When someone tells you they have a little dog at home, what’s the first image that comes to mind; a “barky-barky” pacing-the-floor-like-a-maniac dog that pees on the carpet every time the doorbell rings? Yep, having grown up on a farm with a huge German Shepherd, that’s what I thought about little dogs, too. Then, I met Spot.

Spot is a Japanese Chin. He’s a calm, affectionate laze-about who likes our cats (even licks his front paws and washes his face like a cat) but hates puddles, mud and unfamiliar surroundings. He’s great for spirited daily walks (no more than two miles), but he’s no athlete. In fact, he can’t even jump up on the sofa. Did I mention he doesn’t bark? So while he’d make a lousy guard dog, Spot is a fabulous BFF (best friend forever) for our ‘tween’, because all we wanted, all we needed was a companion dog for our only child.

While most Iowans don’t own a Japanese Chin (they’re uncommon but not rare breed), the majority of Iowans do own a dog. And for many of those Iowans, their sole knowledge of animals is based on what they know about dogs, because they’re two to three generations removed from farming and knowledge of livestock animals and behaviors. Sure, they’ve seen their share of pigs (on tv), but they don’t know how they’re supposed to act or what it takes to make them thrive. They picture a kind, fattened, pink version of “Babe” the talking pig….

Dr Suzanne Millman, animal welfare scientist at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, says “People get most of their experiences about animals by living with their dogs and cats. What we have to be cautious about is the belief they have that the behavior of their dog and cat is the same as a farm animal. But a cow is not a dog. Their needs, their behavior, are different.”

Farmers who have passed down generations of knowledge while working with livestock, already know this. I remember even as a kid, my Grandpa could ‘diagnose’ a cow from the far end of the feedlot, just based on how she ‘looked at him’. My untrained eyes couldn’t see a thing, but he knew. Sure enough, a call to the vet confirmed his suspicions.

I hope consumers know that while dogs get different treatment than food-chain animals, responsible livestock farmers still take compassionate care of both. In fact, I’ve known my share of farmers who’ve weathered a blizzard all night in a barn stall, helping a cow in labor. They traipse through muddy pastures and blizzards checking on animals because they believe their livestock deserves to be comfortable, well-fed and protected from predators (or, sometimes, from each other.)

Farm life is often a hard life. It’s not for everyone. It’s not even for every dog----in fact, I don’t’ think I’ll ever see a Japanese Chin guarding livestock on an Iowa farm. That thought is as preposterous to me as, well….a talking pig that herds sheep. “Woof.”

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.