Develop the art of soft stock handling

Develop the art of soft stock handling

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Jess Buller from Darkan working sheep for the first time with borrowed Border Collie Indie at a previous Ben Page Fundamentals school in WA.

Jess Buller from Darkan working sheep for the first time with borrowed Border Collie Indie at a previous Ben Page Fundamentals school in WA.

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Talk of low-stress stock handling elicits a chuckle from Ben Page these days, particularly when in relation to using farm dogs in place of extra stock handlers.

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TALK of low-stress stock handling elicits a chuckle from Ben Page these days, particularly when in relation to using farm dogs in place of extra stock handlers.

Mr Page, who is known as the 'Working Dog Whisperer', has been using low-stress stock handling techniques since his days as a stockman on the first commercial cattle station in New Guinea in the late 1960s, only he refers to it as "soft stock handling".

"Low-stress stock handling might be the modern buzz words for it, but the technique has been around for a very long time," said Mr Page, a dog trainer, Kelpie and Border Collie breeder, author and lecturer who runs the Working Dog Centre in regional South Australia.

"I learnt it back in New Guinea from the blokes I worked with," Mr Page said.

"They were old-time stockmen who came across from North Queensland and Northern Territory.

"They didn't yell at or swear at the cattle or the dogs - in fact they didn't say much at all, if they put more than five words together in a sentence it was like they were making a speech."

Mr Page has adapted the "soft stock handling" he learned in New Guinea and what he has researched and learned about dogs' natural instincts and dog-pack hierarchy associated behaviour into his own trademarked Ben Page's Natural Method of dog and handler training which he teaches at the Working Dog Centre.

It is broken down into three levels in what Mr Page calls his Fundamentals, Intermediate and Advanced courses, with graduating from the previous levels a prerequisite for attending Intermediate and Advanced courses.

When Mr Page is working sheep with dogs, the 'whisperer' aspect of his nickname becomes apparent - no raised voice, no yelled commands.

Voice or whistle commands are barely audible and calm, unhurried hand signals and eye contact direct the dogs.

According to Mr Page, the secret is in understanding what message the dog was conveying to the handler and how signals - both deliberate and unintended - from the handler will be interpreted by the dog.

Apart from having the knowledge and practical experience, Mr Page also has the ability to teach others and his courses are an interesting and at times challenging mix of classroom theory and round yard practice.

The most comprehensive course of its kind and the only one certified Australia-wide, Mr Page's Fundamentals Working Dog Training School exceeds AHCLSK324A Care for and train working dogs standards and can be used for a Certificate III in Agriculture module.

Students receive a complete set of course notes and comprehensive step-by-step staged instructions to enable them to continue training their dog at home.

The Fundamentals school covers the origins of working dogs, how they think, choosing the right dog and how to care for it through to basic commands to begin working with stock.

Mr Page is visiting WA and will run two Fundamentals Working Dog Training Schools over consecutive Fridays-Sundays - August 23, 24 and 25 and again August 30, 31 and September 1 - on a farm near Donnybrook.

A third Fundamentals Working Dog Training School will be held Saturday-Monday, September 7, 8 and 9, on a farm near Hyden.

Duncan Anderson, who has completed the top level of Mr Page's training, owns Page dogs and helped run previous WA training schools, will host schools on his sheep property near Donnybrook.

The Hyden school will be at Colin and Jacinta Holmes' Coljac Border Leicester stud property about 20 kilometres out of town.

Colin and Jacinta Holmes completed a Fundamentals school with Mr Page and have been working with him on his distance learning project, along with other farmers in WA, in the Northern Territory, Queensland and in Tasmania.

An Intermediate Working Dog Training School will be held, back near Donnybrook Monday-Wednesday, September 16, 17 and 18.

Mr Page said people booking for schools can phone Mr Anderson on 0428 193 109 or Ms Holmes on 0409 101 456 for advice on what accommodation is available locally.

"I would urge anyone who is contemplating booking for one of my schools in Western Australia not to delay too long because places are limited and missing out will only disappoint," he said.

Mr Page has previously run booked-out working dog training schools in WA in 2015, 16 and 17,

For information on the schools and to book, see www.workingdogcentre.com

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