Dogs are awesome. They provide companionship, can protect you, and they are almost always thrilled to see you.
Dogs are a staple member of the farm and homestead team, and they have been since humans started to settle down. Let’s look at some specific roles for our canine friends:
- Pest Control (i.e. Hunters)
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A Note on First Aid and General Health
The main focus is jobs for dogs and how they can help out on your homestead. However, health should be a number one focus for dogs, just like humans. If your dogs aren’t healthy or if they’re overweight, then you will be doing them a disservice.
- Make sure not to over work your dog, especially in the heat. The summertime is also when fleas and ticks are active.
- Keep a first aid kit for your dog. A lot of the materials will be the same as a human first aid kit, and you can make sure you have everything by reviewing this checklist. If your dog has or is susceptible to chronic pain, then you may need to have some prescriptions on hand. Check with your veterinarian professional.
- If there is an injury, then stabilize the dog and get it to the vet, just like a human going to the ER. The main thing is to prevent further injury on the way to the vet.
- Exposure to poison or other harmful substances. Call the poison control center or your vet to get advice. (ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center’s 24-hour hotline at (888) 426-4435.) Some poisons should be left as is while others should be expelled. Check with the experts if your dog gets into something that it shouldn’t have.
How to Choose the Right Breed of Dog for Your Homestead Pack
When you’re trying to figure out which breed of pup to raise on your farm, it’s important that you consider your specific needs for a dog first and foremost.
Do you want your dog to herd animals, like cows, sheep, or goats? Do you want a high-energy companion to take hunting rabbits with you?
Are you looking for a lazy old farm dog that will hang out on the back porch as you sip coffee and watch the chickens peck?
Or, perhaps, you’re looking for a dog that can protect you or your livestock. Maybe you want a dog that can do all, or at least some of these tasks!
Whatever the case may be, you’ll want to invest some time into researching the right breed.
Friendliness and Demeanor
The first thing you should consider when searching for a dog is its friendliness.
Especially if you have lots of other animals or small children, finding a dog that is not overly aggressive with others is important.
That said, you also don’t want a dog that will roll over and be a total coward, either, especially if you are specifically bringing a dog onto the farm to protect a flock of sheep or defend against predators like wolves.
If that’s the case, you might care a little less about how willing it is to have its belly scratched and a bit more about how tenacious it is when faced with a threat.
Either way, make sure your dog’s personality matches your farm’s unique needs.
Ability to Deal with the Outdoors and “Open Spaces”
If you are reading this, there’s a good chance that you aren’t doing so from a tenth-story Manhattan apartment. You’re probably sitting on at least half an acre or so of land.
THat’s great news, because most farm dog breeds do need a fair amount of open space. That’s one of the characteristics to look for in a good homestead dog.
A Shih Tzu, for instance, might be a great choice for a city dweller. It’s friendly, cuddly, and easy to train.
On a farm, though, this might not be the ideal breed. It will run through your fields and ponds, getting its long hair covered in sticks, dirt, and briers. These are not all-weather dogs and they require a fair bit of grooming.
Generally speaking, hypoallergenic or “hairy” (instead of furry) breeds are not ideal. Maltese, Yorkies, and mini Poodles are not ideal. They won’t be able to handle weather extremes or minimal grooming with as much ease.
Look for a dog with tough, waterproof hair instead.
Remember that the more open space you have, the better you’ll need to train your dog.
If you have acreage of any kind, it’s easy for dogs to get lost, wandering onto nearby farms and ranches (which can lead to all kinds of problems) if you don’t have fences.
Find a dog that knows what home is regardless of the amount of open spaces – one that won’t run off and not come back.
It’s fine for a dog to wander and explore, but you want a dog to come home before it gets lost or gets you in trouble.
Great Pyrenees are excellent at this, as are sheepdogs, labs, mastiffs, and retrievers. Smaller dogs like spaniels and pugs tend to stay closer to home.
Finally, keep in mind that if you have a lot of open space, you’ll want a dog that stays active and alert to danger.
There are all kinds of threats that can present themselves on the homestead, and even if you aren’t using your dog specifically for protection, you need a dog that is scrappy and attentive to threats. Examples include spaniels, labs, and hounds.
If you have a homestead, there’s a good chance that you have a garden. As you’re weighing the best kind of dog to get, consider whether it will be fond of digging – many are, and while that’s not a problem necessarily, you may want to think about fencing in your garden.
You can teach your dog to stay out of the garden, but it’s easier to not have to deal with this problem in the first place.
Breeds that like to dig include beagles, dachshunds, and jack russell terriers – generally, any of the breeds that are interested in hunting small species like moles and gophers will be fond of digging.
Interactions with Other Animals
Most dogs have a strong prey drive which is when it wants to play with, grab, chase, and kill a small animal. However, some breeds (such as Doberman Pinschers, Whippets, and Boston Terriers) have a stronger prey drive than others.
Now, if you’re hunting with your dog, that’s a good thing. However, you probably don’t want your homestead dog going after your ducks or chickens.
Therefore, you might want to consider breeds that are more specific in what they kill, like Great Pyrenees or Golden Retrievers.
