Starting a Dog on Cows – Part II

Last Year’s Pups Are Working Now by Ernie Hartnagle

Last year’s pups are working now
Getting static from mother cow.
And some others earn their keep
Movin baby lambs and sheep.

Reinforce the basic commands before you turn the dog loose on the cows (use a long line if necessary). See Three Basic Commands:

Calmly walk towards the herd. Quietly move the cows around the pen. Practice the “Stand-stay” several times before taking him off the lead. Call the dog back to you with a “That’ll do.” Ask him to “Come here,” then step away from the animals and bring the dog with you. Make sure to praise the dog to let him know that he’s done what you’ve asked.

Be sure the animals are in motion before you let an inexperienced dog make contact with them. When they are standing still they are in a better position to calculate a kick. Also, work in a space where the cows can move freely away from you and your dog (but not so large you can’t control the dog). As with all training, your dog gains confidence by being successful.


It may take a couple of sessions to condition cattle to the concept of moving towards you instead of away from you (see the picture below). In this scenario, it is beneficial to begin teaching a dog to first contain cows along a fence, and then to bring them off the fence. This also helps settle the animals.

Jeanne Joy training dog on  cows

You will not be walking directly in front of the cattle but off to the side (how far depends on how tame they are). As the cows move along the fence line, you work as a head gate, meaning that you use your position toward the front of the cows (but off to the side) to regulate and control their speed or keep them from running off. When you want to stop them, instruct the dog to “Stand,” and then step inward toward the head of the lead animal to shut down the flow of motion, but not so much as to turn them back on the dog.

Let the dog calmly move the cows along the fence line for a distance of 50 to 200 feet. Don’t hinder the him from wearing or moving along the side to keep the cows going forward while keeping stragglers grouped with the bunch. If he tries to circle around the stock to the head, step in front of him to block him and send him back behind the animals. If he ignores your instructions, tell him “No,” block him, tell him “Get back.” If necessary you can use a training stick when you block him as an extension of your body, not to touch the dog, but like an open or closed gate.

Jeanne Joy flanking dog on cows

Jeanne Joy getting ready to flank a dog on cows.

The next step is to change directions. To stop and turn them, call the dog to you to (bringing him from behind the animals and around your body in a semicircle). Flank him to the head to turn the bunch. A natural heading dog welcome this opportunity.

When he gets to the head to turn them, tell him “There,” to let the dog know where you want him to turn into livestock to head them in the opposite direction (180 degrees in the opposite direction). If things get too hectic or out of control, stop your dog with the instructions “Stand,” then “Stay.” This will give you the opportunity to regain control. Never let the dog get into the habit of chasing the cows.

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

All Rights Reserved.

See Starting a Dog on Cows – Part I:

See also Training the Ranch Dog – Early Handling:

See also Cowology: