Choosing a Farm Dog: Which Breed is Best for Your Country Homestead?

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No matter how big or small your homestead is, there is always work to be done, and a faithful farm dog can be a great addition to keep you company. There are a number of different types of dogs that people may need on a farm or homestead; herding dogs, livestock guardians, and all-around helpful farm dogs.

But which breeds are best for your country home? Which breeds will get along best with your animals? There are a good variety of farm dogs to choose from but some will be better than others at certain tasks. Take some time to evaluate what jobs you would like your dog to assist you with and what kind of life you can provide for your new companion.

Keep in mind that even with proper training certain dogs may not be the best fit for your farm and in that event would end up needing to be rehomed. Your farm dog will need time to adjust to your land, animals, and family, but once they’ve got the hang of it they can make all the difference. Here are some suggestions on our favorite dogs for the job.

Livestock Guardians

In the past, we have discussed dangers on the farm and different methods for keeping livestock safe from predators. They are prey animals, so you either need excellent fencing or a good guardian.

Below are some of the most popular breeds of farm dogs for the job for the role of livestock guardian. They are the easiest to find, but may not necessarily be the best, so take time to consider your options as these dogs will be living with your livestock all year long.

Great Pyrenees

Great Pyrenees lying on grass

The Great Pyrenees is the most common dog found on homesteads. They are large, strong dogs that are very hard workers. They are also very affectionate and are good around children if you have a family.

While they were originally bred to be vigilant protectors, their popularity has led to them no longer having great instincts. This can lead to problems when it comes to being around poultry. You will need to train them early and keep an eye on your Great Pyrenees to discern their temperament and instincts.

Obedience training may be difficult as the Great Pyrenees is a very independent dog, but with early socialization and consistent bonding, this dog could be a wonderful addition to your homestead.

Anatolian Shepherds

Anatolian dog

Anatolian Shepherds are another good option to consider. This ancient breed is very protective of its family and is one of the most loyal dogs you can find.

This dog needs an experienced handler as they need strict socialization and training. It is not recommended for first-time dog owners. While Anatolian Shepherds make good guardians and will love and protect your family and children, they are not happy simply as pets. They prefer to be outside in the open and will have a hard time if you try to confine them inside your home.

They are rugged dogs, so no matter what your climate and terrain throw at them, they are ready to take on the challenge.  

Maremma

Maremma running on grassland

Maremma is an excellent but rare breed of guardian dog in the United States. They are bold, independent, and friendly companions. Like the Anatolian Shepherds, they need an experienced trainer who will assert themselves as the pack leader. If you get one as a puppy they need careful observation even though Maremmas have almost no hunting instincts and readily accept other animals.

While they are very playful and protective, as puppies they may be a bit overzealous and can unintentionally hurt small animals like chickens or baby goats trying to play with them. They will not be happy if forced to be inside your home but socialized puppies will grow up to be good family dogs. While adult dogs may not seem very outwardly attached to their owners they are known to be very fond of children.

Herding Dogs

Herding dogs are for people who have sheep that need to be moved. These dogs will need consistent training to become good herders.

While great with flocks, they should not be left with livestock 24/7. Most herding dogs are high-energy and would probably be trying to move them from place to place in the pasture if constantly left with their flock just because that’s their instinct.

A perk of herding dogs is they can be great family pets in their off time and live happily with you in the house. Here’s our guide on the most popular herding dogs for your farm.

Border Collies

Border Collies on the field

Border Collies are lovable, affectionate, hard-working dogs. They are adaptable dogs with a very low prey drive making them excellent with both herds and families.

They need a lot of mental and physical stimulation, they will benefit from long walks or playtime with their owners even after a long day of work. Border Collies are very intelligent, so don’t be surprised if they outsmart you once in a while.

But even though they love to be out running in the fields they will be just as happy playing with toys inside your home. While training is a must for these dogs, early socialization for Border Collies should be of paramount importance.

