Tag: Sheep

What is a Composite Breed?
The Farm

What is a Composite Breed?

What is a Composite Breed?

Composite sheep; photo courtesy of USDA ARS

Composite breeds are growing in popularity across the United States. This trend seems to be the most advanced among beef cattle producers, but has gained some attention among sheep and goat breeders, as well. Read More

An Introduction to Heritage Breeds
The Farm

An Introduction to Heritage Breeds

An Introduction to Heritage BreedsThinking about starting a farm with heritage breeds? If you are new to this topic, you may enjoy An Introduction to Heritage Breeds: Saving and Raising Rare-Breed Livestock and Poultry by The Livestock Conservancy.

This excellent beginner’s resource starts with the basics—defining breeds in general and heritage breeds in particular. It discusses the plight and importance of rare breeds, as well as the necessity to maintain genetic diversity within these breeds despite their falling numbers.

After a look at how different farming systems call for vastly different breeds, An Introduction to Heritage Breeds moves on to considerations of importance to new farmers, helping them honestly assess what species of livestock will best fit their needs and circumstances. Factors to weigh include:

  • Handling ease.
  • Noise and odor level.
  • Shelter and space requirements.
  • Zoning restrictions.
  • Daily food and water requirements.
  • Predator control.
  • Products.
  • Processing and transportation.
  • Potential markets.
  • Breed associations and other resources.

Next comes information on getting started with heritage breeds:

  • Choosing a breed.
  • Providing for the basic needs of your livestock.
  • Setting realistic goals for your project.
  • Setting up a system of animal identification and record-keeping.
  • Planning to market your livestock or livestock products.

Maintaining a heritage breed requires close attention to the principles of genetics and selection, particularly when the breed is teetering on the brink of extinction. An Introduction to Heritage Breeds provides an overview of this process in nontechnical terms. It also demonstrates that rare breeds can be maintained and promoted through breeding projects with very different emphases:

  • Performance and exhibition.
  • Production only.
  • Production and breed conservation combined.
  • Rescue of rare breeds or bloodlines.

The book closes with a look at how breed associations can either help or hurt a rare breed.

While An Introduction to Heritage Breeds is not a comprehensive guide to breeds, it does provide numerous breed snapshots, distilling the most essential facts about the distinctive characteristics of many breeds.

If you are serious about working with heritage breeds, you will quickly outgrow this resource. We recommend supplementing it with resources specific to your chosen species, including a guide to care, a guide to breeding and genetics, and a breed encyclopedia. If you can find any works written entirely about your breed, make it a point to add those to your bookshelf, as well.

An Introduction to Heritage Breeds is exactly what the title suggests—an introduction, concise and clear enough for a reader with no prior experience with animals.


Helpful Resources

Cattle BreedsCattle Breeds
Our own guide to the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of cattle breeds, including some heritage breeds.

Horse & Donkey BreedsHorse & Donkey Breeds
Our own guide to the history, uses, temperament, health, and pros and cons of horse and donkey breeds, including some heritage breeds.

Shetland Sheepdog
The Farm

Shetland Sheepdog

Shetland SheepdogThe Shetland Sheepdog dates back to the Viking invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries. The fierce invaders who colonized the Shetland Islands brought with them small herding spitzes to tend their livestock. These dogs were ideally suited to the harsh climate of the islands, being quite hardy.

In the 1470s, however, the Shetland Islands became part of Scotland. The Scottish introduced their own farm collies, dogs of Border Collie type. When crossed with the spitzes, an excellent little sheepdog arose. The new breed was an all-purpose dog for the small-scale farmers of the islands. They herded both miniature cattle and sheep, gathering them when needed on the uninhabited islands or driving them out of the gardens and fields of the inhabited islands.

The union between Scotland and England in 1707 brought a new era to the Shetland Islands, albeit one of great hardship to the common people. Fish trade became very important to feed Industrial Revolution towns, so a class of wealthy fish merchants arose on the islands and reduced the farmers to serfs.  However, the regular influx of fishing boats also introduced new dogs, ranging from King Charles Spaniels to more herding spitzes of the Scandinavian countries. Mixing and remixing regularly took place, leading to a rather nondescript population of farm dogs. However, any gentle dogs with herding instinct were valued.

The Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s brought the need for a strong British naval force, so the fleet regularly appeared near the islands to practice maneuvers. Navy members who stopped on the islands often bought any puppies that had struck their fancy to take home for souvenirs. The Shetland islanders quickly realized that a comfortable income could be realized by selectively breeding dogs to be little, furry, and cute.

This led to a lengthy debate over what the perfect dog of the Shetland Islands should look like. Some breeders simply did not care about appearance just so long as their puppies sold well. Others felt that crossing to the old farm collie to get closer to the original specimen was necessary. As time went on, breeder James Loggie came to the forefront, helping to establish the Shetland Collie Club in 1908 and in the process establishing the ideal Sheltie as the one most resembling a miniature show Collie. Thus, the breed departed from its original Border Collie background.

Like many dog breeds, the Shetland Sheepdog (the word Collie soon being dropped to avoid pressure from offended Collie fanciers) faced extinction during the tumultuous times of World War I. Further crossbreeding with Collies was carried out to preserve the breed. These upgraded Shetland Sheepdogs were the ones that populated our shores between World War I and World War II.

The Sheltie was a tremendous success in America, quickly capturing the hearts of those who loved Collies but preferred a smaller dog. It became particularly popular in the 1970s and is still a global favorite. Today, the Sheltie ranks 24th in AKC registration statistics.


Shetland SheepdogUses

Many Shetland Sheepdogs today are simply well-loved pets. However, their trainability makes them the Border Collies of the small-dog world. They dominate many dog sports ranging from obedience to tracking to agility, and also win frequent accolades in the conformation ring. But their sharp minds can be put to use in less competitive ways, including therapy work and watchdog duty. Shelties are excellent when it comes to trick performances as long as they are not expected to do fancy retrieving. Most Shelties dislike carrying objects for any great distance.

Although few Shetland Sheepdogs still herd, many retain the necessary instinct. Their gentle disposition makes them a good choice for working sheep.



