News

Aim is to breed better workers

By Country News

Effective working dogs improve farm productivity and significantly reduce stress on farm managers and livestock, so it is not surprising they are known to replace human labour in livestock enterprises.

AgriFutures Australia’s Emerging Industries program research will map how temperament and ability shape great working dogs, improve dog welfare and provide value to livestock managers.

An ongoing University of Sydney survey, supported by the program, aims to measure and record behavioural and health attributes of Australian working dogs for the first time.

The project builds on a previous AgriFutures Australia project Valuable behavioural phenotypes in Australian farm dogs completed in 2015, funded to support and increase the contribution working dogs as an industry make to Australian farmers.

The latest project is funded by AgriFutures Australia and the Working Kelpie Council of Australia.

University of Sydney’s Computational Biology and Animal Genomics chair Claire Wade said an estimated 83000 dogs were working on Australian farms and their contribution to the rural economy was significant but poorly understood.

‘‘We are looking to improve the selection process of livestock working dogs to better suit the needs of the farmer and working dog breeding community,’’ Professor Wade said.

‘‘Behavioural attributes have considerable impact on the success of young dogs in the training program, the length of the dog’s working life, and whether it is ultimately chosen as a breeding animal.

‘‘Similarly, health considerations have profound economic impact on the individual dog’s working life.’’

It will determine how dogs (whether registered studbook animals or not) reflect characteristics of parents, and traits such as barking will be mapped so breeders and farmers can select dogs to suit their needs.

‘‘What suits one person may not suit another — and if a dog is required for loading trucks, that will be different to a dog needed to muster a large paddock alone while the farmer waits at the gate,’’ Prof Wade said.

‘‘The breeding and training of successful farm dogs is a complex enterprise, not least because they are selected for at least two different contexts: station work and trials.

‘‘For breeders, the results of the study should assist in identifying potential breeding matches to allow outcrossing without losing the working attributes you value.’’

AgriFutures Australia’s Emerging Industries program manager Duncan Farquhar said the survey provided a unique opportunity to create a database of Australian and international livestock working dogs with their particular temperament and working traits.

‘‘We urge farm dog owners to get involved,’’ Mr Farquhar said.

‘‘The information you give about your dogs will not be connected to your name or your dogs’ names without your permission.

‘‘Dogs are assigned a number to de-identify them from their names, and their information goes into a pool of data comparing dog behaviour and genes.

‘‘How you score your dog or what genes emerge will not be made public.’’

■For more information and to take the survey, visit: doggenetics.net.au/Kelpie/FarmSurvey.html

■Learn more about the research project, Valuable behavioural phenotypes in Australian farm dogs, at: agrifutures.com.au/product/valuable-behavioural-phenotypes-in-australian-farm-dogs/