Aspects to Consider
By Patrick Shannahan
As I am lucky enough to travel the country, I get to see all different types of people entering the world of working dogs. Usually at clinics and seminars, I see novices getting exposed not only to the complexities of the Border Collie, but also to the unknown territory of working livestock.
During the year, I am usually lucky enough to meet up with one person who does not fit the normal mold of Border Collie enthusiast. This person stands out as they are one of the few that actually earns a living through ranching or farming. When I first started working dogs, 20 years ago, they would not have been uncommon. But today, they are rare as most of our new blood comes from people in town, wanting a new experience for their dog.
So, this young rancher is unique, and usually introduces himself as someone who has never trained a dog, but has come in search of knowledge on training a dog that he has recently been working with.
As I watch the young rancher, I notice that although he and the dog are not trained formally for competition, it is trained to become very helpful in working on the ranch. The dog respects the livestock, and it also respects the person. The dog and the person are a team, and each is seeking a common goal of the present work.
I wonder how this person can train a dog, without much help or knowledge? I see people spend lots of time and money trying to gain the relationship that this young man has with his dog. In fact, I have seen people working for years and years, to get to the place where the rancher is today. There are two main factors that have made this team work so well together.
First is that the rancher has learned how to communicate with his dog in the simplest of ways. The dog understands when his person is unhappy, and the dog responds in trying to change his behavior to please the rancher. So, when sometime the dog makes an error in how he is working, the rancher is able to communicate his unhappiness in that error, and guide the dog into the proper work.
The second main reason they are a success is that the rancher has been very clear to his dog in how he wants his livestock handled. The rancher earns his living through livestock, and invested much time in their well-being. He does not want them unnecessarily hassled, abused, or neglected all in the name of training the dog. He has taught the dog to respect the livestock, and in turn, respect him.
Most people when they start to learn about dogs, and dog training truly forget about the respect we should have for our livestock. I have seen many a person disrespect an animal, all in the name of training their own dog. They don’t think of the symbiotic relationship that has existed for years, dogs and livestock, and how each has benefited from each other.
Our rancher shows his skill and knowledge in being able to control his dog and livestock. They might not have the knowledge to be winners at a trial yet, but they have the understanding that many of trainers and handlers today have yet to acquire. They understand the principles of how our sport was founded, men respectfully using dogs to help them with their livestock, in a way that does not harm or worry the stock.