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Dog Tales from a Cattleman

...a letter from Norm Andrews

(originally printed in the March/April 2003 Aussie Times)


I received a letter from Norm Andrews, a farmer in Nebraska who runs 150 cow/calf pairs.  He has a dog of my breeding, Slash V Andrew's Red Chickaspike OTDc.  (You can see more about Spike on his page).

 This letter is a cattleman talking to other cattlemen, really...about a dog that he loves and that has made a difference in the day-to-day efficiency on his place.  Norm is not a dog trainer and his focus is not on trialling or competing.  His focus is on his livelihood, and the dog has made a difference.

--Terry Martin, Slash V Australian Shepherds


Dear Terry and Steve, 

I have tons of things to get done, but stopped to write a note with the pictures of Spike.  The first shot the shutter stuck on the camera and then worked good after that.  On this day I had a camera and kept things simple, gave a command and tried to snap the picture.  These are all that I took, none sorted out and no way for you to prove that I didn’t give the command that I wrote here. 

The following notes and pictures would be the way I think a clinic or demonstration for cattlemen should go.

Picture 1 This is the range I like to see my dog work when I am on foot.  Everyone talks about the flight zone, but I prefer the comfort zone.  Here the cattle will move for the dog but are comfortable with his presence.  After the cattle are dog broke most of my work is in this range, and if you don’t get in a hurry a lot can be done in a day.  Spike is really good at this because he has that quiet confidence that He, the cattle, and the handler all know he can punish anything that needs it.  Lots of work like this and you don’t have to always yell at the dog and you don’t see the cattle going over the hill in a cloud of dust.
Picture 2 Bring’um…this is Spike’s command to fetch them to me.  In a second here I will kick my foot and yell “Get Over” and he will go back over to the fence and bring them out of the corner and off of the fence.  You can see he has moved in and is starting to push the whole group.
Picture 3 Look Back…or Get Her Back.  You only have to say it once and Spike will find the offenders and put them back in the group.  Sometimes he can be too pushy on this because he knows I won’t yell at him if the whole group is not getting away. 
Picture 4 There…Stay...Walk up…he will stop on the one you want, stay while you tell him to, and walk up slowly like he is on eggs if you keep your voice calm.  It is harder to get this picture after taking pictures 12, 13, and 14.  Having a dog with less confidence makes it harder to hold up the cattle, as he will down, back up or lunge in to defend himself.  I can tell him to stay, or get out or walk up because Spike has no fear, because he knows what he can do, but when you have him in this position, don’t waste your time giving him hand signals and a bunch of worthless commands, he is like the true gun fighter, he won’t take his eyes off of that cow…living might just depend on it.

Picture 5 Walk up…Hit.  Spike is walking up to hit the head, notice the other cattle aren’t too concerned…He didn’t dash in and bark or put them in a flight mode; he will just bite the one I told him to.  Right at this moment after saying, “HIT” I don’t have a real good success ratio of getting him to stop.  You want to be sure of what you want before you say “HIT.”  Also the cow’s head is bobbing to take the hit on the poll.  When they don’t do that Spike will bite the nose, but none of my cows will do that twice.
Picture 6 Up…Up…Up…Each up and the sound of your pitch will produce a little faster pace.  Here I shut the gate that the cattle thought we would be going into (the cows are trained too).  Spike doesn’t know that, I don’t think, but it really shows off his ability to move and push cattle.  I once set up a portable corral on 80 acres and all the cattle didn’t fit in the pen.  Spike held them up and pushed the back of the pen while I loaded 10 into the trailer so the 90 head would fit.  I wouldn’t do it that way again, but it worked once.
Picture 7   SSSSSSSSSSSt.  When you are pushing cattle anytime you hiss Spike will bite.  And it isn’t just a nip.  He doesn’t always hit low but the only two pictures I have are low.  As you see, he knows when a foot will be on the ground and a cow can’t kick, but he will hit anytime, anywhere.  I don’t use this much as long as the cattle are moving there is no reason to do this…but it sure is fun sometimes.  Also I don’t know if other people have separate commands to head or heel, but most times if I say hit he will come around and hit the head.
Picture 8 HEY!  Get out of there!  Spike stops best if he thinks he is in big trouble.  Here he put on the skids after I had given the “look back…”bring her” command and I thought he was too pushy.  See him plow dirt and dust, when he stops he will look at me that look like “now what.”

Picture 9   Get Ahead or Get Around’um…Spike kind of skips the there, whoa, walk up stuff.  When you tell him to get ahead or get around’um he does just that and doesn’t check back until they stop and he has control.  In a big pen or pasture, his weakness is that he will go around too close on the shoulder and the lead critter tends to run with him.  I have some success telling him to “get out” in a softer tone after he starts, but if you say “get out” too hard he will do the first thing I taught him and get out of the pen (that is still the first thing I teach a pup…Get Out). 

Also, Spike seems to have no fear of getting run over, he knows he can stop the one right in front of him and doesn’t always worry about the sides and rear.  More than once you can’t give the other commands cause you’re holding your breath to see if he is going to live or if they are going through a fence.  When you are working slowly and in the comfort zone you don’t use this command too much. 

Picture 10 Easy…steady….  You can actually get him to touch noses and then back up or hit, but if you hit too much the cattle kind of quite doing it.
Picture 11-- Whoa...Spike...There...Stop...Hey...Quit...Auugh...Down!  I was at a Ben Means clinic some years back and I remember him saying something about teaching 8 different commands that all  mean stop.  When a farmer gets excited, he might not remember the right command even if the dog does.  Then when a customer calls with a problem you can ask him if he can stop and send the dog.  If the customer says he can, then he doesn't really have a problem. 
Picture 12 Hit
Picture 13 Hit
Picture 14 Hit…God this is fun…you can get high on the power rush of control.  Just remember if you don’t have to, don’t do it.

Maybe nobody else does this the way I do.  I really don’t have good enough control to be a successful trialler, but my dog is trained, my cows are trained, and I run 150 cow/calf pairs, background my calves, and have no hired help.  My kids are grown and my wife teaches school and when I yelled at her like I do my dog she used to go to the house in tears.  My neighbor points out that my wife had a better house to go to than Spike who has an old freezer with a hole cut in it for a house, but he stays and is a willing worker.  I would not say the training I gave him is good or right, it’s just what it is.

May all of your customers be lucky enough to have a dog half as good as Spike to love them and work for them.  And, may all of your dogs be lucky enough to be loved at least half as much as Spike is. 

As always,

Norm


Spike's Page--More photos and pedigree

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