If you’re looking for information about going off the grid, the internet provides a wealth of information — but most of it focuses on things like food, water, and solar panels. There is a lot more to the act of going off the grid than just the basics. One of the things that every homesteader needs is a good dog. What are the best dogs to have for going off the grid, and why should you think about adding a few furry friends to your family?
Why You Need a Dog for Homesteading
No homestead is complete without at least one dog, not really. There are a number of different reasons that you might want to consider bringing home at least one dog, but we can break it down into three primary categories: protection, herding and companionship.
First, you can use a guard dog for protection. Even if they aren’t trained to physically attack an assailant or would-be robber, large breeds can be intimidating. Former burglars cite a barking dog — even if it’s not an aggressive one — as one of the primary reasons that they’ll choose to bypass a house rather than targeting it.
Second, if you plan to keep livestock, dogs can be a valuable companion for herding. Many species are bred to protect and herd livestock, from cows to smaller animals like sheep and goats. If you live in an area where large predators like wolves or big cats are common, having a guard dog or two can help keep your herd safe.
Finally, dogs are ideal for companionship. The internet might joke that humans will packbond with anything — including inanimate objects — but it’s not far from the truth. We will quite literally form a pack with anything that will have us, human or otherwise. Even if you have your family with you on a homestead, the space doesn’t feel complete without a few furry family members.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. If you’re adding hunting to your list of skills, some breeds of dogs excell in retrieving prey or driving it out of the brush so you can spot it. In cold climates, some breeds of dogs are valuable for pulling sleds, making it easier to navigate snow-covered landscapes. There’s a reason that humans have been domesticating dogs for millennia. They’re valuable companions in all sorts of circumstances.
Furry Friends for Physical and Mental Health
In addition to helping you work on the homestead or keeping you company, dogs are good for both your physical and mental health. This isn’t just an anecdotal statement. There is some science behind it. Somes studies found that having a dog in the same room as you can be just as effective at lowering blood pressure as a medication designed to do just that. You don’t even have to own a dog to enjoy that benefit. Just having a dog in the room with you is enough to help lower your blood pressure.
Depending on the breed of dog you choose, they’re also valuable workout companions. Many breeds of dogs require a high level of activity to stay healthy, and while they’re learning the ropes it’s often not safe to let them run on their own. You’ll need to take them out for a walk or run multiple times a day, so they’ll be the perfect buddy to keep you healthy.
Dogs also have a positive effect on your mental health, according to a number of different studies. Individuals with mental health conditions often find that having a pet as part of the family helps them manage their mental health symptoms. Individuals with anxiety and PTSD find that having a dog can help them form social connections that might be more difficult otherwise.
This is all in addition to the help that they can provide around the farm and around your homestead if you decide to go off the grid. While they’re not a replacement for modern medicine or therapy, having a dog around the house can help you feel a little bit better, both mentally and physically.
Pure vs. Mixed Breeds
Finally, we come to the age-old question: when you’re choosing a dog, should you be opting for a purebred example of a particular breed or are mixed breeds a viable option as well. Both have their pros and cons.
Purebred dogs will, in most cases, be the best example of the breed. If you’re looking for a particular behavior or characteristic — such a herding or guarding — you may be better off seeking out a purebred dog. The downside of purebreds is that they can be very expensive and, in some cases, inbreeding can result in unhealthy examples of the breed.
Mixed breeds or mutts are a mixed bag. You may find the perfect dog for your needs, whatever those may be, or you may bring home a dog that is only suitable as a lap dog because it won’t take too much training. You may also find a dog with poor health or dangerous personality traits.
When it comes down to it, the answer to the purebred vs mixed breed question depends entirely on what you need. If you’re planning to keep a flock of sheep or goats, a purebred herding dog might be the best choice. If you’re just looking for a companion or someone to bark at strangers, a mixed breed rescue from your local animal shelter could meet all your needs.
The Best Dog Breeds for Going Off the Grid
Now that you know why you need a dog, here are the best dog breeds that you should consider having around if you’re going to go off the grid. These breeds are in no particular order, but we will mention for each what they might be best for.
German shepherds are classified as herding dogs by the AKC, but they’re most often thought of as guard dogs. You’ll most often find them associated with law enforcement and military, but they tend to be well rounded working dogs. If you’re looking for a guard dog, you don’t need to look any further than a german shepherd, either purebred or mixed breed. Even if they’re not trained for guarding or aggression, the breed looks very intimidating which may be enough to make even the most hardened criminal think twice.
