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Six Best Dog Breeds for a Small Backyard Farm

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Dr Mark is a veterinarian. He works with small animals, exotics, horses, and livestock.

Several dog breeds are great on small farms.

Several dog breeds are great on small farms.

Which Breeds Make the Best Backyard Farm Dogs?

If you have a small hobby farm, you may be looking for a dog breed with some specific qualities. A good backyard farm dog meets the following criteria:

  • Will herd and guard the sheep and goats without being too aggressive.
  • Will not chase the chickens or any other small livestock.
  • Will spend time running alongside the horses during a ride.
  • Is not interested in running off.
  • Will keep the barns and feed areas free of vermin.
  • Is capable and willing to guard the house.
  • Will spend quality time with the family when the work is done.

Sounds like a great match for your own farm, right? A dog that is able to do all of those things is not only a great asset, but he is likely out there waiting for you. By taking the time to look around and choosing your dog carefully, you can find the best dog for your backyard farm.

So, which six dog breeds are most likely to help you manage work around a small farm?

6 Top-Rated Dog Breeds for Small Farms

  1. Golden Retriever
  2. Australian Shepherd
  3. Australian Cattle Dog
  4. Puli
  5. Great Pyrenees
  6. Standard Schnauzer
Affection for chickens makes most Golden Retrievers a great choice.

Affection for chickens makes most Golden Retrievers a great choice.

The Golden Retriever

Golden Retriever Breed Traits

  • Herding: Low
  • Chickens: Friendly and gentle
  • Horses: Friendly and calm
  • Wandering: Low
  • Vermin: Poor choice
  • Guarding: Low
  • Family Dog: Great

This dog was originally bred as a hunting dog but makes a good farm dog because of his even temper and mild behavior around livestock. This breed might bark at your sheep when you are moving them, but it will not chase animals that run and is one of the best-behaved around chickens. Are you concerned about the safety of your barn cat? With this dog, you won't have to be.

Of all the dogs on the list, Golden Retrievers are probably the sweetest. They are known to be good around kids, are great with introverts and shy people that are nervous around dogs, and they are usually happy-go-lucky and willing to play.

The Downside of This Breed

There are downsides to this breed, of course:

  • Low prey drive: This dog usually has a low prey drive and will not be of any value if your barn or feed bins are infested with vermin.
  • Poor at guarding: Golden Retrievers are very friendly with strangers and do not make good guard dogs.
  • Heavy grooming: Their thick coats are a lot of work and require more effort than some of the other breeds.
  • Short lifespan: Many dogs already have a shorter lifespan than the Golden Retriever, but unfortunately, many lines of this breed are prone to health problems, and their lifespan has subsequently decreased.

This dog is not the greatest choice for the homestead. If you are looking for an easily trainable family pet that does okay on the farm, however, the Golden Retriever is an excellent choice.

Video: All About Golden Retrievers

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Aussies are at home around the farm.

Aussies are at home around the farm.

The Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherd Breed Traits

  • Herding: High (one of the best)
  • Chickens: Not bothersome
  • Horses: Great companion
  • Wandering: Uncommon
  • Vermin: Will chase with encouragement
  • Guarding: Mediocre
  • Family Dog: Great

This dog breed was developed in California to work with shepherds who were out for long periods of time. Aussies are herders, not drovers, so they are great dogs to have around a small homestead where livestock needs to be moved from pen to pen.

If you are mainly interested in a daytime companion and want a dog that will follow you around when you ride horses, this dog is an excellent choice. They make good pets as long as their exercise requirements are met, and most owners describe them as affectionate and dedicated farm dogs.

Consider a Miniature Aussie

Since Aussies are a large, medium-sized dog breed, some breeders have developed a miniature, which can be a good choice for a family that wants a smaller pet. Make sure that you discuss health screening with the breeder so that you can make sure your new dog is going to be genetically sound.

Video: Aussie Heeler Rounding Up Horses

Blue Heelers often have more energy than a small farmer is willing to handle.

Blue Heelers often have more energy than a small farmer is willing to handle.

