Laura Stimatze stuck a green plastic rake into the path of Hammer, one of her border collies, and said “away” — a signal to change directions.

Hammer stopped short of the rake and swung the opposite direction around three goats and pushed them back to Stimatze. She’s demonstrating how she trains cowdogs, which she’s been doing for nearly 30 years.

“Dogs look at males as being dominant,” she said. “This is our equalizer.”

Laura uses the rake to signal dogs to change direction before they get used to commands, as well as showing them how far away they should stay. If dogs get too aggressive with the goats used for training, she will push them back.

The dogs aren’t the only ones who tend to look at males as dominant in the training world. Cowdog training and competition has often been dominated by men. For seven years, however, Laura Stimatze has hosted a women’s only cowdog clinic at her home just south of Macksville.

Raised with cowdogs

Laura’s father had cowdogs from the time she was young. When she met her husband, Joe, they both had dogs — although she had border collies and he had heelers.

Together, the two run 200 head of calving cows in addition to raising dogs.

“We normally keep two breeding females and use two males for work,” Laura said. “But the two females are trained and usable as well.”

Laura and Joe started hosting public cowdog training clinics at their home in 2000. People would attend from Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas and as far as Minnesota, Joe said.

Eventually, Joe quit training dogs and Laura continued. What started as her customer service guarantee grew into the women’s only clinic.

“I’ve got several women who have bought dogs from me, and when you buy a dog from me, they come with lifetime support,” she said. “That means folks can bring them back here for help with training, and the clinic grew out of that.”

Leading ladies

The seventh annual women’s only clinic is scheduled for April 21 and 22 and will feature three teachers in addition to Laura Stimatze. She began the clinics on her own, but as they have grown, new instructors have surfaced.

“The first couple years it was just me teaching,” Laura said. “The third year I had a woman out here a lot working with dogs, so I set her to teaching.”

That woman was Lacey Haskell of Long Island, Kansas, who started as a student before teaching. She’s taught at the clinic for three years now. Trainers Myra Bradford of Mountain Home, Arkansas and Robin Brown of Boise, Idaho will also teach at the 2018 clinic.

Starting young

Puppy training may not translate directly to working cattle, but it is an important part of the process. Laura begins training her dogs early, starting them with commands at seven weeks.

“We do a lot at the puppy age to get them used to riding in vehicles, teaching them to stop, stay and that,” Laura said. “We actually have a video on puppy training.”

At eight weeks, puppies will be put out with the goats. This step is more for Laura than the dogs, as it lets her observe how they interact with livestock.

“We put them on the goats just to see what’s in their head,” she said. “We want to see if they’ll try to bite and if they have the demeanor to herd.”

When they are ready to move up from goats, the dogs are trained using Holstein cattle.

Laura used Chain — a fifth-generation Stimatze cowdog, and Hammer’s father — to demonstrate. Chain is one of Laura’s best and is trained in both vocal commands and using a whistle. He doesn’t move an inch as she walks to the cattle pen, until she speaks his name.

Laura uses Chain for trials competitions, which she said can dampen a dog’s work skills.

“When you train them for trials, they don’t do anything without being told,” she said. “But in your working dogs, you want them to know what to do and be able to do a little on their own.”

Even so, Chain still makes quick work circling the Holsteins and bringing them to Laura.

The clinic later this month will have something for everyone, Laura said. Women will be able to work on training as beginners, on goats, on cattle, and improving their dog’s trials skill.

Focusing on female

Laura said husbands and boyfriends are permitted to come eat with their partners during the clinic, but once training begins, the focus is all on the work. Last year, women from all over the nation worked dogs all day over the two-day clinic, even with cold, wet weather.

For two years, Laura has petitioned the American Border Collie Association for a sponsorship. She’d like to use the money to move the clinic to an indoor facility in Lyons — providing weather protection for the clinic, and more options to pass the time for husbands or boyfriends.

But she’s been denied twice.

“I was denied for the second year in a row because it’s women’s only. They say it’s discriminatory,” Laura said.

However, Laura holds to her clinic standard because she sees a need.

“Two of the other instructors and I are some of the only women that compete in the open trials for cowdogs,” she said. “Women compete in the beginner or lower classes, but the open is almost all men, so there is a need for this.”

Her husband, Joe, added that the cowdogs can meet another need on ranches.

“The dogs can provide an option for the ‘help situation,’” Joe said. “It’s hard to find good help right now, and a lot of people have children leaving the family business, or can’t afford to hire hands.”

A new batch

Laura has a group of young dogs currently in training in her pens, but on this particular day, she’s got other work to do. She and Joe are heat testing heifers and will be doing embryo transfers the next couple days.

After that, her focus will shift to the clinic.

Chain sits by her feet as she closes the gate to the cattle pen. He doesn’t leave her side, but keeps his eyes fixed toward the Holsteins.