Saturday, November 12, 2011

#133 - Australian Shepherd Chronicles - Part III

Australian Shepherds are becoming a big part of our lives. Once we get moved to our land full-time, I hope that Howdy will still be happy and healthy so that we can add more of his awesome genes to the dog world. Since we have a decent amount of land, I hope to be able to keep one of his offspring, but we will see how it goes. Howdy definitely as an "A" dog personality...this breed is independent, likes to take charge and must be made useful in a working mode.

Henry playing with the three Australian Shepherds
at the beach in Galveston, Texas.
Howdy has the market on jumping ability.

Here, you can see Howdy's mane. Tux, the Blue Merle Aussie
is my daughter's dog and the Red Tri is Howdy's offspring, still a puppy
and lives in my daughter's household. His name is Dunk.

For this particular blog entry, I want to get one of the difficult parts about these dogs out of the way early. For the ugly truth, an Australian Shepherd can be destructive. They have a tremendous desire to "work" with their teeth and paws. I'm not talking about mouthing and pawing as a normal puppy, an Aussie MUST work their mouths and is the entire make-up of their nature to keep their mouths and paws employed.

If an Australian Shepherd's mouth and paws are not kept purposefully busy with productive activities, this deep-seated need within this breed can become disastrous for your home. Many new puppies can be chastised for this kind of behavior, but it must be understood that an Aussie wants to use their mouth and paws intelligently. If you give them a good reason to put themselves to work, this will create a happy owner and a happy dog.

If an Aussie feels unable to be exuberant, they can develop serious anxiety. Basically, this means that these dogs must be given robust, 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 in their unguided efforts to expend excessive, unused energy.

My oldest daughter, Heather, as Howdy jumps
for the rope. She is nearly six foot tall and ready to play.

Aussies have a "soft" bite when working the farm and going
on instinct, but when in a game of competition, their jaws
can be fierce. If you play with the big dogs, you may get bit.
Don't whine, but play as safe as you can, ready to let go if their
jaws get too close to your hand. Be sharp, these dogs are FAST.

No doubt about it...these dogs must be kept busy and be worn out. And...wearing them out is not easy. Daily, it is nothing special in our household to play ball with Howdy for two hours nonstop. Our arm will wear out LONG before his body will. These dogs are magnificent athletes. I have been forced to even submit to playing ball in the house. Since I'm not always game to stand outside in 105 degree Texas heat, an indoor game will sometimes have to be sufficient. Believe me, Howdy doesn't care where we play a good game of fetch, he's happy, just as long as we play.

Still an athlete, Tux can't jump as high as Howdy, but he has
all of these dogs beat in his ability to have speed when running.
Howdy doesn't have a chance to keep up with Tux's speed.
Frankly, I have days when I am tired, but I sit on the living room loveseat and throw the ball across the room to hit the back wall and Howdy leaps into the air to catch it. Often, we have a game of how many times he can catch it mid-air without it rolling away from him to pursue. I think our current record count is 62 times, consecutively. When we play ball, most often, I have him follow a few commands before I will throw the ball, he listens and follows the commands, but he will NOT take his focus off the ball. I might have him "sit" and then "lay" and then I will count to three before throwing the ball...he knows all about the count of three and is ready to launch into a run at "three." The count of three is a great precursor to "stay" because there are times Deputy Dave will throw the ball and Howdy will have to wait until the count of three BEFORE he can go fetch it...for a dog, that is self-restraint.

Shaye holding the bamboo stick is sometimes a problem
for Howdy, he wants to take the stick in his mouth
and make her go where HE wants her to go. She has learned
to have a voice of authority over Howdy.

In the corner, you can see Tux in his "predatory" mode, ready
to go for the rope. And Howdy has his head tilted slightly to
keep his eye constantly on Tux. Little Dunk is still a puppy and
can't compete with these two dominate dogs, but he's learning.

Another way we play is for me to simply throw the ball into the air for him to jump and catch it. He can do this all day long. My point is, if you have an Aussie, you might have to develop some indoor games, especially if you are in the suburbs, as we are. For us, having backyard chickens has helped Howdy exert some of his intense energy and focus as he runs around the yard, actually making a count of his flock several times per day. He knows each of those birds better than I do. Throughout the day, he will run outside and immediately start looking for the chickens in their favorite spots, just so he can make sure they are there. Then, he's often content to come back in the house for a few more minutes of indoor time.

My youngest daughter playing ball on the beach and Howdy is
STILL ready to play some more. He sits in between Stefie and Brice
as they throw the ball, hoping it will come his way.
Tux knows this isn't his game.
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 "off" button. You must be a strong master to remain on diligent Aussie-Alert so that you can get these dogs to do as they should do for their own health. In the heat of the summer, if your Aussie will not calm down, you might need to kennel them for a brief time-out in a cool spot during the heat of the day. But, if you need a working dog with a great work ethic, an Australian Shepherd is the dog for you. Just remember, if they are not given constant jobs or tools to keep them busy, they will find something suitable to meet their need. This is exactly why these dogs make great companions for the disabled...after they have been thoroughly chilled out by age and training. Since their average life-span is 12-15 years, training these dogs is a good investment.

