The Puppy Master

I’ve been unemployed for several months. But fortunately, Onchu has a job. He is a puppy master.

Just like his predecessors Clipper and Tag, Onchu  has excellent canine skills. Witnessing his interaction with other dogs is like watching a live action Turid Rugas* tutorial. When an impetuous young dog gets too pushy, Onchu turns his head slightly away. If the other dog doesn’t get the message, the next head turn is more pronounced. When necessary the head turns progress to growls.

Onchu’s responses are also adjusted according to the age and size of the puppy. Onchu would still stand patiently while my neighbor’s JRT mixes, at 11 months old, climbed on him and hung onto his long fur. Another neighbor’s mastiff puppy doesn’t get off as easy. At eight months old the mastiff is bigger and heavier than Onchu, so Onchu’s discipline to him is quicker and fiercer.

We regularly get phone calls or emails from a puppy kindergarten instructor asking if Onchu can come to puppy class to model good doggy manners. Many puppy classes incorporate a few minutes of off-leash play time. As the weeks of class progress, of course the puppies are growing older and testing the boundaries. When a puppy begins displaying pushy behavior, Onchu is there to show them how to play nice.

In addition to Onchu’s great natural temperament, we were lucky to have a good network of sociable dogs when Onchu himself was a puppy. Opportunities to play nice with others is one of the best skills you can provide for your dog.   

*Turid Rugas is the Norwegian dog trainer who documented and wrote the book on “Calming Signals in Dogs” 15 years ago. 

Good Natured

I know so many people with really great dogs. Usually, the people and dogs just seem to fit together; as if that dog was never meant to live in any other household.

I was talking to a woman at the dog park today about choosing a breed. She was there with a bearded collie, their family’s second beardie. But a few months ago her college age daughter decided she would like to get a small dog. The daughter was interested in a terrier but when checking out the various terrier rescue groups, many of them advised “don’t get a terrier unless you are experienced with the breed.” That advice could apply to a lot of breeds, couldn’t it.

As an adult, my first dog was sort of an impulse match. I was seriously thinking about getting a dog but in my mind it was to be something medium-sized, like a boxer or a golden. In the meantime a friend’s sheltie had a litter and after three months one puppy remained. “Please come and take him” my friend pleaded. It was an easy sell because he was my favorite of the litter. I expected he would have been the first to go. But at 13 weeks he was still there, waiting for me to realize he was the one. He may have been a small-sized dog but he had a big attitude.

Fourteen years later, my son said “This time I really want something bigger.” We each made a “top ten” list of breeds we found interesting. Then we melded the two lists into one. It was not hard to do since we only had a few variances. Then he started the research.

He checked out genetic concerns, grooming requirements (bye-bye standard poodle and airdale) and other special needs. Then we set off for a benched, all-breed show to talk to breeders.

We did not get a good vibe from the breeders of his #1 choice. After about an hour of talk and questions, he set off in search of breed #2 on our hit list.

The courtesy and attention from that group of breeders underscored a strong sense of community. “I’m getting a collie” he declared. And within a month we had our first smooth coated collie, Clipper.

Last year, when I started thinking about getting a puppy I thought long and hard about what kind of dog to get. Large, medium or small? High performance or couch potato? Over-attached or independent? A fellow dog training instructor, who has always had goldens, noted that of all the dogs that have come through her class over the years, she has developed a high regard for shelties.

So should I go back to my “roots” as it were?

Nope, I decided, it would be another collie. As I told my neighbor, “you don’t have to be on their ass all the time.” Collies are sensitive enough that they usually “get it” pretty quick. They’re not likely to have any who’s-the-boss issues.  They adjust themselves to your lifestyle – as long as they are part of it.

Collies are not dogs to ignore, left out in a yard or kennel day after day. Neither are they “needy” constantly seeking reassurance that they’re still loved. They approach everyone with an open mind (as well as an open, barking mouth!) They are sensible and know their limits.

Yup. Collies suit me.

Is it Nature? Or is it Nurture?

The Boys in the title refer to my collies, Tag and Onchu. (The cats are girls.) Before Tag, there was Clipper. And in between, lots of foster collies. Observing them over the years got me pondering a lot about what factors contribute to an individual dog’s behavior. How much of it comes from breeding, the family genes – Nature. How much of it is a result of experience and environment – Nurture.

I hope to use this log as a way for me to ponder out loud. It doesn’t matter whether I find a definite answer because just like life, it’s all about the journey.