Four Legged Farm Hands
Farms and dogs seem to go hand in hand.
When you think of a farm, you likely think of a house with a porch, a big barn, maybe some chickens, cows, a horse or two, and a least one dog. Many farms, especially farms with livestock, would be hard pressed to function without at least one or two dogs.
Farmers often use dogs for two functions: one, to protect their livestock; and two, to herd livestock. But this isn’t a “one dog fits all” proposition. Not only are different breeds better suited to the different tasks, the dogs themselves are raised and trained much differently.
Guard dogs need to feel protective of their charges, and will spend time with the herd both day and night. He will bark and alert the farmer if there are any dangers. If you take a city dog to a farm and he sees a sheep, he’s likely to bark at the sheep because it’s an animal he doesn’t recognize and he wants to protect his family from this strange creature. But that’s not the type reaction a farmer wants from his sheep’s guardian.
If a dog is going to protect a large herd of sheep, the farmer will start socializing the puppy with young, docile sheep. The puppy should think of the flock of sheep as his pack. He should be comfortable around them and socialize with them. The sheep also need to be comfortable with the dog. Some of the breeds commonly used are Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherd, Komondor, Kuvasz, Akbash, Maremma, Polish Tatra, and Tibetan Mastiff. It can take up to two years to train a livestock guard dog, and it helps if there’s an older dog to show him the ropes. These dogs are generally raised to live outdoors with the flock, not with the farmer and the family.
Herding dogs help farmers move livestock from one area to another, round up strays, and keep everyone in a group. The herding dog must understand the farmer’s needs but even anticipate the farmer’s next step. Because of the interaction between the two, herding dogs are typically companion dogs as well. They work all day with the farmer, but then come in and crash with the kids to watch TV or enjoy some well-deserved pets, rubs and treats.
Herding dogs are intelligent creatures that learn quickly and want to please. They have high energy levels. Sheep herding dogs will often use their bodies to coax the sheep where they belong. Many cattle dogs have short legs (such as Corgis) because they will nip at the hind legs of the cattle to get them to move, but they’re short enough the cattle’s high kicks fly over their heads without injuring them. Some common breeds for herding include Australian Cattle Dog, Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, Shetland Sheepdog, Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgi, and Old English Sheepdog. It can take up to two years to train a good herding dog as well, and it always helps to have another dog help train a pup into an accomplished herder.
Farming is a tough job, but one or more well trained dogs can help ease the burden of a livestock farmer.