Is there a difference between “farm dogs” and “city dogs”? I realized recently that there must be to some people, after my daughter and I met fellow animal-lover while volunteering at a Des Moines animal shelter. This well-intentioned volunteer was talking about the “lovely farm family” who wanted to adopt a rather rambunctious, large lab-mix, but she dismissed them. She said they were inappropriate because “they expect that poor dog to sleep in the barn, rather than on a nice indoor bed.” Clearly, her sole experience with dogs is with those whose purpose is companionship. Not that there’s anything wrong with that—but I remember a whole different world, a world with well-loved, “working dogs.”

If only this lady had met our old farm dog, “Grouch.” Grouch was a huge black German shepherd (and my dad always said “part wolf”) who was always happy to have a purpose on our farm. He herded cattle or hogs if they got out, kept strangers in their cars and predators on the run; he even protected our 28-plus cats! A “combine companion” for my dad during harvest, Grouch was master of all he could see, and from my perspective that was quite a lot.

Contrast that with Spot, my Japanese Chin, who sits like a lump at the bottom of my bed, pinning my feet underneath the warm, down comforter. He knows the chill of fall is creeping into the morning and he doesn’t want to be in it. In fact, I think my dog would ignore his walnut-sized bladder and sleep another six hours if I let him.

A “city dog” like Spot and a “farm dog” like Grouch may be very different but both are equally loved. That love and respect for animals comes naturally for good livestock farmers. Caretaker of many, farmers have a reverence for life, whether it’s for the dog that will live for 15 years or the hogs in the barn that live 15 months. I believe farmers have a keen understanding of the nature and true “purpose” of their dogs compared to some folks who’ve never stepped foot in the country. Many of my urban dog-loving friends show their love for their dogs by bringing home rhinestone collars and Halloween outfits. But it doesn’t mean their dogs are happier than farm dogs at the end of the day.

Ceasar Milan, star of the hit TV show “The Dog Whisperer,” ( knows plenty about dog behavior and purpose. He says,” If you're not giving your dog what he requires, he'll let you know by chewing your shoes, jumping up on your guests, pulling on the walk, or one of many other behavior problems. It's not malicious. He's just finding another way to meet the needs programmed in him by Mother Nature. In order to fulfill one another, we need to look outside ourselves and really understand what the other needs and how their psychology works. That's the foundation for a balanced, healthy relationship with any species.”

Now, Spot living on a farm would be inappropriate; for one thing, he’d be a completely worthless farm dog. A Japanese Chin has no purpose on a working livestock farm (not outdoors, anyway!). Spot can’t even jump high enough to get on the sofa; he doesn’t bark and he absolutely freezes with terror if something new crosses his path, even if it’s just a plastic bag blowing in the wind. One time, I guess he did “herd” a possum in a backyard, but the chase only lasted 20 seconds—until the possum turned around. Yes, he’s a completely worthless dog.

But, worthless (as it happens) completely works for me and my family’s life right now. I understand his true purpose and it’s simple companionship. I don’t need a rambunctious, protective, barking “Marley” of a dog to chew up my coffee table or tackle guests at a door. (Although I often miss my old chocolate lab running partner, “Suzie.” She was more motivational than any track coach-we trained for two marathons together!)

The point is, if your family is thinking about adding a four-legged friend to the family, I encourage you to consider what you want from your dog relationship; will the dog’s true nature make a good fit for your family? Do you need a farm hand to help herd the cattle? An exercise partner? Or would you be happy to simply have a furry, little lump of a lap warmer to keep you company? You can find them all at your local animal shelter where a four-legged friend is waiting for a chance to show their true purpose in your family—unconditional love.

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