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Farming and ranching are still a popular and necessary way of living for many throughout the world. For as long as there have been farms and ranches, we have also had canine companions to assist us. From herding livestock to acting as a source of friendship on long treks, dogs are an iconic part of farm life.
While certain breeds are more popular than others, it doesn’t mean that they are the only acceptable breeds for use on a farm or ranch. The German Shepherd is one of the most popular breeds in the world, so it is not unusual that some people might utilize them as a farm dog.
But do German Shepherds actually make good farm dogs?
German Shepherds do make good farm dogs, provided they receive proper training and socialization from a young age. The breed’s versatility, intelligence, and trainability make them ideal for farm life. However, they are not suited for all types of farm jobs and individual dogs may be less suited to this way of living.
In the article below, we’ll look at what a farm dog actually does, and what traits the German Shepherd possesses that make them a possible choice for farm and ranch work.
We’ll also discuss why the German Shepherd works well with some livestock situations and not others, and how pet German Shepherds might adjust to farm life. Finally, we’ll look at backyard homesteads in particular and how the German Shepherd fits in there.
What Is A Farm Dog?
A farm dog is a type of working dog that is utilized on farms and ranches of all kinds. They tend to work directly with livestock, though many also act as guard dogs or as companions for the farmers and ranchers.
Farm dogs can technically be any breed, though there are several breeds that were specifically created for farm and ranch work, and many mixed breeds are also utilized. Rather than a specific look, many farm and ranch dogs are bred more for their utility and work ethics.
In general, farm dogs are expected to be able to handle long working hours in various weather conditions and terrains, have a high level of intelligence and work ethic, and be responsive to cues from their owners and handlers.
They should also be gentle with people and the animals they work around, and there should be no concern of them injuring or killing any livestock.
Do German Shepherds Make Good Farm Dogs?
Based on the general characteristics that farmers and ranchers look for in their dogs, the German Shepherd does match up with those desired traits.
In fact, the German Shepherd was originally bred to be a herding and working dog and was a staple of many farms throughout their homeland. In general, the German Shepherd was prized as a working farm dog for the following reasons:
First and foremost, the German Shepherd breed is well known for their work ethic. No matter the task, they will face it head on and without complaint.
As farm life often includes unexpected tasks and events, the German Shepherd is always readily available to approach those unexpected things with enthusiasm and confidence.
There is almost no limit to the lengths a German Shepherd will go to in order to complete a task and receive their well-deserved reward, which makes them an excellent choice for life on the farm where the days are often long and arduous.
Another well-deserved reputation that the German Shepherd has is how easily trainable they are.
As there are often a variety of complicated tasks that go along with farm life, it is important that the dogs learn a wide variety of cues and skills to complete their job or maintain their safety while working around the farm.
German Shepherds generally enjoy learning new things, and they pick them up quickly once they understand the basics. This makes them ideal for farm use as farmers and ranchers can spend more time doing their work than worrying about training their dog.
German Shepherds are also known for being highly intelligent dogs, and they tend to show quite a bit of common sense and problem-solving skills. This is also what makes them such a good choice for first-time dog owners, too!
This adds to their trainability and means their owners do not have to worry as much about their pup getting into trouble on the job. When they encounter a problem, the German Shepherd is likely to try and work out a solution rather than panic or shut down, as some other breeds can.
The German Shepherd is a highly athletic breed of dog, and they are quite capable of achieving some amazing physical feats.
As life on the farm or ranch often entails traversing difficult terrain or performing quick maneuvers when working around livestock, the athletic prowess that a German Shepherd possesses means they are capable of handling all of that with ease.
They are able to work for long periods of time with minimal rest, and their versatility means they can adapt quickly to new environments.
While this can vary based on the breeding and socialization history of individual dogs, in general, the German Shepherd is usually gentle with their owners, families, and other animals.
Provided they receive proper training and socialization from a young age, it’s likely they are safe even around the smallest and most vulnerable of livestock.
Farmers and ranchers need not worry that their German Shepherd’s predatory instincts will be triggered when a newborn lamb discovers that it can run the length of a field, or when the chicks begin hatching.
German Shepherds who have been taught to protect the livestock will do their job with enthusiasm and vigor!
