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Keeping Your Working Dog Safe, Healthy, and Happy

Having a dog or multiple dogs on your farm is a practical necessity. Dogs were bred to work, and working farm dogs are some of the oldest breeds around. They provide protection for both your home and your livestock. Some can herd your cattle better than you can, and others can keep pests and vermin out of the way. Your farm dogs can also be great companions.

Clearly your working farm dog is not the same kind of animal as a pampered pooch living in the suburbs or the city, but he is still man’s best friend. Your farm dog provides you and your family with invaluable services and also gives you loyalty and love. To keep him happy and working well for years, you need to take good care of him. Maybe you won’t be taking him to the groomer, but you can still keep your loyal buddy in good health and good spirits and ready to work for you.


Shelter for your dog is a basic need. He needs protection from the elements. If you live somewhere warm, he needs shade and a way to cool himself. If you live in a cold climate, he needs protection from frigid temperatures. If you live in a four seasons kind of place, you will need to consider all of the above. You can give him this protection by allowing him in the house or by giving him some type of separate shelter.

If you plan to keep your working dog out of the house, be sure he has adequate shelter. He will need a doghouse at a minimum. If it gets very cold where you live, you can insulate his house with hay or get a heated pad for him to sleep on at night. When it’s very hot out, keep a kiddie pool full of water at all times so he can cool off as needed.

City people would probably think you cruel for not allowing your dog in the house, but they don’t understand farm life. Giving your dog an alternate shelter is perfectly acceptable. He probably spends most of every day outside with you, so he can certainly sleep alone at night. You can also remind them that the majority of dogs in the world live outside. However, one compromise is to assign the dog one or two rooms in the house. Maybe he can sleep in the laundry room or mud room. A mudroom can also be a drying room. If you want to let your companion in the house, but not his mud, you can quarantine him in the mudroom until he is dry.

Food and Water

Your dog’s other basic needs are food and water. Whether your dog lives in or out, he should always have access to water. If he is living outdoors in cold temperatures, you can buy a heated water bowl so that the water will not freeze and therefore leave him high and dry. You can even find a heated bowl that is powered by a small solar panel. Check the bowl often to be sure it is not frozen and that he has plenty of water.

Food is very important to your dog. As a working dog, he is going to be working up an appetite. Of course, a good diet is necessary for any dog. A working dog like yours, however, really needs all the right nutrients to be active, healthy, and to keep up with his jobs. Consult with your local vet to find out what brand and type of food is best for a hard-working farm dog. Also find out how much he should eat. Labels on dog food bags tell you how much to feed per weight, but they do not necessarily consider the high activity level of a farm dog.

If you and your family are trying to live an organic and more natural lifestyle, you might consider doing the same for your dog. A diet of raw foods is a growing way to fuel dogs and mimics closely what dogs in the wild would eat. Before starting this type of diet, this Off the Grid News article can be very helpful.

Learn all the skills you need to live independently, but in harmony with the land…

Illnesses and Vaccinations

Once your dog has his basic needs met, it’s time to consider his medical care. You may not be taking him to the vet for every little concern, but you do need to get him some basic care to help him live a long life. Vaccinations are essential for keeping him from contracting several illnesses and diseases, which can be devastating to him and can potentially harm your other animals and your family. A vet will be able to tell you what vaccinations your dog should have and how often.

Here are some of the illnesses and diseases your dog may contract if not vaccinated:

