Choosing the Best Farm Dogs for Your Farm
16 Breeds that Make Good Farm Dogs
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Is your plan to add one of the best farm dogs to your homestead or farm operation? With so many dogs ending up in shelters, it is important that we put a good deal of thought into choosing from breeds that make the best farm dogs. Many dogs that are great outside breeds do not make good farm dogs. They may have a strong prey drive which won’t work well with farm animals. Size, temperament, and training ability are a few criteria that go into choosing one of the best farm dogs.
It’s not unusual to have confusion about livestock guardian dogs and farm dogs. While both categories are among the working dogs, livestock guardian dogs have one very specific job. LGD’s as they are often referred to, guard livestock. They become bonded to the flock or herd that they are placed with and will guard with their lives. We may have an image in mind of a companion dog following along as you work the farm. This may not work with all kinds of dogs. And even livestock guardian dogs do not always bond to the farm family, as they see their first job as protecting the herds.
Training is Key for the Best Farm Dogs
Basic training is of utmost importance when raising one of the best farm dogs. A farm dog is part family pet, part guard, part working companion. A dog with good instincts and strong concentration is a must. Routine training commands should be taught from puppy stage or as soon as you adopt the older dog.
Commands to sit, stay and down should be included in training. Think of scenarios where each of these commands could reduce chaos on the farm but also save lives. An untrained dog around livestock is a danger to not only itself, but also any person that tries to save the dog from an unfortunate interaction.
When we train a new dog on the farm, we use a method that introduces the dog to the poultry and livestock slowly. I believe that the most important lesson your new farm dog must learn is that the farm animals are yours. A high energy dog such as an Australian Shepherd, can run sheep to the point of exhaustion. A dog with a strong bird hunting instinct can be deadly to a flock of chickens.
While using a leash, introduce your dog to the various livestock slowly. Horses, cows and horned goats can seriously hurt an overzealous dog. Teach the dog self-control and obedience. Before you allow the dog to run freely on the farm, be sure that the dog respects and returns to your recall.
If the dog becomes uncontrollable, barks, or growls, end the session immediately and remove the dog from the area. Keep the training sessions short and try to end on a positive note. Learning how to make a delicious baked dog treat recipe is a healthy way to reward your dog.
Letting an experienced farm dog take the lead can be helpful. Some of the best farm dogs learn their skills on the job from the older generation. Herding dogs often work well together. Well trained farm dogs with a hunting instinct are invaluable at keeping predator animals away from the barnyard.
Farm dogs can be a challenge even in the best of situations. Having a well-stocked farm first aid kit on hand is a good idea. All breeds on the farm are prone to injuries, even a dog paw pad injury. Cuts and bruises are the possible misfortune of any farm dog. Injured dogs may bite out of fear, so having a soft muzzle on hand might come in handy. Good veterinary care is important for the best farm dogs. Keeping vaccinations up to date, training and a healthy diet will help your dog live a long healthy life.
Off Limit Areas
Teach your dog to respect certain off limit areas around the farm. Our cattle were raised in large paddock areas on grass and hay. While working with the cattle we trained the dog to remain outside the fenced area for his safety and to reduce confusion. Other situations might call for the dog to help move cattle. Farrowing pens, brooder rooms for poultry are two other areas where you might want your dog to remain outside. Each individual farm will have different rules developed for the health and safety of all.
The feed storage room may contain items that are dangerous to dogs. If the dog decides it likes chicken food, colic, bloat or develop pancreatitis can result. Livestock wormers, used syringe, other first aid products are toxic and dangerous if ingested.
If you haven’t had a farm dog before, you may like these tips. Farm dogs think that all manure is a tasty treat. Waste from chickens, barn cats, cattle, and small ruminants all taste like candy to the undiscriminating dog pallet. An untrained farm dog might take off after a predator or wildlife such as deer.
Hardy and Hardworking Breeds that Work on a Farm
What breeds make the best farm dogs? Are there certain physical characteristics and temperament you should look for when searching for a dog? Look for a dog that is friendly, but trainable. Resilient, and eager to work, an animal that thrives on being with the farmer, but obedient when left behind. What breeds of dogs most often fit this list?
If you seek companionship while tending the farm jobs, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds are popular choices. The Standard Schnauzer was bred in Germany for hunting and its innate loyalty and gentle good manners makes it a contender for the best farm dog. The Schnauzer is also a good rat dog, as is the Jack Russell Terrier, and the Fox Terrier.
Need help controlling or moving your sheep and goats? Perhaps the Scotch Collie, Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, Vallhund, and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi might be right. The Old English Sheep dog is a perennial favorite but will require some intense grooming to keep the coat healthy. Cattle farmers often look to Catahoula Leopard Dogs and Australian Cattle Dogs for help. I know an experienced shepherd who swears by the Standard Poodles she has for her farm dogs. Dogs that work well protecting such as the Belgian Malinois, or Rottweiler can exhibit the right combination of protection and companionship for the working farm.
Many dogs are turned into rescues every day because they grew too large or required too more exercise than the previous owner could maintain. Often these dogs are looking for a life that includes a job. Being the best farm dog on the property might be just what they need.
Originally published in the Sept/Oct 2019 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.