Working dogs at Ag Expo

Sooner, a border collie, works to get a sheep back with the rest of the herd at Raymond Reeve’s house on U.S. Highway 60/84. (File photo)

By William Thompson: Freedom Newspapers

Raymond Reeves didn’t have a special fondness for dogs the first 40 or so years of his life until he was give a border collie puppy. A decade later, he is a nationally-known trainer of border collies for gathering livestock.

Visitors to the New Mexico Ag Expo in Portales will get the chance to see how a man and his dog work together to gather livestock when Reeves and his border collie, Sooner, perform at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“I use voice commands, whistles and hand signals to command the dog,” Reeves said. “I’ll be about 100 yards away from the dog inside the arena. Out on the land I have sometimes commanded the dog from a half mile away.”

Reeves, 55, said he often prefers the company of dogs to people. He said working with dogs has made him more of an “independent” spirit.

About 10 years ago, Reeves began looking for new ways to interact with his border collie. He met a dog trainer named Richard Belvin of Muleshoe, who taught him how to command his dog to gather livestock.

Over the next few years, he competed in sheep dog trials throughout West Texas and eventually developed a clientele of livestock owners from as far away as Tennessee who wanted him to train their dogs. He ran his dog training operation on property he owned in Clovis.

Before the age of 45, however, Reeves had almost no experience with livestock and rarely set foot on a ranch.

“I worked in the cable television business, in maintenance and installing cable television,” Reeves said. “I grew up in town in Portales.”

He said he was fairly indifferent to dogs in general prior to the training he received under Belvin.

“You’ve got to find a dog that fits your personality,” he said. “That’s something I learned from him.”

Reeves has given up training dogs for ranchers and works in oilfield construction.

“I found that the people I was training the dogs for couldn’t follow instructions as well as the dogs could,” Reeves said, “or maybe I just didn’t have it in me to teach the people properly. Maybe there were some things that were automatic for me that I thought other people should be able to do but they couldn’t.”

Border collies are naturally inclined to gather livestock, according to Reeves.

“I’ve seen two dogs handle 100 head of cattle before,” Reeves said. “I’m not saying that can always be done. It depends on the dog and it depends on the cattle. A cow protecting her calf can slow things down, but a well-trained dog knows how to keep from getting in between a cow and her calf.”

Kent Best uses border collies at his farm two miles south of Portales to get his family’s show goats and sheep in shape. He said he’s looking forward to Reeves’ demonstration.

“I’m hoping to pick up some techniques as to how he commands the dog,” Best said. “If I can, I’ll even take my son out of school so he can pick up some ways to work with the dogs.”

“When sheep or goats run with the dogs it generates more adrenaline in their (sheep and goats) bodies which produces better muscalature.”

Best said border collies are special because they are not overly aggressive around other animals, and above all, the breed loves to work.