  • Distemper. The distemper virus causes a fever, loss of appetite, coughing, runny nose, and fits with yelping and twitching. About half of dogs with distemper will recover, while the other half will die. It is contagious from dog to dog through the eyes and nose.
  • Parvovirus. Parvo is present in the feces and can remain viable for several days, making it highly contagious between dogs. One type of parvo affects puppies, while another variety can infect dogs of any age. Symptoms include fever, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, and blood in feces.
  • Hepatitis. Infectious hepatitis is not very common, but it is devastating. It manifests as vomiting, diarrhea, fever, thirst, listlessness, and eye and nose discharge.
  • Rabies. Rabies is terribly devastating and your dog can easily contract it from a wild animal. Symptoms include a change in behavior, unsteady walk, fear of water, and paralysis. Some dogs and humans go quite literally crazy. The disease acts quickly and will result in death. It can also be passed from your dog to a person.
  • Lyme disease. As a dog that will be outside for much of the time, your buddy is at risk for getting Lyme disease from ticks. A vaccine can prevent it.
  • Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that is not uncommon on farms. It is contracted through rat urine. Rats like the same fruits and vegetables we do. As rats sample your crops, they often urinate while nibbling. Inadvertently, you harvest your crops, don’t wash them or your hands properly, and then you begin eating or maybe share some with your dog. Or, your dog will innocently pick a piece of fruit off a tree that a rat has urinated on and come in contact with this usually fatal bacteria.  Vaccination against the bacteria has long been common for farm dogs (however not for humans). Outbreaks are not unique to farms, as cases have been reported in suburban areas as well. Symptoms of an infection include fever, depression, stiffness, abdominal pain, excessive drinking, or drooling. Time is really of the essence when treating leptospirosis, as the consequences for waiting it out can be as “minimal” as organ failure or quite dire.


Parasites are a major concern for farm dogs. Time spent outdoors and around other animals means that your farm dog can easily contract worms, fleas, or mites. The best way to prevent parasites in your dog is to keep all of your animals healthy. Even if you do though, your buddy will likely get a parasite at some point in time.

Some of the types of worms that your dog might become infested with are hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and tapeworms. To prevent heartworms, which can be fatal, be sure to give your dog a monthly preventative medicine. Heartworms are treatable, but he will have to stay inactive for a couple of months during that treatment. To prevent other worms as best you can, keep everything clean. Your dog’s house should be cleaned and disinfected regularly as should his food and water bowls.

Fleas can also be prevented with medication. You can use a long-lasting prevention that you apply to his coat for this purpose. Mites cause mange in dogs, yet another pest to which your friend is susceptible. Demodectic mange is caused by an overgrowth of a type of mite that is present on all dogs. It is not contagious. Sarcoptic mange is. It can be passed to other dogs and humans. Both can be treated topically, but it is best to simply avoid and treat early. To prevent mange, be devoted to cleanliness. If it strikes anyway, treat it as soon as possible. Watch out for lots of scratching and bits of missing fur.

Injuries and Trauma

Since your buddy is very active and he lives among other farm animals and wildlife, chances are he will get injured at some point. There is little you can do to prevent these accidents, but when they happen, take good care of your dog so he can get back to work. If you don’t live near a vet office, it’s not a bad idea to learn a little doggy first aid. Basic knowledge of treating and diagnosing injuries and accidents can really help keep him comfortable and stable until you can get to a vet.

One type of accident that you can certainly prevent is poisoning. Keep any materials that are poisonous well out of reach of your dog. Make sure that none of your farm equipment is leaking antifreeze. Dogs are drawn to the sweet taste it has and often die from drinking it.


Even if you only have one dog, you should seriously consider spaying or neutering. If you do not intend to breed your buddy, then it is not very fair to keep him intact. Not to mention, if you have nearby farms, he may feel compelled to wander that way for mating. It may seem cute and fun to end up with accidental puppies, but what will become of them? If you don’t have a use for more dogs, you will have to find somewhere else for your puppies, and they may end up in unfortunate situations. It is best to avoid litters of puppies.

To Roam or Not to Roam?

Every farm owner has to make the decision regarding the degree of freedom the dogs will have. Some people allow their farm dogs to go wherever they please, while others choose to keep them confined when not supervised. The decision is ultimately yours and should depend upon your dog’s nature, training, and temperament. Some dogs given this freedom stick close to home and others may venture far afield before coming back. Keeping your dog in a pen while unsupervised can help prevent the contraction of illnesses, accidents, and conflicts with wildlife, so it is worth considering.

©2012 Off the Grid News

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