By William Thompson
Portales resident Raymond Reeves, 55, didn’t have a special fondness for dogs the first 40 or so years of his life, but around the age of 45 he was given a border collie pup and within a few years he became 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 their demonstration 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 said he often prefers the company of dogs to people. He said working with dogs has made him more of an “independent” spirit.
About ten years ago, Reeves began looking for new ways to interact with a border collie that was given to him. He met a dog trainer named Richard Belvin in Muleshoe, Texas 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 Tennesse who wanted him to train their dogs to gather livestock. He ran his dog training operation on property he owned in Clovis.
Before the age of 45, however, he 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 televison,” 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. Choosing the right dog to work with was one of the most important things Belvin taught him.
“You’ve got to find a dog that fits your personality,” he said. “That’s something I learned from him.”
Reeves now works as an oilfield construction worker. Belvin is his boss and Reeves calls him a “close friend.” Reeves said he doesn’t train dogs for ranchers these days.
“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.”
Reeves said a border collie makes an excellent ranch hand for someone who needs help, but he doesn’t advocate that ranchers give up traditional livestock gathering methods if that’s what they are comfortable with.
“A rancher on horseback remains behind the cattle and pushes them ahead,” Reeves said. “Well, a border collie pushes the cattle from behind also, so a rancher would have to get used to being on the other side of the cattle, commanding the dog from in front of the cattle.”
Border collies are naturally inclined to gather livestock, according to Reeves.
“It’s in their instincts,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean all border collies can be trained to do it properly. Some don’t know how to get in the right position.”
Reeves has been working with Sooner for about eight years, so visitors to the ag expo will be treated to a man and his dog working together in almost perfect sync. Reeves said he may bring an untrained border collie pup just to show how good a border collie’s instincts really are.
“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 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 at the ag expo.
“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.