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  • Norfolk Farms

What is a farm dog?

Years ago every farm had a dog or two … or three. They came in every size, shape and colour.

Cruz, left and Tequa are purebred Border Collies, a herding breed developed in the border counties between Scotland and England

Most were some mix of breeds or a combination of several breeds. They filled multiple roles – protector and companion to the kids, stock handling, vermin killers, watchdogs and protective supervisor of team or tractor as the farmer worked his land.

Border Collie Tibbie, shown during a training session is learning to handle sheep.

Some were primarily herding or stock dogs. Old Laddie would be off to bring up the cows for milking – a job he was keen to do each day. Shep would gather and hold sheep, Buster would load steers for shipping. Other dogs served as watchdogs, barking to announce the arrival of company or intruders. Still others were hunting companions to the farmer or his kids, whether for waterfowl, rabbits or rats in the woodpile. Collies, shepherds, hounds, spaniels, terriers and mixes of all of these were popular.

Between jobs, these dogs would lay up around the homestead, play with the farm kids or hunt gophers and skunks in the fields, proudly presenting their prizes to the farm wife for her commendation - which often was not forthcoming!

As interest in pure breeds began to grow, some farmers also searched out purebred dogs for specific tasks. Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Australian Cattle Dogs, Red or Blue Heelers became popular for herding and handling livestock. Various terrier breeds excelled at dispatching vermin, while German Shepherds became well known as good watch dogs who would also turn a paw to other pursuits as needed.

"Today’s farm dogs are as diverse as the farms where they live."

As wildlife - deer, soon followed by coyotes – returned to southern Ontario, a new type of farm dog started to appear in response to the predator problem that was emerging. Huge dogs, developed over centuries in Europe and Asia for the purpose of guarding livestock, began to show up in increasing numbers. Livestock guardian dogs bond to the livestock they live with and deter predation. Some of these dogs bark to intimidate while others will chase, attack and even kill intruders. Many breeds exist, with varying levels of aggression towards predators.

Many farms no longer have dogs at all. Crop farmers have no need for livestock assistance and some prefer not to be tied down to the care of an animal.

Today’s farm dogs are as diverse as the farms where they live. Some are purebred, many are mixes of two or more breeds, some defy breed description entirely. Some herd, some guard stock, some are watchdogs. Some watch over the children while others are lap dogs in the farmhouse.What they have in common is residence on a farm, and the loyalty and affection of dogs everywhere.

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