Sunday, November 6, 2011

#129 - Australian Shepherd Chronicles - Part I

A few years ago, my oldest daughter was in the midst of studying for her Biology degree at Texas A&M when she decided that she wanted a dog. I imagined she'd get a sweet little lap dog that could be her tiny buddy in the room she rented off campus.

After some ups and downs, Heather ended up with a six month old Australian Shepherd, a Blue Merle variety who was SUPPOSED to be a "mini" shepherd. Sixty pounds later, we knew this shepherd was no where near a mini. He was HUGE!

My oldest daughter, Heather, and her dog, Tux playing
in our backyard.

Yes, he tagged her. We are not afraid to play rough and tough
with our Australian Shepherds and they LOVE it.
If you have small kids, you DON'T want them running and
playing around with Australian Shepherds in this manner. The kids
will be flattened to the ground and held down as a "herding" activity.

However, this dog captured my heart completely. First of all, this was the first MALE dog I allowed into my home. Why no male dogs up until this point? Well...I had one experience with a male English Bull Dog that cured me from ever wanting a male dog in my home. He was aggressive and slobbery and outright disgusting in every way scarred me for life! haha

Tux...this dog was my first close experience with the Australian
Shepherd breed. I'd never be the same afterward.

Anyway, the Australian Shepherd, Tux...he was a delight. But, he'd also been neutered. To be fair, I do believe that he was fine-tuned by the neutering because he had such keen focus, an obvious sixth, seventh and eighth sense about everything around him and even though he was quite lovable, he did have a fierce protective side that most people would not want to go up against.

Lyla and Tux in a stand-off.
Actually, they are playing.
Tux was staying with us after I'd had a major surgery and my daughter was bogged down with working on her science degree from Texas A&M. Tux stuck by my side. It was as if he knew something was wrong and he didn't want to wander off for anything other than a necessary potty break outside or to quickly eat a few bites of food, then back to my side he would go. Since I was in major discomfort and could not lie down in a regular position, sometimes I would fall asleep on our loveseat with the recliner laid out fully and a very LARGE Tux would curl up on the end of the recliner just so he could be near me. He'd be in the most awkward position, with part of his body hanging off the recliner, but he would sacrifice and lay in this position for hours, in discomfort just to be near me. I'd never seen a dog do such things on this level.

Tux, being his adorable self.

Over time, I began to realize that this dog had keen perception and heightened awareness beyond any dog I'd ever known. Beyond this, not only was Tux more connected to us, he would take unique initiative to be of assistance. I've learned that this breed of dog is in a constant study of their surroundings. If you have Australian Shepherd, you can't take this fact forgranted.

I knew he was labeled as a "working dog" breed, but I did not have an appreciation for what this historic label actually meant. In 2009, after I'd had my 10th rib removed, a large mass removed, then a following disturbing and extremely painful surgery requiring a massive 10x16 tissue transplant to cover the area of rib removal...I had a large, scary incision with staples going everywhere the first time, then the same incision was reopened for the tissue transplant and closed for a second time with stitches. Extra stitches kept the tubes running in and out of my body in place...those "attachments" would become my "buddies" for many weeks.

I was hurting with a capital "H."

It's a good thing that Deputy Dave is not bothered by blood and guts; he was Doctor #1 in the house. Stefie could only run the other direction when it came to anything gory, but she sure made a mean glass of sweet tea. And soon, we'd discover that Tux would become an unintended "assistance dog."

Deputy Dave with Tux at the A&M fun house.

Nervous about being around anyone or anything during my recovery, I found that this dog wanted to be by my side, but he was gentle and calm around me --- as if he knew that he could not even slightly bump into my battered body. He kept a close eye on me and watched me like a hawk; soon I noticed, with an eerie feeling, that this dog was often trying to mimic my movements. The intense focus of an Australian Shepherd as he watches your every move can be a bit unsettling, unless you understand their nature. Indeed, this was the first time I ever saw a dog with uncanny abilities and with an innate desire to be useful.

Henry, my future son-in-law holding Tux.
This is a sign of a good dog, to allow you
to lay it on its back and for it to be submissive to you.
Both of these guys are cute!

Tux at the A&M fun House with his BIG BONE.
Needless to say, I was stunned as Tux began to pick up everything imaginable. Soon, all I would have to do is point to something and say, "Pick Up" and he'd got get it for me. From a book to the newspaper at the street corner, he'd pick it up, retrieve it, get it and hand it over. His determination was incredible. Once, I dropped a fingernail file. Sounds like no big deal, but one morning as I was carefully heading to the kitchen, I dropped this flat Emory board on our tile floor. I stared down at it, wondering how I was going to pick it up. Even I can use the magical toe trick to pick up some things, but an Emory board?

Uh, even I don't have such talented toes. If you are one to pick up things with your toes, then you understand. If not, don't knock it, give it a try. My mother-in-law is REALLY good at this one, but her toes are as long as some people's fingers. For me, I have little feet and stubby toes, but I still use the toe-grasp trick as second nature. Usually I am folding laundry while retrieving the sock I dropped with my right foot...yes I am multi-talented like that. And my kitchen floor, often I will be working in the kitchen while dragging a damp cloth on the floor with cleaner on it to "mop" a little while doing normal things. Again, I am multi-talented at multi-tasking. Parenthood will do that to you.

The Emory board lay on the floor, it would probably have to stay there until someone else got home ---which would mean that I'd be driven stark raving crazy by my hangnail in the six hours home alone...I stared at it, in disbelief that I DROPPED it! Tux nonchalantly walked over, looked down at the Emory board blending in with the tile floor and he took over. He showed his scary intelligence by using one paw to hold an one end of the Emory board firm to the floor as he used a sharp tooth to pry the other end upward. Then, he slid the other paw under the lifted end so he could get a better grip on it with his mouth. I was amazed as he lifted his head with the Emory board in his mouth to give it back to me. My jaw was nearly dragging the floor. Talk about being blown away by a dog's ability to work out a problem quickly and without damaging the Emory board. As of that day, I was SOLD on Australian Shepherds.

Little did I know, I would have many good reasons for my attachment to this breed to grow ever stronger through the next short years.

Heather would grow up. She would get her degree, get a fiance and get a house nearly five hours away. Most traumatically, she would take Tux with her. Never mind that he was HER dog; he had become an integral part of our household, but I had to say good-bye to the grown-up daughter and to the dog that we had grown to love so much. Of course, there are visits, but Tux is one of those rare dogs that can never be replaced.

Then, along came Howdy. Our next Australian Shepherd...the one we bought from a ranch in Texas. The dog that the ranch owner didn't intend to sell. But, we insisted on taking him home with us and it's a decision we never regretted.

For Part II of Australian Shepherd Chronicles, stay tuned.

At the Texas A&M BOYS house with Tux this past summer.
Tux and I sharing a sweet moment.


LindaG said...

I am not good with anything gory, either.
I was worse than helpless when hubby got a fish hook in his lip...
I would love to know Stefie's sweet tea recipe, if it's not a family secret.

I have heard that some dogs are like your Tux. They know when something is wrong and staying with you is the way they 'keep an eye on things'. I've seen shows where dogs know something is wrong before the person does.

All our pets are shelter pets and all have been neutered or spayed. We think it makes them better animals. :)

I have picked up a few things with my toes, too. ;)

Tux is definitely a treasure, and so are you, Lana!
Hope you all have a wonderful week. ♥

Tim and Kari O'Brien said...

That is a precious story of Tux. Dogs really do know and we also love Australian Shepherds. They seem to be the smartest dog we have ever encountered. Thanks for a good story about your precious Tux!