by Roy Cox
Many dogs are referred to as Hardheaded by their owner or trainer due to the undeniable fact that the dog has never fully given himself over to the dominance of that person. These types of dogs are most often misunderstood. Placing the stigma of “Hardheaded” onto a dog can do more harm than good to the future of the dog’s learning capabilities.
People need to honestly evaluate their dog to see what type of dog they have. If he is the type of dog that really wants to dominate cattle he is going to be more apt to be a pushy, come on to his cattle, and ignore you type of dog. If he is that type of dog you have to realize it from the beginning and get off to the right start.
Or, is he just an excitable dog that, when you go to pushing him off, looks for a place to beat you and make that into a habit? There are so many habits that people let their dogs get into and then blame it on the dog saying he’s `hardheaded’. People often have a misconception of their dog. They don’t realize what it has been bred for – dominate cattle. Learn to look at your dog, evaluate him, but most of all evaluate themselves.
We need to ask ourselves, `Is that dog honestly hardheaded’ or `Am I making him hardheaded’. They may have a big motor. They need to learn how to idle, instead of putting the pedal to the metal all the time.
In training it is very important to gain the respect from the dog. This starts with the proper kind of everyday handling. If he ignores you, he has realize that there will be a consequence to his actions. When you scream and yell at a dog without enforcing the command, you allow him to ignore you. When you do get after him it had better mean something to the dog. You can teach a dog to listen or you can teach him not to listen. What I think is preferable, is to teach him to listen.
In a pack of dogs, if the young dog ignores the alpha dog, he’s going to get chewed on. The pack leader going to gain the respect of that younger dog so the undesirable behavior does not happen any more. Respect will start out as fear. It did when we were little kids. When dad told you not to go near the road and you crossed it, he went and wore your little butt out. Then next time he said, `Don’t cross the road’, the light went on in your head that said `If I do cross the road I’m going to get a spanking’. You didn’t think `Oh, Okay, daddy, I’m going to respect you so I won’t do that’. As in people, the personality of each dog is different. We only put as much sanction as is needed. We can’t just pound on a dog if he doesn’t need it that hard of a punishment.
Most people put these dogs in a bigger pen where they have room to push the dog back off the cattle. All that this does is to take away the stimulus. It does not teach the dog to control his emotions. So when you put him in an excited situation, close to his stock, he hasn’t learned to control his emotion, the adrenaline. When this happens he is going to take control of the situation and it is going to seem like he is ignoring you but he is doing what he is bred to do. These dogs need to be put in a small pen, where they can’t jack with you, and you can explain what you want. In close quarters the stimulus is high all the time. When you move this dog back into an excited environment, he is going to run amuck on you all over again. This happens because you have never taught him to control himself.
Say your dog is not very strong. The type that feels a need to fly in to move cattle. Now, the choice is yours. Do you want to steady him down that much where you will possibly take his strength away? Or, do you want to leave him like that and tolerate it because you are getting all the work done with that particular dog. Realize that if you do steady him down and insist that he walk straight up to move something you are possibly going to take all of the good out of him.
The first thing many people want to do with their pup is to put it in the pen and go to pushing him off. Circling. Running a dog in circles around cattle, doesn’t teach him anything. He doesn’t learn bring or pace the cattle. By pushing a dog off you do not teach him to pace, you have only removed the stimulus that excites him. As soon as he is in a situation, where the stimulus is going to be great, he is going to fly off the hook again. This dog is not going to listen because you have never exposed him to that environment or taught him to listen when he is in so tight to the cattle.
The only problem with dogs are people.
People get so set in their ways that they do not want to read a particular dog. They treat and train all dogs in the same manner; as if they were the perfect dog. That perfect dog is not out there very often. A hardheaded dog is usually people made. As many dogs as come through here there’s a very small percentage that I would say are honestly hardheaded. A lot of these dogs are spoiled and have never been taught howto listen. The choice is simple, you can either teach him to listen or not to listen. It all comes down to the dog learning to control the stimulus, his adrenaline.
