Mustering Cattle with Clever dogs

To watch this video in HD (recommended) use the Youtube button in the lower right corner, then select HD from the options, again in the lower right corner. Remember to come back and add your comments.

I was just talking to Mitchell Grambauer and he said that watching this video in HD “beat the hell out of watching television”. He added that he was impressed about the calmness in the cattle and the dogs. “How far have you got to travel to see dogs able to guide livestock, even cows and calves, with both dominance and fairness?”

The initial cast from the young Milburn Bitch, Moss is perfect in my terrain. You can see that she cruises around the flight zone of the mob and stops at the weight point represented by a single cow who tests her mettle. As the cow yields from the correct amount of pressure, Moss continues her outrun to affect the lift on the mob. Tracker the Chief, and his daughter, Tracker Suki, assist her with some fairdinkum walk up, without violence but with intent.

In the interests of keeping the video short the next section is where some of the cattle, a couple of cows and a weaner need convincing that these dogs are the real deal and again without violence, they are reassured. The exact positioning of the Kelpies relative to the eye of the beast is what dominates each individual so that they find relief, not only in the mob, but while traveling along at the walk taking direction from their canine guides.

On the other side of the creek, Moss and Chief check the lead before running back along each side of the mob. This is a clever maneuver as it encourages the decision makers of the group to walk out in the correct direction. After this you can see Moss and Suki standing off, holding the mob, waiting for someone to open the gate. Even the cows with very young calves are calmly accepting the light guiding pressure from the dogs as they trust them to remain strong but fair.

Finally the bludger on the Ranger turns up to open the gate and count the mob through. Any thought of turning back is remote as the contract signed between cattle and dogs is now well cemented.

So to answer Mitch’s question please comment on the video especially if this type of work is the norm at your place but, also, if you noticed some different skills from the three dogs.

29 comments on “Mustering Cattle with Clever dogs

  1. IB says:

    This is a ripper of video. I love how the dogs are leading the cows out of the creek and applying just enough pressure to keep them walking out and not allowing any breaks into the open paddock. Excellent true blue natural dogs. Hard to come by these days

  2. Michelle says:

    Hi David, I’m just wondering why you chose to drive the mob with the buggy, and not be in front leading them and let the dogs bring them too you? Is this how you usually move cattle, or something you did as a training exercise or just to ‘mix it up’. ???
    We’ve been to Neil McDonald’s school a couple of times, have 3 collies and 6 Kelpies (bought from either Neil or Frank Finger). Ourselves, our dogs, and certainly our cattle have come a long way, but we still have more to learn. Thanks for sharing. Regards, Michelle.

    • Hi Michelle,
      Good question. I rarely draw stock to the buggy. Sometimes with a very small mob it is the best approach. Normally, with the hot conditions we have here in Queensland your dogs will tend to over work and over-heat if you ask them to draw to you. Especially young dogs. If you select dogs that are true heading dogs but understand the concept of driving then the speed of the mob is entirely controlled by the dogs, the direction is dictated by the way you, your horse or your ATV are facing. If the mob runs on the dogs move forward to the bend/block part of the mob and slow it down. If the mob slows too much then the dogs come back to the drive section of the mob and move into the flight-zone to create movement. In a typical muster you will find yourself all around your mob at some point. At initial contact you will cast your dogs to gather and draw, you may then drive from one side, then the other. If there are young calves in the mob, staying at the back but slightly to one side so the livestock can see you without turning their heads and thus their bodies, will keep the dogs focus away from the calves and the mothers focus away from the dogs. When you get to the gate the dogs will move to hold the cattle to you and allow you to move forward and back on the side to get the lead to start and stay at a walk.

      • Michelle says:

        Hi, thanks for your reply, very interesting. We are west of Clermont, central QLD. We generally lead the cattle and have the dogs work them too us – once the cattle are educated there really isn’t much work for them to do, and often you can put the dogs on the buggy and the cattle still follow along anyway. If we have a very big mob or long way to go, we usually get one buggy in the lead and a bike on the side/tail, and send the dogs when necessary to turn the sides over. I have some footage of Frank Finger mustering in this style that you might be interested in. Though I think that I will experiment with working the mob the way that you do a little more, just to mix it up for the dogs as ours are often reluctant to stay up on the ‘front point’ to steady the cattle if they are a bit joggy. Working your way might help to balance them a bit better? It’s great that you are talking about your dogs and stockmanship, we all need to stick together more in this industry and help each other learn and prosper! good on you!

      • You will find that your dogs learn to balance correctly if you do more driving. Thanks for the kind words.

      • Michelle says:

        Hi, thanks for your time and input.

        I can see that I have to get my dogs to balance better, and cover the lead better to prevent them from trotting – instead of all sitting on the tail and waiting until the stock have gone past me then rush too late and too hard to the lead – that I need to do more work with me driving the mob ….. though I am struggling with the concept as it has been drummed into me to let cattle string out, to never EVER be directly behind them pushing the tail, to train cattle to come to and follow me …….. it would be good to see a video of the exercise as described in your Flock/Mob work post, to help get my head around it.
        You may have seen this footage of Frank Finger’s work :
        We have been working our cattle in a similar way (though us/dogs/cattle are not yet as refined as Franks).

