One of the most important elements of a trial revolves around the quality of the livestock. The AKC rulebook is very specific as to the suitability of stock and provides an in-depth description of the proper type of livestock for tests and trials.
Livestock should be comfortable in the presence of both dogs and people, and should have respect for a dog that is working properly. Herd/flock uniformity is important so that each set presents a fair and even chance to every exhibitor. The livestock should be accustomed to being under the control of a dog and handler, whether they are being fetched to the handler, or driven away.
Conditioning livestock is a task that begins weeks, and sometimes months, in advance of the actual event. Livestock are prey, and are equipped with a survival instinct that will influence their first reaction to dogs, which in nature’s world, are predators. With a proper introduction and continued controlled exposure, a working rapport can be established between the livestock and a herding dog.
To get an idea of how this breaking process works, we have asked three livestock providers a series of questions regarding their methods of dog-breaking livestock. They are:
Doyle Ivie, Georgia: Doyle Ivie has been training and showing herding dogs for the past 8 years, though he has had Australian Shepherds for 20 years. He has participated in ASCA, AKC, AHBA and Georgia Stockdog Association stock dog trials. Doyle holds herding classes and clinics where he has worked with many of the herding breeds. He also provides livestock for ASCA and AKC herding trials. Prior to his work with herding training, Doyle was an active horseman, rather cowboy, and spent a lot of years in the roping pen and going to jackpots and rodeos. He has been a farmer most of his life and has a very active fencing business. Doyle lives in Watkinsville, Georgia, on a 40-acre farm with many dogs, about 76 sheep and 17 cows.
Peggy Richter, California: Peggy started in herding with Belgian Sheepdogs in 1980, obtaining the first nationally recognized herding title for this breed in 1983 (ASCA started). When AKC started its program, she supported it with the first Belgian Sheepdog to earn an AKC herding title and the first Belgian Sheepdog champion to earn an AKC title. Since then, she has gone on to obtain 6 HX titles and multiple advanced titles in other programs. She owns, trained and handled one of the 2 Dual-champion Belgian Sheepdogs (CH/HC Midnite Acre Reverie Korvar). She has owned her own flock of up to 120 head of sheep as a livestock operation since 1985 and has the only Belgian Sheepdogs with advanced titles in all three programs and on all three types of stock and has qualified at the advanced level on all three courses. Three of her dogs have been evaluated and approved as working ranch dogs. She has been a judge for the AKC herding program for a number of years, as well as being a herding judge in other programs.
Joy Sebastian-Hall, Texas: Joy has been herding for over 25 years, has currently completed AKC requirements for judging the AKC “A” course, is an AHBA judge and is president of the Houston Area Herding Association. She is also a contributing writer in various publications as well as a herding column published in the North American Working Bouvier Journal. She has been training people and their dogs for the past 5 years. In that time, Roux Crew trained dogs have successfully competed in USBCHA, ASCA, AHBA, and AKC trials. Joy currently has twelve different AKC herding breeds working in her program. When she is not giving clinics, judging, or supporting her students at trials, she enjoys running her dogs in USBCHA and has qualified for the National Nursery Dog Finals this November with her 2-year- old Border Collie, Short Fuse.
1. What type of dogs do you use for the stock’s first introduction to dogs?
Doyle Ivie: I’ll use my older more experienced dogs. Just to make sure the stock won’t be harassed.
Peggy Richter: I use advanced, senior dogs that have experience with a variety of stock.
Joy Sebastian: When I get a group of stock that have never seen a dog, I find that the easiest way to get the job done is to use a quiet, commanding type of dog with lots of ranch experience. I prefer a dog that is not extremely pushy and is very round in working style. Smooth moving as opposed to crisp and sharp will keep the group tucked together and calmer. It also allows for a gradual increase of pressure as the stock acclimates rather than the sudden ‘shoves’ that a jerky dog will have.
