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Understanding working stock dogs is key for success

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

                  In a recent Working Ranch Radio Show podcast, Jason Terrel of Diamond J Stock Dogs in Granbury, Texas discusses several considerations for good working stock dogs. During the podcast, Terrel shares his knowledge, experience and important commands for stock dog owners. 

From the beginning

                  Terrel started working dogs eight to 10 years ago when he began working in Nevada and Utah. 

                  “I was with a buddy of mine, and he had a big lease we were gathering,” says Terrel. “This was my first time around a good group of working dogs. My buddy told me there was no need to go all the way out with the dogs, as they would go out, gather the cows and bring them back.” 

                  This experience intrigued Terrel.

               “At this point in time, I was running cattle in southern Utah and every time I had to gather, I always had to depend on neighbors and friends. It was always a pain because no one was ever on my schedule,” Terrel says. 

                  “I started researching the gathering breeds – Hangin’ Tree dogs, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds and Kelpies,” Terrel says. “My first dog was a Border Collie and I got started from there.” 

Making great dogs

                  Commitment is the main focus to create a great working stock dog. Terrel explains, “For some handlers, there is a misconception how to handle and work stock dogs.” 

                  Starting out, Terrel did not have access to many training videos for working stock dogs, though he was determined to learn. 

                  “I made a commitment in my mind and my heart that I was going to get and make some phenomenal cowdogs, and the only way to do it is to learn how to operate them,” says Terrel. “These are not machines. Handlers can’t just get one and push a button or two and have the dog go out and do the job.” 

                  Terrel says it takes a lot of hard work and consistency to make a great working cowdog, noting, “Handlers have to use them like a hired hand. A good cowdog will take the place of two or three guys horseback. Having a working cowdog was my answer to not having the people to help me.”

Researching breeds

                  Owning a good working stock dog can come in handy for livestock owners and there are a variety of breeds to choose from, notes Terrel. His number one recommendation for new dog owners is to start researching the breed of dog they would like to get. 

                  “The Hangin’ Tree dog was developed by Dr. Gary Ericsson and his son Choc several years ago and consists of three-eighths Border Collie, one-eight Catahoula Cur, one-quarter Kelpie and one-quarter Australian Shepherd,” says Terrel. “I like Hangin’ Tree dogs as far as their herding ability, the Catahoula Cur for its agility in working rough terrain, the Kelpie for their endurance and slick coat and the Australian Shepherd for their grittiness.”         

No matter what breed of dog someone choses, he recommends work with someone who is familiar with the breed. 

                  “There’s a lot of good videos out there for training, but I would do my diligence of learning the breed I plan to work,” shares Terrel. 

Working a trained stock dog

                  It’s important for new stock dog owners to take the time to learn the dog and its training. 

                  “Once the handler gets the dog home, get some cattle and somebody to help get the cattle dog broke,” says Terrel. “If handlers take the dog from whomever they bought it from, it’s a well started dog and the intention is going to gather 150 head, it’s not going to go well and handlers will be in the wrong place, the dog is going to be confused because it’s not being worked like it was trained.” 

                  Terrel encourages new dog owners to take the time to practice with the dog two to three times a week, and in some cases, every day. Working a stock dog will come with its challenges, but persistence is key. 

                  “Handlers may become frustrated, aggravated and want to throw up their hands. Once a handler practices, one day a light switch will pop on and the owner and the dog will understand,” explains Terrel. “If one has never done it, it’s not going to come overnight.” 

                  It is important for dog owners and the dog to understand commands. A command is not a suggestion, notes Terrel.       

                  “The dog is just like a kid. It’s going to try the owners and if an owner’s commands are not reinforced, the dog is going to try to get away with every little thing that they possibly can,” explains Terrel. 

                  New dog owners may be content with getting a little bit from their dog, but instead Terrel explains the mentality should be “this is what I told you to do and I want it done now.” 

                  “The dogs figure out, ‘If I do what he says, I’m going to be rewarded for it and if I don’t, I’m going to get in trouble,’” Terrel says. 

                  Having a dog that understands commands results in a better working dog and makes work more harmonious, he notes.  

Important commands

                  “The number one command a dog needs to understand with no doubt in their mind is down,” shares Terrel. “A down command is where I see a lot of people struggle with their dogs.” 

                  The down command is a reset when working cattle and as soon as a dog goes down, it’s important to provide the dog praise. 

                  “A command is just that, a command. A down command is very important because it can either save handlers or get them into a wreck somewhere down the road,” Terrel says. 

                  Understanding a dog’s strengths and weaknesses is essential in setting a working stock dog up for success. 

                  “Not every dog is going to work good in a set of pens because not every dog can take that pressure as far as confidence,” Terrel says. 

                  If handlers are wanting to work a dog in pens, Terrel suggest scaling down the amount of cattle, starting in a pen and instructing the dog to bring cattle through different gates.” 

                  The job never changes for a working dog, the number of cattle changes and it’s important to start small. 

                  “Not every dog is going to be a pen dog, handlers have to understand what their dog’s ability is,” explains Terrel. “Certain dogs are better for certain jobs, just like us.”

                  Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to  

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