Farm Dog

At some point in the past year, I learned that the AKC had introduced a new “Farm Dog Certified test”. I’ll confess that I was immediately skeptical and looking into it further, well, I’m not quite sure what adjective to use. Most offensive to me (and to many others) is the notion embodied in the following quote:

the goal is to assess his aptitude as a working farm dog by exhibiting self-control, confidence and trust with you or his handler.

Nothing about this test assesses the dog to be a “working” farm dog. Working farm dogs work- they herd, they guard, they hunt. This test examines none of that.

Frightening to me are the website photos and text which demonstrate lack of knowledge about farms and dogs. Just a couple frightening examples: the test includes tying a dog near stock which puts dog and stock at risk if either gets loose (pretending that won’t happen is naive at best). While the text states that the stock be in dog proof enclosures, photos show the opposite. Photos also show body language in stock indicating alarm/stress. I don’t see anywhere in the test which asks the handlers to assess how  the livestock feels about any of this. Stressed livestock can get sick, can get hurt and can hurt others. It’s important to have the same compassion for other animals as you do for your own.

Really frightening to me is that pet owners will enroll in and/or pass this test and think that gives them the right to take their dogs near or on a farm. Farms are not public property.  They are not dog parks or hiking trails. They are private property, they are places of 16 or more hours of work each day and they contain valuable and sensitive live animals which can be negatively affected by unknown dogs, regardless of how well behaved they may be on leash. Many wish that you just keep your dogs away from other people’s farms.

There are twelve test elements. Just for fun, I’m going to go through them with examples of what our genuine working dogs would do in these situations. Other farmers will have different experiences and desires of their dogs.  Truly working with a dog invites and requires a personal molding of job description and requirements. My goal is to point out the perils of this test due to its contrived layout.

