Life on the Farm: Cattle dogs save farmers time and effort

A trained cattle dog can cost thousands, but save a farmer time and effort.

They're man's best friend, but on the farm they can be more valuable than a hired hand.

In the attached video, KRCG 13's Teresa Snow shows you how her family's puppy Ace is learning from trainer Travis Crane to become a cattle herding dog in her series "Life on the Farm."

In years gone by, farmers turned to horses to round up their herd. But today, most farmers use four-wheelers instead. The lucky ones also have a trained cattle dog, called a stock dog to save them thousands of steps and keep the cattle in line.

Dog Trainer Travis Crane of Centralia uses sheep for training puppies because the young dogs tend to get so excited they take too many risks when working around cattle.

"A cow stepping on one and they're dead dog," warns Crane. "So, it's a lot safer."

Cattle dog training is not as simple as taking a few obedience lessons. Crane's dog Taz has been at it for a year and is considered half way through school. As a "started" dog Crane says Taz could sell for about $1500. A fully trained dog sells for about $3,000 or more

Crane uses body language to start showing the dog which way to move, then words, and finally a dog whistle. He says the whistle is helpful to keep the dog working instead of wondering.

"When you get much farther than about 50 yards out you begin to have problems. You stop talking to your dog and you start yelling at your dog," explains Crane. "These dogs tend to be fairly sensitive, so when you want to reach your dog at more than 50 yards away you want to yell and they're looking around wondering 'what did I do wrong?'"

The whistles coordinate with four main voice commands. "Come by," which means to circle clock-wise around the herd. "Away to me," which means to circle counter clockwise. The last commands are lie down or stop and come back.

Crane makes it look easy, but he says it's difficult finding the right dog and the right owner, one with plenty of patience.

"If you're not in a hurry the dogs will work, but if you're in a hurry they're not for you. So as far as what people want, I think they want a machine when they come here they want a dog that will lie down.. a robot... and these dogs aren't robots so that's where a lot of people run into trouble with them," says Crane.

Crane works with border collies, but there are many different breeds of stock dogs. The American Kennel Club identifies 25 different dogs in their herding group.