It’s funny how life can turn on a dime. One moment, one second can change your world. A few months ago I had one of those days and it once again threw everything (including this blog and WorldlyDogs) off course. I was at work when my phone rang; the number identified as my vets. In the past I have spent far too much time communicating with them, having a house full of elderly dogs. But these days it is rare to see them outside of an occasional check up. The call made little sense, no one was due for any vaccinations and I wasn’t waiting on any test results. Turns out it was the office manager reaching out on behalf of an Australian Cattle Dog (ACD) in need of a home. Sheer irony, since that exact day, within the same hour, I had posted on our other blog about the ACD and its cousin the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog (ASTCD).
Speck, a young 18 month old, had one too many runs in with the local animal shelter. His owner had passed away and his current “keeper” turned him loose on the neighborhood each day. They weren’t asking if I could take him, but rather if I knew anyone that may want to. I didn’t because most of my dog friends are up to their eyebrows in dogs of their own or don’t do rescues. But as she talked, he called out to me, a dog like so many needing a home, and, well, he’s a heeler.
You see, Luna is more ACD than pointer, always has been personality wise. While their backgrounds weren’t the same, it was clear they had both had a rough start. Just like her he needed someone that was willing to give him a second chance. So I told her I would come down and meet him. If I thought I could help I’d return with Luna and if all went well, I’d foster him. Foster him. Famous last words.
It turns out, Luna loved him. So we brought him home and have started on another one of my near infamous dog journeys. Speck transformed into Stark. I wasn’t a fan of him being named for his speckles and I liked a hard ‘K’ to get his attention. The poor guy had forgotten what it was like to interact and bond with his humans and it was hard to get him to focus on a handler. That being said, it’s clear his first owner trained him. He could heel, sit, and shake, down is still rusty. His stay is fantastic, better than any of my other dogs, even out of sight.
However, it hasn’t been the easiest of roads. He and Charlie have not bonded well, there were a few scuffles in the beginning. As an ACD he can be mouthy, and he has to learn that it’s not acceptable. Two months later and I’m still fighting to change that habit. We’ve lessened it, but when he’s over excited he starts to bark and more often or not, those barks are directed at Charlie’s face. Bless that big Husky mix for his patience. Most of the time he turns his head and walks away. Most of the time.
The biggest challenge has been getting his attention once the barking stops (or ideally right before they begin). Once they commence it’s near impossible to draw him away. I’ve learned a few tricks, most of which will get their own post. By far the most successful has been to expand our gather command to huddle. It comprises of me pacing our back yard (thank goodness it’s large) with the dogs around me. Most often Stark takes heel position, Charlie comes up on my right (switch), Ella brings up the rear and Luna plays wingman out to the side. Over time I’d like to tighten it up, maybe bring both of the girls in beside the boys, but for right now it’s all about Stark staying focused on me and not his new brother. Every few paces we stop, gather and start again.
It's a process, slow and steady, but we will get there. We had talked for a while about getting a fourth dog. I wanted a puppy, but was going to wait a few more years. It felt like it was time for me to have a chance to train one right, from the beginning - not to have to spend the energy fixing one someone else had broken. Because all of my dogs are. I love each and every one of them so much and I would never trade them for the world. But they also have little quirks that will always be there.
Life, destiny, whatever you want to call it had a different plan. A different soul that needed my help. Another dog to teach me more than I’d ever thought to learn. I’m excited for this next chapter, this boy will be an amazing at obedience and Trick Dog. Most of all, he’s now part of the family.
Last week in our training class we were given ‘homework’, but really it was excellent advice for anyone searching for a dog before they bring one home. We were told to research what our dogs were bred for. Now I know that in my last post I said that it hadn’t mattered to me what breed Luna was, which was entirely true – but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a pretty good idea of what I was getting myself into.
Too many people choose a breed because they think it is cute or beautiful, never thinking about the responsibility that comes with that cuteness. Jack Russell Terriers are a perfect example. You know those commercials where the little white dog with a brown patched face jumps up and down and up and down – over and over? That really is a Jack Russell, high energy, nearly unstoppable and yes, very jumpy. There are countless herding breeds that are given no outlet for their working drive that begin to tear their owners home apart due to shear boredom. Basenji's attract owners due to their unique appearance and cat like cleanliness, but most don’t realize they are prone to separation anxiety. Sometimes people do research temperament and activity level only to fail to understand just how much a Mastiff can eat – or how often a Siberian Husky must be brushed.
As for me choosing Luna (half herder and hunter)? Dog history is a passion of mine (as evident on my website Worldly Dogs) so knowing her instincts were a given the day I saw her picture online. After bringing her home the running joke at our house has become which breed she is at any given moment – Australian Cattle Dog or Pointer?
Australian Cattle Dogs are a melting pot of old collies, Dingos and any other dogs Europeans could throw in the breeding mix to come up with a dog that could handle the Australian climate. They are rough drovers, nipping and biting at the heels of their charges to keep them in line. Their work earned them the common nickname most know them by – Heelers (either Blue or Red depending on coat).
Pointers on the other hand are hunters (primarily of birds), bred to “point” when prey is located by freezing and pointing their muzzle in the direction of the animal. While pointing is their main function they are also often taught to retrieve.
If I had to pick one as the dominate in Luna it would probably be the Cattle Dog, get her too riled up and the first thing she does is get mouthy. She doesn’t bite or nip, but she will come at you mouth wide open. She prefers to be the dominate one, yet never asserts herself over Miley. Every toy in the house is hers and will instantly lose interest in the one she has if Boots is playing with something else. Cattle Dogs are also silent workers and it is rare for Luna to bark unless someone is at the door – she does make an excellent watchdog.
Interestingly, despite her traits it is the Border Collie that does the herding at our house. Every game of fetch turns into Luna getting the ball and Boots herding her back towards whoever threw it. Having never spent time around a Pointer I can only guess that’s where she got her love for the ball. She has a drive to go after birds but has no idea how she feels about livestock other than they are big.
Often I can see one breed or the other in her actions. When she trots she looks like a Pointer in the field, full run is entirely Cattle Dog. In class she’s all herder, but when she finds something interesting outside (or even when first introduced to the cats), she points. This combination of qualities has made her the perfect pet for us and although I am not a fan of ‘designer dogs’ I do ponder, should we jokingly refer to her a Catnter Dog or a Poittle?
Lisa (and Luna)