W e bought a smart little puppy and named him Blue. The first thing I did was call a local dog expert for obedience training advice. When she asked what kind of puppy we had, I told her he was an Australian shepherd. Her first reaction was a strangled sound that translated into “uh-oh” to me. She didn’t say, “What were you thinking?” but I’m sure that’s what was going through her mind. Since my husband John and I are in our 70s, I’m sure she expected us to get a calm little puppy for our golden years. Blue is anything but.
Hey, I’m not the first person to buy an Aussie. We live on a ranch, for Pete’s sake. We have other dogs, including our border collie, Laddie. Aussies are typical ranch dogs, right? So, what’s the problem?
We hadn’t brought Blue home from the breeder yet, so we hadn’t even gotten to the Cinderella period. Then, at seven weeks, Blue moved in with us. The little guy had had a large litter of siblings to roughhouse with from the time he could move around. Without his littermates, my husband John and I quickly became his wrestling/play-biting people/puppy pals.
Since we could tell right away we were probably out of our depth with such an active, inquisitive puppy, we enrolled Blue in an obedience class. He was a total star. Everyone was amazed at how fast he picked up commands and performed them perfectly. At home it’s a little different. You know — it’s like your child’s teacher telling you how polite and helpful and hardworking he is in class, while at home, he is endlessly pestering his siblings and refusing to eat his broccoli or pick up his clothes.
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The most important advice from our breeder was to puppy-proof our house before taking him home. That meant looking at everything with new eyes: What could he reach and what could he wreck? First we determined that he’d be confined to the kitchen when he was in the house. Next we removed everything we thought would attract him. Then we littered the kitchen with cute, fuzzy dog toys.
Curbing puppy rambunctiousness is in a whole different class from teaching “sit,” “stay,” “stand,” “down,” “come” and “heel.” Blue seems eager to perform these commands, but if he decides the dog beds look like fun things to chew to shreds, we have to remove either the beds or him. We have the same issue if he decides he’s going to herd us by nipping at our heels. Those cute dog toys? Some were chewed into soggy blobs almost immediately. Toys I’d had for my small dogs for years were suddenly trash. We replaced them with Kong toys, most of which have survived.
Every inch Blue grows puts him that much closer to whatever is on top of the kitchen counters, so we’ve gotten into the habit of setting everything as far from the edges as possible. We have been keeping our kitchen trash and recycling cans on top of the washer, because he loves to knock them over, grab whatever seems most interesting and hightail it through the doggie door with his ill-gotten gains. Once he gets bigger, then what? There’s a limit to how many household items we can store on top of the refrigerator, the only place guaranteed to be out of his reach.
With continual training and with Blue’s continuing maturity, most of these puppy issues will evaporate. In the meantime, though, it is mind-stretching to stay one step ahead of this very curious, industrious puppy who makes me want to yelp with joy every time I look at him.