Working dogs: choose a perfect dog for your pastures – Mother Earth News

A working dog can be your best farm worker, if you have a breed and an individual suited for the job. Generally, three types of specialized dogs are used for specific agricultural tasks: herders, livestock guardians, and vermin controllers. Specialized dogs do best on farms that demand enough of the specific type of work the dogs need. For a versatile farm, a versatile dog may be the best choice. Regardless of the type, you will need to put in the time and effort to develop the mutual understanding and affection that are the basis of a successful dog-human partnership.

General Purpose Working Dogs: Jacks of All Trades

Throughout history, farmers and ranchers have bred their dogs to be skilled farming and hunting companions. Rather than buying an expensive purebred dog, your neighbors may be able to provide a good “farm dog” from several generations of all-around dogs.

In small, diverse family operations, a versatile breed such as an English Shepherd is a good choice. Heather Houlahan, who raises and trains herders for search and rescue operations as well as helping out on her small farm, says, “These versatile dogs can herd goats, kill a groundhog and keep the rooster under control. They can pick it all up without a lot of explicit instructions. They are focused on their employees and their tasks.

“Training a general purpose dog is mostly about taking it with you on your daily rounds. If possible, have the puppy with you, unless you are working with equipment. Focus on teaching him things and letting him absorb the routine. Try to avoid shouting; instead, guide the pup and he will eventually learn,” says Houlahan.

Sheepdogs: nipping at the heels of your herd

For livestock management help, you can’t beat a good sheepdog. “A Border Collie makes an excellent all-around herding dog,” says Pearse Ward, president of the Wisconsin Working Stock Dog Association. “There are other herding breeds, like Australian Shepherds and Kelpies, but finding a good working dog among those breeds is much more difficult because for a long time so many people in this country haven’t been bred specifically for work It only takes one or two generations of selection for something other than work, like coat color, to begin to lose the working instinct.

Herding breeds are exceptionally intelligent, driven, and energetic, so they need some sort of work to do as well as extensive training. “When it comes to livestock, having a poorly trained dog is worse than having no dog at all,” says Ward. “You have to spend time learning how to form one and work with one – how to form that partnership with them. If you’ve never trained working dogs before, consider finding someone in your area who knows and uses dogs in working situations to mentor you. Ward recommends visiting a sheepdog website, such as Little Hats, to get started.

Ward says a sheepdog isn’t necessary for small flocks, which can be trained and managed in other ways. A sheepdog will manage on its own to manage larger groups.

Guardian dogs: all paws on deck

Cattle guards have been used for centuries to deter or destroy livestock predators. But the myth that you can throw the dog out with the cattle and forget about it is just that – a myth. Angie Meroshnekoff, who has bred and worked with Great Pyrenees dogs for 40 years, says, “For the first two months you have to get more involved with the dog. Set territory boundaries by walking along the fence together. Protect the puppy from predators for the first nine months to a year, until it is old enough to defend itself. New dogs will often want to play with livestock, and you should discourage this.

Livestock guards don’t just protect sheep and cattle – many owners also use them to guard flocks of poultry. Guard dogs can be invaluable in keeping herds free. They ward off predators and alert you when something is wrong. Carrie Stuart Parks, president of the Great Pyrenees Club of America, said: “As long as the dog knows the chickens need to be protected, he will protect them from anything. It’s not really necessary for a livestock guardian to be raised with chickens, but it’s fine if you already have other dogs that know how not to touch chickens. The keeper will learn from them.

Livestock guardian dogs need work and space; they are bred to be independent thinkers and alert to danger. Many of them are aloof and suspicious of strangers, says Janet Vorwald Dohner, author of Livestock Guardians: Use dogs, donkeys and llamas to protect your herd. “They can bark a lot at night, and since they are big dogs and are determined to chase something they see as a threat, they need a good fence. They get frustrated if they don’t have a job where they are often outside patrolling.