What Does It Take For A German Shepherd To Be A Good Farm Dog?
In general, a German Shepherd who has only had the job of “pet” for most of their life will likely not make a good farm dog.
But if your German Shepherd came from a breeder who specializes in the traditional German Shepherd and has worked carefully and with thought as to what traits they would like to pass onto their puppies, then with training and socialization it is likely your pup has the potential to be a wonderful working dog.
German Shepherds who display confidence, are hardy in body and mind, and who display excellent work ethic are ideal candidates for farm life. It is also important that they have low or non-existent prey drives, and that they are responsive and interested in training.
Training and socialization must begin at a very young age and needs to include exposure to various types of livestock, terrain, noises, and equipment. Farm dogs need to be fearless but smart, and the riskiest years are during puppyhood and the early stages of adolescence.
During this time, your German Shepherd may need a little more supervision and guidance to prevent any accidents and to fix any training issues that tend to pop up around this period. It is also during this time that your German Shepherd may start displaying some of the more negative aspects of the breed, so make sure you address any problems as quickly as possible.
Training should be kept up for the life of the dog to keep up the motivation to work, and rewards should always be present. Even farm dogs should not be expected to work for free!
What Types Of Farm Jobs Can German Shepherds Do?
German Shepherds are traditionally used as herding dogs, often with sheep and goats. While Border Collies are the usual choice for herding, German Shepherds are still used on some sheep farms in many different parts of the world. They are also still seen in herding competitions!
German Shepherds are also capable of acting as pest control and can help keep away unwanted predators such as foxes and snakes and can even act as a threat to rats and mice.
Another perk of the German Shepherd is their loyalty to their house and homestead, and they make an excellent source of protection from both larger predators and unwanted human visitors.
Are German Shepherds Good With Livestock?
German Shepherds can be a good choice with certain livestock with proper training and socialization, but their need to be involved with their owners and families means they are likely not the best choice to act as a Livestock Guardian Dog (that role is best left to a breed like the Great Pyrenees).
Livestock guardians need to be able to handle being away from human companions for extended periods of time, and the German Shepherd does not do well with that.
However, German Shepherds do make excellent choices if you are not dealing with large herds in remote areas, or you are always working alongside your German Shepherd rather than leaving them on their own.
German Shepherds do well with horses, sheep, goats, poultry, pigs, and cattle. They can accompany you as you work with those animals, or they can help keep unruly livestock in line.
Their larger size can make them intimidating to livestock such as sheep and cattle, and they often use body blocks to help guide livestock around, rather than relying on more subtle tactics that a lot of other herding breeds use. They also aren’t afraid to confront a bully in the livestock pen!
Are German Shepherds Good With Chickens?
As more and more communities encourage urban homesteading and backyard chickens, it also means that more and more dogs are exposed to chickens and other poultry than they otherwise would be.
German Shepherds (even those who were not brought up with chickens) are usually able to adapt to the presence of chickens in their backyard faster than other breeds, mostly due to their trainability and high intelligence levels. They can be taught to leave the chickens alone, and some may even form friendships with the chickens.
However, certain German Shepherds may display predatory behaviors towards the birds, or even react fearfully. If your pup displays any concerning behavior, it’s important to keep them away from your flock and ensure that your pup cannot get into the coop.
Unfortunately for the chickens, predatory behaviors are totally natural for dogs, and it is incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to change those instincts. Even if your pup is fine with the chickens themselves, you may also want to do additional training to teach them how to behave around the eggs.
German Shepherds are capable of being great farm and ranch dogs, provided they receive proper training and socialization from a very young age. They are also more likely to succeed as farm dogs if they come from genetic lines that were prized for traits specific to farm work, such as low prey drives and high work ethic.
Most pet German Shepherds cannot easily make the transition to farm life, though, so it’s important to supervise them when they are around livestock or farm equipment.
German Shepherds are not the best choice as a Livestock Guardian, but they can assist with smaller flocks or in situations where their owners are still working with them rather than leaving them on their own for extended periods. Even if your farm only includes some backyard chickens, the German Shepherd is likely to succeed as a farm dog.
Just make sure you socialize and train them properly, and “pay” them for their work!