In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
Oct 22, 2013
I hope I'm wrong, but I'm not seeing as many farm dogs as I used to when I make service calls. Back in the day, every farmstead had one or more resident mongrels that were as much a part of the farm family as the youngest son. Sometimes MORE a part of the family than the youngest son, but I digress...
I'm not sure why there seem to be fewer farm dogs. Perhaps it's because farms now cover multiple farmsteads, or because the wife works in town and there's nobody at home to care for the mutt. But in my experience, the farm dog population is off 30 percent compared to 20 years ago.
Farm dogs are extensions of their masters. "Levi" was a Newfoundland Retriever, only slightly smaller than a Shetland Pony. His owner was known to be testy when it came to traveling salesmen, and Levi became legendary among those who attempted to make their living selling feed, vet supplies and welding tools to farmers in our area. Levi and his owner often teamed up in warm weather to ambush a new salesman. When the salesman drove in with his windows rolled down on a hot day, the farmer would make a point of approaching the car from the passenger side, drawing the salesman's attention in that direction. Levi learned to quietly approach the car from the driver's side, put his head through the driver's window at the same level as the salesman's head, and announce his presence with a subsonic growl that prompted one salesman to scramble across the front seat, dive out the passenger window and cower behind the grinning farmer.
For years I kept a day-old sandwich in my service truck to pacify farm dogs that had doubts about my right to be on their farm and working on their farm equipment. A couple chunks of sandwich tossed out the window usually convinced them I was an all-right guy and welcome to exit the truck.
That worked on every dog except one, an evil, conniving Blue Heeler with whom I had an ongoing feud. The beast would literally slink under a machine or behind a building when I drove in, and wait for me to exit the vehicle. He apparently had a knack for mathematics and an expert eye for measurements, because he'd invariably wait till I was exactly halfway between my truck and the safety of the machine/machine shed before he launched his patented silent attack, darting from behind to try and literally "tear me a new one." I consider myself a dog lover, but can't say I was upset when that dog went to doggy heaven.
The other extreme of farm dogs was "Barney," a mutt that loved to ride in vehicles. He didn't care WHOSE vehicle it was--if the motor was running, Barney was ready to ride. More than once when I was working on a piece of equipment, if I had left the door of my truck open, Barney was happily waiting in the passenger seat when I got ready to leave. For a long time I thought it was because of my animal magnetism, but the local vet, feed deliveryman, and various neighbors assured me that Barney was an equal-opportunity hitchhiker, a sucker for an open door and the potential for a ride with his head out the window.
I hope I'm wrong that farm dogs are a fading part of farming. There's something special about a mud-spattered pickup truck with a farm dog standing in the bed with his front feet on a bale of hay, his ears and tongue flopping in the wind. PETA, the ASPCA and other animal rights groups say it's dangerous and potentially cruel to let a dog ride in the bed of a truck, but...what have they got against happy dogs?