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Bonding with Gus Part 1

December 2015 - Introducing a new pet to your home is interesting.  Certain traits are unique to a defined breed, yet every dog has their own unique personality.  This blog focuses on our pure bred Australian Shepherd.  I'd read a few articles about Aussies when we got Gus.  Several articles emphasized their loyalty to family and mentioned they require an adequate amount of stimulation through play and learning - Aussies enjoy a challenge and love performing tasks - they're a working breed.

Aussies are loving and passionate toward their owners and become very protective of their home.  I've noticed slight changes in Gus' behavior during the short time we've had him.  He's more relaxed and feels at home with us.

Gus is only restricted for an extended time when we're both at work.  He's never confined more than three days a week and often no more than two days a week.  His sentence of confinement is served in the laundry room and bath area downstairs and freedom is granted soon as one of us return.  Gus a pleasant dog and greets us with a playful attitude and silly canine noises.

Rescuing an adult Australian Shepherd can produce confusing situations.  It's important to remember they matured under the care and guidence of someone else.  This five year old was also taught responsibilities by his previous owner.  The experiences we've shared together have nearly all been enjoyable.  As a newcomer to our household, Gus was clueless about friends that occasionally visit.  We started introducing Gus to a few of our friends after he'd been with us for a couple of weeks.  Our initial introductions took place in social settings or at a friend's home.  These meet and greet sessions have gone well and Gus has conducted himself like a gentleman.  There are exceptions to this rule when the introductions happen at home.  We discovered Gus isn't keen to the concept of having visitors in our home.  Gus tends to ignore commands when a male visitor is in our home.  He prefers for them to leave soon after their arrival and becomes increasingly anxious when they stay.  He displays no sign of deafness or restlessness around the female gender.  As of this writing we're cautious and monitor his body language when guests are in our home.

I met with a canine obedience trainer to better understand the thought process of an Aussie.  I wanted to understand why Gus was responding in a negative way toward male visitors.  Pieces of the behavior puzzle began coming together during my conversation with the trainer.  Deliberate disobedience of a master's command at the Aussie's discretion runs deep in the breed.  Their nature is to second guess and rethink a master's command.

The scenario of an Aussie charged with a flock of sheep was used to explain their instinctive behavior.  They're independent thinkers and reprocess commands, a trait somewhat unique to herding breeds.  Their obedience to a command is more involved than just hearing it and reacting on impulse.  A decision to obey will involve all of their senses.  Aussies have been taught to be responsible for their flock.  They must direct and control their flock based on verbal commands and audible signals from their master.  The dog is also responsible for the safety and well-being of the flock and a well trained Aussie doesn't take these responsibility lightly.

To be or not be obedient, that is the question processed if their master signals them to move theie flock to the right.  Understand, the dog knows where his flock - he sees the flock.  He also knows that he can move the flock to the right as instructed.  Unknown to his master, the Aussie in the scenario has picked up the scent of a coyote.  The Aussie's been trained to obey his master and steer the sheep to the right on command.  It isn't a cut and dry decision on the part of the dog.  The sheep are safe where they are so the immediate importance to the Aussie is the coyote.  The Aussie processes the situation, ignores his master's command, and removes the threat.  For the Aussie, keeping his flock safe comes first.  Disobedience to the command protected the sheep and ensured their safety.  With the immediate threat removed the Aussie then feels comfortable to obey commands and move his flock as instructed.

One might consider such defiant behavior an undesirable trait - unquestioned obedience to a command isn't easy for a herding breed.  They're highly intelligent and independent thinkers.  Their compliance requires processing all available information and the tendency to second guess their master applies to Aussies herding animals as well as those in the private sector ... or, as we know them ... Pets!

The scenario gave me renewed respect for an Aussies' knack to question authority - they're bred to assess a situation on their own terms.  When guests have visited, Gus hasn't been ignoring our commands to be defiant.  He's not sure if they belong in our home.  The safety of his family is his main concern.

Gus will be enrolled in certified obedience training January 2016.  He was five years old when we rescued him and he was most likely assumed the role of protector for his owner.

Gus slept in our bedroom when we first got him.  He has slowly migrated further away into the family room - watching out for his family.  Learning more about their protective nature possibly explains the gradual shift of Gus spending nights in our family room.  My conversation with a canine trainer was enlightening.  I've a much better understanding of the training that lies ahead of us.

(c) 2015 Mark D. McKinley

Bonding with Gus Part 2

February 2016 - Gus has been part of our family for nearly four months.  He sleeps in half a dozen different places - about half the time he chooses between his soft round bed in the dining room and his thick memory foam dog pad in the family room.  Gus has no problem finding a comfortable place to either curl up or sprawl horizontal with four legs outstretched.

He's a happy dog and affectionate toward us - Gus enjoys our company.  He tends to become my shadow on my days off - roaming room to room along side me.  He's no longer penned up when we're gone, and has full roam of the house with few exceptions.  Gus has had free range in the house for the past six weeks while we're at work without incident.  He appreciates no longer being confined when we leave the house we.  

Gus loves playful interaction and the herding instincts come alive outdoors.  I've become somewhat familiar with the movements and jesters of Border Collies and Aussies by attending the Bluegrass Classic Stockdog Trials each year in May.  Herding breeds are an incredible canines.  Gus will be going with us at the stockdog trials this year.  It'll be interesting to see how he reacts around so many herding dogs.

Gus had a blast romping through snow in January.  He wallowed in it.  He pouncing on it.  He ran circles and played like a pup, barreling through deep drifts.  His enthusiasm kicks into high gear when I chase him around the yard.  Gus becomes more animated and starts hopping and hurling himself around in circles, landing in a crouched position, ready to zoom across the yard [again] like a rocket.

(c) 2016 Mark D. McKinley


In Loving Memory - Alf
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