Dancing on the beach, Howdy is still ready for a turn.
He loves Stefanie.
There is one very special aspect to this breed that we have noticed in both Aussies we've helped to raise...our own, Howdy, and my oldest daughter's Aussie, Tux ---- any time we have had to leave the house, upon our return, the Aussies MUST go find one of their toys and they come running to present it to us. One day, I realized upon walking in the door that Howdy was racing around the house and would not stop going from room to room in a very anxious manner, then I realized that I had put all of the tennis balls up on the fireplace mantel when I had mopped the floor. He finally stopped at the mantel and pointed his face upward without moving, to make sure I followed his stare right toward the tennis balls. Once I figured it out and gave him a ball, he was extremely happy and pounding around, then he brought the ball to my feet and dropped it. His "Welcome Home" gift, as usual. So, in our household, the Aussies have a strong habit of needing to bring us a toy every time we get home and see each other again. Actually, it's kind of sweet.

Howdy is actually jumping on the trampoline with
Deputy Dave and little Shaye. Normal dogs
would not even want to go NEAR a trampoline with
people jumping on it.

Another interesting fact about this dog is that they are 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. If you bring something different into the house, they will note it.

Howdy playing the Belle the Yorkie!
One very noticeable difference we've had with this breed compared to other that we've owned through the years is that when we set up Howdy's kennel inside the house with a comfortable blanket for night-time, like we've always done with every dog we've owned, we had problems. In the morning, we would always find the blanket with the quilted lining completely torn out. Thinking that Howdy shouldn't have a "padded" or "quilted" blanket, I would put a regular single-layer blanket in his kennel. No matter what kind of blanket I'd put in his kennel, in the morning I'd end up gathering all the pieces and throwing it away while being perplexed.

We even tried to put in an old blanket that had our smell all over it.

Nope, it didn't work. Same thing, next morning the blanket was in shreds.

The next night, we figured we could put an old towel in the kennel with Howdy, surely that would give him SOMETHING soft to have to lay upon that wouldn't deserve a shredding by his powerful claws. The next morning, we opened the kennel and immediately found Howdy in a tizzy. He was backing out of his kennel with the towel in his powerful jaws and his front two paws attacking the towel as he worked frantically to pull the towel out of his kennel, then he put his big head back inside the kennel for a good look around, he let out a big snort and went about his day.

What was wrong with this dog? More aptly, what was wrong with me? I just couldn't accept the fact that maybe he didn't WANT anything soft or cuddly in his kennel. NOOOOOOO, that thought would not DARE cross my mind.

In my Aussie denseness, I felt so bad for my BABY --- he would not accept a blanket at all. How could he be comfortable in the hard kennel all night? Then, one day I was again studying Australian Shepherds and there was a passage about how wranglers loved the ease of traveling with an Aussie because other dogs and animals often need to have their blankets at night, but the Australian Shepherd is apparently known for shunning blankets...that's because the Aussie's double coat of hair, with its thick under-coat, means that he has no use for blankets.

Lana's lightbulb finally lit up.

Since we had found Howdy after he was several months old and after he had lived on a ranch in the open, not inside a residence, he was probably already set in his ways for being content with his built-in padding.

This breed is a double-coated breed. His natural double coat of hair serves as a built-in blanket. Australian Shepherds are also like little heaters, they put off a ton of body heat. Sometimes, I indulge my dogs with extra attention, so I'll let Howdy up on the sofa with me for a few minutes. He will lean against me or crawl partly across my lap, so content to be close...these dogs are very affectionate, but within three minutes, he is radiating serious heat and starting to pant as if he is parched...I know that he won't sit there for long, simply because he gets too hot and prefers his space.

Of course, during cold weather, an Aussie can be your best heating pad; they won't let you go cold. Howdy can be very sweet and an Aussie will lay his head against you firmly in the most endearing manner. Since their head and ears are of a different texture of hair, it is silky smooth hair, I can only imagine that God created this dog so that his warm nature of needing contact with his owner is made more lovable by the soft hair on their head as you pet them. At least it's a nice thought.

