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Valuable Health and Behavioural Phenotypes in Australian Farm Dogs

The contribution of stock working dogs to the rural economy is significant but poorly understood. While figures regarding the size of Australia’s working dog population are available, these are only estimates. For example, based on Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics data, the ‘Contribution of the Pet Care Industry to the Australian Economy’ report compiled by the Australian Companion Animal Council assumed that every farm with sheep has two working dogs; concluding from this that there were over 83,000 dogs working on Australian farms in 2005.

The breeding and training of successful farm dogs is a complex enterprise, not least because they are selected for at least two different contexts: station work and trials. Behavioural attributes have considerable impact on the success of young dogs in the training program; the length of the dog’s working life and whether it is ultimately chosen as a breeding animal. Similarly, health considerations have profound economic impact on the individual dog’s working life. With assistance from Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and the Working Kelpie Council of Australia (WKCA), this project will, for the first time, measure and record both behavioural and health attributes in farm dogs. Modern canine genomic technologies will allow us to identify genetic markers that are predictive of working dog trainability and success in dogs. This will save money by increasing the aptitude of dogs entering training and assessment programs.

The Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS) was developed to improve animal welfare outcomes across all animal sectors. This has led to the establishment of a Working Dog Action Plan. One of the authors of this plan is Professor Paul McGreevy, Chief Investigator on the RIRDC Farm Dog Project. Information on AAWS and the Working Dog Action Plan can be accessed via the following link: www.australiananimalwelfare.com.au.