Sometimes it is phrased as a question, more often an accusation.
“Thats too many dogs! Poor old cow is out numbered. That’s cruel, harassing her like that!”
Let me get something out of the way straight up. I don’t like thugging dogs. I don’t have hanging dogs either. I won’t allow my dogs to unfairly harass a beast with nowhere to go & no chance to get there. But I will ask 4 dogs to make one cow feel pretty darn uncomfortable when the situation calls for it. And here is why…
Though the majority of our cattle are extremely quiet & we are careful to handle our cattle well, we still have a few renegades come through who don’t feel like acting polite. Feral bulls, clean skin cattle who haven’t seen people before and aren’t overly impressed to be meeting us now & a few old cows who seem to decide that they don’t want to play the game this time round. These cattle can be extremely dangerous & often have us dancing the top rail. In these situations, even though it is just as dangerous for my dogs to tangle with these animals, they will happily step up to help try to move a stubborn beast & with my heart in my throat, I will often let them.
So this is where things get a little heated. First up, I do laugh when I get the ‘outnumbered’ comment thrown at me. Out numbered maybe, but consider this. We are talking about quite a sizeable beast…anywhere from 400-600kgs against say, 4 x 20kg kelpies. So would it be considered fair if it was one 20kg dog to a 400kg cow?? Out numbered? Maybe. Out weighed? Absolutely not.
Secondly, these situations only come around when a beast isn’t doing what it has been asked. It has refused to go through the gate/up the race/into the yard, whatever the situation may be. It has faced up to the stockman or woman, ignored it’s mates who have headed on out & decided to have an argument about the whole scenario. It’s run past, through, after or over the person trying to clear the yard & has put their wellbeing in danger. As the employer responsible for the men & women working for us, this is not something I enjoy seeing. So if I feel that a situation can be resolved without endangering others, I will take that option where possible & often this is through the use of my dogs.
The thing is, it all comes down to pressure & relief. Good dogs have brilliant stock sense & I believe can read stock better than the majority of people, including myself. It doesn’t matter how many dogs are providing the pressure on the beast, as long as it is released & relief is provided when the beast tries to move off it. Whether it be 1 dog or 10, 1 man or 10…so long as when that beast moves off the pressure & seeks relief, it is given. I am responsible for my dogs not over pressuring a beast, but if they draw a line & it tries to push them over it, it has moved into their pressure & I will encourage them to hold their ground with bite & bark till it backs off. And when it does, relief is offered till the beast decides that perhaps heading through the gate isn’t such a bad option after all.
I definitely do not get any enjoyment from seeing my dogs in danger. But I am proud of the clever stock work they are capable of & enjoy doing. I don’t doubt there are situations where dogs aren’t used correctly, the same as there are situations where stock handling isn’t done well either. But I do encourage everyone, if they see a particular image or scenario that they don’t like or believe is cruel or unfair, make sure you know the facts before you judge too harshly. Ask about the situation or the reasons behind the image in question & if you still don’t agree, fair enough. Just keep in mind, a photo is just a small piece of a larger story, which can often be taken out of context & distorted from the truth.