Longreach working dog trainer goes online to reach audience

Denise Hawe only takes small groups at a time for personal attention.
Denise Hawe only takes small groups at a time for personal attention.

Dogs are often described as man's best friend but for Longreach's Denise Hawe, they've been a lifesaver.

As well as helping her recover from an unknown degenerative brain condition, and to operate Spring Plains Station 120km south of Longreach, Ms Hawe has taken to the internet and social media to offer courses using a method she calls concept training.

Along with on-property schools, Ms Hawe has built an online audience from 48 to over 400 and she said that to the best of her knowledge, her initiatives were the only ones of their kind in Australia.

"The old way of training dogs was based on correction," she said. "There was a high turnover of dogs and I kept searching for a better way."

She could see people were getting young dogs with the aim of getting them out to work as soon as possible but didn't understand how dogs' minds worked.

A Kaden Working Dog School participant spending time with his canine mates.

A Kaden Working Dog School participant spending time with his canine mates.

She trained in dog psychology and tested her program by taking dogs that had been "shut down", and retrained them.

She said what was lacking was foundation training.

"The whole alpha thing is out of date," she said. "You want dogs to work with you, not for you."

Years of drought made it hard for Ms Hawe to travel away to give schools and taking sheep in to Longreach to conduct schools was just as difficult, so she decided to offer them on-property.

Two-day courses proved to be too intense to cram everything into and she could see the results were not there, so she decided to offer a five-day program that incorporated a property tour, nights around the campfire and sleeping on the homestead verandahs.

"This is my second year - it's been a surprise how well they've been received," she said.

The three schools planned for the year had been booked out before she started but had to be put off when coronavirus hit. The only one for 2020 took place in early August, attracting people from around the state.

Denise Hawe and 10-year-old Kaden Dark Angel, an open sheep dog competition winner enjoying her retirement. Ms Hawe runs a weekly Q and A session on her closed Kaden Working Dogs Facebook group.

Denise Hawe and 10-year-old Kaden Dark Angel, an open sheep dog competition winner enjoying her retirement. Ms Hawe runs a weekly Q and A session on her closed Kaden Working Dogs Facebook group.

Although interstate people are not able to attend in person, they can participate in Ms Hawe's online master classes - a collection of 30 lessons all filmed and offered on her website.

In addition, she hosts weekly Q&A sessions in a closed Facebook group, sharing information on different topics every week, based on what people tell her they are struggling with.

She said she was driven by a desire to reach and teach as many as she could because of the value she saw a well-trained dog providing.

"We don't have the staff we used to, and a good dog will save you $40,000 a year," she said.

It's something she knows well, often doing a lot of preparatory mustering sheep work while her husband Steve is working away.

"Having the dogs and training them gave me independence, and my sanity," Denise said. "Once the kids left home I had to replace them, and dogs just make me smile."

Ms Hawe's health deteriorated extensively 10 years ago due to a mystery illness, affecting her memory and coordination.

"My memory was shot, I couldn't cook a meal, I'd get lost mustering - I was in a terrible way, but I realised I could still train my dogs," she said.

"I put my heart and soul into the dogs and I got better.

"It was the one thing I had and I grabbed hold of it. I thought I'd give the dogs back what they deserve."

This story Denise is teaching old and new dogs tricks first appeared on Queensland Country Life.