The Shetland Sheepdog is known for a sweet, sunny personality that endears him to all. He is an inquisitive little fellow that prefers to stay busy, so keep his mind occupied. Providing him with a job will help channel his energies productively. If he is unsure about what is required of him, he can become rather tense.

Use a soft voice and a light touch when training the Sheltie. Anything harsher will damage his sensitive nature. If he has fallen into bad habits through misunderstanding, a verbal reprimand is the only correction needed; follow it up with a positive demonstration of the correct course of action to keep him from becoming anxious. The Sheltie loves to please and is happier knowing what to do rather than what not to do. But even the obedient Sheltie is not immune to spoiling—he will cheerfully ignore anyone who has demonstrated that they do not necessarily mean what they say.

The Sheltie is extremely family-oriented and must be allowed to live indoors with his people. While he will regard only one person in the household as the master, he enjoys following all of the family members around. Forcing him to spend long periods of time alone is a recipe for a noisy and psychologically disturbed dog.

As long as his companionship needs are met and a reasonable amount of routine is maintained throughout the day, the Shetland Sheepdog is flexible enough to fit the needs of most households. He loves cats, adapts to the presence of other dogs (especially other Shelties), and makes an excellent playmate for children who are old enough to treat him gently. He even takes travel in stride. However, the Sheltie is rather reserved, perhaps even timid, around strangers. He may tolerate their presence, but a stranger who attempts to pet him may meet up with a protest in the form of the “Sheltie spin,” where the dog whirls in a complete circle, barking the whole time.

Beware, however, of puppy-mill Shelties. These dogs are not trustworthy around children, as they are extremely reactive and prone to fear-biting. They also to tend to be the most compulsive barkers.

Unchanneled herding instinct can create some interesting situations for Sheltie owners. Puppies may nip at heels until trained otherwise. Even adult Shelties, however, have a strong instinct to chase fast-moving objects ranging from squirrels to cars. For this reason, a fenced yard is recommended to prevent accidents, even though Shelties do not have any inclination to roam. Safely confined, the dog will probably vent his feelings in a noisy Sheltie spin.

Even when actually herding, the Shetland Sheepdog tends to rely heavily on voice and the Sheltie spin to move animals. He works close to the livestock for maximum effect.

Shetland Sheepdog


Unfortunately, the Shetland Sheepdog is prone to several severe health problems:

  • Collie eye anomaly, a genetic defect that prevents the eye from developing properly.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy.
  • Hip dysplasia.
  • Legg-Perthes, a disease of puppies in which the blood supply to the femur is cut off, causing joint death.
  • Hemophilia.
  • Skin allergies.
  • Thyroid disease.
  • Dermatomyositis (Sheltie skin syndrome), which causes hair loss and skin lesions that come and go with stress.
  • Multi-drug resistance, which can cause life-threatening reactions to some tranquilizers and heartworm medication.

Note that shaving a Sheltie in the summer is not a good idea, no matter how hot it is outside. The Sheltie’s coat forms a protective layer that guards him from sunburn and allergies.

Keep your Sheltie slim. He loves to eat and will put on weight very quickly if you let him.

Also, do not breed two merle dogs together, as the resulting puppies may be born white, blind, and deaf.



  • Suitability for first-time dog owners.
  • Suitability for families with children and other pets.
  • Small size.
  • Trainability.
  • No slobber.
  • Cold tolerance.
  • Low food requirements.
  • Agility.
  • Speed.
  • Endurance.


ConsShetland Sheepdog

  • Irresponsible breeders.
  • Vocal tendencies.
  • Need for almost constant human companionship.
  • Need for a job.
  • Grooming requirements.
  • Profuse shedding (“blowing coat”) yearly for males and spayed females and twice a year for unspayed females, plus additional moderate shedding year-round.
  • Serious health problems.


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Dog BreedsDog Breeds


Great Pyrenees
The Farm

Great Pyrenees

Great PyreneesThe Great Pyrenees, or Pyrenean Mountain Dog as it is called in Europe, has guarded sheep in the mountains of France and Spain as long as history records. Its lineage has been entirely lost in time, but it is probably related to the other ancient flock guardian breeds. Its ancestors may have been giant Asian dogs, perhaps the white dogs of Asia Minor or the Tibetan Mastiff from farther east.

In any case, the Great Pyrenees has been preserved intact for thousands of years in fossils and art. The breed has changed surprisingly little since the days it stood guard alone in the mountains. On the French side of the Pyrenees range, the dogs were built identically to modern specimens, but with large black patches in their coats. On the Spanish side, white was the predominate color, but the dogs were more lightly built with tapering noses.

While the Great Pyrenees had an important role in guarding the châteaux as early as the 1400s, it officially became the breed of nobility later, when Louis XIV took one home as a pet. Louis named the Great Pyrenees the Royal Dog of France in 1675, making it a popular choice for many aristocrats.

Lafayette sent the first specimens to America in 1824, when he gave two to a friend. A few more dogs followed in subsequent years, but the breed did not catch on at this time.

By the early 1900s, the Great Pyrenees was in a serious plight. The French Revolution had previously toppled the aristocracy and thus caused the loss of Royal Dog status, returning the breed to its role as a working dog. The Great Pyrenees fared little better in the hands of the commoners, however. The country folk made made some easy cash for a time by selling their poorer-quality puppies to unsuspecting tourists, but in the end eliminated their own canine export market through their unscrupulous practices. While some dogs were still scattered across France, many of these were drafted into the military in World War I, where they served as pack animals, some paying the ultimate price.

The Great Pyrenees was rescued from the brink of extinction after the war through the efforts of Bernard Senac-Lagrange, dog expert and vice president of the French Kennel Club. He searched France for the best specimens, and then created the first written standard for the breed to promote a focus on quality dogs, not the animals that had ruined the breed’s reputation among tourists.

Lagrange made every effort to help breeders in other countries purchase good breeding stock, so it was not long before the Great Pyrenees appeared in America once again. The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1933, bringing it further attention as a show dog.

