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How to Pick the Perfect Farm Dog

Find out what makes a good farm dog, and what to consider when choosing your next country canine.

| January/February 2018

  • Australian Shepherd Dog jumping over creek in San Luis Obispo, California.
    Photo by Londie G. Padelsky
  • Ranch dogs in the back of the truck, Santa Margarita, California.
    Photo by Londie G. Padelsky
  • A Maremma sheepdog at Steam Valley Fiber Farm with Angora Sheep and Nubian goats.
    Photo by Terry Wild
  • Pony and dog, best friends. Nothing like the bonds that form on a farm.
    Photo by Londie G. Padelsky
  • Terriers are wonderful farm dogs.
    Photo by Gerry Lemmo
  • So what’s the most important thing in making a good country dog? First off, an owner that is honest with themselves about their situation, abilities, and needs.
    Photo by Suzy Krone
  • Border collies not only do well working cattle, they excel working a flock of sheep. Border collies are “headers,” they strong-eye their charges and keep them in a pack as opposed to nipping at the heels (like a heeler would). They have a strong gathering instinct.
    Photo by Joseph Stanski
  • Going out to check the cows, Huasna, California.
    Photo by Londie G. Padelsky

Ever since livestock were first domesticated, thousands of years ago, dogs have worked in partnership with man in taking care of those animals and are an essential part of farm life.

But what makes a good farm dog? The answer to this question can be at once incredibly complex and incredibly simple.

Complex in that there are hundreds of different breeds of dog, each with a unique genetic makeup and skill set that make them suited to specific farm tasks. Simple in that a good farm dog is any dog of any breed or breed combination that provides assistance in the multitude of day-to-day jobs on the farm. From guarding sheep to driving cattle, even just being the dependable companion on long days, dogs contribute in countless ways to farm life.

But even among those with a history of working with livestock, some are more suited for one job over another. Making sure you match the right dog with the right job description can go a long way to creating a happy, lifelong partnership. The key is to understand the job you need done and match the breed to the role.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the breeds and types of dogs commonly found on the farm, and the jobs they are best suited for.


Herding dogs have an innately hardwired drive to herd. This is a result of selecting for a strong prey drive, or the ability to stalk a group of animals much like a wild predator would. Over centuries of training and selection, this drive has been channeled and controlled into the herding dog specialists we have today. They are keenly intelligent and need to work, or they will become unhappy. And when they are unhappy, they are legendary for their ability to find things to do that might not be on your most desirable task list. Herding dogs with a strong drive have been known to herd children, chickens, or other animals, often with negative results.

1/17/2020 5:41:22 PM

One word - Karakachan. Look it up

1/17/2020 2:54:51 PM

Disappointed pet adoption is dismissed in this article. Herding breeds often find themselves in shelters (and their lives at stake) for the very traits that make them great farm dogs - but sometimes not so great in the city.

2/8/2018 5:50:44 PM

We adopted an Anatolian a year and a half ago and just love him. So many of these wonderful dogs wind up in rescues because people get them without any idea of what their breed independence trait and strong instincts mean in daily life. This is NOT a beginner's dog! They are wonderful but challenging, no push button dog here. Their sensitivity to environment, weather, threat, and emotion is amazing. They are also regal, devoted, fascinating, and wicked smart independent thinkers, which can pose, um, challenges, shall we say. Their sensitivity means they will not readily obey those owners they cannot respect. If this sounds like the dog for you, please check out the wonderful animals in National Anatolian Shepherd Rescue Network or one of the other good ASD rescues out there. These folks work tirelessly to rehome these dogs and match them with you, then help you with any adjustment questions. Awesome dogs, and awesome rescue!

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