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Canines In Agriculture: The Beginning

 
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Canines, People, and Agriculture/Pastoralism:
The Beginning


Peoples’ relationship with dogs started long before we settled in agriculture settlements. Wild canines figured out that, while they could chase prey better than people, we were more efficient killers if they brought prey to us. These canines began hanging around the edge of our camps, eating our leftovers, and roaming with us as we hunted and moved. Eventually, this mutually beneficial relationship led to canines moving into our camps, creating deeper people-canine relationships. As people settled, so did our canine companions, bringing us the first landrace dogs. These were canines that evolved over time, through adaptation to their natural and cultural environment, to become working partners in our agricultural and pastoral systems.

From those humble beginnings, ancient agricultural and pastoral systems, particularly in Europe, evolved in conjunction with these landrace dogs. Dogs protected our livestock from predators, fetched our faster four-legged stock, and kept our grain safe from vermin. Our partnership with dogs allowed us to flourish in an intact ecosystem, which included predators and vermin, without toxic poisons or inhumane traps. These dogs were effective partners in the small-scale food production that, without Whole Foods around the corner, was critical for a family’s survival.

These dogs were also part of the family. Ratters lived in family homes, barns, and gardens where they guarded grain bins, pantries, and food stores from hungry vermin. The farm herding dog fetched, drove, and penned whatever animal needed managed that day. Whether the stock was goats, sheep, cows, pigs or poultry the herding dog was ready to go. In addition, these dogs watched over the children playing outside, announced visitors, and in general tended the area around the farmstead. Livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) stayed with the flocks in fields and barns ensuring their safety from predators large and small; the muscle that backed up the shepherds when trouble arose and the beloved companion to all livestock.

The type, or types, of canine partners a family had depended on need and regional adaptation; many of these working dogs learned to work in other skill areas. A good farm-herder dog hunted rodents, as did many LGDs. Some terriers were also bred to herd a bit and a herding dog would protect the livestock with its life, even when too small to be effective against apex predators. England, Scotland, and Ireland, the epicenter for ratting terriers, geographically had limited large predators, but lots of vermin and other small predators, so small dogs made a lot of sense being both effective and cheap to feed. In Eastern Europe they tended toward large livestock guardian dogs who were capable of both intimidating, and matching the power of, the large apex predators that roamed in the same lands as their flocks. Interwoven into it all was always the general farm dog that stayed by the shepherd’s side; ever ready to do whatever needed to be done.

All of these dogs were smart, critical thinkers who had deep relationships with their families; the people who fed them, tended their wounds, groomed them and helped out with the pups. Herding dogs weren’t trained to herd, ratters weren’t trained to rat, and LGD’s weren’t trained to guard; they were born knowing how to do their job. What they learned was how to communicate and live in relationship with their working partners. The women and young children helped mama dog raise the pups in their homes and barns until they were old enough to go to work. During this time they were socialized with everyone in their family’s community, as well as the animals that lived close to the house. When it was time to leave the house, their shepherd and fellow dogs kept them close; teaching them the ropes and building deep, lifelong relationships.

The peoples raising these dogs were very practical in nature, as one would be if your survival depended on your ability to produce food. The mouths they chose to feed were the ones that most benefited them. A dog that might bite a family member or kill livestock could not be tolerated. Dogs that were not sound enough to keep up with the pace of work that needed to be done were not kept around. In this way, the land-race canines evolved to be healthy dogs that were born knowing the basics of their job and primed to develop deep, working relationships with their human and animal community.

With the rise of small-scale food production in the 21st century, including the permaculture, local foods, and prepper movements, we once again need to integrate these working dogs into our food systems and our lives.  Unfortunately, particularly in the United States, these dogs are difficult if not impossible to find. Many of these working dogs, like so much of our food systems, have been industrialized or domesticated beyond recognition.  However, as we learn the importance of being able to live in balance with the world around us and shorten our food chains, we once again will need the partnership of our intuitive working canine companions if we are to be successful.


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Canines, People, and Agriculture/Pastoralism
Canines, People, and Agriculture/Pastoralism
 
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With the rise of small-scale food production in the 21st century, including the permaculture, local foods, and prepper movements, we once again need to integrate these working dogs into our food systems and our lives.  Unfortunately, particularly in the United States, these dogs are difficult if not impossible to find. Many of these working dogs, like so much of our food systems, have been industrialized or domesticated beyond recognition.  



I have to disagree with this statement, The AKC and most other Kennel clubs have standards for all breeds and types, especially the working classes of dogs.
Herders are fairly easy to find through local chapters of these Kennel Clubs, they are not cheap but the pups will have all their shots and be on heart worm medication so really you are getting what you pay for.
LGD dogs are also fairly easy to find through the right channels, as are hunting dogs.
Cost for any of these types of dogs is multifaceted, there is the reliability of the breeding dogs, the food, shots, and other normal items needed to raise puppies and keep everyone healthy.
Good breeders take great care of their dogs since they plan on selling them to people who really want their breed of dog. (if you find someone that is working more than one breed, step back and do a deeper background check on them with the Kennel Clubs, these outfits will know if that breeder your thinking of doing business with is the real deal or not.

