WHAT, WHEN, AND HOW
an interview with Australian cattleman Tony McCallum
by the staff of Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine
Working in different types of terrain, most of it heavy timber or mountains, means that Tony McCallum, New South Wales, Australia, sends his dogs for stock that can’t be gotten to on horseback. Tony emphatically states, “In a lot of areas in Australia it’s not ‘`do people use dogs there’, rather, if they run stock in that country they have dogs. Because if you don’t have, you just pack up and leave. There isn’t an alternative. In a lot of that country you can’t get in [to the stock]. There’s no point in thinking, ‘Oh, I’ll do it helicopters; I’ll do it on motorbikes’. And to run it with horseback, the amount of people you would need to employ would just make it unfeasible. With good dogs that are used to working on their own you can do a lot more work.
Heading ability is a must for the dog that works in this rough region of Australia. When 300 steers are on the run and there’s no fence for two miles the dogs must stop the herd. He looks for the dog that gets to the front and the ability to get stock back to him. McCallum describes this type of dog as with “work ethic” — “he will do all at his disposal to arrive back at your with the stock.” Too much heading instinct can be a disadvantage, though, because this type of dog will be going to the head of the stock even if they are coming toward the handler.
McCallum wants the dog to want to work. He breeds away from the dog that is too easily controlled. He uses this analogy: When you use a sledge hammer, you work at control. Once enough strength is built up in the arm, you can tap in a thumb tack with a sledge hammer. However, if all you ever use is a thumb tack hammer, you could never drive in a railway spike. If you can educate a dog with stock sense, you can have everything. He’ll handle a charging ram and knows to stop light sheep by staying off of them. No matter what you’re working — cow, steer, lamb, wether — the dog can learn when to get in and when to stay out.
“It is hard enough to find a dog that naturally wants to dominate cattle. I don’t mean chase them from here to kingdom come. I can get you any amount of those any day of the week. You can find anything that expresses aggression at the weak end of the stock. I like a dog that holds his ground under pressure, especially the one that when he’s held his ground and he wins is not a bully and does not continue to punish the stock. A lot of people don’t realize this: sometimes the best thing a dog can do when you’re working stock is nothing. It’s probably as important as when something makes a break and is definitely going to go and he’s got to show all that grit and block up and say, ‘no you’re not going,’ which is really important. But then there are other times where the ability in that dog just to ease right off the situation and say ‘look they’re going where we want them to go. Anything I do now is only going to cause trouble.’ That’s a real good dog.”
Over the years McCallum has developed a training method which works particularly well for him. He says he’d picked up a tip here and an idea there, until a program evolved which he calls, “When, Where and How — I decide the when and where — the dog decides the how.”
Part of this program is built on the premise that he is the pack leader. Studying behavior of wolf packs has helped McCallum learn how to become the dominant figure in his dogs’ lives. “You must steady a pup straight away the minute he goes silly. Show him that ‘no, that’s not right.’ Watch any documentary program about an old wolf — he will tolerate a lot, pups playing with his tail and such. But there will be a point, perhaps when those pups start jumping up and chewing on his ear, that he puts a stop to it. He doesn’t say, while petting the pups, ‘Now, don’t chew.’ We all know what he does and it happens quickly and cleanly. Bang! The pups go ‘Ohh, Ohh, Ohh, Ohh,’ and they tuck their little tails and go away and lie down. After three seconds, they’ll come back and perhaps play with his tail like they did when they were getting away with it. They just learned, ‘He doesn’t want us scratching his eyeballs and pulling his ears.”‘
At a recent clinic someone showed McCallum an article condemning the pack approach to training dogs. “Every basic premise in that fellow’s article is based on the fact that it’s a brutal thing. This author thinks if someone’s using the pack method he’s brutalizing his dogs. He thinks everything is human. I said to the fellow that showed it to me, ‘If you treat them as dogs, they are happy. Dogs don’t bully — either you are above or below in the pack and once that’s worked out, that’s where you go.’
“I stress that training is not brutal if you adopt a cooperative training technique. All you’re really doing is getting them to do what they want to do. Now, I just don’t know of anything easier to train than stockdogs. I would sooner train a dog to work stock, than to teach a dog to sit. Because to get a dog to sit, you have to physically force him into a sit position. Now, if you’re training a stockdog to bring stock back to you, to go around and head stock when they are leaving, you never have to lay a hand on him, never have to get near him. You don’t have to teach him his name even. He wants to do all of that. He doesn’t want to walk up to you and sit. So which is the easiest? It is easier to educate him to work stock, but people seem to want to make a hard job of it.”
