On The Land

9 September, 2023

Muster Dogs hit the Tablelands

TWELVE lucky participants came from all across the Tablelands, Cairns and as far away as Ingham to learn from renowned Muster Dogs coach Neil McDonald recently.

Isaac Ramsay, Neil McDonald and Mandie Scott of Millstream Springs, Millaa Millaa with working dogs Tilly and Bron.
Isaac Ramsay, Neil McDonald and Mandie Scott of Millstream Springs, Millaa Millaa with working dogs Tilly and Bron.

A four-day Working Dog and Livestock Handling Course was held at Mandie Scott’s Millstream Springs property at Millaa Millaa on 25-28 August 2023.

The course provided participants with the skills to start their working pup or out of control dog on their working career and to provide them with the knowledge to continue the training process.

Muster dogs was an initiative of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) who approached film company Ambience to produce the megahit television working dog series in which graziers are given pups from the same litter and are set with the challenge of transforming them into champion muster dogs.

Neil was selected to be a “dog talent scout” on their behalf. 

He had to find farming families with livestock and picturesque settings.

As a result, Muster Dogs was formed.

The film company sought Neil’s input as a “coach” to set milestones and tasks for the participants.

Working dog trainer Neil McDonald said he was 20 years old when he got a good pup and put heartfelt effort into it.

Neil is self taught, is instinctive and “reads the dog”.

”There needs to be plenty of awareness on rearing and starting pups,” Neil said.

“It is important to get young pups in the right frame of mind so that they can develop the right attitude.

“It is also important that working dog pups and dogs be always tied up or in an enclosure unless they are fully supervised.

“The pup has to be on a loose rope and then on an invisible rope.

“You have to have a strong Bluetooth connection with your dog otherwise there is no point in having a dog.”

Surprisingly, a lot of the course focuses on the person handling the livestock, what angle to walk at or along at, when to apply pressure on livestock and when to give relief.

“When starting a young working dog pup, it is important to have a trainer mob of livestock – for example, sheep or cattle - that have had exposure to dogs and are ‘learner pup friendly’ and don’t charge, kick and stay together as a mob,” Neil said.

“An underlying theme of the course is showing people how they can learn all these skills and how they can teach this to other people as well.

“Isaac Ramsay did an outstanding job preparing the cattle for the course and was of great assistance with the coaching of the course.”

Adrian Ferrero came from Ingham to improve his skills in order to better work his dogs.

“I was really impressed with the videos of wild cattle being educated in the Gulf through Neil’s method,” Adrian said.

Geoff Campbell, from North Qld Hay, Springmont Road, Mareeba, participated in the course with his young three-month-old kelpie pup, Pip.

He runs 250 head of breeders and has used horses, quad bikes and people for mustering his livestock.

There is a lot of work involved in handling cattle in his operation and he is finding it harder to source people to assist with mustering livestock, hence his interest in the course.

“The course has an extra dimension attached to it as it includes both dogs and livestock,” Geoff said.

“It’s not only about training working dogs, it’s more about you learning to work livestock properly.

“It has changed my way of thinking about how I handle livestock both in the yard and in the paddock.”

Fiona Powell from Yeetcham, Lake Eachamk participated with her kelpie dog Nellie which was bred by neighbours Laurie and Julie Wright of Bimini Park, Lake Eacham.

“The highlight of the course for me was learning about how cattle think and how to use that knowledge to best handle them.” 

For further information contact Helen and Neil McDonald on Facebook.


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