I do not work any dog that is not extremely reliable in its stop command. As far as experience, a green dog with a lot of feel for the stock can work as well as an experienced dog. This is, of course, with an experienced handler to help hold things together.
When you use a fluid dog that continually tucks stock toward the middle, the stock have a chance to move toward the center of the group for relief of pressure. This is ultimately what you look for in a dog-broke sheep, one that wants to be in the middle, not wanting to leave the group. One that can take pressure from a dog and yield to that pressure, rather than fight or flee.
When I work stock that have been chased and terrorized by dogs I only use a dog that is extremely experienced. I need a dog to read the stock and be able to exercise a constant tweaking of pressure without my help. This helps calm the stock and also reteaches the value of the flock. Once the panic begins to subside, the stock can be handled by any round working dog.
2. Do you work stock in large numbers or small?**
Doyle Ivie: I put the new stock in with the whole flock the first few times I pen them so they can relax a little and get use to the dog.
Peggy Richter: Both. For sheep: I work stock from working a single (very rare) through groups of 3 (common) up to a full herd of up to 80 animals. For ducks, I work them in small groups of 3-5 up to a full flock of 20+. On cattle, I generally work stock in groups of 3-7.
Joy Sebastian: This largely depends on the stock itself. Having years of experience working livestock, I look at a group and make an educated guess about numbers. Most any group of stock can be worked immediately in large numbers. It provides the stock a place to hide and relieve the pressure. The purpose of dog breaking is to teach the stock how to handle pressure and to correctly react to get that relief.
I start with about 10 to 15 head and then cut that number down to 5. When I change the type of dog working the stock, I increase the numbers until I see the desired responses and work my way back down. I own 4 totally different working style dogs, so this is a rather fast process. Stock need to see both weak and strong dogs, in terms of power, and to respect each.
3. How do you go about dog breaking livestock?**
Doyle Ivie: I’ll put one or two head of unbroke stock in with three or four head of old seasoned ones. I’ll do this in a small round pen sixty feet or less, that way it’s a lot easier to control them, and avoid any injuries. After the new ones begin to settle down I’ll move to the trial arena to finish breaking them. I keep using my old dogs to avoid upsetting them as much as possible.
Peggy Richter: Sheep: following a quarantine period, I put the new stock in with older, more experienced animals and work them all together in a large group. As the stock become accustomed to being worked by the dogs, I start reducing the size of the herd until the stock are being worked in groups of 3. At about the point I reduce the working group size to six, I will start using inexperienced dogs in controlled situations as well as the more senior dogs.
Ducks: I generally get ducks in sets of 5 or multiples of 5 and start working them in their own unit with an experienced dog. However, if I get ducks in small units (like single ducks or a pair), I will then use the same procedure as with sheep. With cattle, I rarely have dogged cattle to use as a base. Therefore I start with the cattle in whatever group they come in (from 4 to 20) and initially start with my most experienced dog with the dog and I working the cattle in a parallel drive (i.e. I am walking with the dog to back the dog up). If the cattle are reasonable, I then let the dog work the stock on his/her own in general fetch, drive, turning them right or left and using bite as needed. I progress then to moving the cattle through obstacles in the groups I intend them to be used in (usually 3-5 but not always). If the dog experiences problems, I always try to get in there to back the dog up. I do not put a novice dog on cattle that are not known to be workable by dogs.
Joy Sebastian: If I have the time and room, I will usually keep the stock in a small trap (100 X 100) for a few days, feeding and watering them twice or more daily. This is to acclimate the stock to people, and generally begin to gentle them. I have a 50′ round pen that attaches to this trap and then opens into my barn, so the stock can be easily moved to smaller areas for sorting.
