HOW to get the most out of your newest farm worker
Farm dogs, whether they are pets or workers, need care and attention like all other animals. Most working dogs will live for 10 to 15 years, with their working life a bit shorter as they tend to slow down with age.
- From the archive: Dr Stuart Barber on keeping dogs healthy through all stages of life
Working dogs need a high-quality diet - they are performance athletes and need to replace a lot of energy. If you aren't convinced of this, try to keep up with your dog the next time you round up sheep or cattle.
The amount of food your dog eats may vary throughout the year according to how much they work and the local climate. The best way to monitor their diet is to check their body condition. The Victorian Department of Primary Industries' dog conditioning chart says an ideal dog will have:
- Ribs and spine that can be felt, the last few ribs may be visible
- A waist when viewed from above
- A belly that is tucked up when viewed from side
- Good muscle mass
- A well muscled rump
It is possible to make your own dog food, but you need to make sure your dog receives the correct nutrients. For most people it is simpler to feed a commercial diet aimed specifically for a dog's particular stage of life (puppy, adult or geriatric). There are three main commercial dog foods - canned, dry (kibble) and semi-moist (rolls).
The main difference between these is the amount of water in each. Dry feed has the least, canned has the most. The less water, the less feed you need to give the dog.
If your pup arrives just after it has been weaned, there are a number of steps you need to take. Your pup should be vaccinated at least twice, about one month apart, against distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus.
You may also want to vaccinate against kennel cough depending on the amount of contact your dog will have with other dogs. Pups should be treated for roundworms every few weeks up until about four months of age. Farm dogs should then be treated every three months with an "all wormer" and each six weeks in between with a hydatid wormer. It is important to consider heartworm and tick prevention. A vet can tell you exactly what you will need to vaccinate against for your particular area.
The other major parasites that can cause problems are fleas. You can check your dog's skin for fleas or flea dirt - this looks like small black dirt on the skin and when you add a drop of water to it, it changes to red. Most dogs will scratch or bite themselves when they have fleas, particularly above the tail region. There are numerous treatments a vet can recommend, and some treat more than just fleas.
If you are not going to breed from your dog, it is worthwhile considering desexing it to avoid unwanted pregnancies and increased chances of straying. Desexing will reduce the dog's feed requirement, so body condition score should be evaluated in the months after surgery.
If you do decide to breed from your dog, it is important to keep her separate from dogs you don't want her to mate with. This means some sort of a cage or room, as dogs can be very inventive in finding ways to get to a female on heat.
Bitches can come on heat any time from six to 12 months of age and have up to two litters of pups in a year. Most litters will have three to 10 pups. Once a dog is mated, it is usually 63 days until you can anticipate the pitter-patter of tiny puppy feet. The female needs more food in the latter third of pregnancy and particularly during lactation which will generally be for six to eight weeks until the pups are weaned.
Keeping your dog fit and healthy will make training much easier. Training should start by you spending time with the pup while it is still on its mother and then progressing with simple commands once it has been weaned.
- Dr Stuart Barber is a lecturer in veterinary science at the University of Melbourne