It was extremely fortunate that the Great Pyrenees was firmly established on our shores by the time World War II hit, as in France it was pressed back into military service. The United States military considered the breed too cumbersome to make a good war dog, preferring breeds such as the German Shepherd. This ensured that the future of the Great Pyrenees was secure.

In fairly short order, American breeders managed to sand off some of the rougher edges of this livestock guardian’s temperament, creating a dependably sweet pet and show dog. However, this has not spoiled the breed’s working abilities. The Great Pyrenees is probably the most popular guard dog for sheep and goats in the United States today, as it is both familiar and readily available across the country. Today, the Great Pyrenees ranks 69th in AKC registration statistics.


Great PyreneesUses

There is no question that the Great Pyrenees is an excellent pet and therapy dog. If given his choice, however, he would probably prefer to live outdoors and protect his territory and possessions. He is not only a guardian of livestock, but is a reliable family watchdog, as well.

In cold weather, the Great Pyrenees can do extra work as a pack or draft dog, able to haul a cart full of firewood, tote a sled for the children, or pack along supplies on a hiking trail.

In some parts of the world, the Great Pyrenees is a common choice for search and rescue in the wake of avalanches.



“Gentle giant” may be a cliche, but it is perfectly applicable to the Great Pyrenees. He is a dog that can be trusted implicitly with the safety of the entire family. He is confident and serious, but perfectly sound in disposition. He has a soft place in his heart for anything small, whether a newborn lamb, a young toddler, or even a cat. He can put up with the most feisty little dog, although he may stubbornly resist the addition of another Great Pyrenees of the same sex to the household.

Owners marvel at the intuition of this breed. This trait serves him well. Not only can he readily distinguish between friend and foe, he can be a true companion, as well, responding quietly and kindly to the moods of his people. The Great Pyrenees may not be very demonstrative, but he will often use a paw or a gentle nudge to display his affection.

Just because he is a sweet, loyal dog, do not assume that he can be easily controlled. The Great Pyrenees was bred for millennia to think independently and make his own decisions. He has little interest in taking orders, especially when he sees no purpose for them. Arbitrary obedience exercises might amuse a herding dog, but the Great Pyrenees will view the whole process with obvious disdain. Fortunately, he is naturally quite mannerly, and any additional training in etiquette he needs can be taught naturally during the daily routine, provided that his respect has been earned.

The Great Pyrenees does not have to be a working dog to have a strong territorial instinct. He absolutely must be kept within a fence or on a leash, as he will periodically wander off to expand his range. He strongly distrusts unfamiliar people, dogs, and wild animals of the large, threatening type. However, he will readily learn to accept visitors that you welcome in person. He will regard trespassers with suspicion, particularly if he is of a working bloodline, ever so much more so if he hails directly from France.

No training is needed to shape a Great Pyrenees into a successful livestock guardian—he comes fully equipped with all the instinct he needs. Your role will simply be to introduce him to his flock at a young age. He bonds quickly, and may be ready to work as early as six months of age. On the job, he may appear to be lazy, spending his entire day sleeping. Don’t be fooled, however. The Great Pyrenees can sleep with one ear open. He may patrol at night, but mostly he prefers to deter predators by marking his boundaries. When a potential threat is sighted, his first line of defense is his deep bark. The Great Pyrenees only goes on the offensive if he is convinced that life-threatening danger is impending. Then watch out, because his speed and agility will astonish you.


Great PyreneesHealth

The Great Pyrenees is usually structurally sound, but he does have special needs. He is susceptible to both heat and intense sun. Although it may sound like a good idea, do not shave him down in the summer, as he is prone to sunburn and hot spots. Instead, help him beat the heat by letting him rest in the shade and drink plenty of cool water.

He will continue to physically mature until he is about 1 1/2 years old. To avoid “growing pains” and joint damage, do not roughhouse with him on hard surfaces or let him jump above his elbow height at this time. Fortunately, Great Pyrenees puppies are typically calmer than those of most breeds, so this should not be too much of a problem.

The most common inherited problems in the Great Pyrenees are:

  • Entropion (eyelids that turn inward).
  • Cataracts.
  • Hip dysplasia.
  • Luxating patellas (slipped kneecaps).
  • Dwarfism.
  • Hypothyroidism.
  • Cancer, particularly of the bones and reproductive system.


Great PyreneesPros

  • Availability.
  • Suitability for families with children and most other pets.
  • Little doggy odor.
  • Low exercise requirements.
  • Suitability for the coldest climates.
  • Surprisingly low food requirements relative to size.
  • Minimal training needs for working dogs.
  • Strength.
  • Surprising agility.



  • Unsuitability for small homes and yards.
  • Remarkable ability as an escape artist.
  • Night barking.
  • Difficulty of training.
  • Slobber.
  • Extensive shedding.
  • Grooming needs.
  • Unsuitability for hot, humid climates.
  • Short lifespan.


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Dog BreedsDog Breeds


The Farm


CollieThe Collie shares the same heritage as the rest of the sheepdogs of the British Isles. It traces back to the herding mastiffs of the invading Roman armies under Julius Caesar, perhaps with a touch of Viking spitz added later on.

For centuries, the Collie, or Scotch Collie, more or less resembled the modern Border Collie. These all-purpose farm dogs came in different varieties suited to different purposes. Shaggy-coated Collies, well insulated from the inhospitable climate, were ideally suited to tending the flocks on the hills of Scotland. Smooth Collies also existed, even in those days. However, they were more likely to be found driving sheep and cattle to market.

The split between the Scotch Collie and the Border Collie began as early as the Industrial Revolution. Farmers expanded their sheep flocks considerably to supply mutton and wool to the hungry cities, putting more effort into breeding specialized, highly efficient sheepdogs. At the same time, keeping pedigreed dogs became fashionable among the upper classes. The divide between show and working bloodlines began.

Still, the two collies were essentially the same breed until Queen Victoria visited Scotland around 1860. On her trip, she fell in love with the humble Scotch Collie. The royal patronage created a boom in the breed’s popularity. However, while the working sheepdog was bred for speed, savvy, and responsiveness, the Collie of the aristocracy was bred almost exclusively for looks. Selective breeding proliferated taller, fluffier dogs, while a cross with a Borzoi introduced a long, slender, refined head. A particularly successful dog, Old Cockie, was born in 1867. His good looks and sable coat, relatively uncommon at the time, became the goal of every breeder. In just a few short years, there was no mistaking the show Collie for the working Border Collie.