Taking a quiet dog, I gate sort about half the group into the round pen and work flanks around the stock for about 5 to 10 minutes. I then kick that group into the barn in a stall, and work the other half. After the second group is stalled, I sort out about half of the first group back into the round pen and flank around them. Usually I start having the dog bring them across the pen to me several times before I put them back in the trap. After they have all been worked the second time, they get fed. This takes 30 to 45 minutes and I will do it once or twice a day. Using this method I can have stock settled for trial ready students in a week or two. These are not dependable stock, just stock that will respond to a dog that has learned to back off the pressure.
If I am pressed for time, I will take some of my extremely quiet older stock and use them with small groups of the wild stock to help keep things calmer. I can start using the wilder stock a couple at a time during lessons, if the other stock are there to balance things out.
4. Are the techniques different for different types of stock?**
Doyle Ivie: Cows and sheep I break the same way. With ducks I start in a much smaller place, usually a horse stall.
Peggy Richter: Yes, see above.
Joy Sebastian: I must admit that I do not work my ducks very much. We have a flock of 40 runner crosses and a flock of 20 call ducks that have a large fenced area to roam. Students get short sessions during a lesson with whatever gets caught. The biggest problem I see at trials are ducks that have been overworked and are sour. When we are getting ready for a trial, I move the ducks in mass (by flock) to get them in shape for the trial. Our ducks always receive high praise from those who work them.
Experienced cattle dogs should be used to dog break cattle. The cattle are taught to give to the dog’s pressure in a round pen. This takes a very strong, obedient dog that will do what it takes to turn the cows and then will immediately stop. More pen work is done with cattle, to make sure that they are safe (such as cattle can be) to be around in a tight situation.
5. If the stock are to be used for a trial [not just for training], is there any additional work or situations you like to expose them to prior to the trial?**
Doyle Ivie: Since I supply stock for all types of trials (ASCA, AKC, and ABHA) I try not to course break them, but I do work them through all types gates, obstacles, and alleyways.
Peggy Richter: Yes. I work them through similar obstacles to the trial obstacles, in the group size they will be used in for that trial (i.e., if they are to be used in groups of 3, I work them in groups of 3) to ensure that the stock are workable and comfortable in that size group. I also work them with as many different types of dogs as I can – both in appearance (color, size, hair or shorthaired), style (bark, no bark, eye, no eye) and level of training (novice to very experienced) as well as ensure that they can be both driven and fetched as needed. If possible, I also ensure that the stock are familiar with being loaded and transported in a trailer, as if they are being hauled to a trial site this can unsettle them if it’s the first time they’ve been trailered.
Joy Sebastian: If I am getting ready for an AKC test/trial, I make sure that the stock look at as many different sizes and styles of dogs as possible in a controlled environment. I find that it helps the stock react more predictably in a trial situation. Also, it helps to cull out any that might have a major issue with a particular type dog before the trial. Test stock must learn to default to a human, no matter what sort of dog is used on them. In reality test stock are ‘people broke’ rather than dog broke.
I really watch for stock that don’t get along, can’t handle repeated works, or otherwise stand out in a group. In a training session, these things can be great to work on, but for a trial, consistency in the stock is the key to giving every competitor an equal chance. It then falls to the competitor to make the most of what he/she is given. This is what I believe makes an animal ‘broke’.
Peggy Richter: Because trials tend to be exciting not just for dogs and handlers but also the stock, I generally try to have the stock MORE cooperative than I need them to be for the trial. It has been my experience that just like the dogs, the stock tend to be less settled/controllable in a trial than they are in a training setting or in just being “worked”.
Joy Sebastian: First let me say that a first time stock owner should not buy wild stock. It is worth the extra price to avoid the hassles that these animals create. A 4 year old range ewe that has lived on 6,000 acres all her life is quite different in temperament than a ewe that has been fed and handled all her life.
I prefer honest stock. I do not course train, nor do I course train the stock. All my livestock understand gates, chutes, or pens and give to pressure. The dog and the handler must make the right decisions and use common sense to move the stock. This quote speaks volumes: “The shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his own are the same.” (Stendhal, (1783 – 1842) French novelist.)