There are very good chances that you keep or are planning to have livestock, you will benefit greatly from a best friend – a farm dog! Investing in a good dog is an essential part of livestock investment. There are two main tasks a good dog can do: act as a guardian or as a navigator.
It’s quite likely for Australian farms to have their crops damaged or livestock harmed by wild predators for e.g. dingoes, foxes, coyotes and kangaroos in rural areas.
You can’t keep guard of your farm for 24 hours a day, so it becomes necessary to rely on a man’s trusted friend, the dog. Getting a dog and training it effectively to protect your farm is no-brainer of a decision, not just for the protection it brings, but also for the joy that comes with it!
However, there are certain dogs which are better suited for the job than others. With so many different breeds, it’s hard to know which one will be suitable for your needs, and even before selecting a breed, you need to decide if you want a guardian dog, a working dog or a herding dog.
Which Dogs Are Best to Work on a Farm?
A working dog is basically a broad term for a dog who has a specific job to do. Guard dogs and herding dogs fall under the category of working dogs, however, there is a range of breeds that do a number of different dogs such as police dogs, guide dogs (for blind people), therapy dogs and service dogs. So it’s important to know which breed is right for which job.
Guardian dogs, or guard dogs, have evolved over centuries working with humans, guarding their livestock on farms. Therefore they have developed specific skills over this period of time.
They have learned how to live outdoors regardless of the season, they have developed high awareness of danger and the behavioral patterns of livestock, being able to read their body language to know if there is any problem, and most importantly, they can be trusted around the livestock! Not all dogs have the self-control to not attack animals for food.
These dogs are more suitable for herding livestock. Helping to migrate large groups of farm animals from one area to another without any of them getting lost or wandering off. These dogs have developed good navigational skills and save the farmer a lot of time and energy chasing stray cattle by going and retrieving them and keeping an eye on proceedings.
Which Kind of Guardian Dog Is Right for You?
Now that you know a guard dog is best suited for what you need, the hardest decision is still in front of you, which type of breed should you get?
This isn’t an easy choice, and you have a lot of options, so to make it easier we’ll go through a number of breeds, their characteristics
For centuries, they have played a very important role in protecting flocks of sheep and livestock from predators. With an average lifespan of 12 years, their physical strength and size make it easy for them to scare off predators away from farms and their crops and animals.
They are known for their courage, bravery and protective instincts, making them a natural fit for the job. To add to this they require very little supervision. Once they’ve been raised and turned from pups into adult dogs, you can trust them to behave appropriately and unlike many dogs, can leave them alone while you tend to your other jobs, which is quite useful when your job is to run an entire farm!
Their qualities don’t just end there. As well as being naturally alert and protective dogs, they have a very calm and understanding nature. They generally have a steady temperament and get along with humans and children, developing a strong bond with them, so not only will they protect their animals on the farm, they will also protect you and your family!
Maremma Sheepdog are definitely one of the best guardian dogs for Australian farms and should definitely be near the top of your list when considering which working dog you get.
Though its origins are disputed (many claim it comes from the border of Scotland and England), there’s no denying that Border Collie’s are the classic Australian working dog.
Highly energetic, loyal, aware and hard-working, border collie’s have made great companions for farmers all around Australia. With a 12+ year life expectancy, border collie’s quickly become part of the family as they are friendly with children and protective by nature.
They have all the qualities you need from a working farm dog, they are strong hunters with a good sense of danger. Though they are only medium-sized dogs they are strong, fast and have tons of stamina. Border Collie’s have proven themselves to be excellent at herding, guiding and protecting a wide range of livestock.
Unlike Sheepdog, however, Border Collie’s do demand a lot of attention and need to be stimulated, so keep that in mind when considering this breed.
Another famous Australian farming dog, Kelpie’s share many of the same characteristics as collies and sheepdogs in that they have a natural talent and instinct for guarding, protecting, guiding and hard work.
With a lifespan that ranges between 11 and 16 years, Kelpie’s are highly intelligent breeds, which makes them one of the best herding and working dogs for Australian farms as they think independently and take their own initiative meaning they can herd livestock without any supervision (once trained)!
Small in stature yet athletic and durable, these dogs need space to exercise and burn that energy off. Their need for exercise, combined with their curious mind means they can be disastrous if left alone in a small confined space.
Originating from Turkey, these large dogs are not just excellent guardian dogs but also wonderful companions. They are calm and composed by nature, meaning they will get along and protect your family just as well as your livestock.
With a strong sense of awareness, these dogs are brave, loyal, intelligent and easily trained. They have thick fur which makes them ideal for harsh climates and terrain such as the Australian outback and they have a strong work ethic.
Though their lifespan only ranges from 10 to 13 years, they are a fantastic choice for being a guardian dog.
Australian Cattle Dog (a.k.a Blue Heeler)
A medium-sized dog bred specifically to be a working dog, Blue Heeler’s are incredible companions. Loyal, protective, adaptable and agile, these dogs go a long way in helping Australian farmers protect and guide their livestock.
Their excellent health and long lifespan (up to 15 years), make them a solid option for farmers who will take care of livestock, family and real estate. However it’s important to mention that Heeler’s were not bred specifically for guardian purposes. Though they share many of the characteristics needed to be a guardian dog, there are other breeds that are a more natural fit for the role.
Jack Russell Terrier
This small, wonderful breed of dog most certainly has its role on a farm. Energetic and natural breeders, these dogs are great at ensuring the farmland and barn are clear of rodents. They are fast, determined dogs who can do a job protecting cattle, however, these dogs need high-level training at an early age.
If not given thorough and professional training these dogs are counterproductive for farmers, attacking livestock as opposed to protecting them. So though they are useful to keep around, if you’re looking for a guardian dog, you are likely to find other breeds more suitable.
A breed raised for farm and ranch work, the Australian Shepherd is equally as hard-working as it is adorable. What it lacks in stature it makes up for with feistiness and dogged determination. Full of energy and running, this medium-sized dog lives quite long, between 13 and 15 years and can be great around family and young children.
However, it’s another breed that needs a lot of attention and mental stimulation due to its high intelligence. It can be a great breed on a farm as a working dog and even a guardian dog though it will require a lot of training, attention and supervision which may not be for everyone.
What should I look for in a guardian dog for an Australian farm?
A guard dog is an integral part of a farm. The work it does in protecting and herding the livestock is invaluable, and it can also be an emotionally supportive companion.
When looking for a guardian dog there are certain characteristics you have to look out for. Firstly, it’s a natural ability to hunt and protect. Secondly, it’s physical prowess, speed, strength, stamina, etc. Thirdly, you must see its intelligence and temperament. In an ideal world, you want a guardian dog who is a sharp, independent thinker with a calm personality that can get along with and protect your family but also not be high maintenance and be comfortable on its own. Finally, you have to see how trainable the dog is and how suited he is to the environment around him.
How should I train my dog?
When you first get your dog, it is imperative to get it some quality training, especially during the first 12 months.
When needing a dog for farm work, it’s highly advisable to try and find a professional to train it in accordance with everything you want. Your list of demands should be high if you want your dog to be a great guardian dog and companion.
Training might cost you a bit but once you make that initial investment, it will pay off for years to come and you won’t have to try and make it unlearn bad habits which can be a nightmare!