Australian Shepherds

Australian Shepherd lying on grass

Australian Shepherds are even-tempered and intelligent working dogs who love spending time bonding with their families. They are very attentive and animated companions. They are playful and are great for people with young children at home.

Australian Shepherds are extremely high-energy and will need a lot of mental stimulation, but their intelligence makes them very easy to train when done consistently.

Because of the strong bonds formed between these dogs and their owners they will love to accompany you on all sorts of adventures including daily runs and hiking.

They should not be left alone for long periods of time as these dogs can become destructive if they do not have consistent quality time with their companions.

English Shepherds

English Shepherd on the farm

English Shepherds are a wonderful but rare dog to find. They are so loyal and attached to their owners that they have earned the nickname “shadow shepherds.”

They are extremely high-energy, eager to please dogs, with keen senses, making them a great help on the homestead or a small family farm. At the end of a long day, they want nothing more than to spend quality time with their people.

English Shepherds are intelligent but at the same time can be stubborn and a bit of a control freak.  For this reason, they may not be a good fit for first-time dog owners as they need an experienced trainer. But with consistent work, the English Shepherd will become immediately responsive to commands, making them a very reliable companion.

Pet Dogs on the Farm

Pet dogs are not classic working or herding dogs but will still make great companions on the homestead. While I just chose a couple, there are many other breeds out there that would make a great addition to a homestead.

While they are not working on the farm you still have to be conscious of the dog you choose for your country home. They must be easily trained and very responsive to your commands as they more than likely won’t have a natural instinct around animals. They must also have a low prey drive as you don’t want them causing harm to your livestock or family.

Collies

beautiful Collie

Collies are very vocal and exceptional family dogs as they are famously fond of children. They are easily trainable and always ready to learn and develop more skills throughout their lives.

While they are no longer primarily bred for herding, they still carry some natural instinct, meaning they have a low prey drive and are good around other animals. This dog needs as much quality time as they do exercise so they can be a good balance for a busy farm family. Collie’s simply just want to be around their people, and being left alone too long can lead to some very loud vocalizations in protest.

Golden Retrievers

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are quintessential, all-around wonderful dogs. Loyal, playful, and a true family dog, the Golden Retriever would be a great addition to your country home.

Goldens are very easily trainable and will adjust well on the farm. They do have a low prey drive but can be very curious. It’s this puppy-like nature that can cause them to be overly interested in your smaller animals like chickens or ducks. With consistent training, these dogs will live happy lives among your livestock.

They do not need as much exercise as other breeds and are just as happy napping as they are playing out in the yard, but when it is time to work they are eager to please and ready to go.

Dogs To Avoid

Dogs to avoid on your farm or homestead are any dogs with a high prey drive or a natural chase instinct. While these dogs can make loyal companions, their natural instincts can overwhelm their training even with the most experienced of handlers.

German Shepherds have a high prey drive and are more likely to injure small or baby animals.

Greyhounds may love having wide open space to test the limits of their speed but historically they have been bred and trained to chase small things and could cause harm to small livestock.

Some other breeds to avoid because of their high prey drive are Jack-Russell Terriers, Doberman Pinschers, Beagles, Great Danes, Rottweilers, and Pit Bulls.

Preparations for Bringing Home your New Farm Dog

When you bring home your new farm dog it is advised to start training and bonding as soon as possible, especially for herding dogs, in order to build up their confidence. Puppies will need early and rigorous training from their owners to ensure they understand direction and develop trust.

If you have adopted an older dog they may already come with some training but they will still need work as they adjust to their new environment. Prepare a schedule, treats, and toys before bringing your dog home so you have all the tools you need to begin bonding with your companion.

To keep their bodies in top form, your dog’s diet is essential to their care. High-quality diets that are rich in protein and supplemented with vitamins are a must.

