QUESTION: My dog works cattle quite well, but dives in and grips their legs for no apparent reason. How can I calm him down and stop him gripping cattle when they’re moving OK?
ANSWER: The first thing is to try giving just enough well-timed correction so that the dog doesn’t go in too hard – and avoid rapidly repeated, and high-pitched commands.
You will know the situations when he’s most likely to grip, and you should also have noticed how his body language changes a moment before he launches at the cattle.
These are your signals to (a) be ready to correct him, and (b) give a SINGLE sharp correction JUST BEFORE he launches at the cattle. (If you possibly can). With practice you should be able to tell the precise moment when your command is most effective.
Praise as well as correction
Don’t forget to praise the dog when he’s behaving well though. Praise him in a soft, happy voice, but be prepared for him to take it as a signal to dive-in again. Dogs which are overly aggressive with cattle or sheep tend to have a very light “trigger” when it comes to gripping. Stop him doing that, and continue to praise him whenever he’s working properly. Dogs love being praised, so it’s a useful training aid.
It’s all about CALM – and it begins with the handler.
Avoid sounding excited – an excited handler excited the dog. Be calm at all times – or at least give the dog the impression that you’re calm, even when you’re not.
Dogs need good leadership. Getting excited is not what good leaders do. They remain calm at all times, and give clear commands – strong when required, but not screeching or rapidly repeated.