Working Dogs: Pick a Perfect Pooch for Your Pastures

A working dog might make a great addition to your homestead. Herding dogs, livestock-guardian breeds, and vermin-control dogs such as Jack Russell terriers all have their special place on a well-run farm or ranch.

  • Illustration of a man walking his sheep dog on a farm
    Herding breeds, such as the Border Collie, are intelligent, driven and energetic. They thrive when kept busy.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears
  • Illustration of a Great Pyrenees protecting livestock from predators
    Livestock guardians, such as the Great Pyrenees, instinctively protect livestock, including poultry flocks.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears
  • Terrier holding possum in mouth
    Terriers can keep your homestead free of opossums, groundhogs, foxes and more.
    Illustration By Elayne Sears

  • Illustration of a man walking his sheep dog on a farm
  • Illustration of a Great Pyrenees protecting livestock from predators
  • Terrier holding possum in mouth

A working dog can be your best farmhand ever, if you have a breed and an individual fitted to the work. Typically, three types of specialty dogs are used for specific farm tasks: herders, livestock guardians and vermin controllers. Specialized dogs do best on farms that require enough of the specific type of work the dogs crave. For an all-purpose farm, an all-purpose dog may be the best choice. With any type, you’ll need to commit time and effort to developing the mutual understanding and affection that is the foundation 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 competent farming and hunting companions. Rather than purchasing an expensive purebred dog, your neighbors may be able to supply a good “farm dog” descended from many generations of general-purpose dogs.

On small-scale, diversified homesteads, a general-purpose breed such as an English Shepherd is a good choice. Heather Houlahan, who breeds and trains shepherds for search-and-rescue operations as well as for helping on her small homestead, says, “These general-purpose dogs can bring in the goats, kill a groundhog and keep the rooster under control. They can pick all that up without a lot of explicit instruction. They’re focused on their people and their tasks.

“Training a general-purpose dog is mostly a matter of taking it with you as you go about your daily rounds. If at all possible, have the puppy there with you, unless you’re working with equipment. Focus on teaching it things and allowing it to absorb the routine. Try to avoid yelling; instead, guide the puppy and eventually it will learn,” Houlahan says.

Herding Dogs: Nipping at the Heels of Your Flock

For help with managing livestock, you can’t beat a good herding dog. “A Border Collie is a great all-around sheepdog,” says Pearse Ward, president of the Wisconsin Working Stock Dog Association. “There are other herding breeds, such as Australian Shepherds and Kelpies, but it’s much harder to find a good working dog from those breeds, because for a long time so many in this country have not been bred specifically for working. It only takes one or two generations of selecting for something other than labor, such as coat color, to begin losing the working instincts.”

Herding breeds are exceptionally intelligent, driven and energetic, so they need some kind of work to do as well as extensive training. “When it comes to livestock, having a badly trained dog around is worse than having no dog at all,” Ward says. “You have to put the time into learning how to train one and how to 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 about and uses dogs in working situations to mentor you.” Ward recommends visiting a sheepdog website, such as Little Hats, to get started.

1/29/2018 8:36:01 PM

@BRUCEM - 99% of canine species are solitary - Separation anxiety has NOTHING to do with pack mentality, and everything to do with the breed and how the dog is trained. The majority of dogs have no problem being alone and are quite self sufficient. You could relate separation anxiety to children who are unable to do anything without parental guidance. Proper parenting gives a child that is highly independent, same with dogs.

2/2/2014 9:59:50 PM

My Great Pyrenees is great with my goats. However, if one of my chickens comes into the goat area she will kill the chicken just playing with it. She uses them for toys. She is 2 yrs old now and she has been around the chickens since she was a puppy. I have scolded her to no avail. Still, I have lost fewer chickens because she will not allow a predator anywhere close. She dug a mole out of the ground and killed it.

9/28/2013 9:23:45 AM

If dogs are not pack animals then seperation anxiety doesn't exist. That is specifically caused by being seperated from the pack, albeit human or other dogs. There has been a lot of current research on pack hierarchy in both grey wolves and their domestic off spring. I have yet to see one study that denies the pack hierachy in domestic dogs. To do so would deny seperation anxiety which is very well established.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters