A (Farm) Dog’s Purpose: New Study Follows Working Canines For a Year

A sheep dog and sheep.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

A new ground-breaking research project in New Zealand hopes to learn more about lives of working farm dogs by tracking 150 canines for a year with electronic monitors.

New Zealand has the highest number of working farm dogs in the world per capita, according to researcher Naomi Cogger of Massey University’s Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, who’s leading the study. New Zealand’s more than 200,000 farm dogs are responsible for herding and guarding the country’s 29.5 million sheep (that’s about sheep per person!) and 3.6 million beef cattle—learning about these canines’ day-to-day activities is key to keeping them in optimum health.

“Right now, nobody has any idea what it takes for a dog to go out and do its job each day and how much dogs work,” Cogger told the New Zealand website Stuff.

The study aims to measure the dogs’ activity levels and any seasonal variability over a 12-month period through the use of collar monitors that collect data on everything from the amount of energy exerted to sleep patterns to the mobility. The dogs will also be given physical exams three times over the course of the study. According to Cogger, the project will help understand the physical demands placed on farm dogs and how stresses affect their health.

The project is part of a larger, on-going, five-year study called TeamMate that began in 2014 and is focused on New Zealand working dog health, well-being and longevity. The larger study is in collaboration with Vetlife, a 17 clinic veterinary practice.

Though focused on New Zealand, the data collected will help researchers around the world better understand the lives of working farm dogs.

“The information, while valuable in its own right, also contributes to the development of measures of working dog performance,” say the researchers. “Such measures will support future research activities to evaluate effectiveness of actions or interventions and determining the impact of adverse health events.”

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A (Farm) Dog’s Purpose: New Study Follows Working Canines For a Year