From the January 2023 issue of the Aussie Times
The Stockdog Corner by Terry Martin
This is what I wrote on a Facebook Advice group when someone posted frantically (this is a common "problem") that their dog does not like people or going places and is becoming aggressive.
I wrote: ..."Over the years (50 of them with Aussies) I have had a few dogs like this. When someone buys a breed whose Breed Standard states "reserved with strangers" and "strong guardian instincts" and "primarily a working dog" there are going to be dogs who love all people and never met a stranger and there are going to be dogs who prefer to never meet a stranger and who are very protective of their people, their home AND their personal space. Which of these traits your cute little puppy is going to inherit is not predictable and it is a risk you take unless you want a Golden Retriever or a Lab. I loved those dogs and chose to live with them even if I would not have exactly the kind of dog I had wanted. Yes, I crated them when people came to my house. If it was a single person who was dog savvy sometimes I kept the dog on a leash and close to me. I did muzzle one of them at the vet, the other one seemed to think going to the vet was business and was okay there. I did not force the dog to go places - I knew I had a dog who did not enjoy that, so why put the dog through it? Some dogs just don't like to socialize. Some people don't either. Re-homing a dog like that is probably not in the dog's best interest. The dog is bonded to you and although most Aussies will easily bond to a new owner, that kind need just the right owner to make it work. It's a choice, adjust your life or don't.. The three of mine that came to my mind were the joys of my life the years I spent with them."
So what about the protective Aussie? Is it a bad thing? The Aussie came into being in the 1800’s and the following century as a farm and ranch dog. The people who had them initially or had their ancestors did not usually live close to other people. There were not dog crates and even when I first had Aussies in the 1970’s dog crates were hard to come by and very few people had one. People just did not take their dogs places unless they rode in the truck with them. Most dogs live and died on the same property. Vets came to the place to take care of livestock and horses …and the dogs. This was the environment that the Aussie was created in.
The dogs were expected to guard the property, the livestock, the children, and all of the family. Working livestock was part of their job, but not all of it. If someone came to the house who was not welcome, there was no 911 to call, and if you were outside there was no phone at hand. The dog or dogs made it clear that the stranger should stay in their vehicle. Some would bite a stranger, some would not but they acted like they would.
The reserved with strangers line in the Standard plus the strong guardian instincts were written back in 1977 because they were strong desirable and necessary traits of the breed.
Yes, times have changed. Should the breed? As I mentioned when I wrote to the advice group, not all Aussies retain those traits. Not all Aussies have any talent to work livestock. Not all of any breed are exactly the same. But a trait that was in the development of a breed still lingers there to be inherited by some if not all. Sometimes it is barely there and sometimes it is very strong.
The dog who lived in the same place for all of it’s life and saw a limited number of people during that life is far different than what many people today want in a dog. They want to take it to the dog park, to the groomer, to competitive events, to stores that will allow it, out jogging, to daycare. It’s a far cry from the lifestyle of the original Aussie.
Should a breed be changed to fit into every kind of home that exists for dogs? And if the change is done, what else will change In the dogs. You can’t change one trait and not affect another. Genetics does not work that way.
It is interesting that so many people are frustrated with their Aussie because it does not fit with their lifestyle because it has traits that are clearly spelled out In the Breed Standard (which they usually have never read. The breed was developed to be part of a family and that family’s life, bred to do a job which is helping to move and handle livestock. It was developed to think for itself in various situations. Many Aussies bred to work and some that have lost the trait fit into non working homes and all kinds of situations but there are many who do not. Any of them can have inherited the reserved and the guardian instincts because it is part of their heritage.
We used to tell people constantly, “The Australian Shepherd is not the dog for everyone”. That does not mean that the dog can not be part of someone’s life who did no realize what they were getting. Day care, the dog park, and visitors to the house may be something their dog is not suited for. But if the human understands the heritage of their dog and makes some changes in their expectations they can still make it work. But into the future, will people in our changing world do that? Or will they destroy with their demands the greatest breed of dog ever? I wrote this because I think education is at least a small thing we can all do. A person/family can live with a dog that is not exactly what they expected if they will look at it’s heritage, read the Standard instead of all the silly inaccurate articles out there.
I know this was really about stockdogs, but then again it is. The Aussie stockdog is where the dogs today started. Education is the only thing that might help people to understand and respect their dog’s traits that were not exactly what they expected.