Budding working dogs and their handlers were put through their paces at Federation University this week.
Organised by animal health supplier Bayer, the two-day course at the Mount Rohan campus was aimed at teaching farmers how to work with their dogs more effectively.
Ian O'Connell, who ran the sessions, said that training could help develop the bond between working dogs and their owners. He said that dogs were not often taught formally and that mistakes were easy to make. These include trying to teach dogs when they are too young and training them in too large a space.
Working dogs remained crucial to people working on large rural properties, he said. "They're more relevant now than they've ever been simply because there's fewer people trying to do more work."
Methods have also changed considerably too. "Back in the old days, it was all bash and crash, and fear and pain and all that sort of thing. That's gone by the wayside now."
It's almost impossible to handle sheep easily without a good working dog
For Chris Gallagher, who works on a large farm in the Waubra area, the course had been invaluable for both himself and his one-and-a-half year old dog Ruby.
"She's improved a lot," he said. "It hasn't just been her learning stuff. It's more about us handlers learning the right way to train dogs."
The course had taught the value of positive reinforcement he said, as well as working with the dogs' instincts. "I was teaching her the wrong way. This has shown me a whole new way of teaching."
My dog's really wild and I've learned you've got to be very calm. He'll be a great help once he's trained
"Instead of trying to get dogs to stay with us chasing sheep away, their natural instinct is to bring the sheep to us," he said. "So it's been about using their natural instincts to help us."
"I am a sheep farmer. It's almost impossible to handle sheep easily without a good working dog."
His words were echoed by Jordy Walton, who had come from Rokewood with his dog Rex for the training day. "Ian's done a great job," he said. "My dog's really wild and I've learned you've got to be very calm. He'll be a great help once he's trained."