Farm dogs can cost thousands of dollars to buy, but how much return do they provide on the owner's investment?
A team from the University of Sydney veterinary school has come up with figures showing roughly a five-fold return on investment.
The joint study between the university and farm research groups found that while working dogs cost an average of just under $8,000 dollars, the value of the work they perform comes in at a median of $40,000.
But researchers are looking at more than dollars.
The study will involve DNA sampling some of Australia's estimated 273,000 working dogs, with the aim of isolating characteristics farmers look for when choosing a partner to help them in the yards, the shearing shed and out in the paddocks when mustering.
Dairy farmer Zac Hortin, 24, from Bornholm on Western Australia's south coast has no hesitation listing the characteristics he looks for.
"Usually pretty docile, because we don't want them pushing the cows really hard," he said.
"But they've got to have that little bit of spite in them as well, they got to have a bit of anger in them when they need it."
Intelligence, temperament and ease around children are also important, as is loyalty.
"Loyalty's a big thing because they don't want to work for you unless they are loyal," Mr Hortin said.
He has five dogs helping him muster 600 cows twice a day.
The family have always gone for kelpies, crossed with the New Zealand huntaway breed, because they can handle the big cows without fear.
With early starts every day, Mr Hortin wants a worker he can rely on.
"At 5:30 in the morning when it's pissing down with rain, ... you can just pull up in the ute with the heater on and drop the dogs two or three kilometres away," he said.
"She can bring the cows up while I stay dry."Farm labour, machinery costs improve dogs' appeal
Phil and Jane Dorrell from Gairdner River, east of Albany, have always relied on border collies to work their thousands of sheep.
Phil said he is not surprised at the value the university study has placed on Australia's herding dogs.
If anything, he thinks they are being undervalued.
"I couldn't put a figure on it but they do save you a hell of a lot of money," he said.
"With the dogs we don't have to check the oil, don't have to check the fuel in them, the tyres are pumped up.
"They don't get flat tyres and they work all day."
The Dorrells are active in the West Australian Working Sheep Dog Association, which promotes the skills of working dogs.
Ms Dorrell said many farming women took a keen interest in training and caring for their working dogs.
"I mean the kids have left home now, and I spend a lot of time training my dogs, and mustering and work through the yards with them," she said.
"It's not just the blokes who are the stockmen."
She is not surprised that dogs are making a comeback, given the cost of farm labour.
"The dogs do twice as much work as a man, and they can cover two or three men at times, with the distance they cover and the work they actually do," she said.
But she fears the old art of stock handling is being lost across the farming communities as numbers wane.Working dogs reduce stress on herds, breeder says
Tony Boyle has sold collies, huntaways and kelpies for 30 years to farmers all over Western Australia from his block at Hazeldale, north of Walpole.
He also uses his prize dogs to compete at sheep dog trials.
He saw the resurgent interest in dogs not just in economic terms but also because farmers were becoming more conscious of the rising community concerns about animal welfare on farms.
"Stock that are handled with low stress is to our benefit," he said,
"A well-trained dog keeps the stress down on your stock, so it's got to be a benefit to everyone in the long run."
He said the close relationship between farmers and their dogs would always be there, regardless of the economic benefits, because they were an essential part of rural life.