It’s fairly safe to say that a lot of people love dogs. Many have them as pets. Some have them as helpers or assistants, such as guide dogs or therapy dogs. There have been countless books written about dogs. Television shows featuring them. Songs (mostly country, I think) sung about them. Tons of movies starring them.
Dogs do so much for their owners, and continually express what pretty much everyone wants – unconditional love. Some people prefer being around dogs as opposed to other people because of this trait! No matter what happens – whether your temper is short, you forgot to add new water into their bowl or only gave them a quick pat on the head as you ran out the door for the day, your dog is pretty much always going to love their life when you walk back through that door. They couldn’t be happier that you’re home and you couldn’t feel any more loved.
According to this report, 57% of Canadian households own pets, which is about 7.9 million homes. 5.9 million of those homes have a dog (or dogs). And I’m willing to bet that a big chunk of the 5.9 million homes in Canada that have a dog are farms.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever been to a farm that doesn’t have a dog. Whether it’s a dairy farm like ours or a cash cropper with no livestock on their farm, the first thing you’ll likely encounter when driving down the driveway is the Keeper, the Guardian, the Sentinel, the woofarmer – the farm dog.
Our farm is no exception. Winnie came into our lives when my husband and I first moved to the country in 2009. We bought Winnie for $70 from a farm about 40 minutes away; I found her and her brothers and sisters for sale on Kijiji. I remember seeing her little face peeking over the plywood door to the pen where she was kept with her mother and siblings (all 12 of them) and just loving her. We picked her up; she pooped all over my husband. We said, “We’ll take her!”
Winnie, 7 weeks old, asleep after enduring the car ride home and a very necessary (first) bath.
As a puppy, Winnie was pretty typical. Playful, curious, chewed on and ate anything. We chose to crate her because, from what I’d researched and been told by my mum (who used to show Collies), dogs like to have a dwelling, a little place to call their own to sleep and rest on. That blue blanket in the photo above has been with Winnie since day one; it still gets spread on top of her dog pillow now (she’s way too big for a crate). But how did Winnie go from that cute little sleeping bundle to the integral part of our farm that she is today? Better yet, why do farms need farm dogs in the first place?
At the time we got her, I was much more focused on having a dog for company and maybe a little bit for safety (once she got older) than on having a working dog. My husband and I were both working off the farm at the time, and he was away a lot. So like many people who decide to get a dog, I found it comforting and less lonely to have my dog to come home to. And it worked – Winnie and I formed a very close bond from the first day she came home. While she was growing up, I was her “alpha dog” – the one in charge, who she looked to for direction, comfort, love. Don’t get me wrong, she loved my husband as well; but since she and I spent most of our time together during her younger days, she saw me as Momma.
Winnie is very smart and was quite easy to train. And yes, we’ve trained our dog. I feel that anyone who has a dog – farmers included – needs to provide it with some sort of training and establish boundaries, or else the dog is doing to run the household (which isn’t a super great scenario, in my humble opinion). Winnie is a Labrador, German Shepard, Boarder Collie mix – the ultimate mutt. But the strong traits of all of those breeds came through in her, making her great at herding cows (Boarder Collie), a strong hunter (German Shepard) and an exceptional retriever (Lab).
As she grew older, she started spending more time outside, in the barn, with my husband. Gradually, I saw the Alpha place holder shift from me to my husband (naturally). And that place remains today, and is as it should be.
Throw? The ball? Please throw the ball!
Winnie actually is an integral part of our farm. I would say her biggest strength is her ability to guard. She will basically bark at anything she considers a threat. This is great when someone I’m not expecting is driving in the lane way, but isn’t super great when it’s 11:30 PM and she hears a weird sound in the barnyard.
You see, as a working dog, Winnie is happiest when she is, well, working. Her job is to monitor the farm and to keep her/our territory safe, and I really feel as though she would not be a happy house dog. Depending on the type of farm someone has, the dog may have a more specific role than Winnie’s. For example, we know of sheep farmers who have two Great Pyrenees. These dogs are known for their ability to herd and to protect, and so their job on this particular farm is to protect the sheep from getting picked off and eaten by coyotes (yes, that happens, especially during lambing season). If you’ve never seen a herding demonstration, I urge you to find one and experience what a working dog really does. Or, you can just look it up on YouTube. It’s really awesome to see these dogs working and doing what they love to do.
So, back to Winnie and farm dogs.
Andrew and Winnie, coming in from the barn through some very, very deep snow drifts.
Winnie now works almost exclusively with my husband and, as I mentioned, sees him as the Alpha dog. She is good to work around everyone else on our farm but he is her Master. He and I can give her the same command and she will listen entirely to my husband. She will still listen to me if my husband isn’t around, which is a good thing. But if he’s around, forget it. And I don’t mind one bit because she likes looking to him for instruction and commands, and feels most comfortable with him.
You may be wondering why I decided to write about our woofarmer, our dog, for this Farm Friday post. Well, as I develop these posts, I want to make sure I cover all facets of the farm. And I think Winnie is a very important facet, just like any other farm dog. Dogs are natural protectors, inquisitive seekers and glorious friends. Farm dogs are no different. But they do have a job to do, just like everyone else who works on a farm. So if you come to a farm and see the farm dog, give them some space to check you out. Don’t immediately try to pet them; relax, let them sniff you and help them understand that you’re alright and not there to cause any trouble or keep them from doing their job.
Even though we don’t spend as much time together as we used to, I’m still able to appreciate Winnie as she comes into her own as our farm dog. She may be a little shy and even a little anti-social at times (who doesn’t feel anti social at work sometimes, right?) but she does her job well and that’s what counts for us. There are many working parts of Bellson Farms but it certainly wouldn’t be complete without our woofarmer, Winnie.