Barn Dogs: Which Breeds Are Best?

By Nicole McCray

Aside from your beloved horse, there’s nothing better than a good barn dog. He’s a source of protection, love, companionship, and support for you and your horse. Simply put, no horse barn is complete until a good barn dog takes up residence.

Although most of us think of them as companions, they can also be quite useful around the barn. They can chase off predators, provide rodent control, herd other animals, and be your faithful companion on trail rides.

It’s interesting to note that each equestrian discipline has its favorite breeds. For example, dressage riders always seem to have Jack Russell or Corgi in tow. And, you’re likely to find at least one Border Collie, Cattle Dog, or Australian Shepherd in a Western barn. Hunters and jumpers go for the sporting breeds… the list goes on and on.

If you hang around horses for long, you’ll notice that certain breeds are more popular than others. But are they really the best choice, or is it simply a matter of tradition? We did some research of our own to find out which breeds really make the best barn dogs and why. Here’s what you need to know.

What to Think About When Choosing a Barn Dog

Almost any breed of dog or mixed breed can be a fantastic barn dog when provided with the right training. Before we dive into individual breed recommendations, here are some important factors you’ll want to think about when choosing a barn dog, no matter what breed you’re leaning toward.

  • Barking: Loud dogs can be very disruptive in a horse barn. When choosing a dog, look for one with a quieter disposition, or at least be willing to spend some time training them not to bark without reason.
  • Grooming: Certain breeds require more grooming than others, and cleanliness will be an issue in the horse barn. Short-haired breeds are the easiest to care for when it comes to grooming. However, dogs like Border Collies with slick coats are pretty low maintenance, too. Double-coated breeds, like Corgis, Great Pyrenees, and Shepherds will require the most grooming.
  • Size: Toy and miniature breeds are much more likely to go unnoticed in the barn, and that can be dangerous if they get underneath a horse. They’re also more vulnerable to predators, including birds of prey, bobcats, and coyotes, so take that into consideration as well.
  • Liability Insurance: Many insurance companies will charge a premium or refuse to insure you altogether if you have certain breeds on your farm. Guard dogs, like German Shepherds and Rottweilers, are the most likely to present an issue. Be sure to check with your insurance company ahead of time if you’re considering this type of breed.
  • Genetics: Large breeds, especially shepherds and livestock guardian dogs, tend to be more genetically prone to health issues such as hip dysplasia and heart problems. Before making a final decision, we recommend reaching out to an online veterinary telemedicine service to find out what health issues your particular breed might be prone to and if it could become a problem around the barn. It’s always a good idea to go into such a big commitment with as much information as possible.

The Best Barn Dog Breeds

Now let’s dive into the best barn dog breeds and what makes them such a great choice around horses.

Australian Shepherds

There’s a good reason Australian Shepherds are so popular in Western barns. This herding breed is known to be obedient, eager to please, and very trainable. They’re also extremely energetic and very smart. What more can you ask for in a good barn dog?

Aussies are kind and they respond well to positive reinforcement. Their nature makes them eager to help around the barn, and they’re generally friendly with humans and other animals. They tend to be great with kids, which can be very important if you have children or clients coming through your barn.

This breed is also incredibly intelligent. They somehow seem to know when a horse isn’t feeling well or has an injury, and they’ll let you know when something is wrong. They’ve even been known to comfort a sick or depressed horse.

If you have an Aussie hanging out in your barn, you’ll also notice that he’s the barn monitor. He’ll supervise everything from stall cleaning to training, and he’ll let you know when anything’s not right. Aussies also tend to be very protective of their pack- you and your horses- but they also listen well when you tell them it’s time to stand down.

The Great Pyrenees and Other Livestock Guardian Breeds

Great Pyrenees and other guardian breeds will protect your horses and other animals all day and all night. They’ll chase off predators and they have an uncanny ability to know when someone’s on the property who doesn’t belong.

Livestock guardians are amazingly gentle with foals and other baby animals, but they’re also fierce against coyotes, foxes, wolves, and other predators. Their bark and growl are extremely intimidating, even though they’re incredibly loyal and loving to their owners.

In addition to Great Pyrenees, Komondors, Anatolian Shepherds, and Maremma Sheepdogs all fit into this category. These are all exceptional barn dogs and guardians to have on the horse farm.

Australian Cattle Dog

The Australian Cattle Dog is an energetic, intelligent mid-sized breed. They are herders at heart, which is why they’re often called Heelers. They’re independent and protective, with excellent instincts around the horses and barn. 

A Cattle Dog will be like your extra set of eyes, watching over the horses while going out of their way not to spook them. They know to stay at a safe distance, but they’re still incredibly loyal and protective. 

If you take them to shows, you’ll find that they socialize well with people and other dogs. They’re territorial in their own barn but respectful of other dogs in their space. They do fantastic in pairs… if you get two, they’ll be best friends.

Jack Russell Terrier

If you’re looking for a high-energy barn dog on the smaller side, a Jack Russell Terrier could be a great choice. They’re smart and compact, which makes them a great travel companion. They’ll ride around the farm in the truck or gator without taking up too much room.

Jack Russells are rough, tough, and sturdy little dogs that love to get dirty and be in the thick of things. As an added bonus, they were originally bred to hunt rodents! How handy is that around the barn?

Corgi

Corgis are so much fun around the barn. They’re happy, loving small to medium-sized dogs- and they are smart enough to stay out of the way and not get stepped on. A Corgi will be your constant companion until the last bit of chores are done at night, but they’re also independent enough to be happy on their own when you’re not there.

This breed fits right in at the barn. Their herding instincts give them a keen sense of awareness. They’re also surprisingly fast, given their short legs. Corgis are naturally loyal, good companions, and supportive, with courageous personalities.

German Shepherds and other Guard Dog Breeds

If your barn is in a rural area, your dog might not be just a companion, but also a guard dog against unwelcome trespassers, too. Naturally protective guard dog breeds will alert you about unfamiliar people, predators, and pretty much anything else that’s out of the ordinary.

These dogs tend to be on the larger side, which makes them intimidating to humans and predators. Keep in mind that this could be a negative if you have clients coming in and out of the barn- their intimidating presence can scare children and other people who are nervous around big dogs. 

But, they’re also extremely loyal and very trainable. Although many of these dogs aren’t naturally bred to work with livestock, they’re incredibly intelligent. They’ll learn how to stay out of the horses’ way quickly. They also have the stamina to keep up on trail rides, which is a huge bonus if you often ride alone.

Guard dog breeds can be a tremendous asset in the horse barn under the right circumstances. Breeds that fall into this category include German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Mastiffs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Doberman Pinschers, and Malinois.

Final Thoughts

Your equestrian lifestyle may cause you to lean toward one breed of dog over another, but we encourage you to be open-minded. The truth is most purebred and mixed breed dogs can be excellent companions around the horse barn. Diligent training, proper socialization, and positive reinforcement will impact how your dog acts around the barn at least as much as, if not more than, his breed.