Did you know that there are over 2 million farms in the United States and 570 million in the world? That's a lot of opportunities for dog breeds made for the farm to thrive. But those dogs can thrive elsewhere too, as the majority of the global population lives in urban areas. Here are 15 of the best farm dog breeds that are herding dogs, guardian dogs, and livestock and sheep dogs. (Some of them may even surprise you!)
1. Airedale Terrier
Although part of the terrier breed group, the Airedale was originally bred as an all-around hunting and farm dog. Airedales were developed by the working class and thus meant to be generalists, rather than specialists. As the largest of all the terriers, the Airedale's size allowed them to hunt larger animals as well as vermin and guard the farm. And with proper training, they can even help herd and drive livestock.
2. Anatolian Shepherd
Though a shepherd by name, the Anatolian Shepherd was bred to guard. Originating from Anatolia in Turkey, these tall and large canines (standing up to 32 inches tall at the shoulders and weighing 80 to 150 pounds) protected the property and livestock from other animals and people. It is believed that the Anatolian Shepherd existed for thousands of years, protecting sheep from wolves and other predators. Many Anatolian Shepherds have been taken to Namibia in Africa to protect livestock from cheetahs. This, in turn, protects the endangered cats because it reduces the number of killings by farmers when they leave livestock alone.
3. Australian Cattle Dog
Australian Cattle Dogs (ACDs or Heelers) are medium-sized but tough and durable herding dogs. Bred to withstand the harsh Australian environment and drive livestock over long distances, these dogs were necessary to cattle ranchers. It is believed that sheep farmers mixed Collie, Dingo, Bull Terrier, Dalmatian, and Black and Tan Kelpie to create the ultimate farm dog. ACDs are intelligent, loyal and hard workers who enjoy completing tasks - be it herding, protecting the farm or hunting vermin. Fun fact: they got their alternative name of Heelers because they herd cattle by nipping at their heels.
4. Australian Shepherd
The Australian Shepherd was actually developed in the American West of the United States. They are intelligent, medium-sized, agile and high-flying farm dogs that completed whatever tasks needed. These included carrying and pulling equipment, loading horses into trailers and stables, and herding all kinds of livestock - from cattle, sheep and goats to ducks and geese. Like the Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherds herd livestock by nipping at the heels. If you don't have a farm, these energetic dogs may herd children, other pets and even vehicles.
5. Border Collie
The Border Collie is one of the most popular farm dogs, thanks to their intense work ethic, endurance and intelligence (they are considered the smartest dog breed in the world and super easy to train). They originated in the country that made up the border between Scotland and England. Border Collies historically tended their herd alone, so they needed to think independently and make decisions. They also needed to run approximately 50 miles a day. The same characteristics that make this breed the ultimate farm dog, can also cause issues if not properly exercised. To avoid boredom and destructive behaviors, make sure this hard-working, energetic and intelligent dog gets enough physical activity and mental stimulation.
6. Bernese Mountain Dog
The Bernese Mountain Dog (or "Berners") originated from Switzerland (likely in Bern) as an all-around farm dog. They needed to be hefty to do many tasks, from driving livestock and pulling equipments to guarding the property and protecting the herd. It's believed that Berners descended from mastiff-like dogs 2,000 years ago and bred with local dogs to do farm work. The breed almost went extinct because of industrialization, but made a comeback in the early 20th century - mostly as a companion dog, though still a farm dog for some. Because of their history, Berners have strong pack instinct, a desire to roam and preference for colder climates.
Collies are one of the most well-known herding breeds, with Rough Collies most often recognized thanks to their distinctive puffy coat. Though their exact origins are uncertain, it is believed that they descended from dogs brought to Scotland and Northern England by Romans around 2,000 years ago. Roman herding dogs were bred with local dogs and eventually became the Collie. These dogs are active, agile with a strong herding instinct (so they may herd kids and other pets by nipping at their heels). Many around the world still herd and watch over livestock, like cattle and sheep, to this day. Collies tend to bond deeply with their family, just as they do with their flock, and bark thanks to their watchdog background.
8. German Shepherd
The German Shepherd Dog (GSD) is a descendent of various German herding dogs, originally bred to herd sheep. In the late 1800s, an ex-German cavalry officer and former student of the Berlin Veterinary College named Max von Stephanitz set out to develop the ideal German herder. He was most drawn to shepherds with a wolf-like appearance, such as those equipped perky ears and strong upper bodies. To refine the breed, Von Stephanitz cross-bred dogs from northern and central districts and became the first official GSD breeder. GSDs made great all-around farm dogs because of their work ethic, protectiveness and intelligence. They performed many farm tasks from herding flocks to protecting them, the farmers and their property. Today, they still have strong guarding and herding instincts and skills.
