Awesome Aussie

What does it take to be Farm Dog of the Year? Woody knows.

This Australian Shepherd, Woody, is an ace in herding trials and helps work sheep in addition to cattle for Joe Sheeran’s Flatonia, Texas, operation, Image by Becky Mills

Everyone thinks they have the best dog, and none of them are wrong. It’s a classic line from well-known canine author W.R. Purche.

But, in Joe Sheeran’s case, he can back his opinion up with facts. His 8-year-old Australian Shepherd, Woody, is the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 2019 Farm Dog of the Year.

“He is a pretty special dog,” Sheeran admits. When Woody was not quite 8 months old, the Flatonia, Texas, stockman spotted one of his heifers off by herself and figured she’d just had a calf. When he checked, he found the calf down in a ditch, struggling to get out. The heifer took exception to Sheeran’s help, charged him, caught him under the chin with her head, flattened him and continued to grind him into the dirt.

Woody jumped in and got the heifer off Sheeran long enough for him to get back on his feet.

“I took myself to the ER, and luckily I didn’t have any broken bones. But, I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Woody. He was one more tough little son of a gun.”

No doubt that incident strengthened the bond between the 69-year-old Texan and Woody, as well as helped earn him the Farm Dog of the Year title. Not one to rest on his laurels, though, Woody continues to earn his keep on the ranch Sheeran shares with wife, Mary. Along with a Senepol herd, the couple run stockers and a flock of Dorper sheep.

“I use my dogs to gather my stock to doctor them,” Sheeran says. “With sheep, you have to have a dog. I don’t care how many people you have, you aren’t going to get them in a pen or load a trailer without a dog.”


Woody, along with his farm mates Mercy, Kate, Czech and Red, also help hold cattle off Sheeran when he feeds cubes, and they guard the gate while he goes in and out with rolls of hay.

Even during daily chores, Woody continues to impress Sheeran with his intuition and intelligence. Recently, a ewe prolapsed and needed to be taken to the vet. Since sheep, like cattle, move easier if they can go with their herd mates, Sheeran moved three more ewes up the lane with her and planned to sort them back off the trailer when he got them all loaded. Woody instinctively knew he wanted the prolapsed ewe, so he singled her out and loaded her on the trailer.

Without a command, the Aussie also knows when there are new lambs in the pasture and will go lie down next to one until Sheeran can find it. He also excels at herding trials put on by the Australian Shepherd Club of America. In 2011, at just 13 months old and the youngest dog at the national trial, Woody won third place in the Started Cattle division. In 2012, he won first place in the open division in the prenational trial. In 2013, he made it to the finals in the cattle and duck classes. In 2014, his best year, he ended up as the No. 2 duck dog, No. 3 cattle dog and No. 5 sheep dog.

|Sheeran has backed off trialing the talented dog more recently. “If you want to be competitive, you have to go to a lot of trials and be gone a lot. I get more enjoyment here. I help friends train their dogs. It is a lot of fun.”

Whether they’re hanging out while coaching friends or bringing the sheep in the barn for the night, the bond between Sheeran and Woody is obvious.

“It is hard to describe, really. They know you better than you know yourself,” he says. Sheeran tries not to choke up when he says again, “Woody is a pretty special dog.”

Farm Bureau Picks the Best:

There were 90 strong contenders for the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) 2019 Farm Dog of the Year, but Woody rose to the top by saving Joe Sheeran’s life when he held off an attacking heifer.

“It is a touching story,” says Cyndie Shearing, director of Internal Communications for AFBF. “It stood out in the nominations because, obviously, Woody has a very strong bond with Joe. He is also an accomplished herding dog, a big help on the farm, a great companion and part of the family.”

She adds, however, “It was a tough decision. There are so many great farm dogs out there.” A panel of judges with expertise in the pet-care industry, veterinary medicine and communications reviewed the nominations.

Along with Woody’s title, Sheeran won $5,000 and a trophy plate, and Woody earned a year’s worth of dry dog food from sponsor Nestlé Purina PetCare, as well as a basket of Purina products.

The four runners-up were: Clue, owned by Andrew and Cindy Deak; Shine, owned by Denny and Donna Ashcraft; Finn, owned by Tim and Lisa Molinero; and Flint, owned by Rhett and Beth Crandall. Each earned $1,000, a trophy plate and a basket of Purina products.

If you are interested in entering your own superdog in the 2020 AFBF Farm Dog of the Year contest, check with your local Farm Bureau or look at AFBF’s website for more information.

Breeder Tips to a Great Herding Dog:

Do you have herding-dog fever? Then study these tips from Roger Stevens, breeder of Woody, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) 2019 Farm Dog of the Year.

Stevens has been working and breeding herding dogs for close to 50 years. He says it’s always best to start by asking a breeder if he or she has livestock. If the answer is no, the Dothan, Alabama, breeder says to look elsewhere.

“How can you tell if the parents can work if they don’t have livestock?” he questions.

Stevens, who has sold puppies to buyers on four continents, says he prefers line breeding on working parents. While even breeders don’t agree on what line breeding means, it is generally thought of as breeding animals fairly closely related. This is not inbreeding, which is breeding more closely related animals. Stevens says line breeding typically produces puppies that more closely resemble their parents in looks, working ability and personality.

Check to make sure the parents have, at a minimum, their hips and eyes cleared through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.

Next, consider asking the breeder if he or she will pick the puppy for you. “Nobody knows puppies better than the breeder,” Stevens says.

Ask if the breeder will provide tech support or help starting the pup.

“If you’ll do those things, you’re probably going to be successful,” he states.

While Australian Shepherds are his personal favorite, he emphasizes, “any breed of stock dog can save a farmer a lot of time.”

For More Information:

> American Farm Bureau Federation

> Nestlé Purina PetCare

> Roger Stevens, Pincie Creek

> The Australian Shepherd Club of America

> United States Australian Shepherd Association

> American Border Collie Association

> Border Collie Society of America