Everyone loves dogs. My favorite dog is my mutt, Odie, whose only real accomplishment is that he’ll shake your hand if you give him a treat. However, I have always been fascinated by different breeds of dogs, their skills, and their many different “jobs,” especially those relating to agriculture. Today, I thought I’d walk through a few different dog breeds and their jobs in agriculture to learn more about these cute and loyal animals.
One of the main uses of dogs in agriculture is for herding. As you might expect, ranchers from all over the world have needed help herding various livestock through history. This means that there is a wide variety of herding dogs originating from places like Europe, the U.S. and Australia, all bred for similar herding capabilities.
What kind of capabilities are they, though? Herding dogs tend to be medium-size dogs that are very smart, athletic, and energetic. Though herding is an instinct in herding dogs, they also require a lot of training to work with their owners and recognize specific commands. For example, on a hillside in Ireland, a sheep rancher might use a variety of different whistles to command their dog on which pen, pasture, or paddock (section of a pasture) to direct the sheep towards. For some of these herding dogs, their instincts and temperament will be more important to breeders than their visual characteristics.
First and foremost, I’d like to recognize Border Collies. Border Collies are a herding breed that originated from Scotland, and are widely recognized as the smartest breed of dog. Border Collies have an incredible instinct for herding livestock, and with a little training, a good Border Collie might be the only extra body a farmer needs to move their livestock from one place to another. In fact, when I was younger, a Border Collie named Andy once tried to herd me away from an electric fence! Here are some cool videos of Border Collies working.
Another beautiful breed of herding dogs are Australian Shepherds. Australian Shepherds are similar to Border Collies in many respects. They are smart, loyal, and have good herding instincts that can help farmers shepherd their animals. They are also very energetic, and are known for their beautiful merle coats.
Some more examples of herding breeds include Blue Heelers, Collies, German Shepherds, and even Pembroke Welsh Corgis!
Another big job dogs can have in agriculture is protection. Livestock animals tend to be prey animals, which makes keeping them safe from predators a big deal to farmers. This is especially true for sheep and alpacas. On sheep farms, there may be a big dog that lives with the sheep to help protect them from coyotes, mountain lions, or even other wild dogs that can hurt the livestock. A good term for this type of dog is livestock guardian dog.
Since the protective trait is largely instinctive, a good guardian dog will probably join the flock or herd as a puppy so they can imprint on the animals. Some people say that this also means that human contact should be kept to a minimum, but that has been argued specifically so that humans can help train the dogs on their duties. These dogs should be trustworthy, attentive, and protective. Generally, they are also large dogs, and tend to be gentle when not actively protecting another animal.
One breed of guardian dog is the Anatolian Shepherd. This breed is quite old, and originated in Anatolia (the Asian portion of Turkey). There are artifacts documenting this breed’s ancestors back to the Babylonian Empire! These dogs are large, rugged, and like other guardian dogs, are smart and devoted.
One of my favorite working dog breeds is the Great Pyrenees. Apart from being huge (males are around 100 pounds) and extra fluffy, they are smart, patient, and calm. These dogs were bred to work with livestock in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. Though they are known for their patience and calm, they are also known for being courageous and attentive when watching over their flock on snowy mountainsides.
Some other common guardian dog breeds are the Komondor, Pyrenean Mastiff, Tibetan Mastiff, and other types of shepherds and mountain dogs.
Of course, dogs have many other amazing skills, from helping people with disabilities, to sniffing out everything from bombs and drugs to missing people and even diseases, to pulling sleds, helping hunt, and of course being loyal and loving companions. Humans have co-evolved with these great animals, benefiting us both with protection, companionship, and assistance in a variety of tasks.
What breeds of working dogs are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!