The first Collie shown in the United States appeared at the second-ever Westminster Kennel Club show in 1877. The following year, two Collies appeared at Westminster, both from Queen Victoria’s royal kennel. Royal patronage again did its work of popularizing the breed, this time among the American upper classes. On Long Island and all along the Hudson, nearly every prestigious estate could boast of a kennel of fine Collies, as the wealthy imported them for whatever price was asked. Even J.P. Morgan was an early promoter of the breed in the United States.

The importations continued until about 1920, when Americans became great breeders of show Collies in their own right. Many famous kennels were established in the 1920s and 1930s, while the breed became even larger and more refined in American hands. One of the great breeders of this era was Albert Payson Terhune, who not only bred dogs that are still found in pedigrees today, but also made the intelligence and nobility of the Collie famous through his numerous books and stories.

But the Collie still had not reached the very pinnacle of its fame. Lassie first appeared on the silver screen in 1943, launching the Collie to the dizziest heights worldwide. For the next 30 years or so, Lassie regularly appeared in movies, television shows, radio broadcasts, and children’s books. Every child wanted his or her own Lassie. Now the Collie was not just the dog of the rich, but the dog of the American family.

Not surprisingly, the situation was ripe for unprincipled breeders. Puppy mills obligingly stocked pet stores with Collie puppies, giving no consideration to the health or temperament of their animals.

Fortunately, the Collie, while still a favorite, has experienced more moderate popularity in recent years. Currently, the breed ranks 37th in AKC registration statistics. Interestingly, these numbers include the smooth-coated variety of Collie, which breeders report is becoming more common in some areas. Smooth Collies have existed since the earliest history of the breed, but all modern Smooth Collie bloodlines trace back to a tricolored dog named Trefoil, born in 1973.

A new development in the Collie breed is a renewed interest in getting back to the dog’s herding roots. Despite over 150 years of breeding almost exclusively for conformation, breeders and trainers have discovered that the herding instinct still lies dormant in some dogs, particularly in the smooth variety.



The gentle Collie is first and foremost the finest of pets and therapy dogs. Not driven by working instincts to the same degree as other herding breeds, this dog loves nothing better than to be the companion and protector of humankind. For this reason, he also makes a worthy assistance dog for the disabled.

Collies bred for work are more suited to small acreages than to big ranches. They make good watchdogs, but they can also herd small flocks of sheep or poultry, making them an excellent choice for hobby farms. They can also make a good showing in competitive herding.



Does Lassie sound like an exaggerated ideal? Guess again. The Collie is the epitome of a family dog—gentle, loving, and docile. He can be quite content accompanying adults in their daily activities, but he is at his best in the company of children. His sweet demeanor makes him the most trustworthy of canine companions, his active nature makes him an enjoyable playmate, and his protective instincts make him a dependable guardian. In short, once his puppy instinct to herd by nipping is trained out of him, the Collie is the ideal children’s dog. While his loyalty prevents him from attaching himself readily to adult strangers, he will generally take quickly to the younger set on the first meeting. One thing he cannot do, however, is adapt himself to being left home alone for extended periods of time.

The legendary intelligence of the Collie is not a myth, either. Many a Collie, even in these modern days, has proven his ability to detect something amiss in a situation and respond by protecting those he loves. Also, his ability to think like a human and to anticipate his master’s desires without a word spoken is considered uncanny by owners.

The Collie loves nothing better than to please. This, combined with his instinct to keep his living quarters tidy, makes him exceptionally easy to housebreak. More advanced training can be tackled with ease, as well, if due regard is paid to his sensitivity. The Collie will break down under harsh treatment, even if “harsh” is merely a loud tone of voice. A more dominant dog will still back down under a mild verbal reprimand. Also, don’t bore the smart Collie with needless repetition. He thrives on challenges, not drills.

There are differences in temperament between the Rough Collie and the Smooth Collie. The Rough Collie is more dignified and reserved, often preferring to watch rather than to take part in new situations. The Smooth Collie may respond to the novel with more fear at first, but after warming up is more likely to become an active participant.

Smooth Collies are more likely to display herding instinct than Rough Collies, but there are examples of Rough Collies becoming effective herding dogs on small flocks. Training can be a challenge, however, since even a Collie with herding instinct will tend to rely heavily on the handler for direction and encouragement. Starting a Collie on docile, dog-broken sheep is of paramount importance, as he will probably back down if confronted by a stubborn animal. Once used to being in control of the situation, he tends to work close to the flock, using his physical presence to keep the animals together instead of staring them into submission like a Border Collie. For extra emphasis, a Collie may also bark and nip.

Choose a Collie from a reputable breeder—poor-quality puppies are still bred on a regular basis. These dogs tend to be compulsive barkers and are rather high-strung. If frightened, they may bite, which makes them very unreliable around children.



While Collies do not suffer from a particularly large number of health problems, many of the health problems they are prone to are serious and widely distributed throughout the breed. The most common are:

  • Multi-drug resistance, which can cause life-threatening reactions to some tranquilizers and heartworm medication.
  • Collie nose, which is fading and ulcerating of the nose caused by the autoimmune disease lupus; not to be confused with sunburn due to lack of pigment.
  • Nodular granulomatous episclerokeratitis, an autoimmune disease that causes cells in the eye to proliferate and that can damage the cornea; usually seen in Collies with Collie nose.
  • Collie eye anomaly, a genetic defect that prevents the eye from developing properly.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy.
  • Dermatomyositis, an autoimmune disease that causes skin lesions and sometimes muscle swelling.
  • Gray Collie syndrome, a fatal genetic defect that affects bone marrow, resulting in cyclic drops in blood cell numbers; affected puppies are born light gray (not to be confused with blue merle) with light-colored noses.