Dohner warns that some guardian breeds are not suitable for small farms. Eastern European and Russian breeds (such as Central Asian Shepherds and South Russian Ovcharkas) can be more difficult to control and can have aggressive tendencies. Western European breeds (such as Great Pyrenees) are generally better suited to life on small farms, but owners should be prepared to deal with some of their less attractive traits, Meroshnekoff says. “We tell people three things about Guardian Breeds: they bark, they dig, and they shed.”

Although a guard dog’s job is to guard, it is also absolutely you have to obey. If your dog attacks someone on your farm in your presence without you telling them, your dog will likely be put down, you’ll end up paying the victim’s medical bills, and you could end up in court. A guard dog should be trained to obey you when you are around and to defend the livestock and the farm when you are away. This is achieved by establishing that you are the leader of the pack – no exceptions. To do this, you need an approach that combines affection, firmness and consistency. You’ll also want to make sure your dog is exposed to lots of different situations and leash trained. The rest comes naturally from the dog’s instinct. If you can’t get your dog to refrain from threatening visitors in your presence, he should be restrained or placed in a kennel.

Terrier with a terrier: vermin dogs

“I’m a terrier addict,” says Jamie Lee Herman, president of the American Working Terrier Association. “They can be argumentative and defiant, they can hold grudges, and they’re not always as tolerant as some other types of dogs, but once you’ve established a strong relationship, I don’t know of a greater reward.”

Some breeds specialize in “earthwork” – going into burrows – while others focus on above-ground hunting. Herman uses burrows to control opossums, groundhogs, badgers, foxes, raccoons and rats. They can also protect poultry flocks and grain stores. Training is recommended to avoid injury, especially with dogs performing underground work.

Terriers may not be the best choice for families with young children. A Jack Russell, for example, will tolerate some ear pulling, but then it can break. Herman says, however, that older children who know how to treat animals with gentleness and respect will have no problem.

Rescue dogs and crossbreeds

Dogs of unknown parentage can also make excellent farm dogs. According to Houlahan, however, you won’t be able to accurately predict what they’ll be able to do. If you know the parent breeds, you’ll have a better idea of ​​what the working dog’s inclinations might be.

On the other hand, purebred “rescue” dogs – dogs that have been abandoned or abandoned by their owners – can be an excellent choice if obtained from a rescue organization whose staff has knowledge. thoroughness of the breed. “They usually know the dogs and know which ones have the potential to be really successful,” Dohner recommends.

Ward says a lot of good working dogs end up at rescue centers and people looking for one should go there first. “The reason many working dogs are in rescue centers is because people think they’re ready to go – just turn the key and they’ll do whatever you want. Then the owners grow weary of the dog that hunts livestock.Training a young dog takes time and patience.

Bring home a puppy

Make sure the pup’s parents know how to work before investing your love and money in a future farm dog. Dogs quickly lose their working ability if the trait is not selected in each generation.

Forget the puppy who is so shy that he hides in the corner, the bully and the overly friendly puppy. Choose one who is confident and inquisitive.

Finally, make sure both parents are healthy and free from genetic defects, such as hip dysplasia (too common in many breeds). If you can’t assess both parents with your own eyes, ask if they’ve been screened for potential problems. Since many genetic health issues don’t become apparent until later in a dog’s life, taking these precautions can save you the heartache of forming a relationship with a dog only to have it become disabled at a young age.

Popular working dogs

Versatile Breeds

A general-purpose farm dog should be descended from several generations of dual-purpose working and hunting dogs. Many breed mixes will work, but popular choices include Farm Collies, English Sheepdogs, and Cur dogs.

Herding breeds

australian cattle dog
australian kelpie
Australian shepherd
bearded collie
belgian malinois
border collie
German shepherd
Shetland Sheepdog

Livestock Guardian Breeds

Anatolian Shepherd
Central Asian Shepherd
Great Pyrenees
Maremma Shepherd
Polish Tatra Sheepdog
Southern Russian Ovcharka

Terrier breeds

Jack Russell
West Highland White

Ann Larkin Hansen and her family have two dogs on their farm. She is the author of The Handbook of Organic Farming and Find good farmland . Hansen also leads workshops in our MOTHER EARTH NEWS Fairs.

Bette C. Alvarado