Their undercoat is also called a "warming undercoat" and the thickness depends on the climate the dog lives in. I find it fascinating that this undercoat not only helps them keep warm in the winter, but it helps to keep them cool in summer. In the heat, the undercoat also works as a built-in "air-conditioner" because it helps lift the upper coat of hair to aid circulation. If you keep the hair that is shedding regularly brushed out, the double coat of hair also acts as a protectant for their skin to stay cool and healthy beneath the sun's harmful rays. Regular brushing with a deep scrub bath every three or so weeks can work wonders to help your Aussie stay cool in the summer months. They do not need to be bathed too often because they have natural oils on their skin and hair, plus you will find that an Aussie's outer coat of hair is so coarse that they do not easily hold caked on dirt for long. If they do happen to play in the mud, which Howdy LOVES to do, then their hair is more likely to let the dirt go after it has dried and they have played a few hard games outdoors in the dry grass.

If Howdy does romp around in the mud, this is when he must accept a big absorbant towel in his kennel. I'll put his soaking, muddy self in the kennel with the towel and after a bit he will be dry, then we can step onto the porch to brush the dirt out pretty easily. And these days, I manage to keep a small towel in his kennel with him most of the time.

The good thing is...these dogs also really do not benefit from being shaved, especially after you understand the function of their double-coat of hair.

If you do not want a dog that sheds a LOT, then avoid the Australian Shepherd. To be honest, this is one aspect to owning an Aussie that I had NOT been prepared to live with. I am obsessed with my floors and with trying to keep things dusted; however, since we have owned Howdy, it's a losing battle. I must admit, we have Aussie Hair Everywhere.

When brushing Howdy, we must be out of doors because the double-coat is thick...making for constant brush cleaning and hair flying everywhere as you brush. I am obsessive about my floors and sweep daily, sometimes multiple times per day and I always find more hair laying around than I can clean. It's a constant battle. It's a good thing that we do not have any carpet downstairs, except for my cowhide which I still vacuum and Deputy Dave takes outside once a year for a good beating. The tiled floors equalize the battle against the shedding Aussie. Since Howdy basically lives indoors, he sheds more year-round than a dog would if he were living in outdoor quarters.

As for the fur of an Australian Shepherd, it can vary slightly, but this breed is very unique in that the male dog looks masculine and the female appears feminine. Males have a more mascular build and females are more delicate looking. Compared to breeds such as the Boxer, where a female can look just as intimidating and muscular as a male Boxer, this is interesting. Males, such as Howdy, often develop a rather large and impressive mane of hair. I admit, we had cut his hair last year, not understanding the effects of his double-coat; his mane is just now growing back fully. A male Aussie, with a full mane, can indeed look intimidating. However, since I know Howdy's softer side, I can laugh as he prances around in the backyard like a mini-Lion with his mane blowing around in the wind. It appears that the excessive hair around their neck serves a valid the wild, it is more difficult for a predator or enemy to get a good grip around a neck full of thick hair. And their coarse hair is less likely to be tangled or caught up in thorny shrubs.

When Howdy was a puppy, he looked like a little fluffy bear. His fur was super soft, very fine and silky all over. However, be warned, as you are looking at the adorable little Aussie puppy, keep in mind that the Australian Shepherd's coat changes from a puppy coat of fluffy softness to a more coarse, wavy coat that is nearly impervious to dirt and water.

Lyla is still top dog around here.

Howdy as a puppy, before he grew in his mature coat of hair.
Since these are dogs that are meant to be outdoor working dogs, they have a coat of hair that is not only a double-coat, it is waterproof so they can be better able to withstand the elements of outdoor life. Howdy loves going outside in the rain. He will actually plop down in the yard and lay there looking content as it pours down. The rain beads up on his top coat of hair and just rolls off of him. But remember, these dogs cannot be bathed too frequently or their natural, protective oils will be stripped away.

I am enjoying my time writing about Australian Shepherds and hearing about other people's experiences with them...good, bad and indifferent. I love reading other people's blogs about these dogs. I also found it interesting that this breed was developed by partially using the Collie line, which isn't surprising considering their herding and working instinct. In fact, if you look at a Collie, the Aussie looks similar. I am still a novice in raising these dogs, but in this area, I am a fast learner.

I am fascinated by their stamina, agility, and power. This dog has taught me a lot of things, such as how to be a strong "master" or this dog will run all over you, literally. We had a few tense moments when I had to assert myself as "A" dog over him, but I will share those moments with you later. Once I had passed the test and Howdy had been reminded that Mama Rules, all was well in the house. And, for the most part, a happy house we've had with Howdy.

I leave you with a video of me feeding the three dogs by fork. It's Sunday eggs. Every Sunday I make eggs for the dogs which helps them have a shiny coat of hair. You can see the difference in the breed by the way they eat. Howdy, who is the only male of the bunch, is the most delicate with eating because of the Aussie's innate nature to use a soft bite. And...ignore my kitchen rug, it survived Hurricane Ike and is on its last leg...full of grass from a day of doggie traffic...I think new kitchen rugs are on my list, but I cringe at the dirt and post it anyway!


LindaG said...

Thanks for all the information.

Hope you all have a blessed Sunday!

