Wednesday, November 9, 2011

#131- Australian Shepherd Chronicles - Part II

Lately, I've been writing about what it is like to own Australian Shepherds as a family pet. To be honest, I never thought I'd add a dog of this size or character to our family, but there have been multiple reasons that I've been hooked on Aussies. If you haven't read Part I of the Australian Shepherd Chronicles that I posted before this entry, then take a look because it gives more background information.

In addition to the reasons I revealed in Part I, another reason I even considered adding this breed of dog to our household is because we owned acreage and were planning to move out there in a rather short period of time. I didn't want to get another four pound Chihuahua that had a Rottweiler ego, requiring our diligent protection, usually from itself. I wanted to have a dog that was sturdy enough to be let outside and not be carried away by a bird.

An Aussie is a breed of dog is known for being loyal, protective and energetic. And, it's not from Australia.

We bought our first Australian Shepherd from a well known ranch in Texas. After much consideration, we named our dog, "Howdy." Deputy Dave and I had made a long list of names that would go with Texas A&M wordage and "Howdy" had immediately been placed on the top of the list. No one in particular named him "Howdy," but after we had written the name on that list and after everyone kept saying, " him 'Howdy' for A&M," we couldn't ignore the number of times people kept bringing up the name "HOWDY!" One day it just clicked and we knew that should be his name. It was meant to be. 

Deputy Dave with Howdy --- he's a few months old, just
off the ranch. Here we are at the Texas A&M Bonfire Memorial.
You see, Texas A&M has a long standing tradition on you walk around, everyone, friend and stranger alike, will give you a robust greeting as you walk by. The greeting is, "HOWDY!" The first time I was on campus for a walking tour, it was a bit overwhelming to be inundated by all the college kids walking by and saying "Howdy!"

Stefie and Howdy at the Texas A&M Bonfire Memorial.
These days, Stefie was also an Active-Aggie.

The Aggie truth a freshman at Texas A&M, I guess you are politely "threatened" to follow this Aggie just better not let an upperclassman pass you by without you saying "Howdy!" There's no doubt that this is a strong tradition that instills powerful camaraderie and a unique bond with fellow Aggies. To this day, if we meet someone, say.......such as a judge who is integral to our unique situation...a simple greeting of "Howdy" can speak volumes. A firm hand-shake, a couple of "Howdy" greetings back and forth with knowing eyes growing larger during the greeting as the handshake gets a bit more firm...and that's all it takes. No one else in the room even picks up on it, except for those inside the "Howdy" loop. No other words are necessary. Seriously. I know this very story from personal experience.

The connections that an Aggie makes are lifetime connections of power and delight. If you are a parent of an Aggie...if you sent your child to Aggie Land for their education, you are included in these lifelong perks because you did your part to get the next generation onto the sacred Aggie soil that is so helpful with building lifelong social skills and networking connections.

This is one of Howdy's puppies.

But, us Aggie fans are not alone in our passion for our school or for our particular team...for any of us who have a competitive university that holds your heart and soul, then you respect and honor your school. Being proud and ready to stand tall for the institutions you believe in is a connecting force. For us, Texas A&M holds much of what is dear to our hearts. For you, it might be Texas Tech or the University of Texas or somewhere else where American passion hits new heights.

Actually, our family has diverse university's always fun in our house during college football.

Each of Howdy's puppies is gorgeous and playful.

So, you now know the background behind "Howdy" the Australian Shepherd. He is incredible fun, but a LOT of high maintenance. If a person is not ready to dedicate nearly every waking moment to his breed of dog, then I would not recommend an Australian Shepherd. They will zap your energy.

A rancher was coming to pick up this puppy. He could
not wait to get his dog. Now, this dog is full-grown and working
on that ranch happily.
The reality with these dogs is that they take about two years to chill out enough before they are able to be consistently dependable and on target with their commands. When they reach about two years old, they are getting to the stage of also developing some independent thinking for decisions that are innate to an Australian Shepherd.

The key have a dog that is strongly mindful with an ability to make proper herding decisions and as well as simultaneously keeping an eye on his master for cues or commands.

Howdy trying to figure out my next move.
And don't let anyone tell you that an Aussie won't protect you. Baloney! Howdy is all action when he senses danger. When danger approaches, if I am standing near him, he positions himself to face the danger while placing his hind-quarters against me, bumping back gently against me while NEVER taking his forward facing confrontational stance off of the danger in front of him.

He makes sure to feel me at his side, yet he will not even turn to look at me because he knows I am there, and he spreads his front legs to prepare for needed leverage, bares his teeth, raises the mass of hair down his back and mane while issuing very clear growling sounds designed to make his protective intentions known to the intruder. I've been in a couple of bad spots here in the city with Howdy at my side and both times he's managed to make the threat think twice about proceeding. If I ever had a doubt about an Australian Shepherd's instinct to protect, I'm not in doubt now.

