A favorite childhood book and a longtime fascination with dogs spawned author Janet Vorwald Dohner’s newest volume.
My book Farm Dogs is a deeply personal project, and the result of a lifetime of both loving dogs and books written about them. My childhood animal books were “dog-eared” for sure, but when I received a copy of Man’s Best Friend as a gift in 1966, my life was forever changed.
First issued as The National Geographic Book of Dogs in 1958, then updated and reissued as Man’s Best Friend eight years later, the detailed chapters were written by canine experts and lovingly brought to life with color and black-and-white photography, historical illustrations, and beautiful paintings. The book centered on how dogs evolved, our shared histories, how they fit our lives, and their valuable work.
I pored over its pages, reading and re-reading the text and memorizing everything about the breeds. I cannot deny that the chapter on “Working Dogs of the World” was my favorite. Most of the breeds were depicted performing their traditional jobs, unchanged by popular trends or the show ring. I also relished the chapter on “Favorite Dogs of Many Lands,” which profiled exotic breeds not yet known in North America. It was the first serious dog-breed book I had read, but it was more than that. It sparked a lifelong curiosity about rare and historic animal breeds and inspired my real-life experiences with owning — and writing about — working dogs.
In the mid-1970s, when my husband and I first moved to our farm, predators attacked our poultry. I had just the solution: a Great Pyrenees! The image of those beautiful white dogs in the pages of Man’s Best Friend, depicted by the famous American animal painter Edward Herbert Miner, was fixed in my mind’s eye.
That noble Pyr was just the start of our adventures in owning many livestock guardian dogs — including a breed that arrived in North America only recently: the Kangal Dog of Turkey. Our other favored working dog was also one I remembered from my childhood book — our beloved Pembroke and Cardigan Corgis. We are now a multigenerational corgi family, as corgis live with our grandchildren, too.
Today, we have a new dog at our place: Pippa, the English Shepherd.
She has some big shoes to fill. In the photograph below, taken in 1949, my husband is just a babe in arms. At his family’s feet is their beloved English Shepherd, Shep:
Farm dogs like Shep are seen in thousands of old farm photos as both indispensable working partners and much-loved family companions, just as I first saw them in Man’s Best Friend.
As I began writing my own book about working dogs, I remembered what I loved most about that National Geographic book of my youth — vivid images featuring dogs on the job, thoughtful introductions to each breed, and personalized stories of people and canines. I tailored my book to focus on the breeds uniquely suited to farm work or life in the countryside, dogs that have traditionally done the work of guarding the flocks; protecting the farmstead; herding, driving, and working with stock; hunting rats and other vermin; pulling carts; or serving as an all-around farmhand. The dogs that historically filled these roles on farms and in rural settings still excel at the work their ancestors did.
Farm Dogs is the first comprehensive breed book to focus exclusively on the best dogs for farm life, and I need to thank my friends at Storey for letting me fulfill the lifelong dream of writing it. It is my hope you will find this book just as useful for you, whether you’re turning the pages purely for reading pleasure or looking to discover which breed will best fit your needs and capture your heart.