Doggie-sitting weekend provides learning avenues

I had the pleasure of watching my son and his fiancee’s dogs this past weekend while they were out of town.

Both dogs are about 5 years old, a male red heeler and a little female rat jack terrier. While I have been around them all of their lives, this was their first sleep over at granddogma’s house.

They bounded into the house searching for toys and rousing the cats. My feline roommates were not exhilarated with the dogs’ arrival and didn’t come out of the bedroom for three days.

The weekend offered me the opportunity to learn a great deal more about these dogs’ personalities. Both are extremely well-behaved, incredibly intelligent and athletic. I anticipated their initial excitement would settle down as they became accustomed to my routine. The terrier happily resolved to just “hang out,” but I was unprepared for the exuberant energy of the heeler.

Spending time with this little red dog gave me a greater insight into the dynamics of this special breed. Knowing I was his immediate caretaker, his attention and devotion were solely centered on my activities. As I busied myself around the house, the heeler was always in sight, usually within a few feet. There was always a ball or stick in his mouth that he would frequently drop in my lap wanting to play fetch, a game that he is consumed with. My son prefers I not play fetch with him as it distracts from the dog’s working agenda. However, his intensity of needing a job is inexhaustible.

If I was preoccupied with a task, the heeler would happily play with a ball, stick or some other object, continually entertaining himself. He became obsessed with the flies in the house and knocked over furniture in his quest to devour the pests buzzing in the windows.

I discovered a plethora of tennis balls under the couch thanks to his intense concentration attempting to retrieve them. The frequent splashes he made when jumping into the canal while I was working on the irrigation pump reassured me he was expending pent up energy. The red dog had me completely worn out by the time I took him home.

Australian cattle dogs, commonly referred to as heelers, are intense little dogs, with a strong, intellectual desire to work. According to the American Kennel Club, this breed was established in the early 1800s by Australians wanting to produce an effective working dog to assist ranchers with large cattle herds.

The native Australian wild dingos were initially crossed with collies, and later Dalmatians and kelpies to create this agile, intelligent dog. The breed was brought to the United States in the early 1900s and officially recognized by the AKC in 1980, classified in the herding dog group.

Australian cattle dogs are either red or blue, depending on color. They are called heelers because of their ability to run in and snap at the heels of large animals being gathered. If you ever have the opportunity to watch a rancher and his dogs work a herd of cows, you will be amazed at their quickness and fearlessness when confronting animals 50 times their size. Their loyalty and commitment to their owner is evident in their absolute desire to please.

This breed of dog is not for everyone. They need a job and are happiest when working. They thrive on activity and their high intelligence warrants a pack leader that will offer them the opportunity to utilize their skills in a positive manner. If left alone, they will find ways to occupy their time, which can result in destructive behavior.

Cattle dogs were bred to aggressively herd other animals. This instinctive nature can be problematic, however, if they are not given the opportunity to expel their energy. Heelers will often nip at people’s legs, especially young children, and they can be vicious with other animals if they are not well-socialized.

Many dog breeds are dependent on their human caretakers, but few portray the complete devotion of the Australian cattle dog. I have had the opportunity to experience many different dogs in my life, but I must admit, the intelligence, energy and fortitude of this particular breed uniquely establishes them as a rare companion.

Charlé Thibodeau has been passionate pet caregiver for more than 30 years and is the owner of Ah, Natural! Ltd. If you have a pets question you would like Thibodeau to answer in her column, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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