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Six Jobs for Farm Dogs


Farm work is hard work, so it definitely helps to have an extra pair of hands. Or in this case, an extra pair of paws! Dogs have worked alongside humans for years and although the roles of working dogs have evolved, they continue to help us in much of our day-to-day lives, especially in relation to agriculture. Along with evolving dog jobs, the agricultural revolution also brought about new dog breeds. Humans bred dogs with characteristics that were advantageous in agriculture, and they continue to help us today. More paws make less work!


1. Livestock Guardians


Originating from Eurasia, livestock guardians are one of the oldest farm dog jobs and arguably, one of the most important ones. These dogs are tasked with protecting livestock, such as sheep, cows, goats, and other animals from wild predators. They also alert farmers of trespassers and other external threats.


With livestock guardians, there are particular dog breeds that are perfect for the job. The Great Pyrenees, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog, the Komondor, and the Kuvasz are common livestock guardian breeds because of their innate characteristics—they are highly-intelligent, attentive, loyal, and brave, which are essential when dealing with predators. Early on, livestock guardians are socialized with a farmer’s herd in order to form a bond with the animals they eventually protect when they are all grown up.[1]


2. Stock Dogs


Stock dogs (or herd dogs) are sometimes confused with livestock guardians. But these are two very different working dog jobs! While they also assist with protecting farmers’ livestock, their main task is to guide and direct the movement of stock herds. Whether it’s from pasture to pasture or bringing them into a barn, stock dogs are in charge of the herd’s movement, and they help farmers keep their livestock together. It’s thought that this dog role most likely evolved from hunter-gatherer times. Dogs would gather the game to make it easier for humans to hunt. Nowadays, they gather and herd stock—hence the name!


Dog breeds that are highly intelligent and energetic are ideal for herding dogs, especially since the role requires both physical agility and mental focus. So, breeds like the Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherd, and Border Collie are the perfect candidates![2]


3. Ratters (Pest Control)


Farmers always have a ton on their plate and pests are the last thing they want to think about! Fortunately, there are dogs (referred to as ratters) who have it under control. Before ratters worked on the farm, they first emerged in urban settings during the Victorian Era in London, United Kingdom. As the population grew, so did the presence of rats who sometimes carried diseases. This is where ratters came into play to keep the pest population under control.


The terrier dog family were bred specifically for pest control. In fact, rat terriers were the dog breed of choice for farmers in the 1910s and 1920s to catch sneaky rodents like rats and mice. Today, ratters are still used on the farm and in the city.[3]


4. Wine Inspectors


While some jobs have existed for centuries, there are many new working dog roles that have emerged in the agriculture sector. Wine-inspector dogs are a newly developed role for dogs spearheaded by TN Coopers, a family-owned cooperage based in Chile. [4] Thanks to their powerful sense of smell, dogs are able to detect things that our noses can’t—for instance, wine-tainting molecules. Certain contaminants can render wine unpalatable, giving it a musty smell and taste. But before it reaches our wine glasses, dogs can tell if a batch is contaminated.


Labrador Retrievers are the ideal pick for this job, but it has less to do with their noses and more to do with their temperament. With the Natinga Project coordinated by TN Coopers, they chose to recruit the help of Labrador Retrievers because of their friendly and welcoming nature.[5]


5. Clubroot Disease Detectors


Just like wine-inspector dogs, this is a brand-new role in the industry and also requires a good sniffer. Research trials started right here in Canada; clubroot disease detectors are able to find plants affected with clubroot. In Alberta, clubroot is mainly a threat to farmers' canola fields—the disease is soil-borne, meaning it festers underground and prevents a canola plant’s root system from absorbing water and nutrients. Clubroot disease is tricky to detect for farmers, because they need to uproot the whole plant to find the infection, and this process can result in up to a 50% loss in yield.[6] But with clubroot detector dogs, they use their powerful noses to sniff out these infected plants! A dog’s sense of smell is 100,000 times more powerful than a human’s.[7] They have 220 million olfactory receptors compared to our 5 million![8]


Although this dog role is not completely implemented onto farms today and is still in development, some research has shown two dogs, a German Shepherd and a Labradoodle, have had a 100% success rate in finding clubroot in canola.[9]


6. Farmyard Companions

Working dogs contribute to agriculture in so many ways, from their ability to herd stock to detecting contaminants. With their extra set of paws, dogs have assisted farmers to grow our food. But without a doubt, dogs are also our best furry friends—a bond between humans and dogs that go back thousands of years. Farmyard companion dogs aren’t limited to a certain breed and come in all shapes and sizes! So, whether it’s helping farmers feed the world or lasting companionship, we know that we can count on dogs.



Sources

[1] Utah State University — Evaluating the Effectiveness of Livestock Guardian Dogs: Loss-Prevention, Behavior, Space-Use, and Human Dimensions https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=8744&context=etd [2] American Kennel Club — Herding Group https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/herding/ [3] A Life of Dogs — Rat Hunting Dogs: The History of Rat Terriers and Ratcatchers https://alifeofdogs.com/rat-hunting-dogs-history-of-rat-terriers-and-ratcatchers/ [4] TN Coopers — Natinga Project https://tncoopers.com/en/i-d/proyecto-natinga/ [5] Wine Enthusiast — Wine Dogs Earn Their Keep by Sniffing Out Pests, Contaminates and More https://www.winemag.com/2021/12/27/dog-wine-work/ [6] Government of Alberta — Clubroot Disease of Canola and Mustard https://www.alberta.ca/clubroot-disease-of-canola-and-mustard.aspx [7] American Kennel Club — The Nose Knows: Is There Anything Like A Dog’s Nose? https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/the-nose-knows/ [8] Canadian Kennel Club — Scent Detection: Put Your Dog’s Nose to the Test with this New CKC Event https://www.ckc.ca/en/The-Dish/September-2018/Scent-Detection-Put-Your-Dog’s-Nose-to-the-Test-w.aspx# [9] The Western Producer — Two sniffer dogs pass in field clubroot test in Alta. https://www.producer.com/news/two-sniffer-dogs-pass-in-field-clubroot-test-in-alta/

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