A farm in B.C. trains dogs how to herd sheep and other livestock
By Diego Flammini
A dog trainer in B.C. is unlocking canine talent to help dogs herd sheep and other livestock.
Master dog trainer Kylee Larssen owns Blue Collar Farm in Port Coquitlam, a three-acre operation with sheep, pens and fields for dogs to practice their skills on.
She begins training puppies who are between 10 months and one-year-old.
The training starts with beginner commands and develops from there.
“The basic instinct of herding is to bring stock to the handler,” she told Farms.com. “We start with teaching the dogs the basics of bringing the sheep to me and wherever I go. Once we have some basic controls and the dogs get more confident, we work on more advanced skills like driving the sheep away from where you want them to be.”
Getting a dog to that level can take up to one year, she said, adding that every individual dog is different.
Part of the training is also making sure the dogs are herding livestock and not chasing them.
There’s a distinct difference, Larssen said.
“If a dog is chasing or harassing the sheep or cows, that raises the livestock’s anxiety levels, which we don’t want,” she said. “We want the dogs to be able to help guide the livestock to a different location, and make your life easier, while keeping those farm animals calm.”
In Larssen’s part of B.C., it’s mostly dairy farms in the area.
Herding dairy cattle requires specific movements from the dogs, she says.
“It has to be very gentle movements,” she said. “So we have to teach those dogs to go quietly when they’re approaching the herd.”
Larssen’s own dogs, three Australian cattle dogs and a border collie, have received herding training.
And now sheep tasks don’t take as long as they did before, Larssen says.
“Using a bucket of grain and trying to get the sheep into a trailer used to take me about an hour,” she said. “Now we can make that happen in about five minutes. Or if I’m trying to catch a sheep to give it medicine or a foot trim, I don’t have to chase that animal for 20 minutes.”
Some of the dogs who come to Larssen’s farm for training are pets.
But that doesn’t mean someone can bring their chihuahua for training.
“Now I wouldn’t accept that anymore,” she said. “I usually don’t take any breed that I know won’t have any ability to herd sheep. I do have some random breeds, like rottweilers, that are uncommon but do a great job herding sheep.”
In addition to training dogs for her clients, Larssen also instructs owners on how to command a dog while it’s herding.
Seeing the trainee, whether canine or human, start to understand the skills, is a great feeling, she said.
“You can see it, it’s a lightbulb moment where it just clicks and they understand what I’m asking them to do,” she said. “Some of the owners are brand new to this and it’s very rewarding to see them be proud of the work they’ve put in when everything comes together smoothly.”
For anyone considering buying a dog to use for livestock herding, Larssen has a piece of advice.
Try to stick with breeds that are naturally inclined to perform this kind of work.
“Border collies are probably the best option for farm settings,” she said. “Every farm has different requirements, so it’s best to look at different breeds and what works for an individual farm. And if you look around you can find dogs that are already pre trained for a reasonable price.”