This month, one dog will win the $5,000 prize in one of the dog world’s more obscure contests (certainly not the glamorous Westminster) — the Farm Dog of the Year competition.
In this fierce annual contest, held by the American Federation of Farm Bureaus and sponsored by pet food giant Purina, it’s not a pretty face that counts — it’s talent, instinct, and heroism.
Ranch work takes a specific set of skills for dogs that utilize their instincts — to be able to group and move animals through huge pasture lands and then maneuver them through smaller fences. There are also dangers and unexpected problems.
Take the problem of feeding cows. You have 60 cows, each 1,500 pounds, eager to get to their dinner. Sonja Galley has to tote several five-gallon buckets of feed, and it would be nice if the cows didn’t trample her. That’s where Bindy, the 2021 Farm Dog of the Year, comes in. Bindi fearlessly keeps the cows back and once saved Sonja’s life when a cow pinned her in a barn.
The immense energy and intelligence of the dogs is essential to farm work.
The 2020 winner, Rhett and Beth Crandall’s Australian Shepherd Flint, is no pup. At over 11 years old, Flint became a farm dog late in life, when Beth and Rhett married and he moved to the ranch. That’s when Flint came into his own, drawing on his instinct and bond with his humans to move cattle across vast pastures. He doesn’t know that he’s getting a little old and he doesn’t mind teaching the youngsters, either.
Meanwhile, Woody, the 2019 winner, also an Australian Shepherd, works the Texas ranch of Joe Sheeran. Woody is a hero and known for his intelligence.
One day when Woody was just seven months old, Sheeran was teaching him to sit and stay without fail. This is important because if a novice dog runs cows over ranchers, it could be fatal. On this day, Sheeran told Woody to stay when he spotted a calf caught in a ditch. He went down to get the calf, but the mother became aggressive and pinned Sheeran, who all alone on the ranch. Woody, still just a pup, saw the the danger, disobeyed the stay command and leaped into action, getting in the cow’s face and forcing her away from Sheeran.
“Woody is my constant companion. When he got that cow off of me, I knew there was something to him and he’s been a great farm dog,” Sheeran says.
Woody even seems to know which sick sheep Sheeran wants to cut out of the herd.
The reigning champion is Fit, a border collie who works on the farm of Cindy and Andrew Deak in Lady Lake, Florida. At age five, Fit is the right hand dog at the Deak’s farm. Every day, she herds sheep and helps out with feeding time. Some days, she takes novice dogs under her wing to help them to learn her skills.
See videos and contest results at: https://www.fb.org/land/fdoty