The Corgi as a Cattle Dog
By John Holmes (1947)

Before starting on this article I should like to point out that what experience I have of Corgis as workers, although gained the hard way by actually working the breed over a number of years, is entirely my own experience with my own dogs. I have never lived in a district where the breed is used extensively for work, although what I have seen of Wales, I should say that working conditions there are very similar to where I was in Scotland. Having had a very much greater experience of working Collies, I realise that the abilities and style of working varies very considerably in different individuals and strains, and it is quite probable that other strains of Corgis may work in a very different manner from that which I shall endeavour to describe. These few qualifying remarks are made in the knowledge that this article may be read by some whose experience of Corgis as Cattle Dogs is much greater than mine, and I also wish to guard against the danger of some novice arguing with a Welsh Farmer and saying "But it must be so! I read it in the Corgi Handbook!"

The majority of Corgi breeders, and breeders of all Show dogs, are very hazy or entirely ignorant of what are the essentials of a herding breed and what makes it different from any other breed. I shall first of all try to explain the difference. If a Terrier pup gets into a field with cattle or sheep it will probably chase them, in spite of all attempts by its master to prevent it doing so. If a Corgi puppy gets into the same field it will also chase cattle or sheep, and probably a great deal faster as it will nip their heels. To the uninitiated there is no difference but there is one very big and important difference. Whereas the Terrier chases here there and everywhere, the Corgi will run round the outside, either keeping the cattle in a bunch in the middle of the field, or chasing them into a corner and keeping them there. That is the herding instinct on which all future training is based, and without which no dog is of the slightest value as a worker.

Shepherds in Scotland refer to a pup as "starting to run" when it first shows the desire to herd or round up sheep, and there are very great variations in the age at which different puppies do so. Until it starts to "run" a puppy should be taught to folio wits master at heel, and to stay, sit or down, and it is a great mistake to allow it to work until it is sufficiently matured, as there is every possibility that it will either become stale, or develop bad habits in its attempts to "shorten the journey". If a puppy is keen to work, old enough and well grown, then it should be encouraged to make use of that instinct to herd, and, although Corgis usually start to run much younger than Collies, I never allowed them to work until nine or ten months old at least. Some need no encouragement at all, and, in fact are the very devil to get away from cattle, while others, especially if they have been kept strictly to heel, are afraid they may be doing wrong, and require a bit of encouragement to get them to leave their handler at first. Many people think that a young dog learns from an old one, but I know of no surer way of ruining a young dog than allowing it to run with an old one. It will certainly learn all the old dog's bad habits, and develop several of its own in its attempts to get there first.

Having succeeded in getting the puppy to run round cattle on command, the next stage is to get it to bring them to the handler. Some will do this without any teaching, but the majority will run round and round making a complete circle, and keeping the animals on the same spot. This can be overcome by the handler getting as near to the cattle as possible, and stopping the puppy when it comes round towards him, which will be very easy if it has already been taught to sit or down on command, but practically impossible if it has not. It should then be sent back and stopped when it comes round the other side, and in a very short time it will learn to run back and forward behind the cattle in a half circle, instead of round and round. The handler should walk away and the puppy will bring the cattle along behind Mm, and of course it is much better to start with cattle which know where they are going and will go there in any case even if the puppy makes a mistake.

That is the first and most important stage, and, in my opinion, no puppy should be allowed to do anything else until it docs that properly. From that stage the distance it is sent for the cattle is gradually increased, and it is taught to "run to both hands", i.e. run round the right or the left hand side of the animals which will be more easily taught if it has already been taught to walk to heel on both sides. This is very important as a dog which will only run to one hand is worse than useless at times. If a puppy is under perfect control, will run to either hand, and fetch cattle to its handler, it can be expected to do almost any job, some of course being much better at it than others, and only experience combined with instinct will teach the rest.

Having touched very briefly on how a Corgi is trained (a whole book could be written on the subject) we now come to how a Corgi works, and I shall try to answer the question so often asked as to how such a small dog can control a whole drove of wild cattle. Actually a Corgi will turn cattle which no Collie would face, and I have won many bets turning cattle which were considered unmanageable by any dog. I think the real reason for this is the Corgi's great courage and tenacity, and it's almost unbelievable agility. I read in a magazine devoted to dogs, a query by a Corgi owner as to how she could stop her dog yapping, and the "expert" replied advising her to get a Cocker, as Corgis he or she said, always yap, having been bred to yap in their work. The "experts" knowledge of a working dog must be extremely limited, to say the least of it, as it will be found in dogs as in humans that those who make most noise invariably do least work, and certainly never do it well. Sheep will run from a barking dog, but cattle only respect one if they know that it is capable of making itself felt, and a dog whose bark is worse than his bite is never much use for cattle. Corgis do bark a great deal when working, but they are always ready to nip the heel or nose, and the incessant yapping type is usually more of a nuisance than anything else.

If a bullock is trying to get past a Corgi, or any dog for that matter, he invariably charges with his head down, and it is then the Corgi grips him by the nose, I should think that a Corgi must have a much stronger grip than a Collie, as I have never yet seen a bullock wait for a second dose, and it is when it turns away that the dog gets it by the heels, keeping it on the run. All this takes a very long time to tell, but in actual fact, unless one is very observant, and close up on the dog, it is impossible to see what happens, the movements are so quick, and it can dart from one to the other keeping a whole herd on the move. A Corgi never draws back! I have seen them attacked by a herd of twenty to thirty cows with suckled calves at foot, and, for the benefit of those who have had no experience of same, I might mention that the bellowing of these cows can be heard quite plainly a mile away or more, but even then the little Corgi will stand it's ground gripping here there and everywhere, until it gets the cattle turned and running in the direction they are wanted.

I have heard different descriptions of the Corgi's method of avoiding kicks, the most usual one being that every time it grips a heel it claps down flat, but I wonder where the cattle would be if it spent at least half it's time lying down and getting up It avoids being kicked with practically one hundred per cent success by a much simpler method than that, and is assisted in so doing by its low stature. It grips very low, in the tender part just above the hoof, and as it does so, it keeps moving forward in the same direction as the bullock, at the same time swerving slightly to one side or the other depending on which heel it has gripped. The bullock usually lashes out at where the Corgi was a split second beforehand. Even if it misjudges its movement, which is very unusual, it still has its head nearly on the ground, and the nearest I have ever seen to a Corgi being kicked was a mud mark across the back of the neck.

All cattle do not require the rough treatment I have just tried to describe, but the Corgi has sufficient intelligence to enable it to be trained to bring in the two or three milk cows quite gently, and I have had several which were very good with sheep, especially for road work etc. No day is too long for them, and I have worked them ten and twelve hours at a time in hot summer weather, rushing and barking all the time, but they are always ready for more.

Before leaving the working side I should like to mention another job on the farm for which the Corgi is admirably suited, and that is ratting, in my opinion there is no Terrier to equal it as it is much more easily trained, is as quick as lightning, has an excellent nose, and that jaw which will terrify the wildest of cattle can kill a rat instantly without even shaking it. There are many other classes of work to which a Corgi can easily adapt itself with training, but I only mention the above as it is one of the jobs which it is expected to do naturally in the normal course of events on the farm.

Corgis_working.mp4 (2.37 min.)
Video showing Corgis doing what they were bred for

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