There are several brands that have food specific to herding and guarding dogs. Or, you can take control of your dog’s nutrition yourself and feed them a raw food diet. Raw food diets don’t just include raw meat but fruits and vegetables as well. Your garden may already have fresh foods like pumpkin and blueberries for your new furry addition, but don’t stress if not as you can always prepare to grow dog-friendly produce next season.

Next, be prepared to keep them active and engaged even when they are not on the job. Most dogs are already very social and active when off the clock. They love to play and need mental stimulation just as much as physical. Even something as simple as going on a walk with your dog after a long day in the field will keep them happy and bonded to you.

If you plan to adopt a dog that will also be spending time inside your home make sure to collect plenty of toys for them to choose from. An idle and bored dog can lead to less desirable behavior like messing with couches, furniture, and carpets.

Because of the nature of their work and environment, farm dogs find themselves prone to injury. They are susceptible to limb fractures and joint injuries, especially in their hind legs. They can also have muscle and tendon injuries or tears to their calcaneal tendon and ACL. These serious injuries can lead to vet visits, hospitalizations, or even surgery to rectify serious damage.

These situations are not uncommon and can come with a very hefty price. Having a dog in your family is an investment for your homestead and it’s important to look into options to ensure the best care for any eventuality. This might have you wondering if pet insurance is worth it. Without insurance, the price of surgery to handle injuries can rack up very quickly and that’s just the beginning of your dog’s road to recovery. With insurance, you can ensure you have the means for proper care, and your dog will live a long and happy life running around your homestead, protecting your animals, and playing with your family.

Having a farm dog on your homestead can be both productive and rewarding. Take time to do your research and reach out to others for their experience as well, so you can feel confident in your choice when you are ready to adopt.

It may take a while to find your perfect pup but you can’t rush finding the perfect dog for the job. With ample time comes ample preparation, and when the time comes to bring your dog home you will have the tools and resources ready to start a new chapter on your homestead and your new companion among your livestock.

To learn more, check out our tips for success with farm dogs.

To properly and safely introduce your dog to your chickens, check out this guide.

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8 thoughts on “Choosing a Farm Dog: Which Breed is Best for Your Country Homestead?”

  1. I’m so glad you have English Shepherds on the list! I like to describe them as a Border Collie on Xanax. They do have a good herding instinct, but they do not have the neuroticism the Border Collie does, and to an extent the Australian Shepherd. We have two, and they can get down and dirty when they need to, but they love just chilling on the couch when we’re in the house too. They are great ratters as well. I grew up with herding dogs, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Australian Cattle dogs (Blue heelers), and Catahoulas. I love all the herding breeds, but I knew the English Shepherds temperament fit our lifestyle the best.

    Reply
  2. GREAT ARTICLE! I have a Chocolate Lab girl now 6 years old and completely adapted to farm life, protects well from the giant coyotes we have in No Nv and has even stopped a Golden Eagle from attacking the chickens. I am considering adding a livestock dog though to better protect my goats in the winter when attacks are more often. I was wondering about the variables in male/female in the livestock dogs. Maybe I missed it. I owned 4 male Labs before this female and found them 5 times harder to manage the hunting instinct.

    Reply
    • We’ve had 2 females and 2 males, so this is not a validated scientific study or anything like that, but in our experience, the males have been much worse about wandering and thinking that they need to patrol a thousand acres. If the electric fence goes down, they are out of there! And one of our males was such a great escape artist that by the time we had reinforced the fence enough that he couldn’t escape, I realized there was no way a coyote could have gotten in there either. One of our males was also VERY dog aggressive, so we could not get another dog until he was too old to care. I’ve heard that that trait is more common with males.

      Reply
  3. I intend to start a livestock farm shortly. I live in Nigeria. What dogs will be good for my farm?
    I love German shepherd dogs and intend to have them in my house.
    What do you advice?

    Reply
    • German shepherds have a high prey drive and are NOT recommended for use around livestock. They have a reputation for killing chickens and smaller animals like baby goats. If you want to leave a dog with your livestock, it should be one of the livestock guardian breeds.

      Reply

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