I don't purchase "breeder raised dogs" any longer.
In my area I can usually find a dog that may or may not be a pure bred, but the pound dogs I rescue get to have a great life, lots of room to run and work to do, that is what makes a working dog happy, doing their job.
Oh, and I bred German Shepherds for 12 years then switched to Shelties for around 5 years before I stopped breeding and showing. (Dog Shows are a great place to find breeders and about breeders, folks will talk about the undesirable folks since the good breeders don't want the bad ones in business)

Redhawk
 
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Bryant RedHawk wrote: The AKC and most other Kennel clubs have standards for all breeds and types, especially the working classes of dogs.



My sister in law is the secretary and geneticist for the Welsh Sheepdog Society and has been instrumental in stopping this wide genetic based herding dog from becoming extinct. The society has been totally adamant not to let any 'kennel club' take over the registration and testing of these dogs as they fear that they will become bred for appearance rather than working ability. Since Border Collies came on the scene, who excel at trial work in fairly standard conditions, the native Welsh sheepdogs became rather scarce and the society was set up to try to find anyone who still had original stock and preserve as many of the original types as possible. They vary widely in appearance, in colour, in size, and their particular niches of expertise in working, but they all have a similar style of working which is very different to the Border Collie, and all breeding stock is assessed for ability and style of work. Very different to how a typical Kennel Club would enforce a breed standard!

I know that some breeding stock has now been exported to the US, and similar herding breeds already exist over there.  I suspect that the English Shepherd is derived from the same original stock as what is now known as the Welsh Sheepdog. They do exist over there! But kennel clubs might not be the best place to go looking.

Here's some photos of her old stud dog, Smasher,  working in various ways!







And he's one of my Rock...



Here's a thread with more about them - Teg - the training of a Welsh sheepdog

 
Bryant RedHawk
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Good point Burra, I tend to call all societies that deal with Good Dog Breeding practices kennel clubs but they don't all call themselves a kennel club.

I have had pointers and I field trialed them several times. Herding dogs also have field trials as do my current favorite dog for the farm the Catahoula Leopard Dog, my current one is a great helper on the farm.
 
pollinator
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I find it amusing that people rarely mention the archaeological evidence found in the Americas that suggests that the ancestor to the chihuahua was kept as a meat animal. Not surprising, but amusing.

I tend to look on kijiji, myself, just to get an idea of what's for sale, and what the going rate is. There are an unsurprising number of breeders that will advertise that way.

I sometimes still do breed-specific searches, but recently, I have been presently surprised by searches for "LGD." I think going straight to a farmer who has two working dogs that had pups, who have been raised to it, is a great way to find such animals. The two most interesting and useful finds I have come across have been puppies from a Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherd, and also Komondor puppies (the ones with the dreds). I would probably prioritise farm-raised LGDs like this over breeders, especially if the sires and dams of the puppies' sire and dam were available for comparison, even in photo and by medical history.

I am torn. I think I shall probably end up owning a great number of large dogs, should I have the opportunity and land enough.

I love Newfs for their waterplay, and their nannying, and because they're just so big, and the fact that their innate water-rescue strategies change depending on their number working.

I love Great Pyrenees for their similar ability to operate strategically in herding based on their numbers and the threat at hand.

I love the Komondor's dreds, and as with other LGDs that are being raised and used locally to me, they will have been acclimated, to some degree, if their bloodlines aren't new to the area.

I love the size and power of the Caucasian Mountain Shepherd dog. I have to admit, one of my favourite fictional canines happens to be one, and their general utility makes me think of the alsatian, but larger, more powerful, and without the culturally relevant negative connotations.

I love the Bernese Mountain dog, and the Irish Wolfhound, both, and regret that both breeds have suffered, in recent decades, in a shortening of their average life spans, to around 6 years.

I find the Tibetan Mastiff to be a fascinating dog, and the fact that their genetics branched earlier than most other breeds, and that it is a long-lived large breed, makes me think of all kinds of responsible, animal-centric breeding ideas to pair it with failing breeds, to invigourate the genepool.

I dearly wish that we could bring canines back into our daily work. Their benefits are manifold, so much so that even desk-workers would benefit in measurable ways from canine companionship; much more rewarding than antidepressants and other pharma-shit, I'd wager. If we could find ways to benefit from trained canine skill and ethical, breed-appropriate labour, the dogs would derive satisfaction from it themselves, as anyone who has worked with them would know, much more than even two generous walks a day could afford for an apartment dog.

And yes, the short story A Boy and His Dog by Harlan Ellison has a special place in my heart.

-CK
 
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If you want a healthy working dog, it's better to look at breeds with open studbooks, or at outcross projects. Closed studbooks have, sadly, ruined most breeds, especially the popular breeds that are judged mainly by their look, not health. For more details and stories, read the Pedigree Dogs Exposed blog and a documentary movie by Jemima Harrison, the author. Also, there is a very informative Fb group "Outcross for Life", and The Institute of Canine Biology, with even more knowledge on genetics, and many courses available.
Personally, I believe that we should drop the idea of closed studbooks entirely, and stick to types instead (according to work type, personality, conformation). Similarly to horses - which have recorded pedigrees but under certain circumstances a horse of one breed can be included in the breeding program of another breed.

