Dogs have always played an important role on the farm from helpers, to protectors to simple companionship. And the breeds are just as varied. There’s no wrong breed for the job of farm dog, but each dog has special and unique abilities.
The dogs of Flip Flop Ranch
At my farm, we have two different breeds of dogs: Bloodhounds and Brussels Griffons. The hound personality just seems ideally suited to farmlife-easy going, but willing to work hard when asked. Hounds of all varieties are fantastic for hunting, but our’s are actually trained to hunt people. We work with police departments and individuals throughout california to find everything from missing kids to murderers.
Bloodhounds aren’t easy dogs to keep-they can knock a toddler over with an eager sweep of their tail and with one shake of their head, you can have a drool icicle hanging from the ceiling. Still they are super lovable and how can you resist those wrinkles? If raised right, bloodhounds and the other hound varieties can be good companions for both people and livestock.
This is probably the most common role of the farm dog and is the job of my personal dog-a Brussels Griffon named Wookie. Farming can also be a lonely occupation and to have a loyal companion who sticks with you throughout the day decreases the sense of isolation many farmers feel. Any dog can fulfill this role, but some dogs are more loyal companions than others. Our bloodhounds for instance will look at you working hard in the sun and turn around to go sleep the rest of the day in the shade. Okay, well, Wookie does that too.
Livestock Guardian Dog
LGDs are probably the most common type of farm dog after companion dogs. Certain dogs are just fantastic with livestock. These guardians are put in with the other farm animals as puppies and grow up with them. They have a natural instinct to protect and will risk their life to keep their livestock safe.
Greater swiss mountain dogs, Kangals, Newfoundlands, and even Rottweilers are good livestock guardian dogs for livestock.
Our Brussels Griffons try so hard to herd animals, but they almost invariably herd them in the wrong direction. Our bloodhounds usually stand in the gate that we’re trying to get animals through and look at you like you’re crazy as you yell at them to move.
Some dogs, though, have been bred to develop this herding instinct. Border collies, English sheepdogs, Australian shepherds, Anatolian shepherds, Welsh corgis, Giant Schnauzers and others. Many herding dogs make excellent family companions as well. Some are specialized in herding sheep, others in cattle and there’s even one that specializes in herding reindeer.
While very unusual nowadays, dogs have been used for millenium as draft animals. Before the Native Americans used horses to carry burdens, they used to load up dogs. Think of sled dogs up in Alaska, but instead of pulling a sled, they’re pulling a load of chicken feed to the coop.
Bernese mountain dogs excel at this as do labradors, Newfoundlands and others. This can be a useful way to get things moved on a farm or travel around your property if it’s large enough. Heck, shock the neighbors by galloping down the street in your dog cart!
Why you absolutely MUST get a working dog
If you are going to use a dog intensely for one of these specialty purposes, you absolutely must get a dog from a working line. It will save you on so much frustration as well as saving the dog’s health or even life. Working dogs tend to be stronger and more physically and mentally suited to do a specific job. A non herding dog, for example, may end up being trampled to death by cattle because it doesn’t have the instinct to move out of the way quick enough.
Why you absolutely should NOT getting a working dog…unless you plan on working it
Working dogs were designed to have a job.
A relative of mine always insists on buying top notch hunting labradors from the best hunting lines in the south. These dogs are amazing muscle machines with unlimited energy. This is not so good if you live in a house in the suburbs with a tiny yard. His dogs are so neurotic that no one can go out the door into the backyard without guaranteed misery and risk of serious injury from the exuberance of the poor things. However, a relaxed dog breed or even a labrador not from a working line might have brought hours of enjoyment to the family.
The point is, you need to figure out if you need a dog, why you want a dog and what its job is going to be before you go looking for a dog for your farm.