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Bonding with Gus Part 1

December 2015 - Introducing a new pet to your home is always interesting and every dog has their own personality.  I'd read a few articles about Australian Shepherds when we got Gus.  Several articles emphasized their loyalty to family and mentioned an adequate amount of stimulation through play and learning is needed. Aussies enjoy a challenge and love to perform tasks- they're a working breed.

Aussies are loving and passionate toward their owners and become very protective of their home.  I've noticed some slight changes in Gus' behavior in the short time we've had him.  He's a pleasant dog and often greets us with a playful attitude and silly canine noises.

Rescuing an adult Australian Shepherd can produce some confusing situations and it's important to remember that they matured under the care and guidence of someone else. This seven year old had been taught responsibilities by a previous owner. As a newcomer to our household, Gus was clueless about our friends that occasionally visit so initial introductions took place in a social setting or at a friend's home. We quickly discovered Gus isn't too keen about having visitors in our/his home. He will ignore our commands whenever a male visitor is in our home and becomes increasingly anxious if they decide to stay. He's a total gentleman around guests of the female gender.  We use caution and monitor his body language closely whenever guests arrive.

I met with a canine obedience trainer to gain a better understanding of the thought process of an Aussie. A few pieces of his behavior puzzle came together after talking with the trainer. The deliberate disobedience of a master's command at the Aussie's discretion runs deep in the breed. Their very nature is to second guess and to rethink their master's command.

The trainer used a scenario of an Aussie charged with a flock of sheep to explain the breed's instinctive behavior. Herding dogs are independent thinkers and they reprocess commands- a fairly unique trait to the breed. 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 their 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 this scenario has picked up the scent of a coyote. Considering 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 and ignores his master's command.  He must remove the threat first, then be obedient to his master's command. For the Aussie, keeping his flock safe comes first. His 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 information available- 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 trainer's scenario gave me a new respect for an Aussies' knack to question authority.  They're bred to assess a situation on their own terms. When we've had house guests, Gus hasn't necessarily ignored our commands to be defiant. He simply isn't sure the guests belong in our/his home. The safety of his family is his first concern.

When we first got Gus, he slept in our bedroom. He has slowly migrated further away into the family room ... was he watching out for his family?

Having learning more about their protective nature, it might explain his gradual shift to spending nights in our family room. My conversation with a canine trainer was quite enlightening.

(c) 2015 Mark D. McKinley

Bonding with Gus Part 2

February 2016 - Gus has been part of our family for nearly four months and he now 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 very affectionate toward us- Gus enjoys our company and he tends to shadow me on my days off- he roams room to room along side me.  He loves playful interaction and the herding instincts come alive when outdoors. I've become somewhat familiar with the movements and actions of Border Collies and Australian Shephards by attending the Bluegrass Classic Stockdog Trials each year. The herding breeds are 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.

In January, Gus had a blast romping through the snow. He loves to wallow in it and pouncing on it ... he ran circles and played like a pup ... barreling full speed through deep drifts. His enthusiasm shifts into high gear.  He becomes more animated if I try to chase him- begins hopping and hurling himself around in circles ... landing in a crouched position ready to zoom across the yard like a rocket.

(c) 2016 Mark D. McKinley


In Loving Memory - Alf
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