Glorified by fond memories, our old Doberman-mix, Kai, was the model farm dog.
He enjoyed napping peacefully in a patch of sunlight, never bothered livestock, andâwhile keen to warn us of intruders with a suitably scary barkâhe worshipped all humans.
In reality, of course, Kai was somewhat less than perfect. He relished snacking on manure (ugh!) and, given the opportunity, would have embarked on an exciting but short career as a car-chaser.
|Farm Dog Checklist
Help keep your country canine happy, healthy and safe by providing the following:
1. A yearly veterinary exam and needed vaccinations.
2. Protection from and treatment for parasites like tapeworm, heartworm, fleas and ticks.
3. Regular grooming and nail-clipping.
4. A healthy diet and fresh, clean water.
5. Shelter from the elements.
6. An identification tag, license and microchip.
7. Plenty of exercise.
8. Basic obedience training.
9. Supervision and protection from rural dangers.
10. Love and attention!
Kai, however, seems like a saint compared to our current canine.
An active Coonhound mix, Pippin lives for three things: to eat any substance vaguely resembling food; to sniff out and chase innocent, little furred or feathered creatures; and to bark at our horses in as obnoxious a tone as possible.
As a puppy, he was in perpetual motion and constantly in trouble. Need I say he seldom took naps in the sunshine? Fortunately, thanks to dog-proofing and much training on our part, plus several years of mellowing maturity on his, Pippin is no longer the scourge of the farmstead. Still, heâs got a long way to go if he hopes to achieve doggy sainthood.
What about your country dog? Does he terrorize your sheep, wander into the road or demolish your vegetable garden? Whether youâre already dealing with a troublesome canine or currently contemplating a tail-wagging addition to your farm family, check out these tips for helping Spot meld safely and harmoniously into rural life.
Obedience 101 for Farm Dogs
Sadly, too many dogs wind up inÂ shelters due to behavioral problems or a failure to fit into their ownerâs lifestyle; country dogs are no exception. While obedience training wonât prevent every problem, it can go a long way toward making any dog-city, suburban or ruralâeasier to live with.Â âFarm dogs need to know the basics, such as âcome,â âsit,â âstay,â âlie downâ and âleave it,ââ says Eve Marshark, Ph.D., a certified dog behavior consultant who, along with her helpful Border Collies, tends a small flock of sheep on her farm in Bedminster, Pa. âUnderstanding these commands will allow you to walk with your dog and keep him under control in many situations. Of course, for training and in truly hazardous situations, you must use a leash or long line for safety.â
Dana Agresta, a Rottweiler rescuer whose menagerie at Hidden Oak Farm in Chuluota, Fla. includes miniature donkeys, horses and sheep, also believes in the power of basic obedience. âDogs need to be taught right from wrong just like a child,â she says.Â âLearning the simple commands such as sit, down and stay makes them an asset as a companion and a farm dog.â
Whatâs so special about these commands? Imagine somebody left your gate open and you see your dog preparing to dash into the road. If heâs learned âcomeâ or a solid âsit/stay,â it could save his life. Or say an elderly relative drops by; instead of letting your enthusiastic hound jump on her, you can spare her some bruises by commanding him to âdown/stay.â âLeave itâ is a helpful command to use when your best friend steals your work gloves, gobbles manure or chases chickens. Youâll find these commands come in handy in many other farm situations as well.
Of course, with time and patience you can teach your dog much more than the basics. Agrestaâs sevenÂ Rottweilers know how to bring her items like the water hose, pitchfork and buckets, and they herd her sheep into the barn. Once, when her elderlyÂ horse fell and couldnât rise, she instructed her dog, Mo, to sit/stay, ran to grab a halter and lead, slipped it on the gelding, and gave Mo the end of the lead rope. Grabbing her horseâs tail, she instructed Mo to âbring itâ as she started to pull. The dog backed up, yanking hard, and with their combined efforts the horse gained enough leverage to get up.
|To Roam or Not to Roam?
Roaming dogs are a pet peeve of mine, and for good reason.
As a child I was bitten by a neighborâs Boxer while bicycling and knocked flat when a German Shepherd jumped me from behind en route to school.
During my short stint as a veterinary assistant, I saw dogs suffer and die after being crushed by cars. Once, an unleashed American Pit Bull Terrier attacked my gentle, old dog and had to be pried off his foreleg; on another occasion I found my daughterâs favorite ewe lying dead and torn in our pasture with the two culpritsâa Labrador and Shepherdâstill at the scene.
Think your dog will lead a happier life cavorting across the countryside?Â Maybe, but probably not for long.
Roaming dogs risk deadly encounters with cars and irate farmers as well as injury by wild animals and livestock. They can bite people, cause vehicle and bicycle accidents, and kill stock, wildlife and pets.Â Depending on your local animal control laws, your dog could be impounded and you could receive a hefty fine. You might even find yourself facing litigation.
Hereâs how four rural dog owners weigh in on the issue:
âI donât leave my dogs outside unattended, and weâre all fenced in. Many people today still think that a dog needs to be free to run in order to be happy.Â Thatâs simply just not true.ââEve Marschark, Bedminster, Pa.
âI strongly believe that all my animalsâlivestock and dogsâneed to be kept safe and secure on my property.ââDana Agresta, Chuluota, Fla.
âI donât believe in allowing dogs to roam. Dogs are pack animalsâŚ even a well-trained herding dog in a pack will revert to its natural instinct to hunt and kill prey.ââTerry Workman, Bennet, Neb.
