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International Dog Day: a Spotlight on Farm Dogs
“Every dog has its day!”
Aside from being the perfect pets and playmates, dogs are adaptable to many environments and have often played different service roles in society. Dogs serve on the police force, can aid in tracking and rescue; others act as assistance animals, working alongside therapists and doctors to support people with visual impairment, anxiety, diabetes, and more. Although their talents are plenty, dogs have most commonly accompanied humans in the labors of the land. In fact, dogs have been an integral part of agriculture work for centuries.
First things first: dogs are among the most loyal animals we know and will always put their keeper’s safety before their own. This makes them excellent protectors. Gifted with keen hearing and night vision, they are naturally intuitive with sharp instincts that are always alert to their surroundings. This means that a guard dog is always the first responder for any potential dangers that might arise on or near a farm. Whether fire or flood, a farm dog will keep the family in the know so they can continue working safely.
Other than environmental dangers, there are added risks in the agricultural world when it comes to prey and predators. If a farm has livestock, trained protection dogs called Livestock Guardian Dogs are recommended, as some breeds have natural instincts to keep sheep, goats, and cattle safe. These dogs can even keep away bears—or at least put themselves between the farmer and the threat to buy time. When it comes to poultry supervision, it is best recommended to keep birds inside a fenced area with patrol dogs on the outside perimeter to shoo away any sly foxes or cunning coyotes from coming after chickens, turkeys, or ducks.
Guard dogs will also chase away deer from fruit trees and will let the farmers know when any visitor, welcome or not, arrives.
Dogs are also very skilled herders on the homestead. With dedicated training and attention, herding dogs are essential on farms where there are a lot of open pastures or great distances to cover. Herding dogs need a lot of mental and physical exercise, so keeping them busy and channeling their energy into fieldwork is important. They are among the most intelligent breeds and can perceive the most subtle of whistle commands and hand signals to move a flock or seek out stray animals.
Cattle dogs tend to become quite attached to their shepherds rather than the herd itself, which creates a professional environment and makes it easier for dogs to get their job done. That said, it has been proven that both hard work and dogs give a sense of purpose to humans, so having a dog in this role is a perfect combination to boost the farm’s morale. Be cautious, though; it has been reported that some herding dogs develop their instinct so well that they playfully herd the children of the farm!
Any agronomer knows that not all problems present themselves on the surface, and it’s good to have a dog who doesn’t mind getting dirty to control vermin. Like rats and other rodents, vermin pose significant challenges for the farm as they can carry disease and contaminate feeds that will later affect the livestock. Many dogs, mostly terriers, have been trained over decades to be talented ‘ratters’ due to their small size, agile movements, and ability to burrow. If vermin become a problem in the garden, a well-trained terrier can solve the problem quickly.
Almost all farmers, homesteaders, and agriculturalists care about the environment and its wellbeing. Believe it or not, dogs can make a positive impact.
The industrial dog food market contributes significantly to the carbon footprint. However, many ranch dogs tend to eat raw meat or a blend of leftover human food like eggs and dairy products that don’t go directly to the pigs. This alone can help cut the environmental impact and waste and reduce the footprint of the meat industry.
Even their poop can be composted as manure in the gardens and fields if done properly.
Lots of folks think that a dog is a dog, but which mutt is right for your farm? We know that when it comes to working dogs, each canine has unique qualities. When deciding on a dog, researching characteristics and behavioral traits is often required, as it is not always as obvious as it seems. For example, just because ‘shepherd’ is part of their name, German Shepherds are much better guard dogs, while many smaller breeds, like Pembroke Welsh corgis, are surprisingly talented herders.
One of the most versatile dogs is the Airedale terrier. The Airedale terrier is a good example of a dog that does well in almost all fields. As terriers, they are excellent at sniffing out rats, but they are also natural-born protectors and can be trained to drive livestock.
Among the top-rated dog breeds for farm life are Australian cattle dogs, Border Collies, Dachshunds, Dutchies, Great Pyrenees, and Jack Russell terriers. This is not to say that other dog breeds shouldn’t be on farms, but they should either be supervised companions or work as support staff. A working dog should be chosen as best suited to the farm’s characteristics.
“Dogs’ lives are too short, and that is their only fault.”
With so many good reasons to invite a dog to the ranch, there are some factors to acknowledge before having a furry friend join the crew.
Dogs will inevitably dig holes. They will bark and scratch and chew and wag! They might hoard bones and other treasures and do all sorts of doggone things that dogs do. However, all these habits can be avoided with proper training and care.
Although most often benevolent, dogs are natural predators to smaller animals, especially poultry, and this should be considered when deciding which one to get. Regardless, there are many D.I.Y. solutions to ensure that dogs do not get wound up on the wrong side of the fence with their snouts dirty.
Having a dog on the farm means investing adequate time in consistent training practices and learning. Depending on the breed, some canines will pick up tasks quicker than others, but no matter the dog or the job at hand, owners should prepare to spend quality time with the paw patrol to show them the lay of the land.
Loyalty in All Seasons
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