Working Farm Dogs

Herding Sheep.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Courtesy of,

Working farm dogs have specific roles as livestock guardians and herding dogs on Saskatchewan farms. The herding and guarding instincts are usually not both found in one dog. Working dogs constitute business investments for their owners and are different from the usual dogs found on most farmyards, which function primarily as companion animals for their owners and to warn of the approach of visitors to the yard. Herding dogs (also called stock dogs) are used to move livestock, primarily sheep and cattle, on pastures and in barnyards. Herding dogs are essential for sheep producers who have more than a handful of sheep. A well-trained dog is a huge asset to a livestock producer since a dog can replace several people when livestock need to be moved. Dogs are faster and can anticipate the behaviour of livestock more keenly than people, and they have the ability to intimidate livestock into moving for them. Some dogs instinctually herd animals from the front or head of livestock, and others from the rear or heel end.

The border collie is the predominant dog breed for herding, but other breeds such as blue heeler and Australian shepherd are used as well. Herding dogs have been selected for their herding instinct and have a high level of intelligence; their great desire to please their masters means that these dogs readily accept training. In Saskatchewan there is a well-developed network of herding dog breeders and trainers; herding dog enthusiasts compete with their animals in numerous stock dog competitions throughout western Canada.

Guardian dogs are effectively used to protect livestock from predators, which in Saskatchewan are primarily coyotes. Sheep are the most vulnerable of any domestic livestock because of their small size, and because the pastures which they graze night and day are also coyote habitat. Coyote predation has been one of the major reasons for the decline of the sheep industry in Saskatchewan since its peak in the 1930s and 1940s. The use of guardian dogs, which has only begun in the last twenty years in Saskatchewan, now provides an effective control of the coyote problem. The guardian dogs stay with the sheep twenty-four hours a day in the pasture or in the barnyard, through all seasons and all weather. The large dogs are part of the flock; they must grow up with sheep and have minimal human contact so that they become bonded with the sheep and not their owner. Though they are capable of killing coyotes, their presence intimidates coyotes to keep their distance. Numerous breeds of dogs, including Great Pyrenees, Komondor, Kuvasz, Akbash, and Maremma, are used as livestock guardians.

Harry Harder