Fortunately, some Collie problems are easy to avoid. Sunburn is common in Collies, particularly on their noses. Most dogs will benefit from a canine version of sunscreen when outdoors. Also, do not shave Rough Collies in summer. This leaves them prone to sunburn and insect bites on their bodies. To help them beat the heat, keep them inside with the air conditioner.

Like many large dogs, Collies are prone to bloat. Keep their digestive systems comfortable by feeding them two or three smaller meals a day instead of one large meal. Avoiding activity and excitement within an hour of meals helps, as well.

Finally, do not breed two merle dogs together. The resulting puppies may be born white, blind, and deaf.



  • Suitability for families with children.
  • Trainability.
  • Tidy habits.
  • Minimal grooming needs (Smooth Collie).
  • Cold tolerance (particularly Rough Collie).
  • Agility.
  • Speed.
  • Strength.



  • Prevalence of irresponsible breeders.
  • Need for constant human companionship.
  • Heavy shedding (both varieties).
  • Extensive grooming needs (Rough Collie).
  • Poor heat tolerance (Rough Collie).
  • Serious immune problems.


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Dog BreedsDog Breeds


Border Collie
The Farm

Border Collie

Border CollieMost of the herding dogs of the British Isles trace back to a common ancestor—the big, black-and-tan mastiffs brought by Julius Caesar around 55 BC to guard and drive livestock to feed the Roman army. Of course, British and Scottish sheepdogs do not look much like mastiffs. This is owing to the influence of small herding spitzes brought by the Vikings after the collapse of the Roman Empire. The two dogs, mastiff and spitz, proved to form a powerful combination.

Ever afterward, sheepdogs were a part of everyday life on the desolate pastures of Scotland, the hilly country on the border with England. Ancient writers tell us that the sheepdogs of the Border country could be trusted to take a flock out to graze during the day and herd them safely home at night. Early on, the farm collie, or Scotch Collie as it was called at first, was bred to work.

Life went on the same for centuries, each generation of farm collie being more or less like the last. But matters suddenly began to change with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Suddenly, wool and mutton became big business. Shepherding morphed from a matter of subsistence to more of a commercial enterprise. Scottish farmers expanded their flocks considerably, but of course this meant that they needed greater assistance in handling them. A good dog was often cheaper than a shepherd, and frequently more reliable. Greater efforts were made to improve the farm collie, enhancing his speed, precision, and obedience.

In 1860, Queen Victoria made a trip to Scotland and fell in love with the humble farm collie. Almost overnight, the shepherd’s dog became the devoted companion of the aristocracy. However, wealthy breeders preferred a fluffier dog with a more refined build. A split began in the bloodlines of the farm collie, the aristocratic version assuming sole ownership of the name Scotch Collie. This dog was also called the show collie or just the Collie, and is the breed now exemplified by the immortal Lassie. The dogs that stayed behind in the hill country to work were just known as sheepdogs.

At this time, however, the ideal sheepdog had yet to come to the forefront. Whenever shepherds met, it was inevitable that the conversation would turn to sheepdogs and, often, to boasting about the best dogs. Some dogs drove stock before them, while others fetched sheep to the master; some were incessant barkers, while others preferred to work silently. Since the situation was the same wherever sheep were worked with dogs, shepherds conceived the idea of holding contests to settle the disputes.

The first sheepdog trial in history was actually held in New Zealand, but the first trial of note was hosted in Bala, Wales, in 1873. A Scottish dog named Tweed won prizes for both herding and beauty. But the future of both herding trials and sheepdogs changed forever in the 1890s when Old Hemp appeared on the scene.

Old Hemp resembled a modern Border Collie in every way, from his appearance to his working style. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not bark while at work. He controlled his sheep with a hypnotic stare, willing them to obey. His method was unbeatable—Old Hemp won every herding trial he attended his whole life through. Little wonder that Old Hemp became both the standard and the fountainhead of the Border Collie.

Some of the best Scottish sheepdogs were brought to America beginning in the 1880s, often to work on the expansive sheep ranches of the West. For about 100 years, the Border Collie was simply a good working dog.

In the 1990s, however, the breed became more familiar to the general public. Meanwhile, the American Kennel Club was in the midst of an expansion phase. The Border Collie was added to the Herding Group on October 1, 1995, creating a split between show and working bloodlines that still sparks heated debate today.

Whatever its purpose, the Border Collie is incredibly popular given its energy level and exercise needs. It is the 38th most popular dog according to AKC registration statistics, and it can be found working on many farms and ranches all across the country.


Border CollieUses

Don’t be confused by the fact that there are working Border Collies and show/pet Border Collies—all Border Collies need a job, no matter what bloodline they come from.

Working Border Collies are serious dogs that pretty much have to put in a full day of strenuous work to be content. These dogs need to live on a sizeable farm or ranch with plenty of opportunities to herd sheep. Some working Border Collies have enough force to handle cattle, as well.

AKC Border Collies are slightly more laid-back, making good companions for active families. They thrive in the hands of owners with a competitive streak, whether it comes out in canine sports like agility or human sports like marathon running. Given the right climate, Border Collies can even make excellent sled dogs in middle-distance races. Of course, herding is still appreciated by many AKC Border Collies. However, their lower octane levels help them to be content with herding in AKC trials or on hobby farms.

In their spare time, most Border Collies make good watchdogs.



The Border Collie is nothing if not intense. He loves nothing better than to work and to please. If his mind is kept busy, he is calm, reliable, and impeccably well-mannered. If he has to find his own jobs and entertainment, however, he is prone to a whole host of compulsive behaviors, including herding shadows, chasing cars, chewing furniture, finding new ways to escape, and barking at nothing in particular.

In keeping with his subtle methods of reading and controlling sheep, the Border Collie is exceptionally sensitive. This creates a unique set of training challenges:

  • A Border Collie puppy should be introduced to a wide range of people, places, experiences, and (particularly) sounds, all in a safe, fun way. Otherwise, he is likely to develop severe phobias during those early, insecure weeks.
  • Consistency is all-important. The Border Collie can detect the most subtle changes in tone, an important skill for dogs that must respond to distant whistle commands when herding on expansive ranges. As far as the dog is concerned, a word means one thing when spoken in a high-pitched tone and something completely different when spoken in a low tone.
  • Punishment should be kept to a minimum when training. The Border Collie cannot handle harsh reprimands, and will act irrationally when punished. Fortunately, he truly wants to please, so this type of discipline is rarely necessary anyway.
  • Praise should be delivered with perfect timing. A poorly timed word of praise can reinforce bad habits, especially since the Border Collie needs only one or two repetitions to completely master a new behavior. For this reason, many Border Collie owners use a clicker to train their dogs, since most trainers can press a button with much greater speed and precision than they can speak.

