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Key commands to teach your stock dog

Kevin Schulz Tanya Gifford demonstrates her dog-training techniques at HHD
DOG DEMOS: Tim Gifford and his wife, Tanya, will demonstrate their dog-training techniques multiple times a day during Husker Harvest Days.
Learn the right way to train your stock dog during demos at Husker Harvest Days.

Tim Gifford, a Nebraska cattleman, and his wife, Tanya, train herding dogs to work stock. They are members of the U.S. Border Collie Handler Association. They use their dogs on their cow-calf operation to gather cows, move them from pasture to pasture and sort them in an alleyway.

The Giffords will share their expertise multiple times a day during Husker Harvest Days. Now in their 11th year at the show, the Giffords and their dogs will be demonstrating their techniques at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. at Lot 1122. If you are planning to attend, here are a few takeaways to expect from their presentation:

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 awareness and comfort levels with animals.

Herd small stock. No matter the size of the dog, if it is possible, begin training with small livestock like sheep or calves. This offers safety for the dog while 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. It can be used to move the animals and, more importantly, direct the dog.

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

  1. “Come by” tells the dog to move clockwise.
  2. “Away to me” means move counterclockwise around the stock.
  3. “Walk up” means to walk toward the livestock, whether sheep or cattle.
  4. “Lie down” typically means stop and lie down.
  5. “That’ll do” tells the dog work has finished and it must return 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 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 adds. And it builds a strong bond between handler and dog.

Gifford has a gauge to know when a herding dog is fully trained. “Ultimately, I want to get to where I don’t have to be in the 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 Fido 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, 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 at [email protected] or Tanya at 530-227-1340.

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