What is a farmcollie, anyway?
Not a breed as we think of them these days; the term “farmcollie” could refer to anything from a pedigreed AKC dog to a Heinz-57 that fits the most general of physical collie descriptions. What really sets these dogs apart isn’t how they look, but what they do. Farmcollies are selected to be multipurpose farm dogs who not only herd, but hunt and guard the property, family and livestock as well. This is possible because their working instinct is based in dominance, rather than prey drive. Training – or more appropriately, training yourself to understand – a farmcollie is a little different than the average treat-based deal because of what they do and why they do it. Read on… (mirrored from the AWFA’s site)
Learning to work with a farmcollie
(The following text is mirrored from the American Working Farmcollie Association, the “go-to” folks for advice on raising and evaluating these dogs. I feel it’s a good sketch of their working personality, and a must-read for anyone raising or planning to buy a dominance-based working dog.)
Herding dog trainers may recommend that you keep your dog in a pen and only take him out when he is “old enough” to train. They may tell you that good dogs have to be kept penned up or they will run the stock.
They don’t know this breed!
The American Working Farmcollie is descended from basically the same gene pool as several other working breeds and herding breeds, including the Border Collie and Australian Shepherd. There is no way to devise an “event” that will test for the special working character of an American Working Farmcollie. An American Working Farmcollie pup at three months old is very into pack, routine, and territory. This, and not prey drive, is the basis of his working character.
Because of this pack bonding basis for the working character of the American Working Farmcollie, a pup needs to go to his new home no later than the age of four months. He needs to be bonding to his owner, the owner’s livestock, and following the owner around learning the routine and territory. I could “start” an American Working Farmcollie pup, but because his instincts are based on bonding, territory and routine, if I sell him as a “started pup” to someone else, he may know “sit” and “come”, but he has totally new people and livestock to bond to, and new territory and routines to learn. A cowboy who had seen my farmcollie, Chico, working strange calves in a strange place for me (because Chico loved me and wanted to please me) once offered to buy him- I told him I might as well cut off my right arm and sell him that- because it would work just as well for him as the dog would, and I would miss it as much!
An American Working Farmcollie works his own territory. Evaluations of his working character MUST take place there, or what you wind up with is, in effect, a border collie. A border collie is generally a much better herding dog to take somewhere else to work, but his instincts are based on an inhibited prey drive. They usually don’t have enough oomph to work rank cattle, whereas a bossy pack drive dog, when mature, will not take any sass off of the big dumb pack members!!! It is rare to find a six month old American Working Farmcollie that can work as well as a prey drive dog, but it is rare to find a prey drive dog that can work as well as a mature American Working Farmcollie does for his master on his territory. Many of them will also work for their master elsewhere, but selecting only for this trait will not maintain the correct balance of working character and temperament for the breed.
Those prey drive dogs with enough aggression to work rank stock cannot be trusted alone on the farm loose with the livestock, whereas the nature of the American Working Farmcollie is to maintain the status quo on the farm. He will enforce the rules of his master even when the master is absent. If you have livestock he will learn the routine and territory and keep everything where it belongs. If the bull gets out, he puts him back in and keeps him there until his master can get there to fix the fence!
We have a very, very diverse breed. Good American Working Farmcollies come in sizes from 35-85 lbs. The best size depends on predation problems unique to the area. Dogs from different lines of American Working Farmcollies may differ significantly in color, size, and working type. Some are strong herders. Some are better guardians of young stock and some lines also exhibit excellent hunting skills! Most lines are a blend of all three working areas, but the balance varies from line ot line as the needs of farmers has varied in different geographic locations, and types of enterprises. Since we have such a small population, (we have been undergoing a rapidly narrowing bottleneck since the 1950s) keeping this diversity is absolutely essential to maintaining both a healthy gene pool and the balance of working characteristics needed on our individual, diverse farms.
Our dogs are selected to be a “one dog does it all”, and their dog aggressive natures are not conducive to breeders keeping large kennels of these dogs. Our breed’s paramount need for socialization and bonding with humans makes this breed a bad choice for someone to mass produce.
There is not a better dog in the world than a properly bred and socialized American Working Farmcollie, but for this breed in particular, that socialization is essential!!! When this essential socialization can take place, American Working Farmcollies, with their keen intelligence and their intense desire to please, are one of the most versatile working dogs in the world.
Spend as much time as possible with your puppy. The more time you can spend with your pup one-on-one before he is six months old, the better dog he will be and the more he will love you. Take him with you on your daily rounds if possible. Always let him know that you are the boss. Don’t let him jump on you or on the furniture without your say so. Don’t let him go out the doors first. Don’t let him charge the doors, make him sit and wait until he is invited to go out. Make him wait for you to eat, then feed him and let him know that the food is yours until he swallows it!
Teaching Your Pup to COME!
One of the most important lessons you can teach your pup is to come. Start as soon as he can eat, and whistle and call him every time you feed him. When you are playing outside and you hear a motor, call him to you and give him his favorite treat! Never call a pup to you for correction, go to him. Harsh punishment should be reserved for only the worst offenses. Always use the lightest correction that will get the results, but in cases of aggression or dominance be sure to use adequate force!
