Farm Dog 101: Working Livestock with Your English Shepherd – an Overview

English Shepherds are/should be control freaks. They understand rules and want those rules followed. That is one of the things that makes it easier to work with them on your own stock and one of the things that often makes it frustrating to work them off your property and with strange stock.

English Shepherds are “loose eyed” dogs and thus work closer in to their stock than border collies. While some dogs will bark at particularly stubborn stock, if a dog is barking almost constantly it lacks confidence and you will have to be extra careful in starting that dog to build confidence.

The first thing I do when starting a young dog (and young isn’t age related but determined by experience) is develop a bond with the dog. This means I spend time with the dog in a variety of situations, teaching the dog to respect me and fostering its desire to be with me. I will take the dog with me doing chores. Depending upon the dog and the situation, this may mean the dog is dragging a line to ensure I can control its behavior. While I don’t directly focus on the dog, after all I am doing chores, I do make sure the dog isn’t getting into trouble and is staying close (how close is a personal choice.) When I have a dog that is sticking with me doing chores, coming back to check in frequently on off-leash walks and has rudimentary obedience skills as well as self-control I’ll evaluate whether or not the dog is mentally and physically mature enough to start working stock. This is also dependent upon my stock. I won’t work a young dog on ewes with young lambs.

If I’m going to work stock with a dog, I will wait to do serious obedience training until AFTER I have started working stock. While I want the dog responsive to me, I want the dog’s focus on stock. A dog who focuses on the handler is either going to be less effective in working stock or, worse case scenario, is going to get hurt by not paying attention to the stock. It is very important to remember that if you want a partner, you have to ensure the dog is capable of making decisions and not expecting you to make all the decisions for him/her. All the dogs I train are taught self-control early on so that the dog is making GOOD decisions on its own and so that I’m not constantly telling the dog to do or not to do something.

It is also critical that you set your dog up to be successful and not to fail. While corrections are, in my opinion, a necessary part of training, corrections rarely have a place in “teaching”. Until the dog understands what is required and knows how to avoid a correction, it isn’t fair to correct the dog. Once I move out of teaching and into training, I can set it up so the dog has to make the right decision under more challenging circumstances, but again I have to ensure the dog is prepared for the challenge and I’m not expecting something I can’t reasonably expect.

The age you start a dog is not critical as long as the dog is mentally and physically ready to start. What is critical is that you haven’t done things to “turn the dog off”. I’ve seen pups that were put on stock too young and a single bad experience was sufficient to turn the dog off working stock permanently. I’ve seen older dogs that had been discouraged as pups from interacting with livestock who wouldn’t work as they got older. I’ve also seen dogs bounce back from traumas that you would have thought sufficient to turn them off permanently — my first ES got kicked by a steer so hard it knocked him across a pen, gave him a concussion and broke a molar. He tried, unsuccessfully because of the concussion, to get up and continue working.

Working poultry (chicken, turkeys, ducks), sheep, cattle and goats is challenging in different ways and some dogs will excel on one type of stock and yet may not be a good worker on another type of stock. The dog might be ready to work poultry very early on and not be ready for sheep, goats or cattle until much later. So just because your pup or dog doesn’t seem interested in working one type of livestock or another, don’t be discouraged. It may need more time just accompanying you doing chores or you may want to try starting on a different type of livestock. While I do use my ES to handle my American Guinea Hogs, I don’t recommend starting an inexperienced dog on hogs and I personally will NEVER use a dog to work horses. There are several reasons for that but it can be boiled down to a safety issue for both the dog and rider.

NOTE: The above was originally written a few years ago, when I was raising Katahdin sheep for lamb and was pasture raising American Guinea Hogs. I have downsized the number of sheep I have and the hogs are now in various freezers.

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High Winds and Trees – not a good mix

Last night’s thunderstorm dropped about 2 inches of rain in less than an hour. It was also accompanied by high winds. While the dogs and I took shelter in the house, I heard the familiar crack of what I thought was a branch coming down. It was raining hard enough that I couldn’t see more than 6 inches in front of me. After the rain let up and I could see, it was an unpleasant shock to see that the cottonwood that had been off the side of the horse corral had snapped at the base and fallen onto the pipe fence and into the corral. The canopy completely covered the corral and it wasn’t possible to see the horse. I dashed out to see if the horse had been hit by the tree and found her in a small 4×4 spot in the corner of the corral furthest from the tree, luckily unharmed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A friend came by at 6:30 this morning with a chain saw and in an hour and a half we had cleared most of the corral. Unfortunately, this cottonwood hosted a beehive so as soon as the bees became active we had to stop work.

Once I deal with the bees, we will finish clearing the tree out of the corral and off the pipe fence and then I will have to find someone to repair the fence. In the meantime, the horse is now in what used to be the sheep pen on the other side of the goats.

 

 

 

Missing

DSC00175Friends trailered my horse to my farm in December. Since I wasn’t sure where I wanted a corral, I decided to put up an electric fence for the horse in the short-term. I set it up close to a water hydrant and within sight of the house. (I had intended to convert the barn into a training building and wanted to keep dogs showing up for classes away from the livestock.)

Soon after the horse arrived we had a storm and unbeknownst to me the electric fence shorted out. The next morning I went out to feed and the horse was gone. Okay, not panicking. The property was fenced so the horse was probably just exploring the property. Or not. As it turned out, in one corner along the easement, where the gate is for my neighbors to access the easement, the fence had been cut. On 18 acres of property, the horse found the one section of fence that was down and made her escape.

All the important phone numbers are never in the phone book. I woke up the people I had bought my property from to get phone numbers for my neighbors.  Several phone calls and introductions later, a neighbor half a mile away provided the number for the livestock inspector. After walking the road looking for a horse, hoof prints, or anything else that might lead me to the horse, I went home to wait, and wait, and wait some more.

A week or so after Empress went walk-about, one of my neighbors called. He had been talking with someone who happened to mention a stray horse had shown up on her property. He passed along her number and with fingers crossed I called it. I walked down the road with halter in hand a short while later to bring Empress home.

Empress resided in the exercise area for the kennel until I had a pipe corral put up shortly thereafter.

Lesson Two: check fence lines frequently