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A Lifetime Dedicated to Unleashing Excellence

Words by Ayla Miller


Renowned dog trainer and trialist Lloyd Smith has spent more than 50 years with a whistle in hand, winning sheep dog trials across New Zealand. He shares his proven methods to unleashing a canine companion's potential as a farm dog. 


Lloyd Smith’s association with working dogs can be traced back to 1969 when he left South Otago High School and began working on Hazeldale, situated up the Clinton Gorge in Southland. 


Initially planning to pursue studies at Lincoln College, he soon discovered a passion for stock work and gradually assembled a “motley looking bunch” of dogs, but a team regardless of appearances. 


“Looking back, they weren't really of any great consequence and that was probably more my fault than theirs. But they got me started,” Lloyd recalls. 


Moving on from the Clinton Gorge, he began mustering at Nokomai Station south of Lake Wakatipu, first under the guidance of head shepherd Bob McKay, then later under Larry Murdoch. It was during his time in the hill country alongside these seasoned stockmen, including the likes of Ted  


Phipps and Sam Boynton, that he absorbed the principles of effective stockmanship and learnt the skills to train a dog in accordance with those principles. “That's where I sort of got the bug,” he says. 


During those early years, he exclusively trained his dogs using livestock. However, later Lloyd modified his approach, dedicating a significant portion of basic training away from sheep, where only he and the dog are present. This allows him to focus on establishing the dog's command without the distractions of sheep, reducing it to a simple matter of obedience between the two of them. 


In 1982 Lloyd attended his first sheep dog trial championships and since then has been placed 61 times, including winning five New Zealand titles and five South and North Island titles. He has also been selected twice for the New Zealand Test Team competing against Australia. All of these results were with dogs he trained himself. 



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One of the most common mistakes Lloyd sees people making when training their dogs is having a lack of patience – a mistake he admits he also made early on in his career. 


“Over the years, you learn to be more patient. A lot of people want everything done in a hurry and that just doesn't work that way when you're training dogs. It's about taking your time, one step at a time, and working your way through the stages of training until you've got the dog trained,” he says. 


Recognising when a dog is ready to be trained is a skill learnt over time, but Lloyd says a young dog who is ready will demonstrate a desire to work stock. If training begins before the dog shows that desire to work, then the animal may not understand what the trainer is trying to achieve, resulting in a loss of interest from the dog and a disillusioned trainer. 


In terms of choosing the right dog for the farm, Lloyd says it differs greatly from one farm to another depending on the circumstances, but there are two main types of dogs that suit being sheep dogs: heading dogs and Huntaways. 


Huntaways are known for their boisterous, energetic nature and are well-suited to forcing situations such as driving mobs through the yards or shifting sheep, while heading dogs are quieter and will work in a calmer manner. However, both can be trained to work across a variety of situations. 


When choosing a dog for your farm, Lloyd recommends starting with a young pup with good breeding behind it, as training a dog can be a long-term project. 


“Some of them are a lot more trainable than others and that's a big help. Some of them exhibit a lot more natural talent as far as handling stock goes.” 


One piece of advice he gives to all dog trainers would be to spend as much time as possible with their dogs while they are pups. Properly training a puppy requires dedicating a significant amount of time, specifically from the weaning stage (around eight to ten weeks of age), up until approximately eight to ten months of age, when more intensive stock training begins. 


Lloyd says it is important to ensure the puppy understands that it needs to conform, and that it recognises and responds to a particular tone of voice. 


“The biggest single asset you have when you're training a dog is to be able to growl at a pup and get them to realise by the tone your voice that they are doing something undesirable. And it's not all about growling, it's about recognising and rewarding progress made with a reassuring, rewarding voice,” he says. 


“The puppy stage is about getting them in the right frame of mind, for future training and obviously creating a bond. You and the pup should have a good relationship.” 


“It still comes down to really getting control of your dogs, because if you've got control of your dogs, it allows you to have better control of your stock.” 


Despite the many changes that have taken place within the agricultural industry, from technology to farming practices, the role of working dogs remains just as critical as it was when Lloyd first began his journey. These intelligent, loyal animals continue to provide essential support to farmers across the world, helping them manage their stock with skill and dedication. 


As we look to the future of farming, it's clear the bond between farmers and their canine companions will remain unbreakable. Thanks to remarkable individuals like Lloyd Smith, the legacy of the working dog will continue to endure, inspiring generations of farmers and dog trainers alike to recognise and appreciate the vital role that these animals play in our lives.