Homesteading and living off the grid is a fantastically rewarding way to live. You and your family enjoy the experience of being self-sufficient, relying on each other and like-minded neighbors. You get to raise your children in a manner that works for you. You can protect them from the dangers and influences of modern society and city life. You also get to instill in them a love of and appreciation for the natural world and animals. Undoubtedly you keep animals, grow your own food, and live off of the land. To help you be efficient, for companionship, and for protection, you may be interested in getting a dog.
Dogs on farms can be useful in many ways. They offer protection from intruders and wildlife. A bark and menacing growl from a big dog can be enough to keep a curious bear way from your home. They can protect your chickens, geese, sheep, cows, and other animals from raccoons, coyotes, and even wolves. They can help you herd and organize your animals. And, of course, a dog can provide you and your family with a wonderful, loyal, and loving companion.
The Personality and Temperament of a Farm Dog
Dogs have been bred for thousands of years to perform different tasks and functions. You can find a dog breed that will do very specific things: herd livestock, guard livestock, protect the household, pull equipment, track prey, or retrieve prey. Dogs are versatile, but what if you want one or two all-around good farm dogs?
A farm dog that can play a variety of roles should be loyal, eager to work for his owners, companionable, easy going, and protective. If you can find one dog with all of these characteristics, you will have a great companion who will also make himself very useful around the homestead.
The Best Breeds for Farm Life
If you want a dog for a specific task, you can find many breeds to fill that role. For example, an Anatolian Shepherd will protect your livestock with his life, a Border Collie will begin to herd your animals as soon as he sees them, a Viszla will help you track and find birds, and a Doberman Pinscher will protect your home and family willingly. There are also several breeds of dogs that will be game to do just about any task for you:
- Bouvier des Flandres. The Bouvier, as it is known for short, has long been used as a great, all-around farm dog. The breed was developed in Belgium by working families who needed a working dog to help them do a variety of tasks. As a result, the Bouvier is one of the most versatile dogs around. Bouviers can herd, pull carts, track, and protect. Bouviers have the herding instinct, but will also pull equipment for you (called droving in the dog world) or track prey while hunting. They are extremely loyal to their family and will protect you fiercely if necessary. As such, they are wary of strangers. They will not attack unless you are threatened, but don’t expect them to get excited about visitors either.
- German Shepherd. Another versatile breed is the German Shepherd. The breed was only standardized in the 1890s, but these types of dogs were working in Germany long before then. Originally bred to be herding dogs, German Shepherds became famous for their intelligence, loyalty, protection abilities, and ease of training. Military and police forces have taken advantage of these traits and have used German Shepherds for tracking, rescue, searching, and protection. On a farm, a German Shepherd will be your willing and loyal companion, and their intelligence makes them easier to train than many other breeds. They will herd your livestock, protect them from predators, and guard your house as well. In addition to the work, they will also be very affectionate and loving family pets.
- Labrador Retriever. Labs have long been America’s favorite dog for a reason. You will find few dogs that are more loyal, loving, and willing to work than a Labrador retriever. Labs are often used as assistance dogs for physically impaired people because they are easy to train, laid back, and eager to please. These same traits are what make them great all-around farm dogs. Labs were bred for hunting. They have a soft mouth for retrieving birds. You will be able to train a lab to retrieve for you, track prey, and pull carts. Labs will also be able to act as a watchdog, but don’t expect them to guard you. Labs are not eager to attack anyone, although they might do so in dire circumstances. Don’t underestimate, though, the power of a good watchdog. Your lab will alert you to intruders or predators coming after your livestock.
- Australian Shepherd. The Australian Shepherd, which was actually developed in the US, not Australia, is another great all-around dog. They were, as the name indicates, bred to be herding dogs, but they are extremely intelligent and able to learn to do a variety of jobs. They are friendly and companionable and can even herd and protect your small children. They are eager to work and learn and are very easy to train. Like labs, they are more watchdogs than guard dogs. They will alert you to predators.
- Terriers. The terriers are a group of dog breeds, most small to medium in size. Terriers are not what many people today think of when imagining a working farm dog, but they were initially bred to help out on the farms in England, Ireland, and Scotland. Most terriers were bred for the specific task of clearing out vermin: mice, rats, fox, rabbits, and even badgers. As such, terriers are very tenacious and tough little dogs. In the show ring they may look dainty and fussy, but these dogs are anything but. A terrier can keep your barn and house clear of mice and rats. They will chase raccoons away from your chickens. They will even alert you to larger, more serious predators like coyotes. Terriers are tough, intelligent, and feisty. Here are some terrier breeds to consider adding to your farm: Fox, Kerry Blue, Welsh, Irish, Border, and Airedale.
- Mutts. Don’t forget the world’s most prevalent dog: the mutt. Many people turn their noses up at the prospect of getting a mixed breed dog, but those who know dogs know better. Mutts lack many of the inherited genetic health problems that purebred dogs have. They also have many of the great properties that purebred dogs have like intelligence, loyalty, and willingness to work. Try visiting a local shelter to pick out a mutt. You may be surprised by what you get, and you are likely to find a companion that will live longer than you expected.
How to Find Your New Dog
Because you are selecting your dog for farm life, stay away from breeders who raise show dogs. There is a huge difference between a dog bred for the show ring and one bred for working, even within the same breed. Find a breeder who raises working dogs if you plan to buy a puppy.
If you are interested in rescuing a dog, and you don’t feel like you need to raise your new member of the household from puppyhood, try a breed rescue group. Nearly every breed of dog has a corresponding rescue group dedicated to finding suitable homes for dogs that have been rejected. Often, the reason these dogs are given up by their original owners is nothing to do with the dog itself. Too many people select a dog breed without knowing anything about it and only later find out it is not suitable for their lifestyle. You can help these dogs by giving one a home and a job to do. Many of these abandoned dogs are perfect for farm life.
Getting a dog for your homestead is a decision you are not likely to regret. In fact, you may find you could use more than one. Dogs provide invaluable services. They help you run your farm more efficiently and help you prevent loss of livestock. They also give you peace of mind, protection, and years of companionship.
©2012 Off the Grid News