Games People Play

Games for Handlers to Play! 

By Lynn Leach
Downriver Farm
Australian Cattle Dog Club of Canada – Vice President
CKC Herding Representative
Herding Judge – CKC, AKC & AHBA

Often I see people go out and work dogs with livestock, having no plan – giving no direction – and realizing no training progress. If you are not an experienced stock person, it will be more difficult to make progress teaching a herding dog to work than someone who can read livestock well.  

If you are new to the kind of livestock you are working with – practice working without a dog. Create some stock games to make it fun, and play often. Each day that you work your dog – put him up for a while and start with some of these games. To give you invaluable, practical experience, offer to help your stock provider when she is shearing, worming, doing feet, or vaccinating. If you have a job to do, you will stop thinking about learning and concentrate on getting the job done right. You will be amazed at how much you will learn and how it will help you. 

Here are some ideas for stock games (can be used on any type of stock – sheep, goats, cattle, ducks) without a dog:

Game #1

If you are by yourself, choose a series of tasks and then do them in the correct order:

    1. Touch the special colored sheep (duck, cow) on the back.
    2. Pat the small ram on the head.
    3. If you are using cattle – split one off from the bunch.
    4. Split the group into two groups.
    5. Put them back together and then move the group clockwise around the barrel.
    6. Cut out the smallest baby and her mom and put them in Pen A.
    7. Touch the red ewe/cow on the back.
    8. Cut the group in ½ again, then put them back together.

Game #2

If you have a partner you can work with – have one person be the dog, the other be the handler. The dog may NOT know what the desired course is. The handler is either told a course by a third party, or designs a course on his own – then directs the ‘dog’ using herding commands to get the stock through the course. The course can consist of obstacles, penning (the handler has to open the gates, as dogs cannot do that), or just moving the stock in a desired direction. This is a lot of fun if you have 2 or more teams. None of the dogs know the course or can watch the course – only the handlers can watch.  You can now compete using time and points. If you are using stubborn stock that will not move off of people – you can give the ‘dog’ a real dog assist to her on leash.

Game #3

Try to move the stock somewhere they do not want to go – into a pen or a dark area (barn/trailer).  Pay attention when you are doing this. Try to figure out when the correct time to apply pressure and how much pressure must be applied. Think about the following questions: what are you doing when you are not applying pressure? Why are you not applying pressure all the time? When is the best time to apply pressure? Why?

Game #4

In a large field, try to split the stock into two groups and then hold them apart for a set amount of time. If this is easy to do, then go a step further and split them into several groups. You can make this competitive by having people responsible for their own groups. Keep the groups moving around and getting closer to each other. The first person that looses their group to another group will be ‘out’. 

All of these games can be played using your dog later in training and are a great way to reinforce the skills you have been working on. These ideas are just a few that come to mind, and I’m sure that you can think of many similar games.

After you have done your stock work without your dog, it is time to get your dog and start working on your training lists that you created after reading the last articles.

Happy Herding!

For more information on Lynn Leach’s training philosophy, training events or training videos  please contact Downriver Farms, today!