The Border Collie is happiest when with his family, with whom he bonds very deeply. He can get along quite well with older children, other dogs, and even the family cat (depending on the personality of the cat). He displays a strong instinct to keep all of his family members in a group, making him prone to separation anxiety. Unfortunately, this gathering instinct can also lead to dangerous situations with small children. If children run from him, a Border Collie may try to hold them with his teeth. He is not being aggressive—just controlling his flock.

When herding sheep, the Border Collie works with a style seen in no other breed. He naturally tends to make sweeping runs, working at a considerable distance from his flock. However, he can still maintain a high degree of control with his stalking approach and his unnerving stare. This intent gaze is known as “eye.” Because of his reliance on eye, the Border Collie typically prefers to work at the head of his flock. However, he is quite versatile, and can be taught to drive animals in front of him, or even to tend livestock in an unfenced pasture. Likewise, the Border Collie can learn to work either independently or under tight control from the handler.

Note that the AKC Border Collie is more relaxed than the working Border Collie, although still full of energy.


Border CollieHealth

Health problems common in the Border Collie breed include:

  • Lens luxation.
  • Collie eye anomaly, a genetic defect that prevents the eye from developing properly.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy.
  • Hip dysplasia.
  • Hypothyroidism.
  • Allergic reactions to flea bites.
  • Multi-drug resistance, which can cause life-threatening reactions to some tranquilizers and heartworm medication.

Epilepsy has been seen in a few dogs, as has osteochondritis dissecans, a painful joint condition in which cartilage and bone die and crack.

Never breed two merle dogs together. The resulting puppies may be born white, blind, and deaf.

Note that the Border Collie is a serious workaholic. He will not stop working just because he is too hot or tired, so owners must be alert to prevent heatstrokes.



  • Availability.
  • Unparalleled ability to learn.
  • Adaptability to most climates.
  • Longevity.
  • Versatility.
  • Work ethic.
  • Incredible herding instinct.
  • Agility.
  • Stamina.


Border CollieCons

  • Need for constant companionship.
  • Tendency to chase cars and small children.
  • Susceptibility to phobias and compulsive behavior.
  • Need for consistent training.
  • Need for a challenging job.


Complete Series

Dog BreedsDog Breeds


Australian Shepherd
The Farm

Australian Shepherd

Australian ShepherdIt may surprise you, but the Australian Shepherd is actually an American breed, developed in the West in the 19th century. There is an Australian connection, however. Some of the breed’s most influential ancestors were various Basque herding dogs from both Spain and France, including the Pyrenean Shepherd. Basque dogs were originally brought to America by shepherds, some arriving directly on our shores, others coming after a brief sojourn in Australia. Hence the erroneous impression that some of the dogs involved in the creation of the Australian Shepherd were native to Australia.

But there are more than Basque dogs in the Australian Shepherd’s heritage. The sheep ranges of the West were home to several other types of herding dogs, including:

Some experts speculate that German settlers may have introduced their own sheep-herding dogs, the predecessors of the modern German Shepherd. DNA evidence also points to the influence of ancient dogs that migrated over the Bering Land Bridge, probably dingo-like animals that lived half-wild on the fringes of Native American society.

These types were crossed and recrossed all over the West and Midwest for decades, resulting in several closely related landraces (local populations that are less uniform than standardized breeds but still genetically close enough to be distinguished from other populations). The resulting dogs were somewhat varied in appearance and made excellent all-around farm and ranch dogs, often classified together and epitomized in the name of “Old Shep.”

Both the Midwest farm variety and the Western ranch variety of “Old Shep” were largely treated as the same breed throughout the first half of the 1900s, although the Western variety did achieve more fame thanks to trick dogs popular in rodeos after World War II. When record-keeping and registration began, both were classified as English Shepherds. However, the two types had distinct purposes and came from different locations in the United States, so it was only logical that they be recognized as separate breeds. Accordingly, the Australia Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) split off in 1957 to handle the dog of the Western ranch.

Much of the Australian Shepherd’s subsequent history has involved controversy. One of the biggest quarrels was over AKC recognition of this working breed. The question came up in the 1980s, with some breeders for it and some against it. Those for recognition, along with its associated right to enter the breed into the conformation ring, separated into their own organization, the United States Australian Shepherd Association (USASA). The USASA achieved its goal when the Australian Shepherd was added to the AKC Herding Group on January 1, 1993. Not surprisingly, this led to the creation of separate show (AKC/USASA) and working (ASCA) bloodlines.

An older conflict that still causes feuds among dog breeders began with the creation of a miniature version of the Australian Shepherd in 1968. Originally, this little dog was bred by simply seeking out smaller purebred Australian Shepherds. For a time, it was treated as just a miniature variety of the same breed. However, when the AKC granted recognition to the Australian Shepherd it barred the smaller version thanks to pressure from breeders of the standard size. (The ASCA barred the miniature variety at about the same time for the same reason.) Miniature Australian Shepherd breeders did not give up hope, however, so the AKC eventually agreed to recognize their version separately—provided that the name was changed. After some debate, in 2011, the name Miniature American Shepherd was selected (which, ironically, better reflects the history of the breed as a whole than Australian Shepherd). The Miniature American Shepherd achieved AKC recognition in 2015 and is now maintained as a separate breed.

Adding to the chaos and confusion was the creation of the even smaller Toy (or Teacup) Australian Shepherd. This type is not really an Australian Shepherd, but a mixed-breed dog. It evolved through crossbreeding with a wide range of smaller dogs. While these little dogs can be just as cute and lovable as their larger counterparts, some are unfortunately bred as a source of quick cash by dishonest breeders.

