The thing about working dogs

Host: Glenforrie Station
Written by Aticia Grey – Owner/Operator, Pilbara Working Dogs.

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Sometimes it is phrased as a question, more often an accusation. “That’s too many dogs! Poor old cow is out numbered! That’s cruel, harassing her like that!” Let me get something out of the way straight up. I don’t like thugging dogs. I don’t have hanging dogs either, it’s a personal choice. I won’t allow my dogs to unfairly harass a beast with nowhere to go and no chance to get there. But I will ask four dogs to make one cow feel pretty darn uncomfortable when the situation calls for it. And here is why . . .

photo-1-1-copyBindi encouraging a heifer to reconsider testing the line.

Though the majority of our cattle are extremely quiet and we are careful to handle our cattle well, we still have a few renegades who come through and don’t feel like acting polite. Feral bulls, clean skin cattle who haven’t seen people before and aren’t overly impressed to be meeting us now, and a few old cows who seem to decide that they don’t want to play the game this time round. These cattle can be extremely dangerous and often have us dancing the top rail. In these situations, even though it is just as dangerous for my dogs to tangle with these animals, they will happily step up to help try to move a stubborn beast. And with my heart in my throat, I will often let them. 

photo-1-2-copyJasper blocking up a steer.

So this is where things get a little heated. First up, I do laugh when I get the ‘outnumbered’ comment thrown at me. Out-numbered maybe, but consider this. We are talking about quite a sizeable beast . . . anywhere from 400-600kg against say, four 20kg kelpies. So would it be considered fair if it was one 20kg dog to 400kg cow? Out numbered? Maybe. Out weighed? Absolutely not.

photo-1-3-copyBindi and Tulli aren’t daunted by a little size difference.

Secondly, these situations only come around when a beast isn’t doing what it has been asked. It has refused to go through the gate/up the race/into the yard. It has faced up to the stockman or woman, ignored it’s mates who have headed on out and decided to have an argument about the whole scenario. It’s run past, through, or after the person trying to clear the yard and has put their wellbeing in danger. As the employer responsible for the men and women working for us, this is not something I enjoy seeing. So if I feel that a situation can be resolved without endangering others, I will take that option where possible and often this is through the use of my dogs.

photo-1-4-copyProviding the first line of defence.

The thing is, it all comes down to pressure and release. Good dogs have brilliant stock sense and I believe can read stock better than the majority of people, including myself. It doesn’t matter how many dogs are providing the pressure on the beast, as long as it is released and relief is provided when the beast tries to move off it. Whether it be one dog or ten, one man or ten . . . so long as when that beast moves off the pressure and seeks relief, it is given. I am responsible for my dogs not over pressuring a beast, but if they draw a line and it tries to push them over it, it has moved into their pressure and I will encourage them to hold their ground with bite and bark till it backs off. And when it does, relief is offered till the beast decides that perhaps heading through the gate isn’t such a bad option after all. 


20160913_092649-copyHolding the line without applying pressure.

 I definitely do not get any enjoyment from seeing my dogs in danger, but I am proud of the clever stock work they are capable of. I don’t doubt there are situations where dogs aren’t used correctly, the same as situations where stock handling isn’t done well. But I do encourage everyone, if they see a particular image that they don’t like or believe is cruel or unfair, make sure you know the facts before you judge too harshly. Ask about the situation or the reasons behind the image in question and if you still don’t agree, fair enough. Just keep in mind, a photo is just a small piece of a larger story, which can often be taken out of context and distorted from the truth.

photo-1-6-copyZen, the big tough working dog showing compassion for a young poddy calf.