Howdy heard something in the backyard and went to inspect.

Normally, he's not allowed on the furniture, but there
was a loud sound, he over-rode rules so that he could inspect.
He is actually scanning the yard very carefully.

A few tricks here and there make him happy.
This breed is known for becoming latched onto their family and for sometimes being overly protective. Everyone has good things to say about the breed of dog they love, but I must be honest, about every Australian Shepherd that I've known and lived with...when they love you, they love you, but if they are leery, you'd better steer clear.

This dog is great at issuing warnings, but I've also seen this breed go into attack mode and they do not always feel like attacking and immediately walking away...remember, they have uncanny endurance and this applies to their ability to fight. If they are in the mood to fight, they WILL fight and do so vigorously. Unfortunately, the two dogs I love the most, Tux and Howdy usually end up in ferocious fights at the drop of a warning, just suddenly they are on their hind legs and everyone better stand back. These two dogs are both "A" dogs, so when Heather comes to visit, there's usually one fight that we cannot prevent. One time, Henry stepped in and he got bit. It's better if you stand back and out of the way...Of course...I'm yelling the entire time, but when dogs are this focused, I know they don't even register my voice. So, don't let anyone tell you that these dogs are not protective type of breeds...oh yes they are.

Since Howdy and Tux don't get to be around each other much, these fights are likely to happen once we put all the dogs together. The main problem is...Howdy has extremely strong instincts. Any Australian Shepherd that has been on a farm or ranch for any length of time while growing up is usually incapable of being a house-pet, but he is a house-pet, but we will never be able to take the strong herding/protective mode out of him.

If one of the other dogs start to get close to me, that's usually when we have a problem. They are good at sending each other non-verbal cues, but since Tux feels as if he has a right to get to me and Howdy feels like he has a right to protect me...we have problems every now and then. The good part is...for the majority of our visits, we have no troubles. I guess they have to set each other straight and then they get to visit nicely for the rest of the time together. It's dog to dog communication that we should also respect.

Howdy getting's late.

As for socializing your's imperative to constantly expose your Aussie to other animals and people. As my blog readers already know, Howdy is awesome with small children and with farm animals. He lays in the grass in the backyard and lets the chickens peck at him. He is as patient as the day is long.

But, constant training while using a "friendly" voice as a new stranger approaches is important. However, if you want the Aussie to go on instant guard, then do not use the friendly voice and the dog will take care of anyone approaching that you do not wish to see. The bottom line are the dog's lead. Howdy searches my expression for clues as someone comes to our front door, if he sees that I am wary, then he goes into protective mode and makes his presence clear.

However, our dog came directly off of a ranch. His stud father ran the show out there and Howdy was always on his heels. So, our dog was given the chance to build his "wild" and natural instincts for several months before he went into a domesticated household.

Howdy and Deputy Dave.
For the ugly truth, an Australian Shepherd can be destructive. They have a tremendous desire to "work" with their teeth and paws. This means that they can develop anxiety if they are not given regular, consistent exercise and play-time. If not, they will chew off your window sills, destroy your shoes, gnaw on the edge of your sofa and simple find themselves doing mindless destructive things. These dogs must be kept busy and be worn out. And...wearing them out is not easy.

Watching his little sheep.
Bring it on!

Many of these dogs are known to keep running and to keep working, even in the heat of Texas until they drop dead from heat stroke. These dogs don't have an easy to switch "off" button. You must be a strong master to get these dogs to do as they should do for their own health. But, if you need a working dog with a great work ethic, an Australian Shepherd is it. If they are not given constant jobs or tools to keep them busy, they will find something suitable to meet their need. This type of breed is always alert, even when it appears they are resting. Usually, they flip an ear back so that their inner ear is exposed and their eyes will narrow into a noticeable sharpened focus as they become nearly obsessed with figuring out the change in surroundings.

These dogs are great as farm dogs because they are known for having a "soft" bite. This is another innate ability they have so that they are less likely to harm a farm animal in an attempt to herd it.

This part of their nature is very apparent during my treat and training session with all three of our dogs. I have all three dogs line up next to each other, I hold a treat in my hand and each dog has their name stated before I lower the treat and only the dog who had his/her name stated can eat the treat. It works. The dogs are so well trained that they will actually look over at the other dog as they get their treat.