The Australian Shepherd is a favorite on many ranches, but is also a popular pet, as proven by its ranking of 16th in popularity according to 2016 AKC statistics.


Australian ShepherdUses

The Australian Shepherd displays incredible versatility. He can make the ultimate companion for an active family, always ready to go hiking, biking, or camping. For the competitive, he is an almost unrivaled athlete, nearly guaranteed to reach the highest levels of performance, whether the sport is formal obedience or a fast-paced agility championship. For those who need a little more assistance with their daily lives, he can be a devoted guide, hearing, assistance, or therapy dog.

Working bloodlines are tough enough to take on the jobs of police work, drug detection, and search and rescue. They also make excellent personal protectors. Show/companion lines are not forceful enough to serve as guard dogs, but they do make good watchdogs.

When it comes to herding, the Australian Shepherd again displays great versatility. A good specimen from working lines can readily tell whether force or tact is required in a given situation, making this breed ideal for working both cattle and sheep. Dogs from show lines must be evaluated on an individual basis. Some do not display any herding instinct at all, while others are savvy enough to work any livestock species. However, showdogs tend to be too stocky to be agile and too fluffy to be easily groomed. This disqualifies them from serious ranch work, but may make them a good choice for the backyard herder or weekend farmer.

Also note that there is now a dual-purpose type of Australian Shepherd that can excel in nearly anything required of it, whether that is work or show. This third, intermediate type is a little harder to find than the other two, but can be found among the among the AKC/USASA dogs.



Intelligence is one of the most outstanding characteristics of the Australian Shepherd. His ability to think ahead and solve problems is what helps him outsmart livestock, but it also makes him very receptive to training. While a few individuals can be domineering, most want to please and respond best to positive training methods. Keep their minds busy, or they will find their own jobs, probably in the form of demolition projects or sound- and motion-activated alarm system work.

Australian Shepherds are perpetual puppies. They never outgrow their energy, playfulness, and exuberance. However, they can still take themselves very seriously. When given a job to do, they will carry it out diligently.

These are very much people dogs that want to be an integral part of the family. They bond so intensely that over time they can seem to develop a psychic knowledge of their owner’s wants and needs. They prefer to stick to their people like glue, going wherever they go and doing whatever they do. They can also get along quite well with the children and with the other dogs in the household, although their strong herding instinct may lead to clashes with the family cat.

A working Australian Shepherd prefers to operate close to the stock. He watches his whole herd or flock loosely so that he can see where the entire group is at all times, only staring when extra force is needed. He can adapt to working at either the head or the heel of his livestock. He displays a strong instinct to gather scattered animals into groups.

It is important to note that there are striking variations in temperament throughout the Australian Shepherd breed. Working bloodlines are energetic dogs that can react and move with lightning speed. They are very guarded with strangers, and may feel the need to defend their family or territory. They display considerably more intelligence than dogs from show lines. Show-bred Australian Shepherds, on the other hand, are much calmer. They tend to take a laid-back approach to life, and rarely meet a person that they don’t like. Some (particularly those from dual-purpose lines) still retain herding instinct.


Australian ShepherdHealth

Despite the sturdy build of this breed, health problems unfortunately run rampant. The most common difficulties include:

  • Cataracts.
  • Deafness.
  • Hip dysplsia.
  • Elbow dysplasia.
  • Allergies.
  • Autoimmune thyroiditis.
  • Multi-drug resistance, which can cause life-threatening reactions to some tranquilizers and heartworm medications (also a problem in Australian Shepherd mixes).
  • Hemangiosarcoma, a cancer that can cause sudden death in dogs over four years of age.
  • Lymphomas.

Occasionally, some Australian Shepherds will develop dermatitis on their noses when exposed to sunlight. Also, the incidence of epilepsy is above average in this breed.

Fortunately, two potential problems in this breed are easy to prevent. Avoid breeding two merles together, as two merle genes will lead to white puppies born blind and deaf. Likewise, avoid mating two naturally bobtailed dogs to prevent spinal defects in the offspring. (Most Australian Shepherds are born with tails and have them docked at an early age.)



  • Availability.
  • Trainability.
  • Suitability for homes with children.
  • Ease of grooming (working lines).
  • Extreme versatility.
  • Agility.
  • Speed.
  • Stamina.


Australian ShepherdCons

  • Need for nearly constant human companionship.
  • Need for mental and physical exercise.
  • Heavy shedding.
  • Numerous health problems.


Complete Series

Dog BreedsDog Breeds


Anatolian Shepherd
The Farm

Anatolian Shepherd

Anatolian ShepherdAs far as we can tell, the Anatolian Shepherd was a fixture on the landscape of rural Turkey from the most ancient times. Its ancestors are not known for certain. It can undoubtedly be traced to various dogs of Mesopotamia, possibly including both sighthounds and mastiff-like hunting dogs. It may also have ancestors among the Tibetan Mastiffs and the Roman dogs of war.

Whatever its origin, the Anatolian Shepherd was a product of both environmental and human selection. It was the ultimate shepherd’s dog, a stalwart guardian of flocks of sheep, and this job frequently placed it in danger. It had to survive the vagaries of the weather and the attacks of wolves and bears. Furthermore, it had to hunt for its own food. On the other hand, the shepherds actively took a hand in shaping the breed. They expected their dogs to be absolutely trustworthy with the flocks, and they also insisted that the dogs mind their manners when traveling to a village for a sale of sheep. Any dogs with vicious tendencies were promptly culled.

For centuries there was little uniformity among the Turkish flock guardians. Each region had its own distinctive type. The creation of the standardized breed that we now think of as the Anatolian Shepherd came about due to the intervention of American exporters.

The first Anatolian Shepherd arrived in the United States in the 1950s as a gift from Turkey to the United States Department of Agriculture. This gift aroused a level of interest in the breed’s ability to guard livestock from coyotes and other predators, but did not create sufficient public awareness to firmly establish the dog in America.

An active breeding program did not come until the late 1960s, when Lieutenant Robert Ballard of California imported a pair of dogs, the breed having caught his eye while he was in Turkey. His efforts led to a greater appreciation of the Anatolian Shepherd across the country.