The other aspect of this training regime is that much of the training is done while the pup is young, without undue pressure, simply through association. “I don’t want them on anything I don’t think they can handle. Say, the pup is 16 weeks old. By then, I’ve seen him a couple of times on stock. If the instinct is there and is slowly building, I like to use it a little bit, not lock the pup away and have him vent those instincts on watching birds fly over or chasing rags. I want him to grow up to work stock.
“People say, `Oh! Well, you put your pup to work at four months. What about the pressure?’ What pressure? Because he’s getting his own reward it’s what he’s wanting to do. The pup doesn’t even know what I’m saying. (I’m applying the word as quickly as I can to the action.) The minute you see that little foot start to come up and the stock starts to move, quickly say ‘away’ and he’s off. When Pavlov rang that little bell he showed us that dogs don’t make decisions they just react to an association. If people would only realize that.
It’s not unusual that at the end of two five minute sessions a four or five month old pup will take off in the `away’ direction when I say `away’. He’s being programmed that ‘away’ is to move in that direction to stock. But, what’s even better, is that we haven’t made him do it just because he’s told. This is opposed to someone who has a stick and blocks him and says, ‘I said away.’ I want to end up with a totally obedient stock dog who has the ability to work independently. There are always going to be times when you are going to have to step in and require obedience because you can see something that the dog doesn’t. But I think you’ve succeeded when you get obedience that the dog believes is independent thinking. So they don’t need the commands to do the work, but when you look up and think, ‘Oh, goodness I’ve headed the cattle along that fence and three kangaroos have knocked a hole in there and those cows are going to go straight in with the bulls.’
Those dogs are working independently, but, I have to be able to direct them and when I blow that whistle they believe it’s their decision to flank and stop the cows. And the best thing about it is that there is no resistance because ever since they were little they’ve only heard that command or whistle when they wanted to go that way. So they just wheel around and out they go. There is going to be a point when that dog says, ‘You’ve made the wrong call. I’m second in charge; I’m going to have a go at the job.’ But that’s the day you can correct him. You need to say, `No, I’m still in charge,’ and correct him. But wait until it goes wrong — you don’t want to start correcting him at day one.
“I make no claims to have come on this [training method] easily, because this is trial and error and I did it the hard way for many years. I’d gone through a lot of dogs and I thought surely some of these dogs are better than they are turning out. I saw people who’ve taught dogs by just sheer aggression. ‘You will do this now or I will poke you with a sharp stick and choke you with a spiked chain collar.’ And I thought, `Well that doesn’t appear to get you to where you want to go with some stock dogs. We’re not winning with just making him mechanical; we’re not winning by dominating.’ Eventually I picked up a bit off of this person and a bit off that person, read a bit here and I thought, ‘I’ve made hard work of this. I think there’s an easier way.’ Sometimes, a method came along that made me think, ‘I’m never going to do that.’ Even then, I’d discovered something.
Thomas Edison, after trying 2000 different filaments that didn’t work for the electric light bulb was asked, `What does it feel like to have failed 2000 times?’ He said, ‘I haven’t failed. I’ve discovered 2000 things that don’t work.’ And that is the way it is with training dogs. Because what’s perfect for the temperament for one person, is not okay for the next.
“Occasionally, someone at a clinic will ask me, ‘Couldn’t I just have a rope and a collar on him if he runs amuck.’ Well, you can, but it changes everything. You will too soon step in, to get him to do something, rather than worrying about settling up your stock. But if you go in there ‘naked’, you have to be worried about putting yourself right, you see. It’s an active way of training dogs. I just couldn’t get in there and say ‘come by’, ‘away’, ‘come by over.’ Sometimes it’s only moving a little bit. Back off your stock, let them come this way. The pup starts to advance, I say, ‘push up’, ‘push up’. Then he races in and grabs one. My movement might be as simple as stepping between that one and actually pushing him off. Not growling at him or anything. I just step through.
