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NCTA students learn stock dog training skills for livestock

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on Feb. 29, 2020

A relatively new program at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) is gathering more than a little bit of attention. Students at the college demonstrated skills they are learning by training stock dogs, during the recent Nebraska Sheep and Goat Producers meeting at the college in Curtis, Neb. 

            Some of the students, who are working towards degrees as veterinary technicians, see the experience they are gaining as stock dog handlers as another avenue of career income. 

            Student Breauna Derr finds the ability to work with good trainers through the college of particular benefit. 

            “I am working towards a veterinary technician degree. My plan is to work in a mixed practice where I can use my dogs on farm calls and use the skills I have learned in college in my every day practice,” she explains. “I hope to start training other stock dogs to make farmers’ lives easier. I want to learn everything I can from the best trainers so I can help clients with their troubled dogs and make them great work dogs.”

The club

            The NCTA Stock Dog Club, which started in the fall of 2016, currently has 14 students who take part in a class to learn about canine behavior, livestock behavior and the combination of the two, for promoting low stress livestock work, according to the group’s advisor, Judy Bowmaster-Cole. 

            The students receive help from other trainers, clinicians and members of the Outback Stock Dog Association. 

            “I was always told people train the dog, but in reality, the dog trains the people,” explains Derr. “Stock dogs have the natural instinct to read stock movement in a way humans cannot. I have found in my training, when I am wrong in my movements, my dogs look at me to let me know I am wrong.”

            Derr became involved in the program to learn more about using low stress livestock handling techniques with a border collie. 

            “I was diagnosed with bone cancer when I was 14, and the tumor was in the bottom of my femur. To remove the tumor, they had to replace my knee and half of my femur, which has limited some of my movement,” she says. “It makes it harder for me to work with big livestock, like cattle.” 

            “The ability to use a dog to work stock allows me, and many other people, to work livestock with ease. This program gives people with limitations the ability to do the things they love, without worry,” she says.

            Fellow student, Kaytie Henrickson, says the biggest surprises have been realizing how sensitive her dog is and how quickly he has learned. 

            “My dog, Kip, has so much cow sense, he has started to read cattle really well,” she says. “One thing he has taught me is that I cannot look him in the eye when I’m giving him a direction.”

            “It puts too much pressure on him and he doesn’t listen. I have learned by looking over his head when I tell him to stay or give him the away or come-by command, he always listens,” she explains.

            Henrickson has also learned her dog is sensitive to her own moods. 

            “We have to control our voice and body movements really well and constantly be consistent. More than likely, when the dog messes up, it’s because we’ve taught it to, which can be a hard pill to swallow,” she says. “I have learned to not hold a grudge against the dog, to keep my voice low and soft and to not get excited with my body movements.”

            “I have learned to immediately release the pressure when he has done the correct thing, by backing up or giving the stock back to him,” she says. 


            In addition to working with the dogs at school, some of the students also compete in stock dog trials, which can help them gauge their success and continue to improve. 

            “Some of the students have continued to participate in trials with the dogs they have trained while at NCTA,” Bowmaster-Cole says. 

            Derr placed eighth with her dog, Sparky, in the intermediate class at the National Western Stock Show this year. It is an accomplishment she is quite proud of. 

            “When I started this program, my first goal was to get my first dog trained to the point to be able to trial. I had no expectations to win, I just went out there and had fun,” Derr says. “After achieving that goal with my border collie, Sparky, my next goal was to train myself and my dog how to work as a team.” 

            “After achieving each goal I set, I make new ones that go towards improvement of my learning ability and the strength of my dogs,” she says.

            Henrickson, who is completing a two-year degree to become a veterinary technician, says she hopes to share what she has learned about training stock dogs with others. 

Although her primary goal was to train a dog of her own and have him nearly finished by the time she completes her degree, she admits she hasn’t quite reached her goal. But she doesn’t let it deter her. 

            “I have learned so much, and continue to learn something new each time I go out to practice or trial,” she says. “Kip has learned the commands here, down, away and come-by. He has developed a very nice out run. We are working on his inside flanks and his drive now.”

            “There is always something new to learn,” Derr adds.

             “There is always a way to improve the way we work with our dogs as a team. Sparky and I are still figuring out how to balance each other to make the cattle move in a slow, smooth motion. My new dog, Nala, has just began her training, so we have a lot to learn together. We are working on how to help her build her confidence while working with cattle,” she explains.  

Gayle Smith is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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