Hard Working Farm Dogs

Dogs treadmills and other dog powers utilized farm dogs' energy, but their work and influence wasn't limited to just treadmills.

By Staff
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By Gas Engine Magazine Staff
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.”

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.)

But dogs had, and continue to hold, other important responsibilities on the farm. Breeds like Border Collies and Australian Shepherds herd sheep. Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherds, with plenty of training, make great guardians/livestock protectors.

But I think the most important job for farm dogs is keeping farmers and, more importantly, farm kids, company. The companionship that only a pup can offer is in every photo I found when searching through the Library of Congress’ photo archives. The dog keeping children company while they tap trees for maple syrup in cold, snow covered Vermont, the little girl wandering a Georgia field flanked by her trusty pooch, an Alabama peanut farmer planting with his pup in tow, or the seasoned Montana rancher and his trusty hound sidekick with Big Sky Country in the background. It seems throughout history, nothing compares to the company of man’s best friend.

I had an Australian Shepherd pup named Franklin, who although he never spent a minute on the farm or a day herding sheep, would instinctively nip at my ankles if he ended up walking behind me on the stairs. Or my dear Dachshund dog friend (also named Franklin) who can’t help but herd groups of people. My mutt, Jefferson, on the other hand, must come from the same family as Mr. Easley’s dogs: Always ready to chase some bunnies or go for a ride, but not eager to help with the laundry. But boy, ol’ Jeff makes good company.

See, I told you not to get me started on dogs.

Do you have memories of your farm dog from your childhood, or a particularly helpful mutt who resides on your homestead? I’d love to hear about them, so please share your stories in the comments section!

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