The Australian Cattle Dog

Australian Cattle Dog Breed Traits

  • Herding: Trainable. (A drover, but interested in herding and very trainable; his aggression can be too much for some hobby farmers to handle.)
  • Chickens: May harass
  • Horses: Okay, but disinterested
  • Wandering: Problematic without sufficient exercise
  • Vermin: High prey drive
  • Guarding: Great (one of the best)
  • Family Dog: Disinterested

This dog, also known as the Blue or Red Heeler, is a great medium-sized farm dog. Since he is so active, he is definitely not for everyone. This breed was developed to be a drover—an animal bred to move herds long distances. For this reason, they are often bored around a backyard farm. (One of the dog breeds that was used in their development was the Border Collie, which is a very trainable dog with high energy and not suitable for a domestic environment.)

ACDs are one of the best farm dogs if you mainly want a guard dog to watch the place when you are not around. They can be very territorial, and if a stranger comes on your property, they are likely to be bitten. These dogs are fine around horses, and they are intelligent enough that if they do heel and get kicked, they will probably stop after one warning.

Heelers are also one of the healthiest breeds you can choose for your small farm. They will probably need little veterinary care, except for injuries. Injuries do happen around a farm, so it is something you need to be prepared for.

The Downside of This Breed

  • High prey drive: The main “con” with this breed is that some individuals will have a high prey drive. That is okay for a drover since they were developed to move cattle to market, but that quality is not so great if you have a few sheep and want them to be left alone for grazing, nor is it okay if you have a few chickens that have free access to the yard around your house.

If your hobby farm is large enough to keep cattle, however, and you are looking for a great dog to help you out every day, look to the ACD.

Video: Australian Cattle Dog Herding Sheep

The Puli is backyard-sized but willing to work on a farm of any size.

The Puli is backyard-sized but willing to work on a farm of any size.

The Puli

Puli Breed Traits

  • Herding: High (one of the best)
  • Chickens: Okay, needs to be watched
  • Horses: Too small to go on trail rides
  • Wandering: Uncommon, but will need moderate exercise
  • Vermin: High prey drive
  • Guarding: Great (one of the best)
  • Family Dog: Disinterested

This little Hungarian breed was actually bred to be a farm dog, and the Puli is a great choice if you can find one from a working line. They are a little smaller than the Standard Schnauzer (usually only about 12 kilos or 25 pounds), but they can be quite aggressive. These dogs look great even when taking it easy since they have a corded coat, but unless you have small livestock around your house (like a herd of sheep), they get bored and are not the best choice.

The Downside of This Breed

  • Likes to Chase: The other reason that the Puli does not rate higher on this list is his occasional interest in chasing the flocks. No dog is going to ignore rabbits, but even chickens and geese might interest this dog breed too much. Not all dogs are like this, of course, and a dog with proper exercise will be less likely to act up.

Another Hungarian farm dog, the Pumi, is an even a better choice for a small farm. They are so hard to find though that the breed is not a good option for most farmers.

A small farm does not always have a small dog.

A small farm does not always have a small dog.

The Great Pyrenees

Great Pyrenees Breed Traits

  • Herding: Low (Will guard but not herd; he will spend time with the sheep if socialized correctly.)
  • Chickens: Great
  • Horses: Okay
  • Wandering: Problematic if not exercised heavily every day
  • Vermin: Disinterested
  • Guarding: Great (one of the best); less prone to bite than the ACD
  • Family Dog: Okay, but needs socialization

The Great Pyrenees is such a fantastic choice that he makes most of the lists for best dog for big farms, too. If you have a small acreage or are just trying to raise some livestock in your back yard, however, this might not be the best choice.

This breed was developed as a livestock guard dog in a mountainous region and was often solitary, so these dogs are independent thinkers and not always adaptable to being bossed around all day. They will bark excessively at any perceived threats to his flock. Since he is built to climb and follow the flocks up and down all day, he has a high exercise requirement.

If your backyard farm is in a mostly urban area, however, and there are many feral or off-leash dogs, this breed is a great choice. The Great Pyrenees will stay with the flock and drive off any invaders.

The Downside of This Breed

  • Expensive: A giant dog like the Great Pyrenees can also be more expensive than the other farm dogs on this list. His daily feeding is going to cost more, and his health care can be considerable if he gets sick. These dogs are usually pretty expensive to purchase from a good breeder but do not live as long as some of the other breeds.

Other livestock guard dogs make good choices to have around a farm, although all of them have the same problems that I described with the Great Pyrenees if they are not exercised or kept busy enough (wandering, excessive barking). One of the common complaints I get from people who buy a Kangal or Anatolian Shepherd is that the dog will wander off since there is nothing to do.

