Best Farm Dog Breeds

Tips for choosing the right farm dog breeds for your farm needs.

  • A herding dog sitting at attention waiting for the command to round up the cattle.
    Photo by Fotolia/beerfan
  • Three Golden Retrievers sitting in a boat on the bank of a pond.
    Photo by Lynn Stone
  • A red Border Collie and a horse enjoying the country view.
    Photo by Fotolia/ksuksa
  • A female Golden Retriever sitting in the grass beside an old red barn and farm implements in St. Charles, Illinois.
    Photo by Lynn Stone
  • A black Labrador Retriever collecting a duck from a pond.
    Photo by Fotolia/Zach Cunningham
  • A Cairn Terrior propped up on a pile of sticks and branches.
    Photo by Fotolia/Dogs
  • A German Shorthair Pointer standing in a thicket of pink berries, late on a November afternoon in Essex, Illinois.
    Photo by Lynn Stone

Next to big red barns, free-range chickens, and the gentle lowing of cows in the pasture, probably one of the most iconic elements of any farm is the farm dog. Equal parts companion, helping hand and guardian, they have earned their place amongst farm lore. Talk to anyone who has spent time on a farm, and you’ll most likely hear a story or two about the farm dogs — both good and bad — that they have encountered along the way.

Dogs most commonly used around farms, both large and small, are often breeds that are able to work long days while performing some function, such as herding or guarding livestock. They are typically highly intelligent and high-energy breeds. While such traits make these dogs the hardworking, effective animals they are, those same traits can lead to big problems if proper training is not started early and if the dogs don’t have a job. Selecting the right breed, getting an early start with training, and giving these dogs an appropriate job are the keys to success for owning and enjoying a great farm dog.

Selecting the right breed

The first step a person should take in selecting the right breed of dog is to take a look at what kind of person you are, what kind of farm you have, and ask yourself what you realistically expect from a dog. This might be as simple as deciding that you really just want a companion to walk your acreage with you, alert you to intruders, and lay on the porch watching sunsets with the family. On the other hand, if you have livestock that needs tending on an expansive pasture, you and your companion will be working long days. Both are valid jobs for a farm dog, but they create different requirements for the breed to select, and that is where good research will come into play.

When looking into the many breeds available, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of how the dogs have been classified. The American Kennel Club offers a summary of behaviors and traits for more than 150 dog breeds. This is not meant to be a history of dog classifications by any means, but it is a good place to start. While any breed, when given the proper direction, may fit in fine on the farm — our Chihuahua thinks he is the “big dog” on the block around our small farm — there are certain breeds that seem to most commonly be found on and around rural properties.

The working group — a category containing some of the largest dog breeds, such as the Saint Bernard, Rottweiler and Mastiff — holds many of the breeds often selected as livestock guardian dogs. Breeds like the Anatolian Shepherd, Great Pyrenees and Kuvasz are heavy-coated to withstand long winters in the field with their charges. They were bred to be fiercely loyal, as well as strong and intelligent so they are able to detect and deter predators and intruders.

While bred initially to either work pulling small carts or to defend livestock against threats, these dogs also make wonderful companions. They are loyal and intelligent, and don’t require a lot of exercise. Walking around the property with you or wandering a pasture to keep an eye on the flock should easily keep them in good health, and it will also provide them with a purpose that will make them happy. Because of their instincts to prevent intruders, however, these dogs must be well-socialized to other dogs and people if their primary purpose is to be a companion. One important distinction to make: The guardian dog is not a herding dog, but rather a full-time member of the flock.

5/29/2014 11:03:08 AM

I must mention that the animal control shelters are full of good dogs. My dogs were all strays and are mutts. I have a former stray dog who is very intelligent. She appears to be a mix of some type of shepherd dog but difficult to tell. She has the instincts of both herder and guardian. This serves me well. She keeps away predators and will help me round up the geese or cows too. Also, she "acts" aggressive to suspect people, recognizes friends of mine who visit frequently and is an all around good companion dog. I acquired this dog when she was a little over a year old and was within 24 hours of being put down. She understands the word, "no" and only has to hear it one time. I could not ask for a better dog than this mutt. I am able to free range my large flock of chickens because of this dog.

2/21/2014 11:57:24 AM

The Dachshund, usually just considered a family, or toy dog, can make excellent trackers. I know a few people that use them to track wounded deer.

2/19/2014 2:22:27 AM

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