The Working Homestead Dog

A Kommondor and Pyrenees cross watching over a goat kid.

Hey All,

I’d like to talk a bit more about farm dogs. I know I’ve blogged about them before, but I’ve seen some misinformation being passed around recently about farm dogs. I’ve recently read a suggestion online that people go adopt a dog from a rescue or a shelter to work on a farm. I’d like to talk about that a bit.

Livestock guardian dogs and farm dogs in general are very important to a homestead. They are dogs with a purpose, much more than pets. The livestock guardian dogs have been bred for centuries to protect their livestock, and while I know this sounds harsh, in the countries where many of these dogs came from, a dog that didn’t do it’s job would be culled. The same holds true for the herding breeds. In our experience as homesteaders, it is best as a general rule to get a pup from a breeder who has working dogs as their breeder dogs.  That is to say, dogs who are out there doing the job that you intend for your dog to do.

homestead helpers and guardians
A Anatolian and Akbash cross watching his livestock.

Why does this matter? Why should you be skeptical of getting your farm dog from a rescue or a shelter?  Because of two words. Nature, and nurture. The Webster dictionary defines these as:

“Nature:

The inherent character or basic constitution (see constitution 2) of a person or thing.

The genetically controlled qualities of an organism

  • nature … modified by nurture
  • —E. G. Conklin ” 

 

Nurture is defined as:

“The sum of the environmental factors influencing the behavior and traits expressed by an organism

  • Is our character affected more by nature or by nurture?”

Dogs have a window of opportunity where it is easiest to mold them to do the job that you want them to do. What happens to them in early puppyhood, and the things that they are exposed to then, will determine how easy it is to train them for the job that your farm needs them to do. So will what breed they are.

 

You are really best off getting a dog that is a purebred because purebreds are purpose bred. You want a dog that has had a proper early puppy hood, which you can then mold to understand the job that it is to do on your farm and what the rules are on that farm. If you chose to get something that is crossbred, do yourself a favor and be absolutely certain that the instincts won’t be conflicting. The nature of the dog is created by the selection of it’s ancestors. Know the breeds that are involved in that dog, and what those breeds were originally bred to do.

For example, you will have a much easier time training a Anatolian Shepherd and Great Pyrenese cross to guard your livestock, or a Australian Shepherd, Border Collie cross to herd your animals, than you would teaching a lab cross to herd your animals, or a husky cross to guard them or vice versa. The nature of those breeds go against those tasks. It will make your job that much harder.

As someone who has owned several shelter pets, I would tell you that many shelter pets haven’t had the proper socialization as puppies for life as a farm dog. Do they still make great pets? Absolutely! I dearly love my shelter pet. However, it would take ten times the work to turn my shelter girl into a decent farm dog who doesn’t try to kill or chase things she shouldn’t. The same has held true for the other shelter dogs and strays I have owned.

Pixie, a little shelter pet I currently have.
Pixie, a little shelter pet I currently have.

If you are determined to take the risk that comes with the shelter dog, or the rescue dog, do yourself a big favor and find a trainer beforehand who has experience in training the line of work that you want your dog to do. Then really shop around, using your head to select your farm dog. Don’t let sob stories sway you. Really have decided what you want, and stick to it. Then work closely with your trainer and be prepared to either keep the dog as a pet if it doesn’t work out for the job you got it for, or be prepared to return it or rehome it.

The thing you have to keep in mind when shopping for a Livestock Guardian Dog, or herding dog, is that working farm dogs are more than just pets. You need to be extra picky when you are shopping to get one. Investigate breeders. Really know what you need for your homestead and don’t shop using your emotions alone.

Until Next Time,

Homestead In Health Ya’ll!

Emily

 

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