During the summer of 2009 my dad declared he wanted an Australian Cattle Dog puppy—meaning he wanted me to get one for him and train it. Given that I live almost 100 miles from him that meant I really only had a week tops to start the training. Fast forward almost two years, and the photo-illustrated book of the steps I took that week are finally in a book form. It’s actually an ebook to start and will be available through Google books in May. But for now, you can read the story that started it all as well as download a preview of the first sections.
For anyone watching, you’ve probably noticed some blog silence on my part. No, I didn’t fall off the face of the earth; rather, I bought my dad a puppy, which means that, although it’s his, I’m quite busy. Busier than he is, in fact.
If you’d asked me a year ago what I’d be doing this summer, I guarantee I would not have guessed I’d be training a pup for my dad. But about 6 months ago, I had some premonitions that this might be coming up.
First, my parents’ Scottie, Meggie, had gotten lymphosarcoma of the spleen. She then had a splenectomy and for several months seemed perfectly healthy, but the initial scare put the idea in my dad’s head. When I would visit my parents—they live nearly 100 miles away—with my JRT, Jonesy, my dad would slip in statements like, “Let me have Jonesy.” Or “Jonesy‘s mine.”
OK, anyone who knows Jonesy, the $300,000 dog, knows that the only way he would live with someone else would be over my dead body. He’s known as the $300,000 dog to some because of the number of hours of training I’ve put into him, just so that he can function like a well-behaved dog in day-to-day life. And anyone—like training assistants— who’s actually worked with Jonesy the first 1.5 years I had him has decided they will never get a JRT.
Now fast-forward several months. We eventually had to put poor Meggie to sleep at 13 years of age. Her lymphosarcoma had come back. Not a week had gone by and my dad was demanding, “Get me an Australian Cattle Dog. One just like Roody.” Why an ACD—a breed known for aggression? My veterinary friend who worked in Australia once told me, “When you drive to a farm never get out of the car if there’s a goose or an Australian Cattle Dog. It’s not safe.”
Because 20 years ago, when I didn’t know any better, I’d bought him an Australian Cattle Dog puppy that we named Roody. According to my Dad, Roody was the perfect dog. Like a canine combination of Einstein and Ghandi. I have to admit that Roody was a fantastic dog. He always stuck close to us starting at 12 weeks of age, was magically calm as a puppy—no mouthing or incessant playing—and he practically self-potty trained. And he was extremely eager, which made him appear pretty smart. But what my dad forgets is that he used to bark ballistically when people or dogs approached the car and snapped at dogs that came close—at least until I got to keep Roody permanently during the last quarter of his life from 13-17 years of age. Once I had him regularly, it was pretty easy to countercondition him so that he was happy to be around dogs and quiet when people or dogs approached the car.
And I remember when my roommate in veterinary school borrowed Roody for the UC Davis Picnic Day Parade to walk alongside our class’s float. Although Roody, then about 2 years of age, knew how to heel nicely for me, without consistent training from my parents, he walked in 5 directions at once like a bouncing Kong toy. So I’m not the only one who remembers Roody’s flaws. My veterinary school roommate can vouch for me. And then there was the description a friend of my parents and mine used when referring to Roody’s rude treat-grabbing skills trained by my dad, “Everyone knows, when giving treats to Roody, he gets the whole beef jerky.”
Of course, there was no way my dad would listen to me or my mom warning him that another cattle dog wouldn’t be just like Roody and that Roody wasn’t as perfect as he remembered. I’d even owned a second Australian Cattle Dog, Zoe, who was clearly very different from Roody. She was great with people and dogs, for one. But my dad had only Roody in his mind when he thought Australian Cattle Dog.
I knew that at 81 years of age, my dad wasn’t about to change his mind or ways. Either I was going to get him a cattle dog or I’m sure he was going to get one on a whim himself. He wanted a catttle dog and he wanted one now.
So, my assistant Melissa and I perused the web for available Australian Cattle Dogs, assuming I wouldn’t find one that looked just like Roody for months. And then out of the blue, hey, there was one available nearby. She was the only one available in her litter, her parents were OFA certified fair or good, tested for PRA and her photo posted on the web page looked close enough to Roody to be acceptable to my dad. But even more important to me, when I visited, was her behavioral health. Her parents were both friendly to humans—no crazy nipping at heals or defensive postures. And she, as well as all of the other puppies, was outgoing and friendly. They immediately ran over to be petted and followed us around as we walked around the pasture. And she was also good with the test dog I brought for her to greet. So I got her.
In fact, I got her several days before my dad knew so that I would have several extra days to start training her without listening to his incessant nagging to drop everything I was doing and bring the puppy to him. My goal was to start her socialization to people and dogs and to train her through the puppy learn to earn program in a week so that she would already have good habits before my dad got her. That way he’d have less of a chance to mess her up.
I have to admit, I was not looking forward to having a pup, dealing with potty training, and the business of a pup. But it turned out that in her first week Lucy—that’s the name my dad gave to her even before I had purchased her—was perfect. By the end of the week, she was automatically sitting to greet people, go in and out of the house, to get her leash on, and basically every time she wanted something from me or we were walking and I stopped. She met about 10 dogs and played nicely but also came when called. And she loved all people she met.
I couldn’t believe my luck. Of course Melissa, who fosters puppies and adult dogs all the time said, no, Lucy wasn’t better than a normal pup. She was just good from the training and I thought she was great because I like Australian Cattle Dogs.
So about a week after I had adopted Lucy, I took her to my dad. How did she do with him? Well, let me give you a hint… She’s back with me for training. But wait. It may not be for reasons that you’d exactly expect. To find out what happened read this next article.
To see video of day 1 training go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yN6FzBmy2YM
To see a preview of the Perfect Puppy in 7 Days DVD, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVumINZv8dk