Every horse facility needs a few wagging tails.

By Kelli Neubert

January 26, 2017

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I like a good barn.

Something photogenic—new or vintage will do—preferably one with a little character and something that’s built to last. Wood, steel, painted or natural—I don’t care. I’ve seen many different barns and learned to appreciate something in almost each and every one. I like the stalls, the hay, the little details in every corner, and of course, the horses.

But really, what’s a barn without a good dog?

To me, a dog is an essential part of the “barn experience.” Most everyone who has been around livestock can attest—there’s just something about a good barn dog (or two, or three!) that is good for the soul.

But what makes for a good barn dog?

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In my experience, you don’t have to be picky. Any size and many breeds will do. Sure, there’s the standard border collie/heeler/kelpie/cowdog variation that immediately jumps to mind. A good cowdog belongs in a barn just about like milk belongs in a Holstein’s udder. They’re right at home with the cattle and sheep and equines that live there. They can be handy help and most of them are as smart as whips. But there have been many a treasured barn dog that I’ve met in my travels that doesn’t fit the standard working cow dog mold.

They can be large, slick and slow, or little, fuzzy and quick. They must be both fiercely loyal and comfortably independent. They must be sensible, savvy and know when they need to stay out of the way.

They love hoof trimmings, kind words, new friends and a good long ride. They know that when you say “OUT” you mean it, but not always when you say “STAY.” They don’t need much to make a day good—mostly just the company of someone else who loves the barn as much as them. On a day to day basis, their presence is generally subtle, but always a short whistle away.

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A barn dog will let you know when someone pulls in the yard, but has a good feel as to whether that visitor is friend or foe. A few barks will do, generally followed by a wary tail wag. He’s got good sense to avoid pickups and trailers, and knows how to avoid the hooves of larger, four-legged animals. He’s soft on kids and hard on vermin. He’ll chase cats when he knows you’re looking and delight in their company when he thinks you’re not.

As an owner of this special “breed”, you must have a good sense of humor. Barn dogs don’t always smell as good as the town versions—in fact—far from it. Between the mud, manure, skunks and other unmentionables, they know how to scout out a scent and make it a part of their aura. They often find trouble and have a lot of stories to tell. No, they’re not the shiniest dogs on the block and often aren’t the most impressively kept, but their eyes are always smiling and they can make even the gloomiest day a little brighter.

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They are there to greet us on the coldest mornings, and happy to walk back home with us after the longest days. They ask for very little and give us their devotion and love. Though dirty, unkempt and generally half-trained, I couldn’t imagine my barn without a couple of the little fellows.

It’s their job to protect their barn and the families (both human and animal) that reside there, and it’s our job to see them through their whimsical, blundering puppyhood until they are tired, senior dogs, spending most days just sleeping in the sunshine outside of the old barn doors.

Yes, I like a good barn.

But I LOVE a good barn dog. 

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