Five Dog Breeds for Farm Work
Choosing a Farm Dog
A farm dog can be a valuable addition to any farm, large or small. Perhaps you already have a dog and are looking for another, or you've never had a working dog and this is your first. Either way, be sure to enjoy the process of choosing a dog; take your time, and it will pay off in the end.
Before you get a dog, stop and think about why you want one. This will dramatically alter the choice in the end.
1. Why do you want a farm dog?
- As a companion
- To lighten your workload
- To enable you to work with animals you couldn't otherwise
- To guard and protect your home or animals
- Because you like dogs?
2. What do you need from the dog?
- Guarding abilities
- Herding abilities
- Vermin control
- Social status (as a dog-owner)
Once you've answered these questions, and are sure you do want a dog, you're ready to look into which kind.
The following dogs have been listed in no particular order, I just ordered them as I thought of them.
Widely recognized as the best Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD for short), the Great Pyrenees is gentle and willing to please its family, but distrustful of strangers and downright deadly to wild animals. The Great Pyrenees is fiercely loyal, and will fight for its family and livestock.
Great Pyrenees excel in inclement weather due to their double-layered coat, tight woolly fur close to the skin holds in body heat, while a looser, coarse outer layer sloughs off the rain and shields against wind.
Great Pyrenees have a double dew claw on both hind legs. The first Great Pyrenees I saw made me wonder if I really did know dog anatomy!
- Height: 25 - 29 inches for females, 27 - 32 inches for males.
- Weight: 80 - 90 pounds for females, 110 - 120 pounds for males.
- Lifespan: 10 - 11 years.
Great Pyrenees Pros/Cons
Protective of family and stock
Distrustful of neighbors and guests
Loyal and tenacious
Stubborn and hard to train
Gentle with children and stock
Doesn't herd well, if at all
Border Collie Demonstration
An iconic dog on the farm (especially when sheep are around), the Border Collie is a lithe ball of energy, harnessed for herding and directing stock, specifically sheep.
The Border Collie was developed on the Anglo-Scottish border, hence the 'Border' in its name. Stories say that Old Hemp, the first Border Collie, stunned onlookers with his unique herding tactic: intimidating the stock into moving by staring them in the eye. This tale is very likely true, as this tactic is a signature herding style of Border Collies today.
While the Border Collie had its beginnings as a herding dog, it is on the rise in popularity as a pet. However, this leads often leads to grief for both the dog and the owners, as the Border Collie needs mental and physical stimulation or it will find some for itself.
- Height: 18 - 21 inches for females, 19 - 22 inches for males.
- Weight: 30 - 40 pounds for females, 50 - 60 pounds for males.
- Lifespan: 10 - 17 years.
Border Collie Pros/Cons
Very smart (ranking #1 on most scales)
Needs a lot of stimulation
Excellent at herding
Obsesses with controlling moving objects/animals/children
Fast, agile, and enduring
Australian Cattle Dog
Also known as the Blue Heeler, or Red Heeler, this dog is excellent for managing cattle. The Australian Cattle Dog was developed out of regular cattle dogs crossed with dingos. This gives the dog a robust, bold attitude, and its nickname "heeler" comes from its tendency to drive reluctant cattle by nipping at their heels.
The Australian Cattle Dog is very vocal, and training will be required if this is undesirable. However, the Australian Cattle Dog makes a good guard dog, and its vocal tendencies can be useful in that task.
The nipping of the Australian Cattle Dog can cause problems in a family with small children if left unchecked, as it will try to use its herding techniques on squealing little children.
- Height: 17 - 19 inches for females, 18 - 20 inches for males.
- Weight: 44 - 62 pounds.
- Lifespan: 12 - 14 years.
Australian Cattle Dog Pros/Cons
Good with cattle
Hard on other animals
Good guard dog
Loud and troublesome with strangers
Smart (#10 on most scales)
Will need mental stimulation
The German Shepherd is an old breed, developed in Germany well before 1850. Honed for herding sheep, the German Shepherd is very smart, ranking #3 in intelligence in most books.
Since the German Shepherd is independent and loyal, it's not inclined to trust strangers, and can make a good guard dog. However, it is very gentle with its family and good with kids.
Like the Great Pyrenees above, the German Shepherd has a double coat suitable to harsh weather.
- Height: 24 - 35 inches.
- Weight: 66 - 79 pounds for females, 77 - 88 pounds for males.
- Lifespan: 9 - 13 years.
German Shepherd Pros/Cons
Smart and quick to learn
Good with herding
Prone to health issues
Loyal and protective
Distrustful of strangers
A relatively rare dog, the English Shepherd was bred for farm work in general, unlike most other dogs, which were bred for a specific job. The English Shepherd aptitude at its job comes from its outlook on the world: "A place for everything and everything in its place" is its job. If something is unusual, the English Shepherd takes it on itself to put it back to normal.
While this trait makes it an excellent independent worker, (herd dog, vermin control, guard dog, etc.) it can cause some trouble if the owner is not strong-willed enough. The English Shepherd thrives on strong leadership, but will take control if its leader isn't strong enough.
The English Shepherd is very gentle with weak animals and children, but tough and strong enough to deal with cattle and horses. Little training is required for the dog to understand when to be gentle and when to be hard.
- Height: 18 - 23 inches.
- Weight: 40 - 70 pounds.
- Lifespan: 12 - 16 years.
English Shepherd Pros/Cons
Independent and clever
Strong-willed and bossy
Gentle or hard with stock
Afraid of water
Devoted to its master
Tends to be a 'one-person dog'
Remember to choose the dog that's right for the job, and a dog you like. Do your research (beyond this article) on the dog you are most interested in, and make sure that it's what you want. A little delay and thought beforehand can save time, money, and heartache in the long run.
Happy dog choosing!
© 2013 Jordan Hake