9. Great Pyrenees
The Great Pyrenees originated as a guard dog for livestock in the Pyrenees mountains of France and Spain. Farmers needed a large, strong and courageous dog to protect the flock from thieves and predators (like wolves and bears). Their beautiful white coats served a purpose - to camouflage them among the sheep they guarded and in the snow, as well as keep them warm. The Great Pyrenees would work independently, often for days or weeks, so that can reflect in their temperament today. They've been around for centuries, with an early mention in 1407, and still work on farms today. They have strong pack instinct, as they bond with the livestock they protect, and are good watchdogs.
10. Jack Russell Terrier
Unlike most of the breeds on this list, the Jack Russell Terrier was not bred specifically for work on the farm. They originated as fox hunters in England in the early 19th century, but their small stature and speed (running up to 38 miles an hour) enabled them to excel at hunting small animals. Because of this, along with their bravery, they are useful on the farm for chasing away and removing pests (like rats, raccoons and more). Jack Russell Terriers are energetic and have instinctual digging skills, so they can become destructive if not properly exercised.
11. Old English Sheepdog
The Old English Sheepdog is easily recognizable by it's iconic half white-half gray fluffy coat. Unsurprisingly, given their name, these dogs were bred in England to be sheep and other livestock herders. The earliest representation of similar dogs found in an 18th century painting but they weren't recognized as a distinct breed until 1885 (though by then, they were more show dogs than farm dogs). They were herders and watchdogs that, to this day, still have a strong herding and alerting instinct. Unlike dogs that nip at the heels to herd, Old English Sheepdog would use their body weight to bump into livestock and guide them in the right direction. Their distinctive coat allowed them to thrive in cooler climates, while the long fur over their eyes protected their vision while outside.
Rottweilers (or "Rotties") are known for being strong, brave and loyal guard dogs and often misunderstood. But the breed originated as a herder and guarder of livestock. It descended from Roman dogs that were used them to drive livestock to feed the army during the trek through Europe. These Roman dogs were bred with local dogs in the Rottweil town and then used by butchers for several tasks. They herded cattle to market, carried equipment and pulled carts to deliver milk and meat to customers, and protected the butchers on their way home. Industrialization nearly led to their extinction, but the Rottweiler was saved by Germans and still makes for a great multipurpose farm dog today. The breed's size and build allows them to handle larger farm animals, like cattle, as well as haul equipment. Their protective and courageous nature make them excellent watch and guard dogs, able to scare off predators and thieves. And their loud bark can command attention from the animals they are herding and scare off intruders.
13. Shetland Sheepdog
The Shetland Sheepdog (or "Sheltie") is a herding dog from the Shetland Islands, bred to drive sheep, ponies and poultry. Though they look like miniature Collies, Shelties are their own distinctive breed. They were, however, bred from Collies and other dogs (though it's uncertain exactly when). Their small size is no accident as it allows them to eat less, which was important in their harsh environment where food was sometimes scarce. Shelties are tireless, speedy and intelligent herders. Because they also served as watchdogs, they tend to bark a lot still to this day and are reserved (even suspicious) of strangers. Breeders believe this aloofness was intentional, to prevent them from being stolen off he farm. Shelties also still have a strong herding instinct and often nip at the heels of people and other pets.
14. Standard Schnauzer
The Standard Schnauzer is not a breed you might have expected to see on this list, but they actually originated on farms. The Standard Schnauzer is the oldest of all Schnauzers, arising on Bavarian farms in the Middle Ages and featured in artwork dating back to 1492. These German farm dogs served many purposes - from ratting and hunting vermin to herding livestock and guarding them, the property and the farmers. Standard Schnauzers still have these working instincts today but are also ready to cuddle after their job is done for the day.
15. Welsh Corgi
The Welsh Corgi is the smallest of herding breeds and has two separate breeds - the Pembroke and Cardigan. Although they are both from Wales, they have different ancestry and physical features. The Pembroke has a fox-like face with smaller and more pointed ears, while the Cardigan is larger overall and a longer tail. It's believed that the Pembroke came from Spitz breeds, while the Cardigan came from Dachshunds as well. Both Corgis were built low to the ground so they could herd cattle by nipping at their heels, avoid being kicked, navigate through hooves and fit through fences. They also served as watchdogs, protecting livestock at night. Corgis have strong herding and guarding instincts to this day. This means they may herd other beings in the household (often nipping at their heels) as well as bark often (with the potential to become a problem barker if not properly trained).