INTRODUCTION TO THE WORKING AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD
The Australian Shepherd is normally the kind of dog who develops a strong attachment to the person and family he belongs to. Some Aussies are friendly with other people but many are not interested in having anything to do with other people. The ASCA Breed Standard states, “reserved with strangers but does not exhibit shyness“. The Breed Standard also says, “primarily a working dog of strong herding and guardian instincts.” Many Aussies develop a territorial attitude over their people and property and are protective. These traits can be varied by environment. Dogs without very much exposure to people are more likely to become devoted to only one person or family and are more likely to become territorial. A naturally reserved dog taken to obedience classes and out often among people will become much friendlier than he would be in another more isolated environment. Reserved is not to be confused with timid. A reserved dog is not afraid, he simply prefers not to associate with strangers. A timid or shy dog is afraid. The environment is very important to develop the type of personality you want. A reserved dog may never be overly friendly with strangers, but he will tolerate them. A naturally friendly dog will not become a real guard dog, but some friendly dogs will be surprisingly protective if a real threat to their family exists.
It is generally accepted that the working instinct is a refined version of the hunting instinct that exists in wolves. The instinct to circle livestock, grip, use eye and intensity all can be seen in the stalking of game by wild canines.
The dog retains much of the pack instinct which should be used in his training and development. The pack operates with a definite pecking order. The pack leader has absolute control. If you watch a wolf mother on film, punishment to the young or submissive pack members comes harshly and quickly. Just as quickly, it is over. Remember this in your training. To live with your dog and to train him, you must be the pack leader. A dog that is considered a “hard dog” is one that was born with the natural ability to be a pack leader. A “soft dog” did not inherit those qualities. The pack leader is in charge always, so it is very important that you take that role! You want to be the one who runs the show at home and when working together.
The Aussie, like all livestock working breeds, has traits and instincts that are unique to the breed. Working breeds are generally categorized as “loose eyed” and “strong eyed”. Loose eyed dogs work pretty much in an upright position fairly close to the stock. Strong eyed dogs often work in a crouch or “stalking position” with an intense “stare” on the stock and often work farther out away from the stock.
The Aussie is generally considered a loose eyed breed. This does not mean that there are not Aussies that use some eye to control stock or that they will never drop their head into a moderate “stalking position” when approaching stock. If you watch the different breeds work livestock you will see there are definite moves and traits that are typical of one breed or the other. Generally the looser eyed dogs are more effective on cattle and the strong eyed dogs are most effective on sheep, even within a given breed. But no absolute statements can be made!
An Australian Shepherd puppy chosen to be a working stock dog requires much of the same care and development as any other puppy. All puppies should have proper diet, preventive medical care, parasite control, a dry clean place to live and interaction with humans.
There are those who say a stock dog should not be made into a pet, but we do not agree with this. No youngster should be spoiled, but being a pet does not mean the pup has to be spoiled. Many great stock dogs have grown up playing with the kids and living in the house. It is important, however, that the puppy have the opportunity to run free and explore his surroundings.
Correction for a puppy is something we all have difficulty with. Just how strict should we be? Think about how a mother corrects her puppies. Sometimes it appears she is being really harsh as she will snap at one or take it right to the ground. The puppy screams bloody murder but never is really injured. We can learn from her as her punishment is swift and immediate but is over as quickly as it begins. The pup seldom pushes the issue.
Watch documentaries on wolves and wild dogs. Watch how the dominant animals interacts with the others. Very important: the submissive wolf does not hate the pack leader. He follows him with respect. Think about that.
Always be sure you correct the pup when he is aware of why punishment is happening. It must be immediate, fast and then over with. Above all else, don’t pick at him as he will learn to ignore you. Be sure the pup understood your desires in the first place before you punish him for disobeying. Just as it may be a teacher’s fault when the whole class fails their exams, it may be your fault for not making your wishes plain to the dog from the beginning. He can’t obey you if he doesn’t understand what you want.
Have you ever helped someone work their cattle? (Farm wives will understand this better than anyone). Let’s say you are going to help Farmer Joe put a dozen heifers in a pen. You and Joe are pushing them toward the pen and about fifty feet apart. Joe yells at you, “Don’t push them so fast."
You slow down and some of the heifers stop and start looking back at their pasture. Joe yells (a little louder this time) “Watch out, they are going to break back.” You leap forward and one breaks over his way. He gets there in time but growls, “Watch what you are doing or we will lose them all”. Suddenly the heifers seem to you like they are going to break back so you wave your arms and yell to get them turned around and headed in the right direction. This time old “Farmer Joe” is really mad and really loud and cusses you for spooking them.
If you really are the farm wife this is the time to stomp off to the house and let him work his own stupid heifers. Ever wonder why the dog leaves? He doesn’t even speak English and didn’t even know the heifers were supposed to be going in the corral! Remember to be reasonable with what you expect from your non-English speaking partner.