At times, if he’s got a hold of a bit of wool hanging off the side of a sheep and he’s five months old, I might actually say, ‘Aaatt!’ He’ll be a bit annoyed. My movement breaks it [off of the sheep] and he runs around to the front. As he runs around to the front I say, ‘come bye’, and step back. You control your stock and make it ever so slightly uncomfortable to do that which you don’t like and then just add the commands. If the pup happens to fly in and grab one on the nose, say, `get him’. When working cattle there are times when you want the dog to ‘get him’ and this is a good opportunity to train that.
“When the pup is eight weeks of age, I’ll put him with gentle stock in a small area, about a 30 by 40 foot pen. I don’t use anything much smaller than that size. The pen is not so big that if a pup chases one then I’ve got to actually physically bolt to get to it. Some people say, ‘Oh, I might not be able to run fast enough.’ But you don’t need to do all of that chasing and dragging ropes and that sort of thing. The most I have to do is make a few little quick steps that block the stock; the goats go past and then I say ‘come by’ or ‘away to me’.”
During early training, McCallum looks for opportunities to train the pup maneuvers he’ll need later on. For instance, Tony describes how his young pups learn to bring back the single animal that bolts from the herd: “I try to convince a pup that when he chases one over to a corner he’s actually returning it to the mob. If he’s just chasing one, I wouldn’t be interested in the pup. But if I feel he’s making an effort to turn it, that’s different. Well, we know he’s not going to [turn the single] because he’s just ten weeks of age. He’s not going to get to the lead. I quickly go over to where all the other goats are in the corner. When he finally gets to the corner at the other end, that little pup goes in and grabs the goat and he bolts out. He bolts straight to the group and when that little pup comes out of the dust behind and sees that one in with the mob, I can simply say when he pauses for a bit, ‘steady, good pup.’ Far better than running down and trying to catch the pup before he grabs the goat.
But people ask, ‘Won’t he get used to cutting one off?’ I say, ‘When you chased him, he’s chasing that goat and you’re making him run faster by chasing him, and there’s a whole hullabaloo going on. When that happens he’s forgotten completely about the mob. I give him five seconds of chasing one, put the rest of the mob in the corner, let the one goat run back with them, settle the dog and say, ‘good pup’. For the pup, the biggest association is that one goat has just run back to the rest, he’s heard ‘`good pup’ and he’s allowed to go back to work. Because one animal is always going to make a break, I actually want a pup that has the confidence to go and turn one and put it back in the mob.
“Don’t limit yourself. People say to me, ‘I’ve got a dog and I’m just having a bit of trouble. I’ve got him pretty good on the ‘come by’. I started on the ‘away’. Tomorrow I’m going to work on that ‘away’.’ You know, I’ve never taken a dog out of a cage to work stock and said, ‘Alright, you’re learning ‘away’ today. I mean, no come-bying or going too close, so help me. It’s ‘away, away’ today.’ If people would just work on not teaching their dog this or that, but, instead think, ‘I’ve got a list of things to which I want my dog to associate.’
“Once they get into that way of thinking then all they have to do is say, for example, I would like to have my dog go and get a drink when I tell him because I’m working in dry country but sometimes he’s not thirsty because it’s early morning. We’ll be passing a tank and I know we’re not going to see water again for six hours, he doesn’t. So I would like to say, ‘drink’ and whether or not he’s thirsty, he’ll go and jump in that water, get nice and soaked, have a good lap and off we go.’ When I teach my dogs to drink, I want that to be a strong association. I can adopt one method, get him by the ear, stick his head in the water and say ‘drink’, pull him out, say, `good dog, drink,’ and push him in again. But I decided there might be an easier way. I decided to work him one day near home until he’s quite thirsty (I don’t mean work him until he’s dehydrated or anything. Just give him a little bit of work so that in the morning you know he’ll be looking for a drink.) and then put him in his pen at night with no water. In the morning, I’d open the door to his cage and walk down to the water tank and say, ‘drink’. In he goes and has a drink. Now, do that twice and when you say ‘drink’, he will dive through a foot of ice to drink because it’s a strong association.”
By employing ways of associating commands with actions and setting up situations which will reinforce the commands, there is no need for excessive force which causes fear, according to McCallum. Timing is extremely important, also. “If a dog’s chewing something, say the garden hose, most people come in the yard and they say, ‘Get out of that, Rover!’ The dog leaves the hose, he hears the voice so he gets up, turns to the fellow and then the man runs over, grabs the dog, chokes him and bats him on the nose with the chewed bit of hose. It’s too late.
