Lambing is looming closer and if you have a young dog that isn’t showing much enthusiasm for sheep take advantage of the window of opportunity this season offers.
Julie sent me an email: they had recently acquired an 18-month-old Huntaway. They had driven many hours and covered hundreds of kilometres to get it. Naturally they viewed it working and were given its commands before hitting the road for the long journey home.
The young dog they saw was keen to work stock and apparently taking its commands, however it was all done alongside another dog.
The alarm bells should have been deafening, but being inexperienced they thought nothing of it.
They gave the dog a few weeks to adjust to his new environment and treated him well to form a bond. He happily barks when the bike starts and runs beside it for exercise. The trouble is he shows no interest in stock, in fact he looks nervous in their presence.
I know a lot of you think I bleat on about some things, but there is a good reason for it and here is a prime example. The dog had only ever worked stock alongside another dog.
I'll say it again – don't train dogs this way. They have to be interested in, and work, stock on their own or it will create problems further down the track.
For example, the young dog will pick up the older dog's bad habits. All the dogs get tired playing follow the leader because no one is having a breather beside you. All the dogs are in one place so you don't have a spare to send in the opposite direction.
And worse still, if the ringleader is injured or dies, the others may not work without it: I have heard of many such cases.
If you must, temporarily use another dog to get a pup going and keen, but as soon as it is, train it on its own with stock. To me, a dog that won't work on its own, is useless – bullet material.
Buyers, when you phone about a dog you are interested in, after asking 'Is it still for sale?' ask 'Does the dog work stock on its own?' If it doesn't, don't even bother getting in the car; find one that does.
If you forget to ask, whatever you do don't hand over any money if all you see is the dog running around chasing stock with another dog; you may be paying good money for a big problem.
I asked Julie what they paid for the dog and roared with laughter when I heard "nothing".
Apparently the owner was giving up farming and was more interested in a good home. I'd say he knew the dog was half-hearted and didn't dare put a price on it.
Even though they didn't hand over any cash, time and fuel don't come cheap. They aren't the first people to go on a wild goose chase, or the first people to take home a dog they should not have and they won't be the last.
They were naïve, they didn't know; learn from their mistake.
I am going to work with Julie over the phone; we shall try all the tricks I can think of to turn the situation around and maybe, just maybe, her young Huntaway will fly solo and work stock on his own – fingers crossed.