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Dogs and Horses

How Does One Choose the Best Dog for Their Farm?

By Georgia Andrews

 Dogs and horses have been partners with man as well as each other for decades, thanks to domestication by man.  Today, whether you are visiting a show barn, or a working cattle farm you will usually find a dog taking up residence with the horse.  But just how does one choose the best dog for their farm?

     Traditionally working dogs are best suited for farm life.  These dogs can be divided into a few broad groups: herding dogs, guard dogs, livestock guardian dogs, hound, and terrier.  All of these distinct groups are uniquely skilled to assist the horse owner with different aspects of farm ownership.


Herding Dogs

     Herding dogs are very popular on ranches and horse farms.  These dogs have been bred for centuries to herd cattle and sheep.  Popular herding breeds such as the Australian Shephard, Australian Cattle Dog, Corgis, Border Collies, Shetland Sheep Dog, Icelandic Sheepdog, and McNab are known for their respect for their owners and a strong desire to please.  

     These breeds are highly intelligent and easily trained to perform their job.  In addition to being highly intelligent they are intensely loyal to their owners.  They are territorial and rarely wander from their home.  They have been known to alert their owners to a horse in distress and warn of predators in the area.  If one likes to trail ride this breed is well suited to go along on a ride as they will stay close to both horse and rider.   

     While these are wonderful dogs, they are not for everyone.  They are known to be intense hard workers who require a lot of exercise.  They can also become overprotective of their owners making them ill suited for a commercial environment at times.  Herders also tend to nip at the heels of cattle and sheep to herd them.  This behavior is instinctual and the dogs will have to be trained to not nip people or horse.


Guard Dogs

     Guard dogs like the Doberman Pincher, Rottweiler, German Shephard and Mastiffs are naturally protective of their owners and territory.  They will alert their owners of people and predators alike.  These are large breed dogs and therefore strong and in need of quality training.  These dogs are not always good with horses or other livestock but can be taught to be mindful and respectful of other animals.  



     Feisty and energetic are two of the primary traits that come to mind for those who have experience with Terriers. In fact, many describe their distinct personalities as “eager for a spirited argument.” Bred to hunt and kill vermin as well as to guard their family’s home or barn; sizes range from fairly small, as in the Norfolk, Cairn or West Highland White Terrier, to the larger and grand Airedale Terrier. Prospective owners should know that terriers make great pets, but they do require determination on the part of the owner because they can be stubborn; have high energy levels, and require special grooming (known as “stripping”) to maintain a characteristic appearance.



     Hound Dogs like the Basset, Beagle, Bloodhound, and Coonhound have been used for centuries to track prey with their acute power of smell.  These dogs can track a fox for miles, making them ideal for fox hunting farms.  They are intelligent dogs and require very little in the way of grooming.  They are however a very noisy breed at times and some dogs make a unique sound known as baying.  They are usually good with children and friendly and well suited for family life.  They are known to take off after a scent so training and containing these dogs can be difficult at times. 



Livestock Guardian Dogs

     Livestock guardian dogs such as the Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shephard, and Bernese Mountain Dog can make great additions to any farm.  These dogs are large enough to protect livestock and fowl from predators such as fox, coyote, eagles, and even bears.  These dogs are exceptionally large topping out at about 150 lbs. and are also extraordinarily strong.  They are known to bond strongly with their animal companions.       

They are usually vocal and will alert their owner to predators, people, or distress on the farm. Generally very friendly these dogs are peaceful and kind making them well suited for family life, but prefer to be outside.   Some of these breeds have very thick coats and require cooler climates or a cool shelter for those dogs that prefer living outdoors.  Livestock Guardian Dogs are best left to the more experienced owner as they are often headstrong and require specialized training.

     When considering any dog for the farm or ranch the horse owner should be mindful of their needs and choose the dog best suited for them and their farm.  Looking for a dog to help with rodent control?  Maybe a terrier is right for you.  Thinking of picking up some sheep or goats?  Maybe think of a herding or guardian dog to add to your farm.  Also consider whether you want to travel with your new companion.  If you do a large breed dog may not be the best fit.  

     Whatever breed you choose remember that all dogs need training in order to make good additions to your family. Even more important is socializing your new dog to people and your other animals alike.  The earlier you begin the more successful you will be.  

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