If you’re looking for a big dog, look no further than the classic great dane. These massive working dogs can reach up to 175 lbs for males and 140 lbs for females, but when well-trained, they can be valuable companions for any homesteader or family living off the grid. They’re incredibly loyal and protective of anyone that they consider their pack. Plus, much like the shepherds, their sheer size makes them intimidating, even if they’re the sweetest dog you’ve ever met.
Bullmastiffs might not be as large as pure mastiffs, but what they lack in size they make up for in stockiness and solid muscle. Males can reach up to 130 lbs and females 120lbs. This breed is primarily used for guarding purposes, making it the perfect companion for any homesteader. They can be very willful as puppies but as long as your training is thorough, it won’t take long before you’ll have the perfect guard dog ready to keep your family and property safe.
Whether you choose golden, black or chocolate, labrador retrievers are some of the most intelligent and easily trained dogs on this list. They’re incredibly friendly and can do just about anything from hunting and retrieving to being a companion or even a service dog with the correct training. You’ll even find them trained for drug and bomb detection as well as search and rescue applications. They need plenty of exercise, so if you need a companion to help keep you healthy, labs are the perfect choice.
If hunting or tracking is on the agenda, you can’t go wrong with a vizsla. These gorgeous gundogs are smaller than many of the other dogs on this list, with the largest males capping out at around 60lbs, but they are growing in popularity as the years pass. They’re popular with hunters, with the stamina to spend long days tracking in the field, which also makes them a popular choice for homesteaders. They need a lot of exercise and will form an incredibly tight bond with their owner or handler. This isn’t a breed to choose if you spend a lot of time away from home, because they don’t like to be left alone. They make great running companions as well.
Jack Russel Terrier
Terriers are probably the smallest breed on our list but for homesteaders, these little dogs can be incredibly useful. These breeds might not have the stamina of a vizsla or the size of a great dane, but they were originally designed as ratters. If you’re worried about pests getting into your food supply or your home, a couple of jack russell terriers in your homestead can help prevent that. These little terriers don’t like to be alone and form very strong pack bonds so we don’t recommend getting just one.
Australian shepherds have a very specialized task written into their genetic code. These working dogs are bred for herding and protecting livestock. If you’re planning on building a flock or herd of livestock and have a large stretch of land for them to roam, you’ll likely want to have a shepherd of some sort to keep them from wandering too far. These working dogs will also protect their flocks, even sometimes at the cost of their own life, so it’s not a good idea to leave them to their own devices all the time.
Huskies are probably the breed most often associated with dogsledding but if you’re planning to go off the grid in a cold or remote area, keeping a few huskies as part of your pack might help you navigate the snowy landscape. Huskies need a large amount of exercise, which makes them ideal for sledding. These working dogs are also skilled for herding and while they can be incredibly willful, they are also very loyal to their pack and whoever they perceive as pack leader.
These hounds are incredibly sweet and mellow, but they are ideal for hunting after a bit of training. As their name suggests, they do prefer to seek out racoons, but it’s not hard to train them to seek out other prey. They’re not a great choice for people who are looking for a medium-sized dog unless you’ve got a lot of space for them to roam – and don’t mind some serious noise. Their baying makes them easy to track when they’re on the scent, but it could easily have you running afoul of your neighbors if you’re keeping one in the suburbs or an apartment.
Bernese Mountain Dog
If you’re in a cold climate, bernese mountain dogs are an excellent choice. They’re a loyal and intelligent working dog that you’ll often find working on farms in places like Switzerland. They tend to attach themselves to a single person but will protect and work well with the entire family. They aren’t aggressive, and will tend to stay aloof if introduced to strangers. This isn’t a breed that we’d recommend in hot climates though, since they’re really bred for working in snowy fields.
Choosing the Best Dog for Going Off the Grid
Going off the grid is not a decision that you should make lightly. There’s a lot to it. One thing you shouldn’t overlook is the need for a good dog as part of your family. You’ll notice that we never refer to them as tools. That’s because they aren’t tools. They may have jobs to do on your homestead, but they are as much a part of your family as a child or spouse and should be treated and referred to as such. Finding the perfect dog for your family is as much instinct as it is research. Trust your gut.
Jane is the editor-in-chief of Environment.co. She is passionate about sustainability, gardening and homesteading.