“Now, if I really want to dissuade him from chewing the hose, this is what I do: When I walk over to the gate the dog looks up at me, he’s no longer chewing the hose. I shut the gate. I actually walk over as if I see something in the yard somewhere. That dog may pay attention to me another couple of seconds and then goes back to chewing the hose. When he’s chewing and forgotten all about me, I get hold of his neck, ‘Ahhh!’. The hose is still there, in his mouth. If the correction is worth doing, you’re going to need to do that [set up situations so the timing is just right]. Nine times out of ten, you’re not harshly correcting the dog because you think it will teach the dog something, you’re doing it because you’re angry with what the dog’s done and teaching the dog doesn’t usually come into it. All you’re teaching him is to be frightened. So I always consider what the dog is learning as a result of what I’m doing.”
McCallum points out commands given at the wrong time can create an incorrect association: “If you chain a dog to a position you’re not teaching it to stay there. I mean, it hits the end of the chain and you say, ‘stay there’. At the time you say ‘stay there’ every muscle is tight and pushing against that chain. So then, one day you put him down, take the chain off and the minute you say, ‘stay there’, off he goes.
“The biggest mistake I see here and in Australia occurs when people are telling their dogs to ‘steady’. Do you know when they tell them to steady? This dog, never taught anything in his life, comes charging up on the stock and flies and hits the first one he comes at. ‘STEADY! STEADY!’ yells the trainer. The dog thinks, ‘I’ve got this,’ and grabs another one, chomp! tips that one over. So, on another day when things are not going along too badly but the trainer thinks, ‘Oh, he’s getting a little bit fiery!’ he commands, ‘Steady!’ and the dog says, ‘I got it!’ and rushes at the stock.” McCallum’s way of teaching ‘steady’ is to wait until the pup has paused, then tell him `steady, steady’. The pup associates the command with the pause. McCallum sums up his way of training: “I don’t make him do it — that’s the trick. When it happens, give it a name. Set up the association.”
this article was first published in The Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine June/July 1993
“People attending one of my clinics will ask, ‘How do you get a dog to work that won’t work?’ I don’t. You don’t. If it was up to any human to teach a dog how to work stock, we would eventually end up backwards. Why do we use dogs? Because we don’t understand what it is about them (that enables them to control stock). I’m in a happy position in saying I can’t train dogs to work. My method is when, where and how. The dogs must know the how. If you’ve got a dog that knows how to work, I sure can show you how to get him to understand when to work and where to work.
“A lot of times, people at the end of a clinic say, I wish I hadn’t paid you to tell me this because I should’ve thought of it myself.’ Well, that’s the best thing about most things. If someone comes up with something simple that works, everyone says that they could’ve invented it. I don’t mean to say that I invented this method. A lot of people do it to varying degrees, I suppose, with all different sorts of animals. It’s an approach. I don’t want to teach you a method.
Some people are much happier to buy an electric collar. They think, ‘I’ve got this thing; I’m now going to create a dog.’ But with no decent attitude to train it’s not worth anything. It’s not worth one penny. So there’s an attitude — (my method) is just an attitude change. If people would change their attitude towards working with a dog, they can keep their own (training) method.
“We battle to breed these good stock dogs. Why are we doing that? We could breed Labs or Poodles who have high trainability, if what we wanted was a dog we could train to work stock. Why not train a poodle? Now, Poodles have a much higher trainability rate than nearly any other dog. We don’t work cattle with them. Why? They’ve been bred for years to be trainable. Why don’t we go out there and tell them left, right, stop, advance, bite, heel, back, over here, block a gate? Because you would have to be doing every single thing and spend two years of training. And then spend every day of your life thinking every single stock move for that dog.
The reason we don’t do that is because we have collies and Kelpies and that sort of thing. We breed them right, to want to work stock. And then we tell them, ‘You’re not going to do that, you’re going to go left when I tell you and you’re going to go right when I tell you. And I’m gonna do as much as I can to undo all breeding and then when you’re not a very good dog, I’m gonna blame you for being disobedient!’ So I say don’t do that. Work on what they’ve got, allow them the how, and adopt an attitude of being blessed with a pup that has the will to work in him. I have no room for pups that don’t have that, they don’t do anything for me. Just get rid of them and the quicker the better.
