Mount Marshall dog expert Ken Skyes is calling for more education for farmers who train their own working dogs.
Mount Marshall dog expert Ken Skyes is calling for more education for farmers who train their own working dogs. Marian Faa

How a well-trained dog could make your farm a lot safer

THE Mount Marshall man who was instrumental in bringing canines to the Queensland Police Service is now advocating for better training of farm dogs in a bid to reduce livestock stress.

Poorly-educated dogs that don't have the right genetics for the job are putting farmers and their animals at risk according to Ken Skyes, who spent years lobbying for a dog squad in the QPS.

After leaving his job as police officer in the 1980s, Mr Skyes went on to manage seven livestock properties in rural New South Wales.

But using German Shepherds on the land was an unconventional move that was met with consternation from farmers.

"A lot of people in that time believed German shepherds would become feral or cross with dingoes,” he said.

Mr Skyes said it was nothing but a scare campaign, but in the end he switched to working border collies.

"I just couldn't find the right German shepherd. The modern show shepherd has totally lost its working ability,” he said.

Mr Skyes affinity for training working dogs grew as the exercise helped him cope with stress from his former job.

"When you're working with dogs you can't be worried about anything else. You have to have total concentration,” he said. "It is great way to de-stress.”

He said working dogs were crucial to his work as a stockman.

"If you have a well trained dog, livestock animals react to the dog out of respect and not fear,” he said.

"Everything works better. It is safer for the animals and safer for the handler.”

Mr Skyes was using dogs as a police officer before the Queensland Police officially formed a dog squad. He left the QPS to work as a stockman and train border collies.
Mr Skyes was using dogs as a police officer before the Queensland Police officially formed a dog squad. He left the QPS to work as a stockman and train border collies. Marian Faa

Mr Skyes said many were still getting it wrong.

"Training your dog is something primary producers are expected to do themselves and most of them don't do it very well,” he said.

Mr Skyes said people often expect too much of young dogs, who need to be trained individually when they show signs of being ready.

Biology plays into it too.

"A lot of dogs out there just don't have the right genetics, they don't have the right natural ability,” Mr Skyes said.

His number one message to primary producers was "get the right dog”.

"Buy from a breeder that is prepared to demonstrate both the mother and father of the pup working,” he said.

He also suggested attending a working dog school.

The benefits that flow are immeasurable according to Mr Skyes.

"The last thing a stockman wants is the dog to illicit fear and trigger that fight or flight response,” he said.

"If I have a well-trained dog, it will move calmly around the stock and bring them into the yard without any running around or shouting. It is better for everyone.”

Now retired and living on a five-acre property at Mt Marshall, Mr Skyes continues to train dogs and run sheep dog trials.

He has just published a book on how to training working dogs that will be available online from May 1 at rosenbergpub.com.au



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