Unintended Consequences: Disadvantages of Selective Breeding in Farm Dogs


This article examines some of the less successful evolutionary strategies in farm dogs, primarily resulting from human-driven selective breeding for specific traits. While these traits may have initially provided an advantage in agricultural settings, they have also led to unintended consequences or disadvantages for the dogs. The article explores issues related to overemphasis on herding instincts, excessive energy levels, intense prey drive, overprotectiveness, and inbreeding-related genetic disorders.

Unsuccessful Evolutionary Strategies

Farm dogs, or working dogs bred for tasks in agricultural settings, have generally been selected for their ability to herd, guard, or perform other specific tasks. While many breeds have successfully adapted to these roles, some traits have emerged that may not be as advantageous or have unintended consequences. Some examples of unsuccessful evolutionary strategies in farm dogs include:

Overemphasis on herding instincts

Some farm dogs have herding instincts that are so strong that they can become a problem when not actively working. These dogs might attempt to herd other animals or even people, which can lead to conflicts, stress, or injuries.

Excessive energy levels

Breeds like Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and Kelpies are known for their high energy levels and need for mental stimulation. While this can be beneficial in a working environment, it can be a disadvantage for farm dogs that do not have an appropriate outlet for their energy. This can lead to destructive behaviors or other behavioral issues if their needs are not met.

Intense prey drive

Some farm dogs, like terrier breeds, have a strong prey drive that was initially beneficial for tasks like hunting and controlling vermin populations. However, an excessive prey drive can become a problem if the dog cannot differentiate between pests and other animals on the farm, leading to conflicts or injuries.


Livestock guardian breeds, such as the Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherds, have been bred to protect their charges from predators. While this trait is generally beneficial, excessive protectiveness can lead to problems if the dog becomes overly aggressive towards other animals or people, or if it becomes difficult to manage.

Inbreeding and genetic disorders

Like with other dog breeds, inbreeding and selective breeding in farm dogs can lead to a higher prevalence of genetic disorders. This can include hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and other heritable conditions that can impact the dog’s ability to work effectively or lead to long-term health issues.

It’s important to recognize that many of these issues stem from human-driven selective breeding, rather than natural evolutionary processes. By being aware of these potential disadvantages, breeders and owners can make more informed decisions about breeding practices and managing working farm dogs.

Further Reading

  1. Coppinger, R., & Coppinger, L. (2001). Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution. University of Chicago Press.
  2. Serpell, J. A. (Ed.). (2017). The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behavior, and Interactions with People (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  3. Ruvinsky, A., & Sampson, J. (Eds.). (2017). The Genetics of the Dog (2nd ed.). CABI Publishing.
  4. van Arendonk, J. A. M., & Liinamo, A. E. (2003). Dairy Cattle Production: A Review of Breeding Objectives and the Potential of Estimating Breeding Values for Working Traits.
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Tony Bierman, "Unintended Consequences: Disadvantages of Selective Breeding in Farm Dogs," OBTESA, Accessed February 28, 2024, http://esbt.us/cd.