Seeing in Black and White (and Brown)
Many farmers and ranchers have working dogs, but a select few dogs work with the ability and precision of Robin Brown’s border collies. She and SCR Reinee are the latest Open Champions of the 2017 Winnemucca Cow Dog Trials in Winnemucca, Nevada. Several of Brown’s Broken Circle-bred border collies took home other awards, including champion brace class and champion rancher.
Robin, with her husband Rocky, make their entire living training dogs on their ranch in Central Idaho. Robin also tours the country, hosting clinics; her most recent was March 11-12 in Edgemont, South Dakota.
Within her clinics, Robin encounters dogs in varying levels of confidence and ability, and owners with even wider ranges of skill and knowledge. Much of the time Robin spends teaching is focused on helping owners overcome traits they have built up in their dogs.
“Robin is a very good clinician. Good clinicians teach people; lots of people can teach animals. A rare person can teach animals and communicate that to people,” said Mark Hollenbeck, who hosted the event at his facilities, Sunrise Ranch in Edgemont.
Waive Shepperson, of Lance Creek, Wyoming participated in the clinic with her six-year-old Border Collie/Australian Shepherd cross Hattie, who is used on the ranch primarily to help move cattle. Hattie was seemingly timid around cattle, consistently returning to Shepperson once she got a certain distance from the cattle. Robin helped Shepperson build confidence in the dog generally not allowed to be too close to the herd for fear of pushing too hard.
“I over-controlled Hattie and did not allow her to go in to the herd. I was doing her work instead of letting her do her work. By the end, she got in behind the goats and I circled in behind her. Robin said you can tell she’s happy doing it. I’m going to let her do more things,” Shepperson said. “She loosened her up which helped me and I didn’t feel so bad. She just took her time and went out with us. Her judging where we are on balance, where we are in relation to the dogs and where you stop, she has dang sure walked the walk and she can talk the talk.”
“A lot of things people do wrong in the beginning is not giving your dogs a job. Don’t take the job away from them by trying to control them too much. Make sure they are able to feel the livestock and know what it feels like to work the livestock before you say, ‘Down. Down. Walk up,’” Robin said. “Don’t micromanage them. Let them work naturally a lot before you start controlling them too much or you’ll have a dog that you send out there and he’ll lie down and wait for that next command.”
Teaching an old dog new tricks, so to speak, Robin said, is no problem. In most cases where someone has a handle on their dog but loses control when situations start to get hectic, the person has reached the dog on a physical level but not on a mental level.
“For instance, you send your dog out and it goes so far and stops listening to you, it’s working out there far enough that it has selective hearing,” she said. “What you can do with those dogs that are used to working alone out there, you can bring them back in like to a round pen or smaller area and fix all that stuff. You can work with the dog’s mind rather than physically to change what happens out there. When you get into a dog’s mind and you start them right, then they’ll listen to you a mile out there. When you do things physical, like maybe somebody throwing a stick, that’s physical because you never got into their head.”
A dog pulling a human holding its leash is another example Robin provided, and a situation she worked through with 10-year-old Tessa Manning at the clinic. Her dog was pulling Manning around the facilities without yielding. Within several minutes of Robin working with the pair, the Border Collie was glued to her small owner’s side.
“Just basic things like the dog should never be pulling you on a leash,” Robin said. “If it’s pulling you on a leash, when you let the leash loose what’s going to happen?”
Robin instructed Manning to back up, make a growling noise, and apply pressure to the leash when her dog started pulling. After three or four corrections by Manning, the dog was far more comfortable not receiving pressure and staying close. Manning referred to Robin as a “dog whisperer.”
The dogs in the clinic were worked in pens they couldn’t escape, allowing them to accept and adjust to pressure from the owners.
“When the dog has learned about the pressure and release and he’s ok with it, he is listening to you and he’s looking up at you, you are part of the picture, and you’ve got the dog and the stock and you are all working in sync, then they’re getting it,” Robin said. “The pressure might be a stick you’re holding up. The dogs may only learn when they’re in that frame of mind, that’s when they’re teachable. If they’re going in there biting and pulling wool, they’re just working the stock, they’re not able to be taught until you get them out of the bubble of the sheep where their mind is teachable.”
“I think it was a fantastic educational experience. Robin was terrific and really connected with everyone that was there,” Hollenbeck said. “She taught us how to use pressure and release on a dog. I also think it was a great fit for my ranch. I enjoy putting on schools and seminars at Sunrise that agriculture people can benefit from.”
To get in contact with Rocky and Robin, visit their website, http://www.BrokenCircleBorderCollies.com or like their Facebook page, Broken Circle Stockdogs.