Across the rocky rivers in eastern fall country to the highest points of the Northern Tablelands – Jeff Ritchie always has a working dog by his side.
“I got my first sheep dog when I was seven years old,” he told Fairfax Media on Tuesday.
“He wasn’t much of a sheep dog but if there was a log that had a rabbit in it, he could show it to me.”
Today, Mr Ritchie is a local legend across the New England – farmers call him “the dog whisperer”.
“I started two years ago (and) I’m booked up now until the end of February,” he said.
“I just started doing it because I love dogs and helping people.
“A lot of people don’t have time to put the basics on them and if you can put the basic foundations on them it doesn’t matter who takes them, they’ve got that all the time.”
At the moment training is just a side gig. Mr Ritchie oversees a property at Black Mountain which runs 2000 head of cattle and 6000 sheep.
“I can only take one or two dogs (at a time) because I’ve still got to run the place,” he said.
“I get up early in the morning and might only get to spend 15 minutes with them.
“It might just be walking them on a lead and teaching them to sit and stop.
“If the dog is good enough and we’ve got work on, I’ll take them to work.
“The very first week is about me getting to know the dog, what he wants to do on sheep and how he can do it.
“The second week I start to put a bit of control on them, get a call on them and a stop on them.”
Mr Ritchie said some working dogs are harder than others to train.
“It all depends on their temperament,” he said.
And it’s all about dedicating time.
“You can teach a dog anything in time,” he said.
“If you have a dog that’s natural, you only have to put the basics on him and the rest will all come together.
“The main thing I try to get people to do is set their dog up before they get them to go (work).
“Set up a young dog so he’s going to do the right thing all the time.
“I also try to encourage people to put a few sheep aside so they can practice.”
Mr Ritchie said another key point to remember is, if in doubt, let the dog guide you.
“Most dogs know position, they will run into position and naturally will want to herd to you,” he said.
“Time and work is the main thing, leg-weary dogs will learn.”