By Brandon Moody
As an intern at TomKat Ranch, I get to attend a lot of events and trainings on the ranch. When I heard that the ranch was hosting a clinic on stock dogs, I imagined that I would be learning how to train a dog to work with livestock, however, as it turned out, the clinic went much deeper and was really about using dogs to train me to read my livestock better.
The stock dog clinic was put on by David Hart (David Hart Stock and Dog Handling Schools), an Australian rancher and dog trainer who travels around the world speaking and teaching. His philosophy centers around cultivating personal and environmental awareness to create situations instead of simply reacting to them.
During the 3-day clinic, David pointed out and demonstrated with numerous exercises, how important it is to be open and aware while you are working with livestock because success depends on your ability to accurately read them and the situation. I learned that countless frustrations are needlessly created by getting stuck in my head and focusing on what I think “should” happen instead of what is happening.
Over the last five years, I have worked for different cattle operations throughout California and seen a lot of different ways to work with livestock. However, David’s method felt revolutionary because it focused more on building perspective than forcing speed. Seeing David calmly, quietly, and quickly move the cattle exactly where he wanted them was inspiring. I learned that stressed livestock are not just a frustrating obstacle to overcome, but a sign that I’m doing something wrong or not seeing something in the environment that is making my approach unsuccessful.
Coming away from this clinic, I have learned that handling my livestock in a low-stress manner is not only more efficient, but also a lot more fun. It is really engaging to approach each interaction with these animals as a communication instead of a chore and handling cattle with David’s method was much easier than I’ve ever experienced. Not having cows jump fences or charge at me lowered both mine and the animals’ stress!