Working dogs

05.09.13 Working dogs discussion archive

The benefit of a good working dog to the farm in terms of its ability, usefulness, companionship, cost and temperament is invaluable. Although quad bikes are more prevalent nowadays, a good dog is priceless and will always be undervalued until it needs to be replaced. In this respect, secure your dog as if you would your tractor or another farm asset; theft and security is very important.

Different dogs and breeds bring different natures and approaches to working on farm, but have patience, spend time on training, and the increase in confidence in both the dog and your relationship with it will be mutually beneficial, and help to provide a dog that is both a loyal friend and productive employee.

The discussion held on Thursday 5th September 2013 was a discussion about working dogs on farms. It generated a total of 274 tweets on the topic from 63 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.

Q1a How many working dogs do you have and what livestock do you have on the farm?

  • 1 collie and 450 head of cattle plus thousands of rabbits
  • Our two dogs think they are working dogs, but they are softy pets only. The apple trees don’t need rounding up!
  • 2 spaniels and 1 Patterdale, though redundant may be more appropriate than working!
  • 11 Sheepdogs, 1Jack Russell, Mixed Beef, sheep, pigs, Wild ponies goat, chickens, Ducks
  • 2 Rhodesian ridgebacks….for now….they are SUPPOSED to be guard dogs…they guard the aga well anyway
  • 3 Collies (2 trained & one in training), sheep, geese, ducks & chickens.
  • 6 fully trained and 1 pup rest being trained my son owns one and dad has 2 so family thing
  • Erm – 22 sheepdogs (I think) most in training because I train them for a living

Q1b Some say rural skills are dying out, is having the ability to run a working dog one of them?

  • Not a chance of it dying out, great farmers and stockman able to train and work dogs
  • I don’t think so. I’m 18 and currently training my first sheepdog.
  • All my predecessors managed a working dog, myself on the other hand operates a Suzuki quad bike. It’s a sad world.
  • With more and more quads and utvs around I’d have to say it is declining. I’ve certainly noticed fewer good dogs!

Q2 Is working dog theft a problem in your area and what can be done to combat it?

  • Yes; nationally. Sadly too little understanding (understandably) of how to keep dogs secure, no guaranteed way, but options
  • Not a problem here, value your dog like a expensive tractor, spend the money protecting it
  • When I hear of cases of dogs being stolen, v sad as it is, one had to ask how? And why?
  • We had a bitch and her puppies stolen. Thankfully we got the bitch back but unfortunately not the puppies.
  • Not heard of any locally but we live in dread of it but 20 – 30 dogs should make a heck of a din if a stranger came into yard
  • Some farmers ask specifically for a timid dog because it’s less likely to get into a vehicle with someone. Good point but sad
  • Microchipping – with a recognised disc on the collar (to say dog’s chipped) is great idea
  • Get a kangal, great dogs to guard your family, livestock and working dogs

Q3a Do you insure your dog and how can you value the work it does to properly insure it?

  • Stopped insurance about 12 months ago 2 much hassle and cost Our working dogs are really priceless
  • Always have insured, have to ,we live in a claim culture world, the value is in the time and work done well
  • Insured but debating cancelling, all are older now and at age where costly med work may just prolong suffering in long term
  • No not insured but wondered if they should have appeared on the balance sheet as an asset
  • Basic loss of animal cover is cheap, higher cost when vets fees are added, but true value only apparent when its not there.
  • No insurance. Best dog broke 2 ligaments in 1 knee – cost over 2k to fix 10 yrs ago. Still working – don’t begrudge a penny

Q3b What is the most you would be prepared to pay for a good working dog? Are they undervalued for the work they do on the farm?

  • Would pay upto 1000 guineas for the right one, a good dog is always undervalued till you have to replace it
  • Always trained from pups – hv paid over £400 for pup from good working/trialling parents. Quality shows
  • A good dog is priceless when its getting dark and all your sheep are off up the road
  • We charge £600 for a PUPPY that’s “showing” on sheep. 1 that goes round sheep and stops, starts at £1200

Q4a Can any dog make the grade with training or do they need bringing blood from working lines?

  • It’s hard to do but possible with patience, but it does help with the job if its in their blood
  • Not any dog. Need hunting instinct and to be biddable enough to train. ISDS Registered is the safest bet (but expensive).

Q4b What are the different attributes needed for working with different livestock and is it OK to use a dog on cattle?

  • Different dogs and breeds bring different natures for livestock, its ok to use a dog on cattle ,but be steady
  • From dog’s POV, harder dog required for cattle. Not many can cope well with both. Avoid horses – they kill dogs
  • Yes is fine but needs good dog & handler or you can push too hard. don’t like dogs that hang around outside parlour

Q4c What are the do’s and donts when buying or selling working? How important is it to know who you’re buying from or selling to?

  • Buy from trusted people ,word of mouth best way to find good dog
  • Avoid auctions unless you’re experienced – they might be a dumping ground for aggressive, badly trained or unhealthy dogs
  • Ask to see the dog outrun and flank BOTH ways, pen the sheep, AND remove them from the pen (cleanly)
  • Find a trainer who will take the dog back if you’re not satisfied within time period. We offer 30 days money back
  • Got mine from a guy near me. Read somewhere that in an auction to avoid ‘farm dogs’ as it is code for an unruly dog

Q5 What’s the best starting point with sheepdogs for a novice? Fully trained, started or puppy and get training with the dog?

  • I started 3 yrs ago, a novice with pup. Went to good trainer who taught me to train the dog.
  • That’s got to depend on the handler. Someone who doesn’t “get it” can mess up a good dog
  • I would always advise getting a puppy and the basic commands sorted, stop stay hear, etc then train with sheep from outset.
  • I’m a novice, bought a pup. Thankfully many farmers here are willing to give info about training, helped me a lot
  • V lucky my dog has good natural instinct. Would have struggled with a less talented dog
  • Pup is useless if you need a dog now, but best if you’ve plenty of time and patience
  • Trained dog if you need it to work immediately (and can afford it).

Q6a What are the common mistakes you see with handlers and how can they be rectified?

  • Shouting and balling at a dog , you can’t make a bad handler good
  • Confusing the dog with too many commands and not watching their tone of voice.
  • Lack of patience & failing to stay calm. An excited or agitated handler causes the dog to become excited & uncontrollable
  • An excited & uncontrollable dog causes the sheep to be excited and uncontrollable – the whole thing snowballs

Q6b What are the most important things you have learned about dog handling and what pearls of wisdom can you pass on?

  • It’s all about the HUNTING instinct in the dog – and the dog’s confidence is paramount. Never let the sheep beat the dog.
  • I have learned to be patience and kind and the dog will repay you ,and if it doesn’t work it’s not the dogs fault
  • Never put a nervous dog into a difficult situation. If it goes wrong it can cause further harm
  • Disobedient dog either doesn’t understand what’s wanted of it or isn’t yet properly bonded with you. Spend more time with it
  • To build confidence in a nervous dog you must show it kindness and reassurance and involve it in your day
  • Build the dog’s confidence by making tasks easier. Get in there and help the dog. Don’t let the cattle or sheep beat the dog

Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants, and Alan Spedding, 9 September 2013

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