  1. GREET JUDGE “The dog may stand, sit or down at the handler’s side on a loose lead while the Judge performs introduction.”
    • Border Collie- Greetings won’t be on a lead. Depending on what else is going on, he/she may or may not notice the person. Introduction may include flopping on the ground, jumping on you with muddy feet, or barking at you. We’re sorry, sort of, but the dog has work to do and greeting strangers isn’t part of the job description
    • Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD)- oh they’ll notice you. And if you are anywhere near their stock, they will bark and rush at you. If you make the mistake of being too close to their stock, heaven help you. Standing, sitting, lying down and being on a leash are not part of their job descriptions.
    • Jack Russell Terriers- they know how to sit, lie down and be on a loose leash but they aren’t on leash on the farm so after they jump on you with muddy feet, they’ll go back to hunting.
  2. PERFORM A WALKING PATTERN AROUND FARM ENVIRONMENT / PASSIVE STRANGER “The handler walks the dog on a loose lead through a prescribed pattern (minimum of 200 feet) around a number of objects. As the facility permits – the marked path should guide the handler and the dog safely around farm equipment, through barn aisles, by stacks of feed, etc. A passive stranger should be sitting quietly approximately 20 feet away from the path of the dog.”
    • Border Collie- off lead, the BC can guide the livestock safely around farm equipment, through barn aisles, past stacks of feed, etc. A passive stranger will not be noticed.
    • LGD- they live  in this environment.  They don’t need to be guided around. The stranger will be noticed long before it gets a chance to be passive.
    • Jack Russells- can maneuver around, over, under anything you put in their way if there is a mouse to pursue.  And if there isn’t a path, they’ll make one.
  3. JUMP ON HAY/STRAW BALE  “The handler approaches a hay/straw bale or a safe* pile of sacks of grain/feed with the dog on a loose lead and instructs the dog to jump up on the bale of hayThe dog may stand, sit or down until the Judge instructs the handler to allow the dog to jump off of the hay bale. The Judge shall determine length of stay (minimum of 10 seconds) until satisfied that the dog is comfortable with the exercise.”(first of all, seriously? secondly, if you think anything about a farm is *safe, get back in your car. And finally, 10 seconds… again, seriously?)
  • Border Collie- the BCs will get onto hay bales, bags of grain, into trucks, the 4 wheeler, the tractor, hay wagons…and they’ll stay there.  Until they are needed. They may think they are needed before you think they are needed, but they’ll also go back when told.
  • LGD- will tell you to go pound sand.
  • Jack Russells- again, if there is a mouse, they’ll climb on anything. The older one will also stay anywhere she’s told to, unless she thinks she’s going to get run over by something. Then it’s every dog for herself. The younger one is a work in progress.
  1. WALK BY FARM ANIMALS “The handler walks the dog on a loose lead in view of penned farm animal(s) approximately 30 feet away from the fence line housing the farm animals. The dog is not expected or encouraged to engage with livestock and should pay no undue attention to the animal(s) at this distance. Any animal routinely found on a farm is suitable, cow, pig, sheep, horse, chickens, ducks etc. All livestock must be penned or fenced in a manner to ensure safety from any uncontrolled dogs.”
    • The Border Collies and LGDs bloody well better be paying attention to the animals at this or any distance.
    • The Jack Russells better be sure they have an escape route so they need to pay attention as well.
    • Anyone who thinks that “any animal routinely found on a farm” will prepare a dog for any other specie of animal…or even another breed of same specie, is deluding themselves and anyone they teach or judge, and by extension, endangering livestock and farmers.
    • Trying to fence livestock to keep them safe from uncontrolled dogs is all too familiar to farmers. I truly think this AKC test will put more livestock at risk.
  2. WALK OVER OR THROUGH UNUSUAL SURFACES “The handler walks the dog over or through three different unusual surfaces. One surface shall be a piece of plastic that is a minimum of 8 feet long and 4 feet wide, such as a polyethylene tarp or clear plastic in good condition. A second surface shall be a wood surface that is a minimum of 8 feet long and 4 feet wide, such as a sheet of plywood or wood flooring that is lying flat on the ground. A third option shall represent typical rural terrain and can include such examples as safe metal or wire grating lying flat on the ground, mud, water, or jump over a series of three logs that are a minimum 4” diameter which are placed 3 feet apart. If mud or water is used, the dog, at a minimum, must place all four feet in the mud/water. Surfaces should not present any risk of injury to the dog or handler.”
    • see #3 (and again with the risk.  Being on a farm is inherently risky)
  3. SUPERVISED SEPARATION “The handler places the dog in a free standing kennel or dog crate, removes the leash and walks out of sight for a minimum of 1 minute. The dog may move around within the space allotted but should not continually bark, whine, or pace unnecessarily, or exhibit any behavior greater than mild agitation or nervousness.”
    • not so much. Working dogs don’t do well with confinement unless they know their job is done. The Border Collies will deal, but if you are working stock without them, don’t expect them to be still and quiet. The others may eventually give up and go to sleep.
  4. PASS THROUGH A GATE “The handler approaches a designated gate with the dog on a lead. The handler instructs the dog to stay in position while the handler opens the gate (the dog may stand, sit or down). The handler opens the gate away from the dog, passes through and calls the dog through the gateway. The handler then instructs the dog to stay as the gate is closed. At no time should the dog impede the handler in opening and closing the gate. The gate should function properly, be simple to operate, and present no safety hazard to the dog or the handler.”
    • Border Collies and Jack Russells- done.  LGDs- physical restraint will be necessary.
  5. HANDLER FEEDS LIVESTOCK “The handler performs a farm chore of feeding farm animals. At no time will the handler or the dog enter an enclosure or have direct contact with the animals(s). All feeding of livestock shall be over or through a fence or enclosure. The handler approaches the animal enclosure with the dog at side on a loose lead. Approximately 30 feet from the enclosure, the handler ties/stakes the dog in a designated area. The dog must be wearing a secure, flat collar. The handler instructs the dog to stay and proceeds to complete the chore of feeding the animals before returning to the dog.”
    • ok, now if the dog is not going to have direct contact with the animals, again, where does “working” come in?  Secondly, as previously mentioned, tying or staking your dog is extremely dangerous. Put them in a confined area or have them trained to stay put on a high surface for the amount of time needed to feed (more than 10 seconds!) As to REAL working dogs, read on.
    • The Border Collies will be sent in ahead of the handler to push the livestock away from the the handler and/or feeders so that the handler/farmer can safely get the feed out without being trampled by livestock.
    • The LGDs will be bouncing around because it’s feeding time for them too
    • The Jack Russells have been trained to stay out of enclosures when cued. If they, or I, make a mistake, they are also trained the concept “OUT!”
  6. REACTION TO ANOTHER DOG “The handler is positioned in a designated area with the dog at side on a loose lead. The dog may stand, down or sit. Another dog is walked by twice on lead approximately 10 feet away…”
    • Our dogs are going to notice, and react. The Border Collies and Jack Russells are going to bark and run toward the other dog.  You’re on their turf. The Jack Russells go into public and are taught to behave in that environment.  Their farm is not public property, as previously stated.
    • The LGDs may very well try to kill that dog.
    1. REACTION TO NOISE DISTRACTION “The handler may stand or quietly walk in a designated area with the dog at side on a loose lead. The assistant creates two background noises typical to a working farm environment. Noise distractions can consist of any common farm sound, such as hammering nails, sawing wood, leaf blower, farm machine starting up, lawn mower, chain saw, air compressors, etc. The tested dog must remain on a loose lead, and exhibit no excessive fear or sensitivity to the background noise.”
      • Border Collies are sensitive individuals.  The ones we have had, as a generalization, haven’t loved loud noises and if they are not needed, they would rather be elsewhere. Our current male is unusually numb to noise. Most will exhibit sensitivity depending on proximity.  That said, their working instincts will override a lot.  Our dear Nell helped me gather loose cattle in the midst of a thunderstorm one dark night when I didn’t want to be out in it either. If not for necessity, we’d both have been in the dry house with our ears plugged. She hates thunderstorms…but she worked. That’s what a working dog does. But you wouldn’t know that if you assessed her in an artificial situation.
      • LGDs will notice any sound, loud or soft, distant or close. They’ll assess for danger and respond accordingly.
      • Jack Russells- aren’t afraid of much