When you decide a pup is the dog you want, just think, ‘Roy, you appear to have everything I want. Yes, it looks like you’ll block the front end; looks like when you’ve beaten something you’re going to let it go back into the mob.’ Marvelous! You know at 16 weeks of age that he’s doing everything you want. But the people say, `Oh, he’s doing everything I want, but I’m not telling him what to do.’ I just feel if they would commit to the attitude that being in charge is deciding the when and where, we don’t have to decide how, give the dog that. The how is his.”
The Right Pup
“That’s why I put my puppy in with goats or sheep at eight weeks, ten weeks, 12 weeks, 14 weeks, and 16 weeks. I like to see what have I got to work with and I want to see it raw, so at this stage he might know his name and my children might have played with him, and that’s all he will know. I’m looking for the rudimentary instinct. Now it’s going to be in a puppyish shape, you have to understand. The trick is not only to look, but to observe.
Don’t just look and say, ‘Oh, yes, he’s run straight through the middle. He chased that one. He took a bit of fur off the hind leg and he’s run complete amuck.’ Observe what he’s trying to do. Are the instincts there?
“There’s the pup that will just run straight up and grab the side of something. I don’t like that kind. Especially if he does it with his little hackles up, sort of a fear bite. He just runs and grabs on the side. However, if those little legs are going their hardest and you see that little head sort of pointing to the front end, but he just can’t get there so he leans up and takes a hold, there’s a big difference although the outcome is exactly the same. You have to think not just, ‘Oh, yes, he hung off the side.’ You need to consider, `Did he intend to hang off the side? Was he caring where that thing was going? Was there ever such a little instinct that said I must turn this back?’ It can be ever so minute, but you will see it. At 16 weeks I will part with them (if they don’t show working instincts). I’m not declaring that everyone should do this. If you’ve only got one dog and you want to love him and cart him around in your truck, that’s all very well. I’ve got a big team of dogs and I’ve got a lot of work to do and I don’t want to be feeding one until he’s two years old and then find out that he’s still not going to work.
“You have to observe. Watch the very first time the pup gets to the front of stock, when three or four sheep or goats pull up and that little pup is in front of them. What does he do? Now, if he just gets there and the instinct dies and he acts like, `Oh, what was I doing?’, I don’t mind if he runs off. He’s finished. The work instinct had simply shut off. I’ll have another look at that pup at ten weeks. But it’s a different thing if, even at eight weeks, he got there (to the front of the stock) and actually stayed locked on to the sheep, but those sheep advanced on him and he ran away, and then turned again to his sheep. If he actually gave ground and went back indicating, ‘Yes, my instinct to work is still here but this is what I’m going to be,’ I’ll part with that pup. I’ve trained a lot of dogs and I did use to let this type grow up. But of the ones that at eight weeks just gave ground but were still `hooked’, I’ve never seen one that wouldn’t do that at 10 years old.
“I watch for the very first time the pup actually makes a cast. It might not be the first go when it’s half play, it might be the second day when the instinct goes, ‘Click, yes work!’ and there might be that little break to go to the head of stock. Now, you have some that run straight at the stock. I don’t want that pup. There are some that run out, hit the fence and go right around and lie down out there. The very day he does that I’m finished with him. Then there’s that one that heads for the stock, but as he starts to trot, he just arcs out enough to get to the front. That I like.
Sometimes people will say, ‘I thought I saw that but the next time I took him out he ran straight up and grabbed the first one he came up to.’ I’ll ask, `So, which go was this? ‘Oh, about the third time.’ (By that time) excitement rules — it’s not raw instinct anymore. By the third go, what happens with most pups is, ‘Yes! I remember this!’ See, it’s no longer that little instinct of, ‘how will I work stock.’ We now have association, not raw instinct. The pup thinks, ‘Oh, yes, I’m dropped in this pen and those goats are going to run and I’m going to chase them.’ So any of those raw instincts to work are now gone. I say, don’t worry about the third go. You tell me what he did the first time he reacted to stock. Not reacted, barked and ran away — I don’t mind if they do that on the first day. It’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness, some big eagle is coming to get me or something!’ That’s common sense; I don’t mind that. Keep an eye out for the day you actually see the pup’s head go down and it says, ‘work.’ That will save you 18 months of fooling around. It also saves you if you are intending to breed your own dogs. You soon find out that what you are left with are dogs that have the right instinct.