The same goes for dogs that are meant to work with large animals. Any dog with the word shepherd or cattle in the name is going to be great at working with a large herd or flock – a good attribute if you want to use it as a herding animal.
However, if you get a homestead dog that you don’t intend to run with large groups of animals – and you just have one horse or a cow here and there – a herding animal can be more of a nuisance.
It might pester you as you’re riding your horse or encourage your cows to trample it by mistake.
Therefore, only get a herding animal if working and protecting the herd is your goal.
If you decide on a dog that’s meant to be used for protection, make sure you get one that is intimidating-looking yet knows its role – we’re talking about a dog that knows how to attack wolves but not small children.
You also want a dog with the body type to fulfill its role – if it’s going to be herding, it needs to be able to run. If it’s going to be protecting livestock, it needs to have the fur coat it needs to stay outside 24/7.
All individual dogs are different, but there are some health issues that are more likely to plague certain breeds than others.
The dog’s age plays a big role in its overall health as well as its energy and activity level.
Do as much research as possible on your chosen breed – even those without extreme physical characteristics (think – the shortened snout of a pug) will be prone to genetic diseases, with some breeds more susceptible than others.
If you buy from a breeder, be sure to ask for vaccination and vet reports, breeding records, and other data. Whenever possible, avoid buying a dog that has any of the following characteristics:
- Overly long ears
- Too much hair
- Excessive folds of skin
- Disproportionately short legs
- Droopy eyelids
- Disproportionately long backs
- Flat faces
- Very large heads
All of these can lead to extra expense and discomfort for the dog, especially if it’s a working animal.
Availability and Price
Some breeds are much harder to find than others – and have a price tag to go with that lack of availability, too.
Consider where you live and how easy it will be to get the dog breed you want, especially if you are on a budget or in a hurry to get a homestead dog fast.
Finally, how easy will your dog be to train? There are basic commands and behaviors you’ll need to teach your dog if it’s going to live indoors – how to not pee on the floor, when to bark (and when not to bark), and how to walk on a leash.
If it’s going to be protecting livestock, there’s even more extensive training that needs to be done.
The first type of homestead dog you might want to consider is a herding dog.
These dogs are the ones that will help you round up the herd animals. Typically, when we think about herding animals, we are talking about:
These dogs are the ones that will help you round up the herd animals. Typically, we think about:
Any of the dogs will require training in the herding aspect even though some breeds have a “herding instinct”.
So, don’t assume that since you have a Border Collie that he or she can be unleashed (literally) on a herd of sheep. That is asking for trouble.
My dog doesn’t herd very well, and he tends to single out one sheep, then go after it! That’s not good for sheep at all.
Herding dogs can also be trained to herd other things, like ducks. One thing to remember about the herding dogs is their exceptional intelligence. They will need a job to do and usually have a lot of energy!
There are several types of herding dogs you can consider. Here are some of the best.
Despite the name that indicates otherwise, this breed was actually developed in the United States.
As is the case with most of the herding breeds we will describe below, the Australian Shepherd has a lot of energy that needs to be channeled into a specific job – like herding sheep!
Australian Cattle Dog
These dogs, as you might guess by the name, are great at herding cattle.
They were originally developed to herd cattle on Australia’s massive ranches, so it’s easy to assume that they do well in hot weather, too. They’re also loyal and incredibly intelligent.
The Border Collie is the epitome of a herding animal. It is one of the smartest in the world and can be trained to learn thousands of commands and tricks. They are also great family animals.
Welsh Corgis have been around for thousands of years. These distinguished-looking pups seem to be lapdogs, but they’re actually wonderful herding animals. They’re small but love plenty of exercise.
One note though – they do like to bark!
Old English Sheep Dog
If the fuzzy appearance of this dog isn’t enough to win you over, let its herding abilities make the case.
This dog has a docked tail and although its bark can sometimes be a nuisance, it is incredibly protective and great at herding animals.
Another breed of collie to consider is the short-coated Smooth Collie. It is closely related to another great herding breed, the Rough Collie (ever heard of Lassie? Lassie was a Rough Collie).
It’s ideal for warm weather though its short coat might not be enough to keep it warm when herding in cold temperatures.
This is a small-to medium-sized breed that was bred exclusively for herding cattle. It is independent and doesn’t need much training or supervision.
German Shepherds are often used to work with the military and police but they were originally developed for herding. These dogs are supremely smart and energetic, making wonderful homestead pets.
Protectors – Livestock Guardians Dogs
The best case is that they deter the predators, and maybe they will destroy them if it is necessary. Protectors can watch over sheep, cattle, other herd animals, and even poultry.
You should train them on the boundaries, and you can do that by walking the fence line for the first few months.
Experts warn that you should discourage the puppies from playing with the animals they are meant to protect. The last thing you want is a full grown Great Pyrenees trying to play with chickens!
Having another protector dog that understands and knows not to play with the livestock is helpful in teaching younger canines.
Guardians have to be trained extremely well because they will defend against people who pose a threat to the homestead.
So, make sure your livestock guard dog can be commanded to “stand down”. They should obey you (and other masters) absolutely, and protect the livestock and homestead while you are away.