11. DOG APPROACHES LIVESTOCK “The handler, with the dog at side on a loose lead, enters a fenced area that contains livestock within a separate inside enclosure. The handler and the dog approach penned livestock, close enough so that the dog can clearly observe the stock. The dog can move ahead of the handler but cannot lunge or be held on a tight lead. The dog must remain responsive and under control while approaching livestock and/or if the dog’s presence causes the livestock to move within their enclosure. It is acceptable and anticipated that the dog may show interest and liveliness towards the livestock…”

Stop. Right. There.

This is so dangerous that it makes me sick to my stomach. Regardless of how REAL working farm dogs react in this situation, taking pet dogs to livestock and having them show “interest or liveliness towards the livestock” is potentially lighting a stick of dynamite. Last year we had a neighbor’s pet dog climb a four foot panel to get into the barn with our sheep when no human was there and by showing interest and liveliness, all the sheep inside the barn were traumatized and fifteen were killed.  Simply by chasing them to exhaustion, they piled up on each other, smothering the ones on the bottom and leaving the ones on top gasping for their final breaths. We found no teeth marks. He just chased them.

Sadly, this is not an unusual situation.  Pet dogs are a serious danger to farm animals. Leading dogs toward stock and allowing them to show “liveliness” could be lighting a match that never should have been taken out of the drawer.

This brings me to my main point. There is not enough guidance in this “test” for dog owners.  I found nothing that indicates the farm related qualifications of someone judging the test or helping the dog owners prepare for this test. That’s a crime.

The final element is that the dog must allow a physical examination so that “plant material, debris or objects that the dog may have collected while working on the farm” can be removed. That might be the one sane element to the test since you can pick stuff up just walking by on the road (please keep your dog on the opposite side of the road or take a different route if you can).

They advertise “no experience necessary” to take this test. In my opinion, the AKC is showing incredible irresponsibility toward dog owners, dogs, farmers and livestock with this test.