“The dog must have the right temperament. I would sooner have a slightly less talented dog with a good calm, workmanlike temperament than the prima donna who’s all talent but when an airplane flies over he wees on himself and his hair stands on end, and you can’t wave your hand at him because he’s afraid. You can’t work with those dogs day in and day out. As for temperament, when I pick a pup up, I like the pup that doesn’t care. He’s born knowing that life is here, just to be lived. A dog with good temperament is not a dog that runs up and jumps up on your leg wanting to lick your face. He’s as demented as the dog that wants to run away. He should just be a steady dog.
I don’t mind if perhaps when I start moving cattle in front of a dog, he says, `This is me.’ It’s the only time I like to see a dog have any predisposition to being addicted to something. I don’t mind my dogs being workaholics, but not to the point that it would cost them. You should be able to straight away call them off that work. If you have a workaholic and you work on him from a youngster to settle him, which I do, to say, ‘Yes, I love that about you, but there are times where we’ll just leave that go.’ Any other paranoid behavior I don’t like. I don’t like them to be softened by anything. People are silly enough to encourage little idiosyncrasies. I feel anything you don’t ever want your dog to do, never allow him to do. I will not tussle with a pup with a rag. People say, ‘Well, I’m doing that to get him interested in working stock.’ But, rags do not behave as stock behaves! If I don’t want a dog to jump up on me when he’s older then I don’t want him to jump on me when he’s eight weeks old.”
Training Starts When The Pup Is Brought Home
“If I buy a pup I start to teach it the day I get him. On the trip home, he rides next to me, perhaps inside my jacket. He gets used to my smell. I talk to him so he gets used to my voice. When we arrive home I don’t just put my seven week pup in a cage. No, no, no! We now have three minutes in which we can form the basis of ten years of training.
How do you do that? I take that pup out of the car. I get in an area where there’s nothing he can get into or under because I don’t want him hiding. I want him in a area where the only thing he knows is me. I put that pup down on the ground and I stand there and watch him. If he cries, ‘Oh, oh, oh,’ as I stand there, I say, `It’s all right mate.’ He knows that voice after three or four hours in the car. He knows nothing else — nothing smells familiar; nothing sounds familiar. There’s no visual stimulus of anything except me, and that little pup trots over and sits on my boot. Pups always do. He might run off, have a little wee first, but if it’s in an area where he can’t get into or under anything, he’ll come to the only thing he knows. As he starts to trot that five feet to me, I go, ‘Wheo, wheet,’ which is my `come’ whistle, and say his name. As he sits on my boot, I’ll say, `Sit, good dog.’ So I’ve taught him his name, ‘come,’ ‘sit.’ And from here we’re going to have an everlasting relationship.
When he comes to me, I put my hand on him, reassure him and walk away. I wait until he has another excursion, another look around. Next time that little pup looks up, I go, ‘Wheet, sit, good boy.’ I pick him up and put him in the cage he’s going to stay in that night. I try to make sure the pup had nothing to eat before I picked him up so he’s got nothing to throw up in the car. I put that little pup in the pen and I reach across to a little eggnog I’ve made up for him. I put that bowl in there and he thinks, `Boy, I haven’t eaten today.’ As he smells the food and runs toward it, I put my finger under his chin and I go ‘Wheet,’ (my stop whistle) and his little seven week bottom sits on the ground. I take my finger from under his chin and say, ‘Yes,’ and he eats. I shut the little cage and go inside the house. That’s a pup’s first association with Tony McCallum. I’m a friend. I’m the only thing here he knows. I’m showing him: I don’t hurt you or harm you. I don’t actually make a big fuss of you. I can stop you from eating. I can allow you to eat. I can call you to me and I can place you somewhere. You are in my pack and you are quite low down, mind you. But I’m a benefactor not a dictator.
“If he squeaks, I come out and shake him. I don’t like whining at night. I always set that little pup’s cage at the back door and if I have to get up five or six times that night, it’s nothing. I just come out. I get him by the side of his little head, ‘Ahhtt, quiet!’ and a lot of times, he wonders, `Oh, my goodness, what’s that?’ Normally, by morning he’s tired like me and he stops that squeaking. It’s, `Oh, I’ve got to be quiet.”‘
Starting the Pup
“I put a lot more confidence in pups than people will give them credit for. They’re really nervy. I like to be out of the small pen as quickly as I can because there are too many limitations. Stock don’t behave as stock in there. When one goes to break, it’s gonna hit that fence before the dog blocks it. So, they (pups) start learning bad habits.