Dreaming said...

We rescued our first Aussie. He was about 9 months old. He really worried us the first morning because when we let him out of his kennel, he ran around the house, into every room. He ran and ran. We thought he might be searching for a place to go to the bathroom... but we couldn't get his attention to go out. Finally he found one of my son's socks. He picked it up and came prancing into the room to say, "Good morning" to us. He made funny barking sounds. From that point on he always had to greet us with a "roo-roo rag"... just as you pointed out with Howdy!
I love the video of the dogs eating so sweetly from the fork. Howdy shows such patience and restraint!

Have you tried a "Furminator"? They are expensive, but if I furminate Tucker he goes a few days without leaving a hair in my house!

The shots of Howdy playing ball are really cute. They sure show off his athletic ability!

Jayme, The Coop Keeper said...

Your dogs are beautiful!!! Just wanted to stop by and thank you for all the lovely comments on my blog...

Lana at said...

Linda --- You already know how I feel about my silly dogs. But, Howdy has indeed been enlightening...never had a dog like this one. And as for you...I am so thrilled about your upcoming trip to your land!!!!!!!!!!! I hope it will be full of fun, adventure and excitement, just so you can see how everything looks. I'll be checking in!

Dreaming --- Your Tucker story with the roo-roo rag cracks me up! I am starting to think that this is a need in their innate nature...I'd love hearing from more Aussie owners, over time, to see if they have the same kind of behaviors with their dog. Them bringing us something in their mouth sure does feel like a welcome greeting to me as also. And, my daughter uses the Furminator on her two Aussies and swears by it; we couldn't find one at Petsmart in town, but we got a close immitation and it does pull out the loose undercoat and everything so wonderfully. I just need to sit outside with him to brush him because I always get so much loose hair that I have a million fly-bys swirling around me! Right now, Howdy seems to be shedding a lot, but indoor dogs always have more issues. I think I'll give them a good brushing today. It's about time for Deputy Dave to also give him a good bath and that always helps his fur coat lose the extra hair barely hanging in there. And, thanks for the comment about the dogs eating by fork...I actually taught them this so I oould keep my own fingers clean and so that the nieces and nephews could safely feed the dogs a few treats like this.

Jayme --- I am really enjoying your blog! In fact, I'm about to make a trip to the resale shop myself --- already have a ton of clothes to bring to them so I can hopefully find a couple of lightly worn things to take home.

Vickie said...

Hi Lana - I'm enjoying your Aussie posts. We've been talking to a few folks about our new dog, Gypsy. She's probably between 1 and 2 years old. She was a stray. But the more we look at her and the more we watch how she acts, we are thinking Aussie/Border Collie cross. If she didn't have her tail, I'd be thinking Aussie. She's more the size of border collie, but her manner is that of an Aussie. All these things you're telling us about your Aussies sound so familiar as we get to know Gypsy more. She's an outside dog, we've let her in a few times, but she gets hot quickly and wants back out. She has a ton of energy, and she loves nothing better than for us to get on our Mule and ride around the property and she "herds" us or actually runs out in front. She will run til she drops. We have a young cat that she likes to play with - the cat is not scared of her, but Gypsy will chase it if he runs. Gypsy DOES like to chew on things we found out very quickly so I'm thinking some manners and training are quickly on tap for her. She seems to learn quickly what we want her to do. Anyway, just thinking that she's definitely at least part Aussie after hearing what you had to say about yours!

Vickie said...

AND Gypsy has the same coloring as your Howdy, and she has a white collar, too!

Vickie said...

And she cannot be around us without her hind end being up against our legs - no matter what! She always does "the LEAN"! haha!

Lana at said...

Vickie --- These dogs are awesome, but do take a lot of work in the beginning. She will probably be a lot of good around the house since you are planning to have chickens in the future. Once our Howdy was training to be around the chickens, he became fiercely protective of them. And my daughter's boyfriend had an Aussie with a long tail, some of them have to be docked, but Howdy is a natural bob. I am going to write more on this later, but you can't breed a natural bob Aussie with a long-tailed Aussie because there might be a tendency for spinal defects. Howdy's tail is a little bob and the vet said they don't cut the natural bobs because the nerves usually run too closely the end. Howdy had siblings that were not natural bobs. And you are definitely right about the "lean." You put it perfectly. These dogs do like to lean against you and to feel your presence so they can have close contact and for them to be comfortable looking out at the scenery. I find that if I give Howdy some attention for a few minutes, he's set for hours, but if I don't --- it's crazy land over here. Good thing is, these dogs are geared for outdoor living and they can be such an asset, as soon as you get thru that chewing stage! Augh!

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Anonymous said...

We own a farm and are currently looking at adopting a new Aussie puppy. The kids are thrilled the dogs like to play, and we that we have chickens for it to herd!