Here are a few of the typical protectors or guardian dogs:
Great Pyrenees are unique in that they have the ability both to protect and guard your livestock as well as to herd them.
They are extremely intelligent and are used to working independently – something that can make training difficult. However, they are also powerful and loyal to a T.
The Anatolian Shepherd is native to Turkey and is known for its strong, rugged nature. It has excellent sight and hearing along with an exceptionally long lifespan of up to 15 years old.
This dog is assertive and strong willed but can also be calm and loving.
Another livestock guardian animal from Turkey is the Akbash. It is an independent and brave animal, making it a good protector for livestock. It lives for around 10 years.
An Italian sheepdog, this animal is highly loyal and incredibly alert. It is well-suited for guarding just about any kind of farm animal, including chickens, sheep, and even ducks.
They are smaller than many other livestock guardian dogs and are some of the best with children.
There are many different types of mastiffs you can raise on your farm as a livestock guardian animal. Some examples include the Pyrenean Mastiff, the Tibetan Mastiff, and the Spanish Mastiff.
All are known for being large (140 lbs or more, in some cases) and brave. They are wonderful at protecting just about any type of livestock.
Komondors are from Hungary, and are often referred to as “mop dogs’ ‘ – they look like they have dreadlocks!
They have dense bones and strong muscling, weighing up to 130 lbs. They can be challenging in that they are very independent and stubborn – it may take more time to train them, but the effort is worth it.
Pest Control Dogs
There are many different kinds of pests you might encounter on your compound… Rats, gophers, field mice, moles, opossums, groundhogs, badgers, foxes, raccoons, and so on…
There are all sorts of vermin out there. Most of the time it isn’t a problem. However, if there isn’t a good predator out there keeping the population at bay, then you may have an issue.
Luckily, there are many breeds that excel at vermin control. Heck, just about any dog likes a good chase.
Terriers were bred for going after rodents, and that’s why they top the list below
But they aren’t the only breeds you can consider. Since dogs have a predatory instinct, in general, almost any mutt has the potential to keep certain pests away.
Just about any mix or mutt is usually a good pest control dog. Here are a few that come to mind:
There are dozens of types of terriers you can raise if you want to get rid of pests on your farm. Some can be stubborn but most are highly efficient at hunting down and killing pests.
Just be aware that many of these breeds really enjoy digging – make sure your gardens are protected!
Good breeds to consider include:
- West Highland White Terrier
- Jack Russell Terrier
- Norfolk Terrier
- Yorkshire Terrier (be careful with this one in inclement weather)
- Cairn Terrier
- Rat Terrier
Miniature Schnauzers aren’t the best all-weather dogs, but if you have a serious rodent problem on your farm, you may want to consider this breed.
It is a wonderful guardian that is intelligent, cheerful, and great with kids – but it was also bred specifically to help hunt and kill rats.
Ah, the infamous Wiener dog! Dachshunds have short legs that can sometimes lead to health issues, but you can’t deny the cute and productive nature of this pup.
Dachshunds were bred to hunt prairie dogs, rabbits, and rats, so if you need to get rid of any of these species on your homestead, this is a great one to consider. One word of caution – this is another breed that really likes to dig.
The German Pinscher has been around since the 1700s when it was used to kill rodents and guard coaches. Now, it is often raised as a family companion but it is still a guardian by nature.
If you plan on hunting with your dog, you will want to consider some of these popular homestead dog breeds.
First on our list is the Golden Retriever. It’s one of the most popular family dogs and is perfect as a companion as well as for hunting purposes.
It has a long coat that does require a fair amount of maintenance, but they are easy to train, especially when hunting birds.
The Labrador Retriever is ranked as the most popular dog breed by the AKC – and that’s a title that this breed has held for more than 20 years.
It has a soft mouth so it can handle prey delicately and is known for its loyalty and intelligence.
Beagles like to run and are very pack-oriented. They enjoy the companionship of both humans and other dogs, making them great homestead dogs if you have other animals (or just want a pet!).
These talented bird hunters have the ability to both track scents and then signal that they’ve found birds in an expert fashion. They have soft mouths, making them ideal for picking up the prey to carry to you, too.
Bloodhounds are often used by police departments to track missing people. With their impressive noses and scent-tracking abilities, bloodhounds are some of the best hunters if you need to track.
They’re also social and intelligent. That said, they do like to drool!
There are several types of pointers you can raise, but when it comes to hunting, German Short Haired Pointers reign supreme. These dogs will hunt everything from deer to birds, and they’ll also retrieve for you.
Pointers form strong bonds with humans and require a fair bit of exercise.
Dogs are an important member of the family and the homestead team.
They can make your job easier working with livestock. Dogs can keep predators away. And, some dogs excel at keeping pests and rodents at bay. Our canine friends are at home on the homestead.
last update: Jan 10th 2022 by Rebekah Pierce
Heather’s homesteading journey started in 2006, with baby steps: first, she got a few raised beds, some chickens, and rabbits. Over the years, she amassed a wealth of homesteading knowledge, knowledge that you can find in the articles of this blog.
Learn more about Heather and the rest of the writers on this page.