Video: The Great Pyrenees Livestock Guardian in Action

The Standard Schnauzer is a solid working dog and will meet all the needs around a small farm.

The Standard Schnauzer is a solid working dog and will meet all the needs around a small farm.

The Standard Schnauzer

Standard Schnauzer Breed Traits

  • Herding: Mediocre; not as trainable as the Aussie or Puli. Adequate for a backyard farm with a small flock.
  • Chickens: Sociable and gentle (one of the best)
  • Horses: Okay
  • Wandering: Low; needs daily activity
  • Vermin: A good ratter
  • Guarding: Great
  • Family Dog: Great

This breed is the best choice for a backyard farm for several reasons. The Standard Schnauzer is a decent size and will not be pushed around by livestock. The breed is not so large that feeding and health care expenses will be a burden. They also make great family dogs but will still guard your home from strangers and will not run off from being bored.

Standard Schnauzers were developed on the farm to have some prey drive but not too much. Chickens and Guinea fowl are safe with this breed, but rats and mice will not stand a chance. Although they are definitely NOT a livestock guard dog breed, they will often take on this role and sit with the flock to watch for any strange animals approaching.

They do have a high exercise requirement, like most of the farm breeds, but if you keep them active during the day this is usually enough. (All of us should take a few minutes each afternoon to walk our dogs anyways, both for bonding and for health reasons, and this will prevent your Standard Schnauzer from growing bored.)

The Downside of This Breed

  • Regular grooming: Grooming may be an issue. Standard Schnauzers living on the farm certainly do not need to be as carefully clipped as a miniature living in the suburbs, but since these dogs do not shed much, they do need to be clipped every few months.

Note: Do Not Purchase a Miniature

Be sure to look for a Standard Schnauzer and do not purchase a miniature, which is a great little dog but a different breed with very different characteristics. Standards are more difficult to find and more expensive, but the time you spend searching will be well worth it.

Video: Standard Schnauzer Herding Sheep

Finding Your Farm Dog

When you have chosen the best dog for your small farm and set out to find your new assistant/companion, the first thing you should do is check to see which animals are available in local shelters. Never buy your dog from a pet shop. The dog you buy will be from a puppy mill or an inadequate breeder, and he will be poorly socialized and unlikely to ever work.

If you still have not found what you are looking for locally, a breeder who produces puppies from a farm working-line is a great choice. Try to find someone who is breeding dogs for work, since other breeders will produce show dogs and their personalities can be very different.

You may have to pay a little more for a working dog, and you may end up being put on a waiting list, but the puppy you bring home will be worth your time.


  • Golden Retriever Lifespan
    Golden retrievers routinely lived until sixteen years old in the 1970s, they now live ten years. The 3000th Golden has now been signed up for this study!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Dr Mark


Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 06, 2020:

EveLynn--you are incorrect. Plenty of good dogs, both LGDs and herding animals, are available from shelters. They do not need to come from a breeder.

EveLynn on July 04, 2020:

This is crazy, you are mixing apples, pears, and oranges. Livestock Guardian dogs Such as Great Pyrenees, live with the stock and protect them from predators . Herding dogs will move livestock from place to place but require training and should not be left with livestock unsupervised. A number of breeds can be good hang out dogs around the farm but don’t expect them to herd or live with the livestock. For a livestock guardian dog or a herding dog a shelter animal is a big mistake. You need a dog from working lines that has been bred for the task you want him to do, in addition a responsible breeder will be available to provide help and support if you run into problems.

Ann on March 18, 2019:

You should add the Armenian Gampr

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on November 24, 2018:

Hi Natalie, I think the Stadard Schnauzer is a pretty great house dog too but they do get bored. They are okay if you like to go on walks, though, a lot of walks! (That blocky little dog standing on the beach is my own Standard, Tica. I am never able to walk her long enough to become tired.)

Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on November 23, 2018:

Seems like some of the qualities I'm looking for in a regular house dog! Sheep, chickens and horses - wouldn't need to worry about but kills vermin, guards the house and loves hanging with people when work is done are all high priority :) Thanks for another interesting article.

Liz Westwood from UK on November 21, 2018:

Sheepdogs are popular on UK farms. I walked a chocolate labrador today, which is a traditional breed for hunters over here.

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