“1 never put a pup in a yard and start working. I sit down and play with him and if he starts to run off, I just lay him down, until he diverts his eyes from stock to me. And when he’s given (in) to me for two seconds, then I just stand up and go “wheet” and move the stock. And people, does that make a big difference! Even if he only looked at me for a second — that makes all the difference. I’ve decided to work the stock. The pup hasn’t decided that, since he’s off his chain, he can chase the sheep in the pen or go under the fence to the cattle up on the hill. How is the dog’s realm, when and where, that’s my realm. So I decide the when and I decide the where.
If I let that little pup out and he’s trotting around and having ,a sniff and he goes to run into that yard and work those sheep before I start, I’ll take a little hold of him, drag him away until he decides to just divert his attention (from the stock). That’s all I want. I’ll open the gate and say, `pup, pup, pup.’ He trots over and through the gate. I’ll settle him down inside and, again, it takes a lot longer to describe than to actually do. People say, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I’ve got all that time.’ I say, Well, often I’ve got about four minutes of daylight, and I will do each and every one of these things in that four minutes.
“Some people, after 10 minutes of training, think, ‘I’m now going to chase this pup until I catch him and teach him I’m finished.’ (Instead of chasing him) when you finally get the stock into a corner or the pup’s got them against a fence or something, then you can walk over and put your hand around his neck and say, ‘side’ (McCallum’s recall command). Pull him off of the stock, pick him up and tell him, ‘good boy,’ because he has come, even though you had to make him do it.
“I always start my cattle dogs on sheep. I like to look at pups so young that if I would have them in on cattle at 14 weeks, one pow! and there’s the best pup I’ve ever seen with his neck busted. So, it’s goats or sheep. Normally I only use five or six in the pen so they’re easy to control. When I’m taking him out of that pen, I would go to an acre. But, I don’t just open the gate and use those same ones that the pup’s been chasing around. I will take eight or ten head and put them in the acre and work them with an older dog so that I know they are completely right enough so that they’re not just going to be running off the first time they see a pup. I put them in the pen, get that little pup going back and forth, open the gate, walk out like that’s an adult dog. And, amazement of amazement, most pups at five months old will just bring the stock wherever I go.
“If this is your first pup, you can’t do this. If you haven’t got an older dog, it just means human-breaking your sheep. You’re going to need half a dozen sheep or goats that know you. Actually take them out to that little paddock, feed them at the same spot just for two days. When you head out to that paddock, you know they’re going to that spot. As you go through the gate, they’re going to go and check for feed. When that little pup comes out the gate, I’m going over toward the spot where the stock had been fed so by the time they get there and realize there’s no feed that little pup has caught up with them.
“Now if the pup starts to run up but he’s not arcing out right but heads a bit straight for them, don’t stand there and yell and chase and throw rocks. It’s not needed. Step quicker and go straight past the sheep and put yourself up here (at the head of the group) and he’s come right to the right spot. If I had used an older dog that day, I would have held them up two or three times near the gate, so just as I come out of the gate the stock, being stock, will pause, ‘Where’s that dog?’
Now, if the pup is quick enough to get there, well and good. If he’s not, I step straight to the lead. If the lead keeps pushing up, I just keep stepping out. Step to one side and if the pup keeps pushing up and you think he’s going to push them straight past you, you can either yell or straight away just try to bend your sheep, just turn them. Keep bending the stock until the pup’s instinct clicks back in, ‘Oh, I’m working. (I need to) just get off that chase.’ And then you simply stay with it —’come by, come by’ or ‘away, away.’
If you go out one day and he’s just gone berserk and biting heels and noses, don’t make him be wrong. All you can say is, ‘get him, get him.’ Because you see, it’s just a matter of (taking him out of the small area) a day too early. Rather than think, ‘I’m gonna shoot this pup,’ try again. You may even need to go back to the small pen for a day or two.
“You stay in charge of the when and where. That gives you that feeling of, `The dog actually knows more than me, but I decide when he’s going do it.’ And you can feel good about that. If you have a dog that has the ability to work, proceed with that dog and work out how you can get him to do all those things he was born with on command from you. Avoid what you don’t want; create situations for the dog to work; and get on with it.”
this article was first published in The Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine August/September 1993