We have "Trained Ready To Go Border Collies" for both Cattle and Sheep

Stockdogs Panel Discussion

Click question to view answers

Question 1: When starting a pup on stock, how important is age?
When do you usually start them?

Carl Larsen: As the pup ages, I will test it on light goats.  Many pups will turn on at an early age, and I try to have an idea what they are going to be able to handle. I expect them to be mature enough for a light cattle around one year old. This is when most of the pups are put on heavy goats of dairy calves. I use dairy calves so when they kick the pup they don't have the power to do much damage.

Al Vieira: I don't think age is nearly important as the amount of interest a pup shows.  we have started some as early as 9 weeks and have littermates that don't start till they're 4 months.  Each one is an individual.  Generally we start pups on sheep at between 3-4 months.  When starting on cattle I like to have the dog close to the year old mark, but again I go by the individual dog.

Laura Hicks: I like to start taking my pups to stock every so often at a fairly young age (4-6months) and then gauge how mature they are from there.  Maturity is more important than the number on the calendar.  Each pup needs to be treated as an individual and I've found that how early they start doesn't always reflect on what kind of mature working dogs they turn out to be.  When taking in outside dogs I prefer not to take them until right at a year old as that's usually a pretty safe bet to start training.

Question 2: Do you use a small/round pen?
If not, do you start out in the open?
Carl Larsen: I do my primary training in a 90 foot round pen.  When the pup starts obeying my commands, I go to a larger working area or a trap that is around 3 acres.  We graduate from there to a forth acre field.
Al Vieira: I start all my pups in a grass area about the size of a roping arena. I also use a "catch" dog to back up the pups and keep the stock closed.
Laura Hicks: I start out in a good sized corral.  It's actually L shaped and just happens to be what i have that has worked the best for me.  I will stay in that untill I have a good recall and stop on a pup and then move up to a several acre lot.  This again all depends on the individual pup and how they react to each training area. I also like to use pups to do chores as quickly as they're capable of helping with them.  These are all in fairly small areas as well.
Question 3: Do you use/keep a long line on them?

Carl Larsen: Only if the pup is not wanting to do for me.  If I don't feel like I am in the picture of things.  We will drop back to the round pen with a line.

Al Vieira: I like to let a pup use his/her natural instinct off line.  After a basic pattern has been established I will use a long line when I need to reinforce obedience.

Laura Hicks: I let the pups drag a long line the first time and then watch how they're reacting to it on weather it should stay on or come off.  I've had some that need to drag it several times so I could maintain a bit of control.  I've also had others that I took it off during their first time as they were overly worried about it.

Question 4: What stock do you keep to start pups on?

Carl Larsen: I try to keep some 30 to 40 lb. goats. then go to dairy calves, then to 400lb. calves.

Al Vieira: I keep about 30-40 Polypay/Doeper cross sheep.  i have sheep for mature pups, slow sheep for aggressive pups, and medium moving sheep for the pups that want to stray off sheep and balance.  White face breeds are usually very good dog working sheep because of their herding instinct.  I like to start my pups on very dog broke sheep.  the type of broke sheep you use is probably one of the most important factors.  A pup not showing much interest needs a faster "broke" sheep.  A pup with a lot of interest and aggressiveness needs slower "broke" sheep.  trying to start any dog on fresh sheep is usually a disaster in the making.


Laura Hicks: I like to start my pups on a fairly dog broke sheep.  I don't mind knee knockers for the first time or two.  I really prefer sheep that don't run me whether the dog is right or not.  I usually keep a couple of lambs every fall to flatten out the winter.  I get them settled with an older dog and than use them for the pups.  I also have some goats around as the next step up towards working cattle.  We always have a few lightweight calves around during the winter months that we feed out as well.  So the pups start working those when I feel they're ready for it.

Question 5: What do you hope to see when a pup first goes to stock? 
What do you like to see?

Carl Larsen: I want to see a pup try to get around the back side of the stock and bring them in my direction. also a natural cast.  This doesn't happen very often, but this is what i hope for.  I don't like one to just go off and smell around, not pay any attention to the pen.  If they act like they want to do something with the stock, that will be enough to start with.  They must want to make something happen.

Al Vieira: I like to see a pup show natural instinct.  When I first introduce the pup to stock I want them to start circling.  I keep the sheep moving and the pup should just go around, it's OK if they want to heel or even take a crack at the nose, but usually for the pups safety I prefer they heel.  This where knowing your sheep sheep really comes into play.  You don't want a sheep who will challenge a pup when you first start them.  Nothing is worse than a pup who want to work and then gets butted ir stomped on by a too aggressive ewe.  What I don't want to see is a pup with no interest at all.  It's ok if the hesitant, it's ok if they have a short attention span, but no interest at all may mean they just need more maturity.


Laura Hicks: I like to see a pup be really keen in the beginning but as long as they develop that intensity it's fine by me.  I try not to read to much into the first time.


Question 6: How much interference do you use first time out?
Do you emphasize them being "right", or just encourage them to go to stock however they are inclined to do?