âThe most trouble Iâve had in country living is the neighbor dog that ânever does anything wrongâ and âwouldnât harm a fleaâ who came over and destroyed livestock and chased pregnant ewes until they aborted.ââDiana Dyer, Port Townsend, Wash.Â
Whether you decide to attend an organized obedience class with your dog, hire a trainer or try teaching him on your own, consistent positive reinforcement training will produce the best results. âIâm a firm believer in positive reinforcement,â says Terry Workman, a herding dog trainer who owns four Border Collies and one Bearded Collie, as well as keeps hair sheep, Fainting goats and waterfowl on her farm, Way to Me Acres, in Bennet, Neb. âIn other words, I use a lot of praise and never strike a dog in training. The only negative reinforcement I use is to change the pitch of my voice.â
Agresta also uses plenty of praise and treats when training her dogs and steering them away from undesirable behavior. If a dog chases a horse through the fence, for example, sheâll give him a command to sit or lie down. Obeying brings praise and a canine cookie; continuing to act crazy earns the offender a âtime-outâ on the leash or in a portable pen. âIf a dog wants the privilege of being loose with the other dogs, he has to learn appropriate behavior,â Agresta says.
To find a local dog trainer knowledgeable in positive reinforcement techniques, Marschark recommends checking the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) website.
âThere are also some good books that can help you select and train a new dog. Anything by Ian Dunbar, Patricia McConnell or Pat Miller can help with training,â she says.
Dog-Proofing Your Farm
With its wide-open spaces andÂ animals to sniff out, the country may seem like an idyllic place for a dog to live, but itâs also fraught with dangers from gun-toting neighbors to pooch-stomping horses.
And dogsâespecially if theyâre young, untrained, unsupervised or boredâcan wreak havoc on your stock, belongings and property.
âThe most important thing I can recommend is to be 100 percent proactive with your dog,â says Marschark. âKnow what he is doing at all times by supervising his activities indoors and out until heâs at least three years old. Use fences, a crate or kennel when you canât devote your undivided attention to his safety. This sounds like a burden, but once you get a routine established, it isnât too difficult.â
Well-maintained fencing, for which you have various options, will help keep your dog from wandering onto the road, harassing your neighborâs expensive alpacas or chomping on an unwary bicyclist. âThe first thing we had installed when we moved to our farm was a chain link fence and in the last year we had a kennel with four dog runs built,â says Workman. âIn the time weâve lived on our farm, weâve seen numerous dogs and cats killed along the road. I believe good fencing is just as important in the country as in the city; we may have less traffic, but we still have traffic.â
The right fence can also protect your dog from hazardous encounters with livestock and wild animals. Diana Dyer of Whisky Hill Farm in Port Townsend, Wash., uses a combination of ElectroBraidâ˘ electric fencing (five strands) and square-wire fencing around her property to keep her two Welsh Corgis and two mixed breed dogs in, and coyotes out. âThe horses and goats are fenced in their own paddocks; the dogs patrol the farm but arenât invited to run loose with the livestock. This keeps them from playing with the stock and hurting a goat or getting kicked by a horse,â she says.
Agresta has surrounded her entire property with no-climb horse wire and panel mesh gates. She posts signs to inform visitors that dogs and livestock live on the property and to keep the gates closed. As an extra security measure, she always keeps the dogs inside the house when sheâs away.
âIâm a big fan of stock fencing and woven wire to keep dogs on the property,â Marschark says.Â âI donât like invisible fences, since dogs are vulnerable to attack from outside dogs that come onto the property and since they can still get run over by a car coming up the driveway. The invisible-fenced-in dog will take the shock when heâs chasing after a squirrel, but not want to come home through the fence for fear of the shock. Also, the equipment can be triggered by things like electric garage-door openers.â
Fences will help keep your dog from trampling or digging in your vegetable and flower gardens, too. Keep in mind, however, that since many dogs excel at digging, jumping and even climbing, itâs difficult to make a fence completely canine-proof. If you want to ensure your bored pet stays home while youâre away at work, keep your dog confined in the house or in a secure kennel.
Other safety basics include storing antifreeze, pesticides and other poisons safely out of your petâs reach, and confining your dog when operating tractors or other potentially dangerous farm machinery. Although it may be common rural practice, donât let your dog ride in an open pick-up bed, no matter how happy it makes him; even tied dogs have fallen to their deaths, and in the event of an accident your pet doesnât stand a chance.
Country Canine Etiquette
Of course, itâs just as important to be a good neighbor in the country as it is in the city, and that means not letting your dog wander over to your neighborâs property to defecate, dig or bother livestock and people (fencing will help here). Folks who live close by will also appreciate it if you keep the countryside smelling sweet by picking up pet waste on your farm and disposing of it properly. If youâre invited to another farm and want to bring your pet, ask first. âIâve had many people come over with their dog in tow, thinking it would be great if their dog could practice herding my goats. Not so,â Dyer says. âPeople need to realize that maybe their dogs arenât welcome at anotherâs farm.â Even kept at home, your dog can annoy neighbors with excessive barking and howling, especially if he’s bored orÂ seldom exercisedâor worse, chained toÂ a doghouse all day. âI see barking as a lack of interaction between the person and the dog,â explains Marschark. âRemember that dogs co-evolved with people, which means they were meant to be with people, not kept in solitary isolation tied to a doghouse.Â Dogs are social creatures and they need someone with whom to interact, play ball, walk or do farm chores.â
That would be you and me, so letâs go have some fun with our farm dogs.
*This article first appeared in theÂ May/JuneÂ 2006 issue of Hobby Farms magazine. Subscribe to Hobby Farms today!