        I found your “10 commandments” to be a useful read – I’m going to try out the 4-word system for directing the dog to specific points on the mob, when required.

        Also, do you have any thoughts on Indian Runner Ducks as a tool for starting pups or general training? We have just acquired some to play with.

        Thanks again,

      • Yes, Michelle, Having balanced dogs, both in their minds and with respect to their position on stock is the key to an efficient operation. Your cattle will string out as your dogs will find the Sean Barrett “sweet spot” where they can drift forward to slow the lead or drift back to create movement. The Flock/Mob exercise is really that simple, send them up, call them back on that same side. This is the type of training told to me by the Late Arthur Hazlett and used by the great dog handlers like Frank Scanlon and his peers. If your dogs have the correct genetics they will have the desire to control their livestock in this way.
        Yes I have seen Franks work on that video and when you get that good with your dogs and cattle you can be anywhere around the mob and get the desired result. The is a handy guide, let me know how you go.
        I don’t find a lot of value working ducks or even sheep if you are a cattle person, unless you are just starting out and your cattle, or at least some of them, are not suitable for starting your young dogs. I am in favour of waiting for a bit of maturity and then teaching young dogs at work, doing real jobs:

  3. jh says:

    The cattle were quiet and easy to handle. You can certainly argue that they have got to become easy to handle due to being educated well. And you could then argue that if the cattle are educated well they dont challenge dogs. Id agree with all that . But i dont accept that video shows dogs being challeneged .It’s said the “first cast is perfect for my terrain” , I wont argue with that either. But that cast wayyyy to wide in my terrain. Lesser dogs would be at the mob and have them moving before that first dog would get there.The comment is made that ” a single cow test the dogs mettle” really? Its not much of a test. Again the cattle are quiet and if you accept that , then you must accept the dogs are not being challenged.

    • Yes JH the cattle are quiet and thus easy to handle because they are educated by these same dogs. These dogs also have a lot of success with wild cattle in less forgiving terrain and yes it takes a bit longer but the result is the same: Educated cattle.
      Cast is a personal thing, I prefer a dog to introduce himself and allow the livestock to sense his dominance rather than prove it at the start with rip/tare. Those type of dogs, many times, aren’t prepared to hold position when required.
      One of the most memorable concepts taught to me by Neil McDonald is “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” “John Wooden” Clever dogs will give you just enough force to affect a result and then give relief. If the cattle are less educated you will get more nose bite and bark right up until it is no longer required.
      Thanks for commenting.

  4. zephyrworkingkelpies says:

    Lovely video, David. Thanks for sharing. I was sorry I missed you when you were here in the US this past year. Hopefully you’ll be back and I’ll have a chance to meet you and work with you. Love a calm, assertive dog with common sense. Who are the dogs in this video? Any of them Glide?

    • Thanks Chris,
      Yes we hope to continue our USA program over the next few years. Let me know if you have people willing to host an event or clients who would benefit from 3 days of knowledge and fun.
      The dogs in the video are: Milburn Moss (Red and Tan Bitch) Tracker The Chief (Black and Tan Dog) and Tracker Suki (Black and Tan Bitch) Chief is by Glide and Moss and Suki are his grand-daughters.

  5. C says:

    my Aussie has always wanted to challenge & fight with cattle that don’t move right away. I have taken him off cattle and we are working ducks and sheep. he is 5.5 years old. any ideas? He has great cattle ability and will pressure them with his eye, but isn’t much patient.

    • You will find that this dog needs to work better educated cattle. To achieve this get about 6 at a time in a yard about 15 yards square and ask your dog to bring them along the fence towards you. Don’t face your cattle and move off as they come to you, keep telling your dog he is good, no matter what. After the initial conflict the cattle will quickly learn that they get relief when moving off the dog and moving towards you. If he wants to heel bite, thus upsetting the relief, get some plastic water bottles full of water and lob them over the cattle and in front of him as he tries to attack from behind. After you have success one direction move around the yard the other way. This should take about 15 to 20 min and if you have more than 1 dog use them as well. After this, rest the dogs, and then get some more cattle.
      Once you have a whole mob of educated cattle your dog will have less need to fight as the cattle will not keep challenging him. He will become more responsible with more work so give him more work.

    • c says:

      Thank you very much for your comments. I appreciate them a lot and will try to follow through.

      Second question, if you please.

      My dog has no fear of cattle. He will head and heel no matter how large they are. He has very little training on cattle, due to inavailability. I am a beginning handler but have watched many years of stock trials (at advanced levels – but its different watching than doing, right?)

      What do I do with stock at a competition trial. Cattle may or may not be fully dog broke and may not respect the dog, whereas the sheep have a very large flight zone with my dog.

      Also, since these cattle are not educated to my dog, how can I keep him from fighting them, — he will not back off.!!!

