Dogs have been trusted and loyal human companions for years. However, for many farmers and ranchers, their canine companions are more than just pets. From dashing through the field to chase down a wandering cow, herding sheep across a pasture, or performing any number of important tasks, it turns out that some of the best farm hands actually have paws.

Mike and Heather Taylor are seventh-generation cattle ranchers from Grand County. For them, their dogs Sadie and Doc are worth their weight in gold when it comes to the work they do to keep their cattle ranch running smoothly.

“Our dogs are more than pets,” Heather said. “They go to work every day just like we do. We use our dogs almost every day, specifically when we’re taking care of our cows.” 

Sadie is a Heeler and Doc is an Australian Shepherd, breeds that are well-known for their intelligence, loyalty, and herding instincts.

“Their job is to stick with us, to get cows out of the brush, and keep them moving. It’s really hard for us to do our job without our dogs because they can go places that we can’t and can get there faster than we can,” Heather explained. 

Cinco, a registered border collie that belongs to Caleb and Samantha Smith of Lewiston, performs a similar role to Doc and Sadie but works with dairy cows instead. Caleb, along with his dad and brother, runs a dairy farm where they milk 1,800 cows. Working on a dairy farm is anything but easy, but for Caleb, Cinco makes it fun. 

“She plays a big role. When I’m at work, she’s at work, no matter if it’s hot or cold or rain or shine. She’s my right-hand man,” Caleb said. 

Cinco can perform just about any task on the dairy farm, from bringing cows up an alley to pushing them out of stalls and moving them into other pens. Caleb has trained her to respond to key commands, such as “come by” which tells Cinco to move clockwise, “away to me” which tells her to move counter-clockwise around the cows, or “move them up, “ which signals her to slowly bring the cows towards Caleb.

Caleb Smith and their dog Cinco on their dairy in Cache County.

“The joke I have with my dad is that if I can teach Cinco to close the gate, then he is going to have to put her on the payroll,” Caleb said. 

Heather Taylor said instincts and a desire to serve helped their dogs quickly learn their role on the farm. 

“Training them takes a long time and getting through the puppy stage for sure has its challenges, but their natural instinct is what’s so impressive about a ranch dog,” Heather said. “They are so capable of learning new things quickly, and they really want to please us.”

People unfamiliar with farm and ranch dogs may not realize just how much they love their job and the sense of purpose it provides them. These dogs find purpose, joy, and deep satisfaction in their contributions to the daily operations of a farm or ranch. 

“It’s never a forced thing for our dogs,” Heather said. “Some people might think these dogs are going without, but they are truly living their best lives. Our dogs have thousands of acres of freedom where they can run and play, and all we ask is that they stick with us and do their part. They truly love the work they do.” 

Mike Taylor and one of their farm dogs in Grand County.

To celebrate farm dogs and the many ways they support farmers and ranchers, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) hosts the Farm Dog of the Year Contest. Dogs are judged on their helpfulness to the farmer and his family, playfulness, and obedience. In 2022, Cinco was named a regional runner-up for the Western region.

“To me, Cinco amplifies everything that a farm dog should be which is why I entered her in the contest,” Caleb said. “Dogs really are man’s best friend. I truly believe that. Cinco is with me everywhere I go. She is with me through both the hard times and the good times.” 

In 2020, Beth & Rhett Crandall and their Australian Shepherd Flint were named the Farm Bureau Farm Dog of the Year.

Beth Crandall and her Australian Shepherd, Flint.

“I think it’s amazing to be able to have somebody, especially a dog, that has gone through everything with you. Flint has been with me through so many different life stages, and I think it’s important for us as people to have that,” Beth said. “Flint can go out there and work with the herd in a low-stress way and keep the group together.”

“Flint has this natural intuition to see things and perceive things and to work with the livestock in ways that we as humans cannot,” Rhett added. 

This companionship is arguably one of the most important things these dogs provide. Some farm dogs may not herd livestock or work cattle but instead serve as an invaluable companion when feeding animals, repairing equipment, and fixing fences. The value of this companionship is even backed by science. Research conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) suggests that owning a dog may decrease stress levels, improve heart health, lower blood pressure, and even help with emotional and social skills. The study also found that animals can reduce loneliness and boost your mood. 

For both the Taylors and the Smiths, their dogs are more than just a valuable asset to the farm, they are members of the family. 

“They’re the best kid dogs you could ask for, and that’s the best part of it,” Heather said. “They’re ranch dogs, they’re work dogs, but they are also a part of our family. We would be lost without our dogs.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation, with support from Nestlé Purina PetCare, will recognize the grand prize winner – Farm Bureau Farm Dog of the Year – as well as up to three regional runners-up and the social media component, People’s Choice Pup (#PeoplesChoicePup). These will be recognized at an award ceremony at the American Farm Bureau Federation Convention in Salt Lake City in January 2024.