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Hard Working Farm Dogs

| 8/25/2011 4:17:00 PM

A farmer stands beside two dogs, who are harnessed to a cart, in 1916 
Working hard, or hardly working? A farmer stands beside two dogs, who are harnessed to a cart, in 1916.

Don't get me started on dogs. I love dogs of all shapes, sizes, colors, temperaments, breeds, nationalities. I was thrilled, and surprised, when Sam Moore mentioned dog powers in "Pulling their Weight: Farm animals pulled the load on early tread powers" in the April 2011 issue. I'd never heard of utilizing a dog's abundant supply of energy into power, but just weeks after sending the April issue to the printer, I stumbled across a blog post titled "Dog on Treadmills" on one of my favorite dog blogs, Dogster. The dog treadmills in this blog aren't tread powers though, just exercise for the city dog with no yard, or the pup with just a bit too much energy. But at $900, I wasn't sure who could justify the expense when there was no guarantee the dog would even use the dang thing.

It seems I wasn't the only person skeptical about dogs using tread powers. We received a letter from reader Alan Easley of Columbia, Mo. ("Dog will hunt – but power a treadmill?" August 2011) Mr. Easley wrote, "I've had some good old hounds in my life and they were always ready to go hunting or ride in the truck, but I don’t think any of them were ever ambitious enough to help me churn butter."

Iola Smith and her dog walking through a field 
Iola Smith and her dog walking through a field on the Smith farm in Carroll County, Ga., in 1941.

Since publishing Mr. Easley's letter, we've received a flurry of responses from readers defending hard-working farm dogs who did their part to keep the farm (literally) moving.

The letter that stuck with me was from 96-year-old Henrietta Hockstra of Willmar, Minn., who wrote about her farm dog, Shep, who loved working the treadmill that powered the family washing machine. She also sent in the auction sale bill from 1925 when her family sold the farm, and there is Shep and his dog power listed among washing machines, stoves and sulky plows up for sale. (You can see the sale bill by clicking here.)


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