Aggression and Dominance
At the first sign of aggressive behavior toward guests, scold him and banish him from their presence, this is especially effective if you are serving food at this time. Feeding your guests before him emphasizes that they are more important than the dog and that he is to treat them with the same respect that he treats family members.
Always be consistent. Always use the same words to train him. You will be amazed at how fast his vocabulary will grow! It was not unusual for the old farmcollies to be able to fetch each cow by name! This breed is particularly focused on rules and consistency, it is part of the working traits they are bred for, and if you are not consistent it may upset them. Remember- you are the boss.
The American Working Farmcollie is bred to LOVE the rules! Don’t hesitate to be as strict as necessary with your pup. Be sure to be firm and consistent in teaching the rules, and when you get a new puppy in a few years he will enforce the rules on the youngster, taking much of the trouble out of training! If you have livestock he will learn the routine and territory and keep everything where it belongs. If your job interferes with your time with the pup, be sure to spend a lot of time with him when you are home. Enroll in an obedience class if possible! Remember, if you don’t make the rules, he will, and you might not want to live with his!
When You Are Not Home
What will you do with your pup when you are not at home? If you do not have a large farm where the neighbors are remote, a secure run or pen for your pup would be ideal, equipped with a dogloo, but don’t expect him to know much if you don’t take him out of the pen and teach him. Crates are wonderful to use to housebreak a pup, but they are not a substitute for housebreaking, and raising a pup in a crate is asking for structural problems as well as behavioral problems later on! A large amount of low impact exercise is great for the pup.
A farmcollie is watching the people all of the time focused on what they are doing and trying to help- the photo of Holly in the slideshow helping with the lumber, or Buddy bringing the shovel, or Buck and Bailey K helping to dig are good illustrations of how this extends past just herding duties…
A dog with a lot of herding drive like a Border collie might be useful even if kept penned most of the time. I know of lots of BCs that are kept penned and lots of BC trainers that tell you ‘if farmdogs are “any good” you have to keep them contained so they don’t harass the stock constantly’. If they have enough work to properly exercise the dog it works well for them- You have a herding chore- you take the dog out of the box- you let him herd and you put him back.
A well trained BC is a joy to watch and own, and selection for this kind of farmcollie is based on trial competition, so it is pretty easy to perpetuate the breed even in the face of the disappearance of the small farm. Herding behavior is complex, but in comparison to the multipurpose farmcollie, it is relatively simple.
ES and other types of farmcollies that are herder/guardian/hunters are a different kettle of fish- they may look very similar to border collies, but they have very different motivations!
The combination dogs work from pack order, routine, and territorial boundaries.
You leave the BC (the kind that those trainers say are good ones) out and go to town to get parts to fix the tractor and he runs the livestock through the fence. You leave the combination farmcollie out and go to town to get parts to fix the tractor and he lays on the porch seemingly doing “nothing”, but then the hog gets out-
He rushes to put the hog back in and keeps him there until you get home.
Why does he do this?- because he is bossy and enforces the rules. Because the rules about the territory (hogs belong here) are very important to him, and because hogs being in the wrong place is not part of the normal routine. He maintains the status quo. He is into pack order he is above the livestock and below the people. He runs intruders that are not part of the pack off or kills them.
The farmcollie must learn these things- he learns what is normal by following his master around in the daily routine. He learns his place in the pack and what is pack and what is prey by watching what his master pets grooms caresses or feeds and what his master shoots or runs off. He learns what kind of livestock belong in each pen by being there with the master to guide him constantly. It does not take a lot of extra effort to raise a dog like this but it takes constant effort and consistency, and the dog cannot learn this if it is confined elsewhere.
I cannot think of even one multi-purpose farmcollie of any breed or cross that has been raised in confinement rather than with the farmers and has turned out well. It does not matter how well bred your pup is he must have the opportunity to learn what is expected of him- the more time you can spend interacting with him and the environment, the better.
Puppies Need to Chew
Puppies have to chew. Rawhide bones can be good, but if the pup eats them too fast, they can cause intestinal blockages, so you have to be careful. Tug-of-war can teach your pup to be too aggressive, but Oh! it feels so good on those teeth! You can tie an old sock to a heavy object and it will do the same for the pup. Large beef bones can be good for the pups as well. If you do not provide for this need, you may not like the consequences to your favorite shoes! If the pup has something that he should not be chewing up, tell him NO! take it away and replace it with a chew toy.
Any dog is capable of biting…but if you have desensitized your pup to children of various ages when he is still young you will have a dog that is more tolerant of children. All young children and dogs need supervision together no matter how good the dog is with children. It only takes seconds and the right circumstances to result in a serious bite.
Dogs Need Water
Dogs need fresh clean water at all times. They are also programmed to mark their territory constantly. Be sure that your dog has access to water and is not required to refrain from urination for long periods of time. This could save your dog from some serious and costly urinary tract problems in the future.
Most importantly, ENJOY your pup! Training is FUN! Life is a game with RULES!