However, the dog we rescued years ago, Lyla, who is part Box or possibly part Pit, is very aggressive when I lower the treat to her mouth. She knows to wait, but once the treat gets close to her gums, she is very assertive in taking it into her mouth. She won't bite me, but I would not recommend another person try to hand-feed her. The Yorkie can be just as patient, yet pretty eager to gulp down the treat, the same as Lyla. But, Howdy...this is when his Australian Shepherd "soft" bite is very evident. He tilts his head to gently take the treat from my hand with his teeth exposed in a manner of great delicacy. Most often, he holds the treat in his teeth precariously before putting it in between his teeth to inspect a bit more closely before allowing himself to proceed with eating.

And Howdy is unlike most dogs who gulp their food quickly, Howdy literally chews. You would think he was savoring a five star meal with each bite. He is a careful consumer! The other dogs usually look on with jealousy as he makes each treat last for nearly an eternity. An Australian Shepherd cannot be rushed during meal-time. This part of them needs to be respected. And it's understandable how many a cowboy could sit with their Australian Shepherd by firelight and share a few bites of food with their dog...this dog is a considerate dinner companion, that is for sure.

Tonight, Howdy went to his dog bowl and saw that it was empty. No one in the house realized it. So what did he do? He took charge...Howdy grabbed the dog container with his huge paw and dragged it out of the corner of the kitchen and toward the living room where we all were sitting. Again, this is not a dog who will sit back and do nothing, he took charge and made sure we understood what he was communicating, "Look! Here is the dog bowl! I've brought it to you so that you can clearly see that it's empty!"  

He got his re-fill.
Needless to say, they got their re-fill right away, thanks to Howdy. The dog bowl is a huge continuous feeder, but it does run dry once in a blue moon. The blue moon tonight was overshadowed by Howdy's working dog nature.

Howdy...he definitely stays up on top of things, better than his human pets at times. What would we do without Howdy? Well, the other two dogs might starve. Actually, they might go hungry for a couple of hours, but Howdy makes sure the food bowl remains a front and central priority. He's doing a good job for himself and for his house buddies.

Good dog.


Leigh said...

I loved this post (and especially the shot with the chickens, LOL). Not only for the info on the breed, but I couldn't help but think back to all those wonderful years I lived in Texas. Absolutely the friendliest people in the world. And yes, "howdy" became a natural part of my vocabulary too. :)

Mike said...

We had an Aussie named, Quigley. Marvelous dog but, as you say, very high energy and determined. I wished I had more time and a better area for him to work. We gave him to a family with 4 kids. I know he is happier and probably worn out.

LindaG said...

Geaux Tigers! ;-)

I've decided we need to get an Australian Shepherd, too.
Hubby wants a Sheltie. They are not too small; but I think we might get one of each.

Howdy's puppies are all treasures!
Did you take Howdy to any obedience classes?

Have a great weekend! Are you going to your property? said...

Leigh - I love my chickens. They are a lot of fun. And it's been great to train the dogs to be around the chickens in a protective manner. I'm so happy that you have great memories of Texas! HOWDY! I must say that we love it and I bet your heard a lot of unique Texan vocabulary.

Mike --- these Aussies are extremely interactive, so I would not recommend one of these dogs to a family unless they are ready to live with wagging tails along with the dog! But, as for your Higgins, I've thoroughly enjoyed seeing the incredible intelligence of the Yorkie as well! However, I bet the Aussie is getting a lot of energy expended with the four kids...that's a perfect family for an Aussie.

Linda --- :-) I have to say that these dogs are absolutely the most affectionate, cuddly dogs, very in touch with their feelings and into the feelings of their owners. Howdy's puppies were all amazing -- one is on a professional agility team and is incredible with dog acrobats! We did not take Howdy to obedience training, and I do believe it couldn't hurt, but we are pretty strict with our training and even though we have a few snags here and there, he's very obedient and always ready to listen. And this weekend I'll be watching my niece Shaye so her parents can celebrate their wedding anniversary. As for dogs...I've heard that Shelties are amazing dogs that work very well with their families. If you want chickens, etc. on your land one day, it would be good to have a sturdy dog around to let out if you hear the chickens make any weird cackling sounds. When I hear a sound that alerts me to possible trouble, I start for the backdoor and Howdy is always ahead of me and ready to run out to do his rounds like Speedy Gonzales, looking for a source of trouble. He is such a great protector.

Have you got to go to your land lately? It seems that since the storms there, you've been very busy with getting the house ready for the next one. :/ I just hope we get out of here before the next full hurricane season rolls around.

Dreaming said...

I loved your posts and your pictures. You shared such great information. I think any prospective Aussie owner should read your posts!
We are on Aussie #2. He is 18 months old.... hasn't yet begun to chill. In fact, he has been getting a bit too excitable lately so we've stepped up getting him out with others, reminding him of his obedience work and going places so he is less anxious.
Here's a recent post I did showing his energy:
Howdy is one cute puppy... er dog!