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Get stock dog ready to work on farm

Learn the key training commands your stock dog should know during Husker Harvest Days.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

August 24, 2023

1 Min View

Tim Gifford, a Nebraska cattleman, and his wife, Tanya, use stock dogs on their cow-calf operation to gather cows, move them from pasture to pasture and sort them in an alleyway.

The couple are members of the U.S. Border Collie Handling Association and train herding dogs to work stock. They will share their expertise during Husker Harvest Days at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. in Lot 1122. In their 12th year at the show, the Giffords offer HHD visitors an up-close look at training techniques straight from their farm.

Here is a sneak peek at what you may learn during the stock dog demonstrations:

Start them young. If you’re buying a puppy and you know they are going to work livestock, train them. Teach them basic commands. More importantly, bring young dogs around the stock, Tim Gifford says. It increases their awareness and comfort levels with the animals.

Herd small stock. No matter the size of the dog, if it is possible, begin training with small livestock like sheep or young calves. This provides safety for the dog, while also adding to its confidence. Plus, as a handler, Gifford says it is easier to maneuver the stock and the dog with smaller animals.

Get a stick. Handlers need a sorting stick to train. Sorting sticks are tall and bendable. They provide extra reach for the handler. The stick can be used to move the animals but, more importantly, to direct the dog.

Know the commands. There are five phrases every dog handler knows:

  • “Come by” tells the dog to move clockwise.

  • “Away to me” means move counterclockwise around the stock.

  • “Walk up” means to walk toward the livestock, whether sheep or cattle.

  • “Lie down” typically means stop and lie down.

  • “That’ll do” tells the dog work has finished and it must come back to you.

Move your body. Combining words with body movement during early training will help the dog understand which way to move. When you say, “come by” and make a move to the right, the dog sees and senses the direction.

Reward often. Gifford says it is important to reward the dog for the work. It can be just a spoken word or a gentle pat on the head. “It lets the dog know they are doing good work,” he says, adding that it builds a strong bond between handler and dog.

“Ultimately, I want to get to where I don’t have to be in pen to tell her where to go,” he says. “I don’t have to sit in corral pens or on the gates. I want her to listen to me and know which way to go.”

Bring your own dog for training

HHD offers a unique opportunity for you to bring your dog for the Giffords and their handlers to work. There will be a fee to work your dog, and you must sign a waiver.

If you bring your dog, remember that it must stay on a leash and in the demonstration area. No dogs are allowed on the Husker Harvest Days site.

If you are interested in allowing the Giffords to do a little training with your dog or want more information on the demonstrations, contact Tim Gifford at [email protected] or Tanya Gifford at 530-227-1340.

Read more about:

Farm Dogs

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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