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Views and opinions: Dogs are as much about work, as companionship

It is no secret I love dogs. I own a professional dog training business and I am a K-9 handler for a search and rescue unit. Dogs have been part of my life from my earliest memories.

In this week’s issue we have two stories highlighting the work dogs do on the farm. Working dogs are my favorite, as they are doing jobs they were bred to do. They may not always make the best pets, but they can be amazing when given the right opportunities to utilize their brains and bodies.

One story (on page 1B) is about Woody, an Australian shepherd who is the winner of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s first Farm Dog of the Year award. When only a pup of 8 months old, Woody saved Texas farmer Joe Sheeran from a cow that had Sheeran pinned to the ground. Woody most likely weighed 50 pounds or less when he took on the cow and backed it away from Sheeran.

Our other story (see page 2 in this section) deals with Paul Dorrance, owner of Pastured Providence Farmstead in Chillicothe, Ohio, who received a $2,500 pasture improvement grant from the Food Animal Concerns Trust. FACT is a national nonprofit that promotes safe and humane production of meat, milk, and eggs. He is going to use the money to purchase four guardian breed dogs to watch over his sheep and cattle.

Dorrance had been using a donkey to protect his sheep from coyotes, but last year he lost many lambs to predation. Instead of shooting, trapping, or poisoning the coyotes, he decided to look into guardian breeds. These are dogs bred to protect livestock rather than move the livestock around.

The dogs often bond heavily with the animals they protect. These breeds are often reserved with people and may be prone to wandering off if they are not given a job to do, as they were bred for centuries to be independent workers.

My farm dog story begins when I was 5 years old, although I don’t remember it. A truck carrying watermelons had a wreck in front of our home and took out a corner of our fence in the front yard. I evidently took that opportunity to climb through a hole.

A neighbor found me a short time later wandering in a ditch with five dogs. Evidently, we were going on an adventure of some kind.

That year we also moved to our own farm and it came with a dog already on the premises. That was Skippy, a reddish, long-haired, lean dog who lived for killing rats. She kept our barns free from rats for many years.

Then there was Lucky, a rat terrier, although I don’t think he actually killed a rat; instead, he was my constant companion when I was outside and stayed with me from second grade until his death when I was a senior in college. When I rode my horse, Lucky was always with me.

Big Red was a collie mix whose loud bark would make people think twice about stopping, but he was really a lover. Between then and now, seemingly countless dogs have been a part of my life. There was never a time when I didn’t own at least one dog.

My current search dogs – Skywalker, who is a certified human remains detection dog, and Falcon, a pup in training – are lucky in that they have jobs and they go to training on a weekly basis. I also live near a 1,000-acre state wildlife area where we can hike off-leash.

Many of my dog training clients are not so lucky, and I spend much of my time helping people find games for their dogs to play that provide adequate mental stimulation to keep the animals from serious boredom-related issues.

How do your dogs help you on the farm? Do you have working dogs? Family pets who just keep you company? Let me know. I would love to share stories of our reader’s farm dogs. While I can’t give out a prize of a year’s worth of dog food (which is what Woody won), I can share your dog’s photo and story and give him or her a brief bit of fame. If you have video to share, I will post selected videos on Farm World’s Facebook page.

Email photos and your dog’s story to or you can mail photos and a story to: Connie Swaim, Farm World, P.O. Box 90, Knightstown, IN 46148.