For thousands of years, farmers have used dogs to protect and manage their livestock, including chickens and sheep. However, choosing the right dog depends on what you want: a herding dog or a guard dog. If your farm is isolated from natural predators, a herding dog may suffice. However, if your farm is vulnerable to predators, a livestock guarding dog is a better option.
Assess Your Farm's Needs
According to a 2001 study by Robin Rigg, the environment of your farm determines the best dog for your herds. If you own large herds of sheep and have difficulty controlling the herd on your own, your best bet is a herding dog. If your farm is threatened by predators, a livestock guarding dog may be necessary to secure the safety of your sheep or chickens.
Herding dogs can be organized into two general categories: "strong-eyed" herders, and "loose-eyed" herders. Strong-eyed dogs usually observe the herd from low on the ground and stare hard at the sheep they are herding. They tend to single out individual animals to return to the herd. Strong-eyed dogs include border collies and most kelpies. Loose-eyed dogs tend to walk tall and manage the herd as a group. Loose-eyed dogs include English Shepherds, Australian Shepherds, and Rough Collies. Buy your dog from a reputable breeder, and consult him extensively as you make your choice of individuals. If you are training your first herding dog, work with an experienced herding dog trainer.
Livestock-guarding dogs should behave as if they are members of the flock. Therefore, purchase an LGD when it is still a puppy and raise it with your sheep so that it will bond with them. Then, when sheep are threatened by predators, LGD's will defend them and alert you, providing "peace of mind." Common breeds include the Great Pyrenees and many types of mastiffs. Just as with herding dogs, you should buy from a reputable breeder and work with a reputable trainer to ensure your LGD puppy grows into a well-trained adult guarding dog.
Unsuitable Dog Breeds
You should not purchase a dog that is unresponsive to training or physically unsuited to the long hours that herding or guarding dogs work. For example, pit bulls are too small and stocky physically to effectively monitor a herd. In addition, they are known to display aggression towards other animals, putting your stock (especially your chickens) in danger. Other dog breeds that display aggressive tendencies towards other animals and therefore are not appropriate include the Rottweiler. Bulldogs are generally too "friendly" and slow to be effective for herding or guarding. Finally, commonsense dictates that small "house" dogs, such as chihuahuas and toy poodles, do not have the strength, size, or speed necessary to assist in your ranching.