The Herding Dogs of Australia

Herding Dogs

Story at-a-glance -

  • The working dogs on Paul Darmody’s farm in New South Wales are trained to respond to their owner’s whistles and commands including “Come by,” “Get back,” That’ll do,” and “Stand.”
  • Farmers in Australia are happy to invest in their dogs. According to estimates by the Farm Dog Project at the University of Sydney, a herding dog returns five times the value of his purchase price and care over a 10-year working life.
  • Trained working dogs have the ability to round up and move livestock faster and more efficiently than other herding methods, including quads, motorbikes, trucks, and on horseback.
  • Herding puppies begin training at five months, and it takes about a year before they’re ready for real work. Once a dog is trained, he never leaves his farmer’s side.
  • Working dogs also help their owners deal with mental health issues in rural communities where depression and suicide rates are high.

By Dr. Becker

Farmer Paul Darmody owns a sheep and cattle ranch near Bungendore in southern New South Wales, Australia. Darmody has 13 herding dogs at work on his property, and he communicates with them through a language of whistles and commands like, "Come by," "Get back," "That'll do," and "Stand."

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Darmody's pack can "muster and round up stock faster and more efficiently than any quad or motorbike could manage."

Working Dogs Are High Value Investments for Farmers in Australia.

Recent research puts the value of working dogs like Darmody's at $40,000 over an average working life of 10 years. The Farm Dog Project at the University of Sydney estimates that a herding dog can be five times more valuable than its purchase price of $400 plus an estimated 10-year cost to care for the animal of $7,763.

"Naming a figure is important because many farmers are under financial pressure in regards to their staffing and farming costs," says Jonathan Early, a Farm Dog Project researcher. "If their working dog needs to go to the vet the bills are very expensive so knowing their worth can help farmers justify the expenditure."

Information on over 4,000 herding dogs was compiled to perform the cost analysis.

Farmers Can Use Other Methods to Herd Sheep, But "a Dog Is Going to Get There in One-Tenth the Time."

According to Mr. Darmody, who has spent nearly six decades on his ranch, farmers these days take their working dogs a lot more seriously. He has had as many as 20 dogs at one time.

''If you're on a bike, chasing sheep and you hit a stump or a big rock then you're a goner," says Darmody. "The truth is, you can work with a ute, a truck, a horse, a bike but a dog is going to get there in one-tenth of the time."

Carl Carlon, president of the Working Kelpie Council, says working dog puppies are expensive, but are ultimately invaluable. Once a dog is fully trained, he never leaves his farmer's side, says Carlon. And there are places farm dogs can access that quads and other equipment can't, like cattle yards.

Puppies begin training at five months, and it typically takes a year before they are ready to go to work full time. According to trainer Laurie Slater, it takes a lot of love and a lot of patience, but it's worth it.

Working Dogs Also Make Great Companions for Families in Rural Communities

Herding livestock isn't the only service working dogs perform, according to Jonathan Early. Like many pets, they also help their owners deal with mental health issues in rural communities where depression and suicide rates are high.

"There's the underlying benefit that farmers have a constant companion and a reliable animal to help them out on their farms," said Early.

Here's a short clip from the Australian documentary, Kelpie the Legend: