomplished with a single breed of dog. Example 1 would most often employ dogs of the "cur" type, such as Blackmouth Cur, Catahoula or Blue Lacy. Example 2 might require Border Collies or Kelpies or perhaps Australian Shepherds (Aussies). Examples 3 and 4 could be accomplished with the Australian Cattledog (Blue Heeler), Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, Kelpie or crosses of these breeds. These are the most commonly used breeds of stockdog; others include English Shepherd, Welsh Corgi, McNab Shepherd, New Zealand Sheepdog and Australian Working Collie.

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Bob and Sweep display working style characteristic of the Border Collie.

Puppies of a stockdog breed are expected to show interest in livestock and to exhibit a style or pattern of work characteristic of the breed. Inherited work patterns include manner of approaching cattle, amount of barking, tendency to go ahead of or behind stock, and other behavioral traits. One should consider tasks to be done and type of cattle to be handled and choose a breed accordingly, then select within the breed for those individuals which possess the desired traits.

Acquiring a Stockdog. For applications like examples 1 or 3, a rancher may wish to contract with individuals using dogs for this purpose, particularly if cattle penning is done only 2 or 3 times a year. Frequency of use in examples 2 and 4 implies daily need for dogs. One should determine application and breed desired and whether to begin with a puppy, or a started or trained dog. Immediacy of need; manner of use in the operation; dog training and handling abilities; cost; availability; and other factors impact this decision.

Before purchasing a puppy, one should observe the parents working to ascertain that their style, etc. would be satisfactory for the anticipated tasks. Puppies from excellent working parents may fail to perform; starting with a puppy from non-working parents is an unnecessary risk. Many times, an inexperienced person can save time and increase chances of success by purchasing a trained or well-started dog (or dogs) from a reputable breeder/trainer and engage the seller to assist implementing their use in the operation.

Costs of dogs vary; however, one should be able to purchase a good puppy for $100-$300. Prices of started and trained dogs are based on quality of the dog and amount of time and training required to reach that stage. Recent prices for finished dogs have ranged from $500 to $2,500 with some higher.

Knowledge/Skills Required. Anyone wishing to utilize dogs should acquire some knowledge and ability in certain critical areas. These areas include 1) cattle behavior and reactions to challenges; 2) dog behavior and handling; 3) determination and patience to achieve success in spite of less-than-perfect early outcomes; and 4) ability to follow instructions and learn from advice of knowledgeable dog trainers and handlers.

Study and practice are necessary to achieve proficiency. The ability to consider a cattle handling situation, to anticipate potential problems and to prevent or circumvent the problems is the mark of success. The goal should always be kept in mind: to accomplish the desired cattle handling task with minimum stress on the cattle.

Commands. Verbal commands or whistle signals are useful in directing dogs to handle cattle. Their purpose is to facilitate positioning a dog around a herd, and usually the fewer the better.

Commands of obvious utility include "Come", "No", "Hush" and "Load up". Some commands are based on the style of work such as the flanking commands "Go bye" and "Away to me" which direct Border Collies and Kelpies to move around the herd clockwise and counterclockwise, respectively; "Down", "Walk up" and "Easy" are also linked to Border Collie workstyle. Cur handlers might tell dogs to "Get ahead" of cattle, come "In behind" the horse/handler, or "Lead out" so as to reduce pressure at the front of the herd.

Degree of control of stockdogs varies with handlers; some handlers exercise a high degree of control while others are successful with less control and fewer commands. Importance of commands and control depends on breed and type of dog, specific cattle handling tasks to be accomplished, and handler's preference and objectives.

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All Border Collie photos on this page courtesy of Dr. G. Ray Smith, TAES Overton, TX.

Methods of Moving Cattle. Three basic methods of moving cattle with dogs (working styles) may be described with respect to direction of movement and relative positions of cattle (C), handler (H) and dog (D). "Cur-style" is characterized by dogs ahead of the herd holding the cattle together and the handler(s), usually horseback, driving the herd from behind. "Driving" involves the movement of cattle by the dog from behind while the handler is behind both dog and cattle; the handler may be afoot, horseback or in a vehicle. "Pulling" is the dog's causing the herd to follow the handler, who may be afoot, horseback or in a vehicle and may or may not use feed to entice the gentler cattle.

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Curved arrows indicate area generally traversed by dog. Circle represents herd.
Variations of these exist, dogs may be trained to move stock using more than one method and each method may employ one or more dogs simultaneously.

Conclusion. Successful use of dogs for working cattle depends on understanding the tasks to be accomplished, applying certain fundamental principles of animal behavior and training, and persistence to move closer to the ideal visualized. The use of dogs for working cattle may not be desirable or feasible in all operations; however, this practice offers cost savings and enhanced effectiveness in many situations.


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