Starting a Dog on Cows – Part I

The author flanking a dog  on steers.

The author flanking a dog on steers.

You’ll need:

  1. A dog from working bloodlines – since training will be based on natural instincts.
  2. Calm, gentle cows (four to six)
  3. A controlled environment – corral or pen (large enough they can quietly move away when you approach them, but small enough to keep the cows from getting away.

Some trainers will start a pup when they show interest in stock – maybe as young as three to eight months of age. I prefer to wait until the growth plates (the ends of the bones) have closed and the young dog is mentally mature enough to accept correction (somewhere between ten to 14 months of age). By that time he will be better equipped to outmaneuver cows.

The immediate goals are:

  1. Make the most of the natural instincts
  2. Instill calmness through quiet handling
  3. Develop confidence and sustained interest

You’ve already taught the pup to come when called, stand (or lie down), and to stay put. Now is a good time to put it into action. Don’t let the dog rush ahead of you. Before you walk through a gate ask him to “Stand,” then “Stay.” If necessary, don’t hesitate to use a lead attached to the dog’s collar to reinforce the commands. Once you are through the gate, call him to you. Then, verbally praise him – “good dog” to communicate he’s is doing what you have asked. When you add cows to the equation there is no need for food treats. Working cows and your vocal approval becomes the dog’s incentive and reward.

Practice the “Stand-stay” for a few minutes two or three more times around the pen before moving the cows. Release the dog each time with a “That’ll do,” “Come here.” The command “That’ll do” will be used to communicate the job is finished, return to handler.

Now that you’ve gone over the basics, you are ready to start teaching the dog to handle cows. 

*Note: Dogs (male and female) are referred to as he.

Copyright © 2009 – 2010 by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor and Ty Taylor.

All Rights Reserved.

See also Starting a Dog on Cows – Part II:

See also Cowology:

See also Training the Ranch Dog – Early Handling:

See also Working Cowdogs – Help or Hindrance?