Ranchers continue to go to the dogs

Seminar teaches canines how to herd

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— Tony Stewart's ranching job got a little easier when he trained his border collies to do much of the work for him.

Stewart has a ranch in Kansas where he uses his dogs to help manage his 100 head of cattle.

Over the Memorial Day weekend Stewart offered his skills as a dog trainer to a group of residents and their dogs during seminars at the Sasak Arena.

One of the seminar participants, Kiki Fulker, has been to various ranches practicing with her dog, Freck. She said she has had border collies for 15 years and started training them in the last couple of years.

"It's a hobby for now," she said, "but I would eventually like to make it into a working thing."

During the seminars, the dogs were worked in a round pen with a handful of sheep. Beginner dogs made the common mistake of running straight toward the livestock, scattering them. More experienced dogs approach from the side to move the sheep off of the fence.

Such dog training has large pay-offs for working ranchers, Stewart said.

Carol Lucero, a dog trainer who attended the event, said one dog can replace the work of five to six hired men.

If done properly, a dog can gather a herd of animals and fetch them, so that the animals being herded walk or trot straight toward their new destination. The herding ability of the dogs saves time and energy for the ranchers.

Stewart said dogs can largely replace work on horseback. He can drive out onto his fields and using his whistle, command his dogs to bring in the herd.

Getting a dog to circle a herd of livestock, crouch down, and slowly push the livestock forward requires the development of a language between the owner and his dog, Stewart said.

But the relationship between a dog and its trainer goes beyond developing a common language, Stewart added.

He said a trainer must trust his dog to go out and do the work, letting the dog think on its own.

He recommends saying a dog's name if it is are not approaching a situation correctly to help the dog refocus and think about what to do.

The key, he said, is consistently working with the dogs on their mistakes.

"A dog has got to practice something wrong before it can learn to do something right," Stewart said.

Although the main goal of Stewart's training is to assist the working rancher, his training is also used by people who compete in dog trials.

A trial tests a dog on all aspects of ranch work.

Dogs who compete in trials could complete ranch work similar to working dogs, but are often more keen to signals given by the owner, Stewart said.

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