While I dont ive on a ranch, I live in a fairly rural area, so I have the liberty to follow them on walks. Thus, both hands are fre, and if anything were to happen, they'd probably be there b4 I knew what was up. My wife walks w/ them also when taking walks w/ our toddler. To me, it's safer that way. They do their jobs well, and listen when I call them.... for the most unless they get scent of a critter. Then, they do come, but w/ reluctance. Like others said, dogs usually know what's up, and they act accordingly.

My grampa had advice when we were younger that I have found to be so true: "Watch how people act around your dogs, and watch how your dogs act around people. It will tell you all you need to know." The few times that my dogs have acted funny around people, I trusted their judgement, and it panned out.