Most farmers know how helpful a trained dog can be. Throughout the ages, dogs helped in farming by herding cattle and sheep, guarding livestock or ridding the farm of harmful pests. The best dog breed for any farm will depend on the type of work expected from the dog. This article will discuss the best dog breeds for the three most common tasks: herding, guarding and ratting. For each task, five top breeds are listed followed by a discussion about how to care for the farm dogs and how to keep them happy.
Within each of the three groups are dogs with various personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, however, to discuss them all would go beyond the scope of this article. The goal here is to provide a starting point for further research into the best breeds for any given situation.
Herd dogs are good at herding livestock such as sheep and cattle. Herding dogs are highly intelligent, very energetic and love to chase things. Herding dogs are medium sized dogs usually ranging between 22 -42 pounds: Excellent breeds for herding are:
- Border Collie
- Australian Cattle Dog
- Welsh Corgi
- German Shephard
- Old English Sheepdog
Because of their intelligence and energy, when caring for herding breeds, one must remember that they require a lot of physical and mental exercise. Due to their intelligence, herding dogs are fairly easy to train. However, owners need to provide plenty of physical and mental exercise to herd dogs otherwise they will develop behavior problems such as chewing, digging, barking, etc. Owners need to ensure that their dogs are walked or allowed to run on a daily basis. Herd dogs like to play active games like fetch or frisbee.
Herding dogs are bred for the herding instinct so a child or another pet running may cause the dog’s herding instinct to activate. However, with proper training and socialization, this should not be a problem as herding dogs usually do well around children and pets. The herding dogs will typically live near the family.
In addition to the care outlined above, Old English Sheepdogs also require quite a bit of grooming. Old English Sheepdogs need to be thoroughly brushed once a week which can be time-consuming. Because of the high level of maintenance required for the characteristic long hair of this breed, many owners choose to keep the dog’s hair cut short. Of the dogs listed above, the Welsh Corgi requires the least amount of grooming; the others fall somewhere in between with the Old English Sheep Dog requiring the most.
Livestock Guardian Dogs
Livestock guardian dogs have been bred to protect livestock from predators. They stay with the animals like any other member of the flock or herd because they bond with it from an early age. Guardian dogs are larger breeds than herding dogs, some weighing up to 150 pounds. Guardian dogs will confront intruders with barking and aggressive behavior. They are very valuable dogs because they can save farmers from the loss of their livestock. The best breeds for guardian dogs are:
- Great Pyrenees
- Anatolian Shepherd
- Maremma Sheepdog
- Tibetan Mastiff
Although guardian dogs typically live with the livestock, they still need to be socialized and exposed to other pets, members of the family, close friends and relatives at an early age and with frequency to the degree that the dogs accept them as members of the pack. Otherwise, guardian dogs will tend to be aggressive to those they perceive as outsiders.
Guardian dogs are happiest when guarding livestock. Other activities such as pulling a cart or backpacking can provide enough activity as well, but when bored, guardians tend become destructive. Guardians are constantly on the prowl for invaders, so they are happiest on farms with space enough to roam. They also prefer to work in a pack of two or more.
Guardians require training, and at the age of 8 to 16 weeks, they should be introduced to and kept with the livestock they will be guarding. Owners often use a bonding pen and choose one or two gentle animals to introduce to the puppy while under supervision. As the pup grows comfortable around the animals, then it can be released to the larger flock. The trainer should give the dog praise when it is with the livestock to reinforce their connection with the dog as a working partner.
Rat dogs, as the name implies are great at catching rats and other pesky rodents. Rat dogs are superior to cats at this job because the rat dogs are far more dedicated to the job than cats. The following breeds make terrific ratting dogs:
- Brussels Griffon
- Jack Russel Terrier
- Miniature Pinscher
- Rat Terrier
The Terrier Breed Group is typically energetic and does not get along well with cats, other dogs or small children. When other animals or small children are involved, a Rat Terrier may be the best breed terrier to choose because Rat Terriers are better with animals or children when introduced to them at an early age.
Owners must keep in mind that although the traits are bred into them, the dogs still need training and positive reinforcement. Puppies raised with veteran farm dogs will be easier to train because they will be able to see the older dogs working.
Among these three categories, there are many excellent dog breeds for farm work. They have been bred for these characteristics for thousands of years. To choose the best breed or breeds for farming, one must consider the help needed. Luckily, man’s best friend has been a faithful farm hand throughout history, and farm dogs will continue to be trusted farm hands. They provide companionship to family members as well as protection and herding livestock. They are an integral part of daily farm life, and the thought of a farm dog tends to invoke a Rockwellian image in one’s mind of a boy and his dog. Dogs will always fill an important role in the farming family.