Carl Larsen: I let them alone the first few times on stock.  I may block them a little, but I really want them to play a bit, and make it fun to go to work

Al Vieira: Their first time out I just want them to use their natural instinct.  The only interference I use would be to keep them safe.  If a pup wantsto be overly aggressive I will push them out without breaking their natural rhythm.  This also gives me an opportunity to evaluate the pup and see where his strong and weak points may be.  I can tell if the pup wants to be right or left handed, and how strong his/her instinct is.

.Laura Hicks: If they're really young I just turn them loose and see what they'll do.  I often use one of my older dogs to move the sheep around a little and see how the pup reacts.  After a time or two I take my pups out on a line when they're in a position to go around the sheep I just drop the line.

Question 7: Do you use training aids such as a rake, or just throw chains or hose pieces? 
How do you decide to use or not use them?
Carl Larsen: I will have what I call a "Rattle Paddle" with me in the pen, and try to get the pup to realize I am in there with it and want to play too. I use the paddle to energize the stock
.Al Vieira: I use a stock paddle, stock pole, or sometimes a long PVC pipe to keep pups going their natural way and off the sheep.  If your pup is doing everything the correct way there is no reason to use other training aids.  BUT, what pup doesn't eventually try to take a cheap shot? This is usually when I would use a long line.  If I am having trouble keeping a dog off sheep then I would go to the long line, choke chain, and a little obedience.  I can get a pretty good response using a long line and a shock paddle on the ground for a good "get out, or get back."  You need to know your animal when deciding just how much pressure you can put on them without destroying their basic ability.
Laura Hicks: I prefer to not take any training aids beside's my feet out to train pups with the first few times.  Depending on the dog I may take a sorting stick out occasionally but I prefer to just use pressure release with my own body language.  Anybody that knows me though would tell you that the one training aid I always have is my cap.  I will take it off and shake it from time to time to help a pup slow up and think. 
Question 8: Do you use an e-collar ever?
How do you decide to use it?

Carl Larsen: I don't use the e-collar at all. i would rather spend the time needed to get the job done. If I need a electric collar the control the pup, they don't need to be at my kennel.  There are a lot of trainers out there that can get the job don't with one, but I just don't seem to need to.

Al Vieira: the only time I would use an e-collar would be on a "broke" dog at a distance or to discourage chasing deer or rabbits.

Laura Hicks: No, I don't use an e-collar as it's just to easy to make a mistake with timing on using them and I feel foot work and consistency are a better choice.

Question 9: Do you have a set time limit on lessons,
or look for a good time to quit?

Carl Larsen: I will quit when the pup starts to heat up and  and before he loses any interest.  Try to make the first lessons more fun then work.  Most training sessions last  from 5 to 15 minutes, unless we are out moving calves.  Then they may work for 30 minuets or so.

Al Vieira: I like to work a pup for a short amount of time and quit while the pup still wants to work.  Many times I will work the pup for a short session rather than one long one.  I would rather have to work my way to a fence or corner to "catch" a pup rather then have the pup quit me.  To often novice handlers make the mistake of working their young dogs too long.  In my classes students usually work at least two times, but they will watch others work between times.  This gives the pup a breather and the handler can learn by watching someone else make mistakes and correcting them.

Laura Hicks: I don't ever have a watch on my lessons and prefer to just read the dog on how long to work.  I sound like a broken record but again it's all about the individual pup.  Some are working around 5-10 minuets and others are around 15-20 minuets.

Question 10: How often do you train on young dogs?
First the very early starters then the older pups?

Carl Larsen: At first, twice a week, then three times, trying to get it on a daily schedule when we have a lot of cattle.  I try not to have more than four or five dogs that need daily work.  And keep the sessions short as possible until they are in the large field.

Al Vieira: I like to train on the pups every other day when starting a pattern, that way the pups always want to work.  Once a pattern has been established every 3-4 days until they mature some.  The older pups I liked to work every day for short sessions.

Laura Hicks: When I start taking young pups out (4-6)months I'll only take them to stock a couple of times a month.  When they reach around 10 months or so I like to take them as often as possible.  Some days I wish the dogs could be the total focus in my life but they can't be right now.  Between raising a family, ranching and homeschooling I simply try to take pups out as often as i possibly can.  some weeks that's every day and other time's they'll get a pretty big break.  During calving and lambing the pups don't see a lot of stock work as I don't have the time or available stock to work them on right then.  I have found that giving a pup a break can be the best remedy for problems I'm running into.


Question 11: What else do you think is important in starting a young pup?

Carl Larsen: Don't over work a dog just because it is fun for you.

Al Vieira: I think it is very important to remember each pup is a special individual and as a trainer you want to be able to help  pups with their weak points and use their strong points to build their confidence.  Remember one of the most important rules in working a pup is PATIENCE!
Laura Hicks: I Think the most important aspect to keep in mind training a young pup is that they each needed to be treated as an individual.  Try not to put a pup in over their head and be willing to help them out.  Always be willing to put in the footwork to make the wrong choice difficult and the right choice easy.  consistency will pay off in the long run.