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Life with a Puppy on a Farm


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Hi everyone,

      I'm planning on getting a working bred Border Collie this year, hopefully in the next 6 months or so. While I wait (impatiently!) for the puppy, I'm trying to learn as much as I can.  I live on a small (50 acres) diverse farm, and I would love to teach my BC to work our livestock when he/she is old enough. The livestock I'd like the dog to work with are our dairy cows and sheep. I would love my dog to become a useful farm dog who can bring the cows out of the pasture, bring in the sheep, and help with the occasional "cattle drive" (it is only 1 mile:). Herding trials look amazing, but unfortunately I don't think there are any where I live, so at least for now, that isn't my goal. I wrote an intro in the general discussion section if you want to read it:  http://www.bordercollie.org/boards/topic/40991-new-member-future-border-collie-person/

  If anyone has tips/experiences they'd like to share about raising a puppy on a farm, I'd be grateful.

I'd like to bring my puppy with me as I do work around the farm. Mostly on a leash of course, to keep the pup out of trouble. This will allow me to spend more time with the puppy, and I can bring a pocket of treats and toys for short training sessions. There are some situations (such as working around the horses) where I think it would be too dangerous to bring the pup, but I do plenty of work that would be safe for the pup to tag along. Fixing fences, tending the fruit trees, watering the cows, etc...

I'm a bit concerned that the puppy might become bored or frustrated if I'm working on something for awhile. I'm thinking that I can bring it along for short jobs at first, then longer ones as the pup matures. I can also break up my work with play/training sessions. But maybe I should also treat this as an opportunity to teach the puppy to relax when I can't give it my full attention? I know I can't expect a lot from a young puppy, so would go slowly.

The other thing I'm wondering about is bringing the puppy with me when I take the cows to and from the milking barn. This may be an extremely stupid question, sorry! I've read that you shouldn't teach a dog to drive until they are good at gathering. So if I bring the puppy with me as I walk behind the cows to drive them to the barn, will I be teaching it to drive cattle? Should I avoid that, or do it a different way?

Thanks very much for any thoughts! I appreciate it.

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I don't see any harm in bringing the pup with you while you do chores, but definitely keep it on a leash/line. It's a good time for a pup to learn patience for sure as long as you're not expecting the pup to behave for hours on end. Be careful with the pup around stock because cattle, especially, are big and cam easily (even if inadvertently) hurt a little puppy. I'd let the pup see stock but I don't know that I'd encourage work at the beginning.



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Thanks for the advice @juliepoudrier!

I'll be sure to keep the pup safe from the cows.  I don't want the pup to get frightened by the livestock either.

So before the puppy is old enough to work, if the puppy is on leash, and gets very excited when it sees livestock, pulling on the leash, barking, trying to chase, etc.. What should I do? I don't want to discourage the puppy from being interested in working livestock when its older, so should I be fairly neutral about it? Maybe let the puppy look at the stock a bit, then move on and distract the puppy?

With my previous puppy, Jessie (GSD mix), I wasn't raising her to be a working dog, so I did a lot of work to teach her to be calm around the livestock and leave them alone when she was a puppy. She is great around our livestock now, but I'm not sure that this would be the best way to train a puppy that I want to work cattle and sheep when it is grown.

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I am by no means an expert on this, as I have only recently begun training my dog to work sheep. And I haven't got a farm (yet... one day...).
However, my dog was taught to be calm around other animals and would ignore sheep before I started training. I was worried she might not take to working sheep right away. I needn't have worried. After three years of being used to ignore sheep, the moment I said she could go she did. 

If you are neutral about it, like you say, then I think it'll be fine. I don't think a farmer would want a dog that would get out of control when it saw livestock. (But hey - I am not a farmer (yet!) so what do I know :) ). We always trained our dogs to be calm in a casual way, letting them look, maybe sniff each other if they want, moving away if the pup gets too excited, a gentle no if the pup barks. I think this would work for a working dog as well. 

Gun dogs are usually trained to be calm around birds and other prey. So I'd say you can do the same for BCs.


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7 hours ago, Flora & Molly said:

...I don't think a farmer would want a dog that would get out of control when it saw livestock. (But hey - I am not a farmer (yet!) so what do I know :) )...

I don't think you need to be a farmer to know that one wouldn't want an out of control dog! Stressed livestock are more difficult to handle and can be dangerous as a result, and they're also liable to drop weight, which clearly wouldn't be desirable. In fact, one of the specific traits selected for in border collies is the ability to work without barking so that they don't stress the sheep. Other breeds work differently and in many the bark is part of the way they move livestock, but not border collies.

@Ohalani, I agree with your plan to allow the pup to see livestock and learn self control around them early on.

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Thanks for the replies! I'm glad you guys think that teaching self control around livestock from the start is good. Of course I don't want my livestock to be stressed, or the puppy to learn to harass them and generally be nuts around livestock. Our cows are milk cows, and if you stress them they won't let down their milk, and I expect that their production would go down if they were continually stressed. Plus, it just wouldn't be fair to the poor cows!

Since I've never raised a working BC puppy, I've just been worrying that what I did with Jessie wouldn't be the right thing to do. But it sounds like it is, so I will plan to teach the puppy to be calm and gentle around the animals from day 1. Jessie will now only bark at the cows (she moves cows with her voice) if she senses that it is appropriate to do so, or if I tell her to. Otherwise she leaves them alone and is just great with all the animals. I taught her to be extra gentle with baby animals by talking softly and telling her, "It's a baby, be gentle", and encouraging any calm behavior around the babies. Now she will gently lick the calves if I tell her she can, and all I have to do is tell her its a baby to remind her to be good and gentle.

@Flora & Molly That is great to hear that your BC is happy to work sheep after being taught to ignore them for 3 years. That definitely makes me feel better about my plan.

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