With some dogs, the harder a person pushes on the dog – the harder the dogs push back. Creating a bigger problem. The reason is that the dog is wanting to dominate his cattle and what you are, if he doesn’t respect you, is something that is exciting him. When they are pushing a dog off, people want to run or scream and yell or get wild. They get excited. They are only exciting the dog. Excitement builds excitement.
Another reason I don’t like to work this type of dog in a big pen is because you can’t out run a dog. Teach him to control his emotions in a small pen. You don’t have to get excited and when he gets excited you can teach him to control himself because you are right there.
You’ve got a few scenarios when you put a dog in a big pen and push him off…
You have a dog that will push off easily. He is probably the type that is not too strong to begin with. Pushing him out is easy because that is a preferable distance to the dog.Then you have the dog that pushes off but at the first opportunity flies into the cattle. He is respecting you to a point but learns when and where he can get by with ignoring your commands.
The last dog is the type that runs around and beats you and pretty soon it becomes who can beat who. You get excited and pretty soon he is going to whistle around and grab one and fly out again. You have defeated your purpose again because you have never taught him to control his emotion. Working him with a consistent source of stimulation will teach a dog how to handle the situation while maintaining self control. They are just like us, if we are going to get into a fight, the adrenaline gets to pumping. Dogs have to either be able to control that adrenaline or you’ve got it to use it to your advantage (if he is not a very strong dog). If his strength is to run in there and grab something, and he is not strong enough just to walk up and bite, you had better let him run in there to get his bluff on the cattle so he can move them.
This is a very hard subject to get into. But the main thing is to be able to look at the dog, honestly evaluate him, and understand you can either make him the best possible dog he can be or you can ruin him.
Dogs that don’t want to dominate cattle don’t appear to be hardheaded but there is a reason they are not like that. Sure enough, a lot of dogs that work off their stock – listen good. But there’s a reason they listen. It is because they don’t really want to dominate their cattle. That’s why they listen so well. The dog that really wants to go in and dominate something is going to appear to be falsely hardheaded. A dog that has a strong to dominate is going to want to be in there fighting or trying to move something. The adrenaline is going to be pumping and he is not going to seem to listen because he has never been taught to.
Decide what you are going to be doing with your dog. You may want him working like a trial dog, but if you take that same dog out to do a hard days work you may be disappointed. Being way off their cattle, and being sneaky, does not move cattle a lot of the time. Most sneaky dogs draw cattle to them. I saw a perfect example at a cattle trial I recently attended. I was standing with some people who remarked, “Boy these cattle are hard to move”. I said, “No, they’re not hard to move. Watch these dogs. The dogs that break way off and come way deep in the back side draw cattle to them. If that dog doesn’t come right into them and move them – they dominate him. If he doesn’t get control of them on the top side real quick when they get to the gate of the pen they are going to have hell getting them in’.
Next dog — big outrun. The cattle came to it instead if it coming to the cattle. He had a world of time trying to get them up there and when he got to the mouth of the pen he couldn’t get them in. They said, “Boy, they’re bad cattle.” I said, “That was a good bunch of cattle.” The next dog was one that zipped around and took control of them. They were at the top end probably ten seconds and they started to come. They didn’t even look at the gate. They trotted right through. That’s the difference. A dog has to take control of his cattle. If he’s not tough, you had better not push him off but leave him a little tighter. The tighter he is the more adrenaline is going to be flowing. You have got to understand how he’s going to work and what you are willing to take away from him to get him to listen perfectly like a trial dog.
In summary: Evaluate your dog.
When pushing some dogs away from stock you will remove the only tool he has which may be to bluff the stock into thinking he is tough enough.
When you push the dog that has a strong desire to dominate cattle you have only removed them from the source of stimulation. This will not teach a dog how to control his emotions. Dogs need to have a concentrated dose of stimulation with your guidance to learn to control their adrenaline. In order for a dog to control cattle he has to learn how to control himself.
this article was first published in The Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine October/November 2001