      You have good suggestions, please help! And thank you a heap.

      • The advise I gave you regarding better educated cattle is the start of a program which will lead you to being able to work cattle in trials. If he is being too aggressive it is not that he has no fear but that he does not understand balance. Please read this article You cannot move on to the next step until you have mastered true balance and no dog can trial well without balance. The most important concept that you and your dog must grasp is when and where to give relief. You may have to reinforce this with those plastic bottles full of water if he inherently lacks this ability. In my experience, most cattle at trials are well educated and would only face up to a dog that is indicating that he will not treat them fairly.

      • C says:

        Thank you, again.
        We have a good stop, but it is not “bombproof” yet.

        I use a plastic water bottle, empty with a few pebbles in it for a rattle effect. Works & doesn’t break. Also, throwing small parts of (domestic) water hoses (not to hit the dog) gets dogs’ attention -breaks focus.

  6. Jan says:

    WOW, very impressive. I liked the dogs ability to get where they needed to be with no fuss. As others have said they are strong enough to get the job done but capable of checking their power when needed.


    • Many people select for dogs, firstly, for force, but, unless that dog understands the concept of building trust with his livestock by giving relief, that force is of very little use. Also most really forceful dogs have lost the ability to cover and hold, both great attributes for preventing livestock from deviating from course. This allows for the guiding of livestock as opposed to repeated corrections after major spills.
      Neal McDonald tells us to “Catch the thought before it becomes an action.” Breed and use dogs that do that as well.

  7. Grant says:

    It is good to see that the job can be done without the violence. There are still a lot of people down this way who ask for dogs with “lots of nose and heel bite”. If they would only watch a clip like this and see that “low stress stock handling” not only applys to the stock, but the dogs and the handler can enjoy a stress free experience.

    • Yes Grant, dogs are only a tool to help us train cattle to want to be handled in a calm but assertive way. As you are well on your way with your dogs and livestock you are in a good position to assess the benefits of a system based on mutual understanding, not rip, tear and bust.

      • Grant says:

        I too had those “rip, tear bust” dogs and thought that they were the go. But dreaded having to start a new pup as “they created more work and trouble”. Since doing a few schools and gaining a bit of knowledge, getting into a better line of dogs and having educated stock – No more trainer mob for me. All the stock here are the trainer mob. As I now utilise W.A.I.T. starting a pup is no longer a problem, I just drop the pup out in an “easier situation” in my mustering and as the stock are more forgiving to the little mistakes these young dogs make it doesn’t create a big problem. It’s good to watch the dogs learn themselves from these mistakes.

  8. phillip alldridge says:

    ” It is always a joy to watch good dogs work ” I think this is the reason we all spend the time and stretch our patience, just to see good dogs show us how it can be done no matter what the stock. a dog with presence is better than a dog with bite more often than not.

    • True Phillip, presence is a critical attribute in a dog establishing dominance over livestock. Sometimes a soft bite, at the right time and in the right place, is needed to re-establish that dominance. The secret is to have dogs with an innate knowledge of when to give livestock relief. I am glad you enjoyed the video.

      • phillip alldridge says:

        INNATE knowledge ,that’s something I`ve been trying to breed with my bitsers and limited resources , i have an old dog , who was a pleasure to watch breaking a mob of feral goats in or spoilt cattle but have found it a hard trait to breed on, even with line breeding .
        To follow grants comments I now have a team of “rip tear bust” dogs only out of bad luck with 1080 and old age and find it very frustrating to get some jobs done but having said that with the appropriate mob of cattle to suit the dogs they’re fine 🙂
        Also I did some 3 sheep trailing and that taught me a lot about patience ,timing and the strengths of a dog. I am looking forward to catching up Dave, probably sometime may-june.

      • No worries Phillip,
        Having some good dogs by which to set your bar by is a good start. Learning how to breed a type of dog over a long period of time is difficult and only ever achieved by a few talented stud breeders over the past half century. Keep working on it.

  9. It is always a joy to watch good dogs work cattle. Cattle are such a challenge given their size that it is very intimidating to even put your dog on them. You showed what well-trained dogs can do with a herd – it was a pleasure to watch!

    • Thanks Laura,
      Understanding how to educate cattle using dogs as a tool, but also using a sound knowledge of the stock handling principles promoted by Bud Williams and others, allows the symphony of livestock movement to happen. With trained cattle, clever dogs and relaxed “cowboys” the whole show becomes safe and efficient. By the way, my dogs get all of their training at work using my W.A.I.T. (Work as I Train) program described here:

  10. Grayleen says:

    What can I say? I agree with Mitch, love their distance. The lead dog as they come out of the creek, Moss I think, checks those lead cows just enough to remind them whose in charge. I’ve got one dog starting to work like that……more often than not.

    • That’s good news Grayleen, Dogs with good breeding and plenty of work always seem to step up and amaze us mere humans with their abilities to handle livestock. It looks as if Mitch might only need to travel to Gin Gin to witness some paddock brilliance.

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