Further support came from universities and the government during the 1970s and 1980s, as researchers sought ways to protect livestock from predators without harming endangered animals. With the spread of information on livestock guardians, the Anatolian Shepherd earned itself a place on many farms and ranches. New imports of different types were mixed together, creating one uniform breed instead of many local variants.

Soon afterward, pet owners adopted the Anatolian Shepherd out of appreciation for its loyalty and ability as a household guardian. This rise in ownership prompted the American Kennel Club to recognize the breed in the Working Group on August 10, 1998. Despite the Anatolian Shepherd’s presence in the show ring, its breeders continue to emphasize its abilities as a guard dog, eliminating the rift between working and show bloodlines seen in so many other breeds.

There are several thousand Anatolian Shepherds in the United States today, making it the 84th most popular dog according to 2016 AKC statistics.


Anatolian ShepherdUses

The Anatolian Shepherd prefers work to a life of leisure. However, he can channel his protective instincts into guarding his home and family. While most of these dogs are not exactly outgoing, a few can qualify as therapy dogs.

But the Anatolian Shepherd is definitely at his best when guarding livestock. Sheep are his traditional charges, although he can offer protection to anything from chickens to horses.

Finally, the Anatolian Shepherd is good at pulling carts and sleds.



The Anatolian Shepherd is a serious working dog. Even as a puppy, he spends relatively little time playing. He is thoroughly devoted to his family and is gentle with his own children, but prefers to keep a dignified reserve even with members of his household. While bold, he is also calm and steady. He is intelligent and capable of learning with extreme rapidity. However, he is rarely motivated to obey, being used to making his own decisions while on the job.

The gentleness of this giant extends strictly to members of his own family. The Anatolian Shepherd can be aggressive with animals he does not recognize as part of his flock, particularly other dogs. He can learn to accept another dog as part of his family, but only if the other dog is willing to take a submissive role. He is naturally suspicious of strange people. Guests and veterinarians should be formally introduced to him before any attempt to touch him is made. Even after introductions are made, the dog may block the movements of guests unless the owner is present as an escort. While the Anatolian Shepherd will not display aggression unless provoked, if teased or threatened, he will respond swiftly and surely.

The Anatolian Shepherd has a strong instinct to expand his territory, so he must be kept on a leash or in a fenced yard at all times when he is outdoors. A six-foot fence is necessary to keep him contained, and the bottom wire must be sunk into the ground far enough to discourage digging.

A working Anatolian Shepherd may appear at first glance to be lazily dozing in an elevated location. Do not be fooled—this dog is extremely vigilant. Nothing can escape his notice. Periodically he will patrol his boundaries, but mostly he waits and watches. On the edges of his territory is an invisible buffer zone. If anything appears within the buffer zone, or if he hears a strange sound at night, the Anatolian Shepherd will rise to his full height to reveal his imposing presence and give a few deep, commanding barks. If the intruder persists in going through the buffer zone and entering the dog’s territory, the Anatolian Shepherd will usually bark with increasing rapidity, then resort to menacing snarls. He will only attack if he feels it to be necessary. He cannot be trained to attack on command, nor can he be recalled from an attack if he feels that the situation calls for extreme measures.

Anatolian Shepherd


In keeping with its low-maintenance past, the Anatolian Shepherd is a tough dog with few health problems. He matures slowly, reaching adulthood at four years of age, but he lives longer than most dogs of his size. All of his senses are particularly sharp. He does not suffer from bloat as frequently as other large dogs.

The only major health problems in this breed are:

  • Cancer.
  • Ear infections.
  • Injuries acquired in the line of duty.
  • Sensitivity to anesthesia; risk of allergic reaction increases if dog is wearing a flea collar.

Although canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is not a common problem in this breed, breeding stock should still be tested to prevent CHD from gaining a foothold in the gene pool.


Anatolian ShepherdPros

  • No slobber.
  • Little doggy odor.
  • Minimal grooming requirements.
  • Surprisingly low food requirements relative to size.
  • Moderate exercise needs.
  • Adaptability to extremes of both heat and cold.
  • Hardiness.
  • Vigilance.
  • Strength.
  • Speed.



  • High risk of lawsuits.
  • Size unsuitable for small homes and yards.
  • Unsuitability for homes with dominant dogs.
  • Ability as an escape artist.
  • Digging tendencies.
  • Night barking.
  • Need for an assertive leader.
  • Heavy shedding.


Complete Series

Dog BreedsDog Breeds


Stockdog Savvy
The Farm

Stockdog Savvy

Stockdog SavvyMany a dog lover has watched a good Border Collie at work and gone home with a passion for herding. But if you haven’t grown up with working stockdogs, training one for the first time can seem daunting.

While no book can replace experience as a way to master the nuances of handling livestock, with or without a dog, Stockdog Savvy by husband-and-wife team Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor and Ty Taylor offers an excellent introduction.

The book proceeds logically, starting right at the beginning with choosing a breed and continuing with training techniques that build on each other:

  • Preparing a puppy to respond to commands without livestock.
  • Laying a solid foundation of obedience.
  • Starting a dog on stock.
  • Teaching the dog how to make use of his natural talent.
  • Developing a dog that can be useful in basic livestock handling.
  • Training the correct approach to the stock.
  • Training the dog how to drive a herd.
  • Training the dog to pen livestock.
  • Training the dog to sort livestock.
  • Teaching boundaries to a tending dog.
  • Learning how to work large flocks and herds.
  • Introducing your dog to the real world of daily ranch work.
  • Getting ready for a herding trial.

Each chapter on training includes suggestions for dealing with specific problems that may arise, from lack of interest to aggression toward livestock.

Along the way, you as a handler will progressively build expertise with new insights on reading both your dog and your livestock. Chapters on basic dog and livestock care are included, as are chapters on different livestock breeds:

To round out the book, an excellent appendix is provided that condenses the key characteristics of many herding breeds, common and uncommon:

  • Nicknames.
  • Origin.
  • Character.
  • Working style.
  • Summary.

A must for all beginning stockdog trainers!