The Best Farm Dog Breeds – Roles And Breeds Examined

Whether you have a large farm or a small hobby farm, it can be very beneficial to have a dog or two around the property.  This is especially true if you have poultry or small stock such as chinchillas or rabbits. Having a dog to protect your animals can be very useful if you live in a coyote country.

Likewise, if you have large animals, you may want to have a herding dog of some type to help out.  Even if you only work with crops, having a dog can also help keep pests under control. The point is, there are many different reasons why you might want to consider having a dog on your farm.  

We’ll take a look at a few of the benefits of having a dog on a farm, and also determine a few breeds for each particular task you have in mind.  This can also include being a new member of your family of course.

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A large dog with a small kid.
A large dog with a small kid.

What Makes A Dog A Farm Dog

A farm dog, I would think, would mean any dog that lives on a farm.  For the purpose of this article, we are going to assume the dog takes a working role of some type, on the farm.  Such as having the job of herding, guarding or pest control perhaps.  

I imagine the dog would depending on their particular role on the farm, have to be trained appropriately and done so by the farmer.  The possible options would mean going to dog training lessons, or being a trainer yourself.

Either way, what I’m saying is that the dog could require specialized training.  But, let’s take a look at some of the jobs the dogs will have to do. This will give us a better idea of which dog would be best for which task. And which dog might be crowned the best farm dog breed.

4 Common Types Of Work For A Farm Dog

Herding livestock

Herding is an age-old practice that has been in place for thousands of years. But, what makes a herding dog, a herding dog?  Let’s jump in here. Okay, so thousands of years ago, mankind had companion dogs and also had livestock. The dogs were very predatory, we’re talking possibly ten thousand years or more ago, before the advent of any of the herding breeds we know today.

These dogs were predatory, closer to their wolf ancestors than today’s dogs.  Over time, humans bred dogs to select certain characteristics. Likely in the last few thousand years, since the last ice age ended, the breeding of certain traits was focused.  The trait of chasing down prey was maintained, but the need to bit and kill the prey has been bred out. And the result is a perfect herding dog.

Heeler Dogs
A heeler dog
A dog hurds cattle.

There is a subtype of the herding dogs called the heelers.  These dogs actually nip at the ankles of the livestock to herd them along.

Example: Australian Cattle Dog

Header Dogs

The other type of herding dog is those which are known as headers.  These dogs will get in front of livestock and ‘stare them down’. These dogs are great at keeping livestock in a pack

Example: Border Collie – The amazing border collie.  This is one of the most hard-working dog breeds there are.  Truly an amazing animal. But, if you just live in an apartment, then maybe not the best choice as these dogs need to blow off energy. This work ethic makes these dogs a top pick for the best farm dog breed for sure.

Independent Herding Dogs
A dog watches over his sheep.
A dog watches over his sheep.

Australian Shepherd, English Shepherd, and Welsh Sheepdog are all independent herding dogs, according to Wikipedia anyway.  These dogs tend to work best alone, and not in a coordinated effort like that which might be achieved by multiple dogs of another breed.

Protecting livestock

Protecting your livestock is an extremely important job.  This is true if you’ve ever had a predator get into your chickens.  I used to know a guy who had a chinchilla farm who had an issue with a fox.  I can’t imagine that it was a pretty sight to see. It is completely understandable, the desire to avoid a bloodbath.  Especially true if your livestock cost you a lot of money.

NOT that I’m de-valuing life, by any means, no. What I mean is that your livestock is a part of the function of the farm, providing food for you and yours.  Well, that food comes at a price, right? So, if you lose your livestock, you have to buy more, raise them potentially, and so forth, all costing you money. But, even worse it would cost you time.  

Having a companion who guards your livestock is a great idea.  Depending on how your farm is set up, the dog may or may not have to spend the night outside.  So, I can only hope you have a good dog house for your dog. And if it gets cold where you live, depending on the climate, you may want to have an insulated dog house as well.  But, I don’t want to get too far off point, if you know what I mean.  

Classic Protection Dog Breeds

German Shepherd – Of course, I had to put the German Shepherd first in the protecting livestock category.  These beautiful and obedient dogs are as graceful as they are intelligent. They make such good guardians and trainable dogs that the police use them in their service.  

The great success of the German Shepherd Dog is likely due to the highly focused breeding efforts to create the perfect herding dog that could also guard it’s livestock as well.  The group started its efforts in 1899 in Germany and was called Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde SV. Their effort continued, after breed proved itself as not only ideal at herding, and guarding, but also ideal at police work and many other tasks.

Due to the German Shepherd Dog’s intelligence, obedience, and ability to herd as well as protect, this is one of my top best farm dog breeds. And for good reason. They are incredible dogs.

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog – These beautiful dogs are no stranger to mountain farm life.  Known for pulling carts of cheese and milk, herding, and even guarding cattle, these dogs seem to know no bounds for what work they can do.  

Guarding property

German Shepherd – Again, at the top of the list, the German Shepherd Dog is capable of guarding property and so much more.  Absolutely amazing creatures, the German Shepherd.

Belgian Laekenois – These large and lively dogs have a natural instinct to protect their family and home.  And their size tends to scare off any would-be intruders, making them an ideal guard dog. Their loyalty and caring nature also make them an excellent addition to any family unit.  

Pest control

Pests can be a problem on any farm.  Any time you have an abundance of food, you’re going to have an abundance of animals trying to take advantage.  And who can blame them? If I were a rodent, I’d go after a grain silo too!

Or, if I were a weasel, I’d get into your chicken coop.  And I’d kill until nothing was left. It’s true, weasels have been known to do this.  They might just kill for fun. Or maybe sport. Who can tell until someone learns to speak weasel?  The point is, having a dog that is a hunter of the said weasel is a great idea to keep around if you have chickens.

Traditionally, the terriers are known to be the best at pest control.  I can attest to that, especially where Jack Russell is concerned. I had a Jack Russell Terrier for its entire life and aside from digging out rocks from the garden, he loved to hunt.  He tore after squirrels, mice, anything he saw that moved in his view. He was a little terror. I miss the little barrel of attacking joy. Anyway, he was a great little hunter. 

Another classic rodent and pest control breed are the unique Bedlington Terrier.  These incredibly fast dogs were bred to be rodent control dogs. Their unique skull shape has given them the nickname of being the sheep-headed dog.  They are fast, friendly and playful which makes them great additions to the family as well as being great hunters.

Bibliography

  1. Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herding_dog
  2. Renna, Christine Hartnagle (2008). Herding Dogs: Selection and Training the Working Farm Dog. Kennel Club Books (KCB). ISBN 978-1-59378-737-0.
  3. Coile, D. Caroline, Ph.D. Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds, Barron’s Educational Series, Inc. ISBN: 978-0-7641-6729-4

We hope you like the article about the best farm dog breeds. Leave us a comment and let us know what you’d like to read about (or listen to) next, we’d love to hear from you. – The DHT Team

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