Friday evening the dogs and I went for a walk on the Noland Trail with our friend Cari and her husky Reese. We must have talked the entire time, but it was nice being able to share stories about our dogs, including all of the struggles we’ve had over the years with our dogs and our personal lives. Cari had brought up a very interesting and very true statement; People with specific breeds seem to understand each other. Husky people can relate to each other because they know the breed and have lived with the breed. Their challenges are different compared to Corgi people, for example.
I sure wish there were more cattle dog people in my area because I would love to have someone I can relate to. Fortunately I know a lot of people with herding dogs, so that’s good enough for me… But it would be awesome to have a friend who understands what it’s like to have an ACD because ACD people have different challenges than BC, Collie, or GSD people. Although there are similar challenges among herding breeds, they still vary in lots of different ways and that’s why breed-specific people can relate to one another.
Saturday I went to the pet expo and a couple approached me. The woman asked, “Is that a blue heeler?” I told her Sammy was a heeler mixed with an Australian Shepherd, so she isn’t a purebred heeler but her instincts are spot on for a heeler. Her husband made a comment that they had a heeler mix at home and didn’t expect to see any at the expo because they usually can’t be taken out in public. They showed me pictures of him and he looked like he may have been mixed with someone like a Labrador Retriever.
The husband’s comment made me feel like I wasn’t alone with the “cattle dog issues” for once in my life. Someone else actually understood what it’s like to live with a cattle dog, even though we both have mixed cattle dogs. That couple reminded me that although my friends and family don’t understand my dog, there are other people out there who do! Cattle dogs are incredible companions, but a lot of people don’t like them because they typically aren’t friendly (and this is not only because they are wary of strangers but mostly because people who get these dogs as pets don’t understand how vital it is for them to socialize them early, train them consistently, and exercise them regularly).
Most of the Australian Cattle Dog’s I’ve met have been very aggressive. Not in the sense that they are mean and vicious, but more in the sense that they are rough, pushy, hardheaded, and nippy towards people and other animals.
When a cattle dog’s needs are not met, the owner is faced with a number of problems:
- The dog becomes destructive in the house, like any high energy dog with no outlet.
- The dog wants to bark and bite strangers (including friends and family who are just stopping by for a visit on the holidays).
- The dog wants to chase and nip at children, and cannot be trusted with children.
- The dog becomes dog-aggressive and wants to herd and nip at other dogs.
It may sound like typical bad behavior for any under socialized dog, but these issues can be hard to correct once the dog has made these behaviors a habit. A lot of Australian Cattle Dogs end up in shelters for the very reasons above. These dogs are working dogs, and they really need mental and physical stimulation on a regular basis! While they are adaptable, they are not suited for an inactive lifestyle.
Just from my experiences with Sammy, I can’t have a normal social life. When new friends come over, I have to either crate Sammy in a separate room, put her in the garage, or leash her until she gets to know my new friends. Sammy is comfortable around very few people in my life. It takes time, usually several introductions. Not a quick sniff and pat. And even after that, I still have to monitor her. Unless it’s someone Sam knows and trusts, people can’t come up to me and hug me because this may trigger Sam to nip the person approaching me. Australian Cattle Dogs are a protective breed.
The people that Sam trusts are 1.) my dad, 2.) my fiance, 3.) my fiance’s mom, 4.) my roommate, and 5.) a few of my female friends. Even though she is comfortable around these people, if any of them jump up or make any sudden and potentially threatening moves, Sam will jump to her feet and go at them as if to bite their ankles. For these particular people, Sam stops herself because she realizes who they are and that they are not a threat. But anyone not listed above is likely to get bit if I’m not standing there monitoring her. Which is why I am constantly monitoring her. There is honestly never a time where I am not watching Sammy when other people are present. We’ve come a long way with her training. I can stop her before she tries to bite someone because I know what triggers her and I redirect her attention before she even gets to that point.
It drives me insane because all of my friends have very friendly dogs who are eager to run up to people. They don’t understand why Sammy isn’t like their dogs. She is not a friendly, “wants to run up and lick your face,” kind of dog. She’s more of a, “keep your distance, I’m wary of you,” kind of dog. But anyone who knows Sam, knows she is a sweet and affectionate dog and everyone who really knows her, loves her!
I’ve been working on her behavior for three years and compared to how she used to be, she has really made a lot of improvements. However, even with consistent training, I believe that her behavior is natural to the breed and encoded in her genetics. I understand that I may never be able to fully trust her with certain people or children. I just wish that other people realized these potential issues before adopting an Australian Cattle Dog so that no ACD has to grow up and develop these habits, and either get euthanized, abandoned, or given up because the regretful owners can’t put up with the bad behavior they allowed their dog to inhabit.
It would just be really neat to know more cattle dog people because my friends and family don’t understand why I do the things I do with my dogs (constant supervision, always redirecting Sammy’s attention, not leaving her with certain people who can’t detect “possible triggers,” etc.). It can get a little frustrating. I’m thankful that most of my “dog savvy” friends understand for the most part, but they can’t really understand until they have lived with an Australian Cattle Dog.