Posted by: Jamie Dowsley
Working dogs are part and parcel of farm life in Australia, and Elanco’s Special Working Dog program is strengthening the bond between farmers and their dogs. Elanco Australasia’s National Sales Manager, Jamie Dowsley is leading the charge to get the program up and running again this year – all part of delivering on Elanco’s Healthy Purpose down under.
For many of us, dogs are a valuable member of the family. On a farm, dogs are often valuable business partners, too. As farmers continue to innovate livestock handling practices, it’s no secret that working dogs can help increase productivity. But, for all their raw talent, training a dog to make the most of its abilities requires a deft and experienced touch – something easily overlooked among other demands on the farm.
At Elanco, we want to help address this gap for our producers with professional dog training resources. Enter – Ian O’Connell. A well-known working dog trainer, Ian has devoted his life to training working dogs. Over the next few months, O’Connell will be bringing his specialist knowledge to upskill farmers and their working dogs through Elanco’s Working Dog program.
“Dogs don’t come with a set of instructions. People get a dog, and they do what Dad or Grandad used to do. Too often that’s about breaking them in and knocking the bad habits out,” says O’Connell. “It’s hard to get information about how to do things differently. This is something I can help with.”
There are four Elanco Working Dog workshops scheduled this year, running over two days at locations around Victoria, NSW and South Australia. The invite-only sessions see up to 15 participants, with their dogs undergoing O’Connell’s training.
Previous attendees were thrilled with the course and the learnings they walked away with. They picked up skills and tips for interpreting their dog’s behaviour, giving instructions that made a real difference to the way the producers were handling dogs and their relationship with them too.
Tricks of the trade
O’Connell says the working dog is one of the most underutilised and misunderstood resource in rural Australia.
“Too many people use fear to control their dogs. My approach is around using pure and simple positive reinforcement,” said O’Connell. “It’s a myth that we shouldn’t make pets our working dogs or let our children play with them.”
Although most pet owners will look to get their dog into training early, O’Connell prefers to hold off on training a dog until they show maturity and confidence. For him, training needs to match a dog’s ability to absorb that teaching. He often lets a young dog grow into their training and eventually their work – finding older dogs easier to train.
As well as immediate behaviour, the workshops cover broader topics around dog care and particular dog breeds.
“Farmers are very aware of genetic traits when it comes to their cattle and sheep, but it’s an important factor for working dogs as well,” said O’Connell. “Just because a kelpie looks like a working dog, doesn’t mean it has the right genetics to suit your enterprise or to go mustering. So, we look to educate farmers around what to consider before they buy a pup.”
O’Connell, who has seven working dogs of his own, shares Elanco’s commitment to improving animal well-being.
“Working dogs are my tools of trade. They’ve got me where I am today, which is a good place. In my eyes, its time pay the dogs back. I know that every time I do a school or clinic, there will be 10 or 20 dogs that wake up in a better position the next day. And that has a flow-on effect as more people see how things can be done and develop a better understanding of how to work with their dogs.”