In the past, studbooks were closed so that people could track lineage; their knowledge on genetics was very limited comparing to now, and they had no better way to predict the qualities of future generations. Now we have genetic health tests and all kinds of other tools, so it's really not necessary any longer. But many breeders who protect the old idea of breeding close relatives will try to convince the new owners that a purebred dog is simply more expensive than a mongrel, so it needs better food (allergies), more vet care, etc. However, if I needed a dog to do a specific job on a farm, I would want it to be healthy and predictable; for that, known ancestors, genetic health tests and matching parents (according to conformation, personality, work ethics) is all I need.
 
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Chris Kott wrote:I dearly wish that we could bring canines back into our daily work. Their benefits are manifold, so much so that even desk-workers would benefit in measurable ways from canine companionship; much more rewarding than antidepressants and other pharma-shit, I'd wager. If we could find ways to benefit from trained canine skill and ethical, breed-appropriate labour, the dogs would derive satisfaction from it themselves, as anyone who has worked with them would know, much more than even two generous walks a day could afford for an apartment dog.

And yes, the short story A Boy and His Dog by Harlan Ellison has a special place in my heart.

-CK



Chris, some places are beginning to understand this, and do allow their employees to bring their dogs, but we've a long way to go, before it becomes common practice. The places doing it (where I've been able to talk with the employers &/or employees) are, for the most part very happy with the choice. They usually find that even with the occasional distractions presented by the pets (dogs and cats are both enjoying this perk),  their overall productivity is up, as are morale, attendance, and customer relations & reviews.
 
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Redhawk - The AKC and most other Kennel clubs have standards for all breeds and types, especially the working classes of dogs.
Herders are fairly easy to find through local chapters of these Kennel Clubs




The AKC is a primary reason we have lost access to landrace breeds in the US. They promote breeding primarily for a aesthetic and have no concern whether of not that aesthetic supports the working ability of the dog. Top of the line breeding dogs are not required to have any evidence of an ability to work. As mentioned in other comments we do indeed have some great Livestock Guardian Dogs in the US and their number is growing. However, that is primarily the result of a fairly recent influx of landrace LGDs being imported into the US. The reason importing of these dogs became popular is because of the challenges of finding a LGD in the US that could match the raw talent and sturdiness of imported Livestock Guardian Dogs. As far as herding dogs the AKC has nothing to offer. Very few AKC Champion breeding "herding" dogs ever herd in a real life situation, and because of the AKC aesthetic applied to them, very few of them could. Australian Shepherds have become to big-boned and fluffy to do the work they once did; collies have all sorts of eye and other health problems developed to give them that shapely head; german shepherds have been bred bigger with a more slanted top-line causing a number of health issues; and the list could go on. It is rare to find a line in any of these working dogs that win in the conformation ring and have a full-time working dog life at home. AKC herding dogs that can work all day can't win in the show ring. When these exceptions are found, there is typically a long waiting list and a very high price tag. While from a breeders perspective, I understand the high price tag, from a homesteaders prospective I understand that people might not be able to wait 2 years to pay $2000 for a working dog.

As far as going to the pound for a dog, it is you might get a great dog and you might not. If your goal is to give a dog a great home with some work to do to keep them satisfied that easy enough and the local pound is a great way to go about it. However, a canine partner who comes with a known solid inherited skill set as well as the ability to adapt and thrive in your given environment is much more challenging. For that you need to find unbroken lines of working dogs who have evolved to be our partners not our pets.

 
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Burra Maluca



The Welsh Sheep dog with its wide genetic base is one of those rare landrace breeds that I believe is the future of stock dog for small food production movements. As such is great that people are guarding them from extinction and protecting them from Kennel Clubs such as the AKC. The English Shepherd is the closest to an all around farm dog like I am speaking of left in the US and its history seems to be one of blending a variety of stock dogs including the Welsh Shepherd. While the English Shepherd is also technically a landrace breed developed in the last 300 years my preference is to explore its longer evolving predecessors.  Your Welsh Sheep Dog seems awesome. I would love to meet some one day.

 
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The non-AKC border collie (registered by the ABCA) is one of the few landrace breeds still to be found in the United States since the ABCA only registers dogs that can show herding ability or are the offspring of dogs that herd and refuses to register dogs that belong to registries that promote conformational showing.

Another past use for dogs is pulling small carts.  An advantage that dogs have over other draught animals is that they are able to guard the cart's contents if the owner has to step away for awhile.
 
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I don't know about dog breeds no longer viable for work purposes, I recently adopted, or really he adopted me, a red heeler, and all he wants is something  useful to do, this dog has more energy than a 10 yr old after consuming all his Halloween candy, and is totally loyal, I found him out in the woods about a week ago starving, he goes wherever I do since I fed him back to health, gave him a bath and took him to the vet for a checkup. He makes me want to get a herd of cattle so he can go to work.
 
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