Dogs on the Homestead
I have had dogs all my life. When I was a kid I had a dog for as long as I can remember. At first, they were my parents’ dogs and eventually I had a dog of my very own.
When I moved into my first apartment I went to a shelter and got a dog almost immediately. He was a little scruffy “Benji” type dog and he was always so excited to see me when I got home from work. Probably being locked in the apartment all day had something to do with that.
Later in life when I got my first small property and was raising sheep and goats I invested first into a Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog. His name was Max and he loved his sheep (the goats, not so much). He would sprint to the far corners of the pasture at the slightest hint of an intruder and he was an intimidating sight. We never lost so much as a chicken while Max was on duty.
When we moved to a larger property and the sheep and goats were more spread out I started looking for a dog to help work livestock and bring them in. Often rattling a feed bucket works but when the grass is lush sometimes they don’t want to come up for worming or sheering time. I had an Australian Shepherd already but if it was hot she would go to the pond or a water trough whether her work was done or not.
So I started looking into Border Collies. I met another farmer that raised registered Border Collies and his dogs were good workers but he wanted more than I could justify spending for them. One day he called me and asked if I’d be interested in an 18-month-old, spayed female someone had returned because she was too much for them to handle. We took her out to his cows and she showed zero interest in working. I was skeptical that I would be able to train her as she seemed to have no inherent desire but when he said he was going to put her down if I didn’t want her there was no way I could leave her there.
Training from Scratch
I took her home and started what would be months of trial and error following a training plan I had acquired on an old VHS tape, but one day it seemed a light had come on in her. We worked every day building on “Come Bye” and “Away to Me” along with down, stay, easy and slow. Soon she would go to the far side of the pasture and bring the sheep and goats to the pen. She would even help me separate them just by me pointing and saying That One. I could go on and on, she was THAT DOG for me.
How to Pick a Dog for YOUR Homestead
Now that you have decided to get a dog and are prepared to care for it properly. Before picking out a dog you need to ask yourself and be honest when you answer, a couple of questions.
- What do I expect my dog to do? Dogs provide various services on the homestead. As mentioned above they can be guardians or helpers. They can also be just as valuable as a companion and “someone” there that’s glad to see you even if you didn’t finish weeding the garden. Once you’ve decided on what you expect then you can pick a breed with a temperament that will fit your desire. Do A LOT of research and ask A LOT of questions. Facebook groups are a great place to start, then go visit some farms that have the breeds that interest you. Remember, getting a dog is a 15 to 20-year commitment, there’s no reason to decide on one spur of the moment.
- Do I have the patience and time to devote to training a dog from a puppy? Once you’ve settled on a breed now its time to research training requirements. Don’t be shy here either. Talk to trainers, read a book, watch YouTube and again scour Facebook groups. It’s OK to not train your own dog. However, it will cost you more to have one trained or buy one that is already trained. Stay away from dogs that have washed out on other farms. They will have bad habits and are not going to be easy on a first-time trainer.
Where to Get a Dog
Finding full-bred, or registered dogs is easy enough. While you researched dog breeds you likely made connections with a farm that either has them. If they don’t they will have some or know who has some pups coming soon.
Picking a dog from a shelter isn’t always a bad idea. While you will not have any idea what their heritage is it is possible to do DNA testing to know what breeds are in the mix.