Woman opens new dog training business at Shields Valley ranch
Story and photos by Nate Howard --
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
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Brooks Watson demonstrates the ability of her dog, Levi, to herd sheep on her ranch in Shields Valley on Sept. 25.

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Watson uses a shepherd’s whistle to communicate long distances with her dog, Levi.

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Levi, one of Watson’s herding dogs, keeps an eye on the sheep while dog trainer Brooks Watson gives verbal commands.

When a black bear came foraging along Chicken Creek this fall, a pair of Brooks Watson’s livestock guardian dogs sent the bear up a tree, just as they are intended to do.

The sheep, when threatened, will move nearer to the big Anatolian Shepherds, two of four guardian dogs that Watson trains to protect her livestock.

And when a visitor arrives at the ranch, the dogs bark at wind of an intruder.

Here, in the hills leading up to the west slope of the Crazy Mountains, sheep and dogs populate Watson’s ranch, with ample room for grazing on her 50 acres.

Watson wears Prada sunglasses and a Timex watch, a brown felt cowboy hat and while she came to Park County from New Jersey only a year ago, she wears Western well.

Watson has been training Border Collies since 1985, and when she moved to Shields Valley to be closer to her daughter — a veterinarian in Bozeman — she started a business Paws for Thought, where she trains both working and companion dogs.

Her expertise was on display on a recent afternoon.

She mentions breeds of dogs and sheep, more names than different names of colors for wall paint at the hardware store — Tri-colored, smoothcoated Border Collie, Anatolian Shepherd, Australian Cattle Dog, a Rough Collie, a Great Pyrenees and Corgi. Pointers and heelers.

And then sheep: Katahdin, Dorper, Romanov, Black Faced, Morino.

“But you don’t go out and turn them loose, trust me, I know,” she says.

Her first attempt with working dogs resulted in a small flock of sheep standing in a pond.

Today she demonstrates her technique and it’s a remarkable sight, seeing Levi, her exemplary Border Collie sheep dog, do more with his eyes than his bark or bite or predatory like posture.

She speaks to Levi in a soft tone, barely audible to another human ear a couple yards away.

“Come by” for Levi to circle the flock clockwise.

“Away to me” for Levi to circle counter clockwise.

“Walk up” and Levi moves toward the stock.

And “lie down” the one command perhaps the most difficult for Levi, whose reward is to be working with the sheep.

It’s like telling a child to sit still at an amusement park.

There are no treats. Even if she offered a treat to Levi, she says he wouldn’t want it while among the sheep.

The brass whistle hanging around her neck is for communicating over long distance, with Levi out of sight.

Calm and quiet, and always confident, this is what she pursues with her dogs.

The dogs, she says are bred “not for a pretty dog but a working dog” with the instinct to herd.

On her farm, she offers boarding and training of working stock dogs with follow up training for owners so that they can understand how the dog works and how to go forward and maintain training.

Private lessons are also offered for folks who would like to learn how to train their own dogs to work stock.

Training is offered for working ranch dogs and also for people who want to compete in stock dog trials.

They’re highly effective guardians of her sheep, she says.

In Shields Valley, they’re tasked with protecting her mixed breed Easy Care Sheep, a composite breed of hair sheep developed at the US Meat Animal Research Center. This breed is 50% Romanov, 25% Katahdin and 25% Dorper.

She trains her dogs with wool sheep or range sheep, but her sheep for production is the Easy Care Sheep.

She says the goals in producing these sheep include producing ewes that can raise twin and triplet lambs on pasture without human intervention.

In addition, sheep balanced for prolificacy with mothering ability, shedding of hair to eliminate shearing, short tails to avoid the need for docking, and disease and parasite resistance.

She says sheep dogs can be easily transitioned to work calves or cows.

And the guardians — whether they’re chasing bears or reporters — are “indispensable” for any livestock.

To learn more about Watson’s services, she can be reached at

(973) 903-1723