Lessons from a Cattle Dog

In past stories I have spoken of the two dogs we own.

George is our oldest dog. He is 11 years old. He weighs 58 pounds, and stands about 18 inches tall. He came to live with us in 2007, after I had to have our other family dog put down. He is a Blue Heeler, Australian Shepherd Cattle dog mix.

When we first acquired George he had come from a home where he had been abused. It took about a year for the dog to learn he could trust us. He tail was always down, and he would not play. Once he learned to trust, his true personality emerged, and we discovered he was a gem.

He is one of the most intelligent dogs we have ever had, and he proved that intelligence 3 summers ago. I went out to mow the “back 40” but he would not allow me to walk more than a few feet from the porch. Every time I did, he would “herd” me back to the deck. To be honest, I was frustrated with his behavior. There was an area behind the garage I really wanted to mow.

Then I saw it.

While sitting on the front porch, completely frustrated with the dog, a cougar crossed our property and headed to the open field across the road. That cougar was in the area I wanted to mow. George sensed that and I believe he saved my life; because I know I would never have had a chance with that animal.

Needless to say, my frustration ended and he received extra treats and extra atta boy praises for his protection.

Our other dog is Bo. He is a recent addition. He came to live with us in September of 2012. He came from a good home, though he was not really trained. He is 6 years old and is a Golden Retriever Akita mix. A rather large breed, who has turned out to be a good guard dog, for the most part, but he has not shown any real signs of intelligence. Not like George that is.

Bo has not learned his boundary lines, or consistently learned the command to come. Since he does not listen well, and will not return upon command, I had to resort to using a runner lead during the dawn and dusk hours. Without the lead he will take off and chase anything and everything he can.

Early one morning, this past week, I let the dogs out to “do their business” and feed them. Before I was able to attach Bo to his lead he looked towards the garage and darted off. I began yelling for him to stop. He was not listening. He saw a skunk emerging from the garage and the game was on.

I took off running after him. Though I do not know why. A 3-year-old can out run me!

He was heading for the main road, and our main road is dangerous. The morning traffic is fast and fearless. I knew that if he were hit he would not have a chance. Not to mention the damage he would do to the vehicle that hit him.

I ran a couple of hundred feet into the yard after him. He was already in the road and had dodged a pickup. I could hear the driver slam on his brakes and hit the gravel on the shoulder, but I was unable to do anything about it. Bo was out of range and to be honest, I was on one knee in the yard, grabbing my chest and gasping for air while uttering obscene laced incomplete sentences followed with “I hate you.”

In the course of my world breaking record sprint I pulled a muscle in my calf and tweaked my left knee. As I gimped back to the porch, still cussing under my breath and muttering “I hate you,” I opened the front door and yelled for someone to hand me my (expletive) truck keys.

Bo was found about a half-mile down the road in my neighbor’s yard. He had cornered the skunk under a pick-up truck canopy. He never did get sprayed, though I do not know why.

He looked up at me happy as can be, drooling in a way I have never seen any dog drool, and looked towards the skunk. I still was not in a very good mood. My chest was hurting and my face was extremely red. I was struggling to breathe, but I was able to blurt out,

        “Get your butt in the back right now!”

His tail went down. His head dropped as he flopped into the bed of the pick-up. He had gone for a joy run and had a great time. He was confused as to why I was not happy for him. That much I knew.

Once we arrived home I sat in the truck until I was able to get my pulse brought back down to a reasonable rate. Bo was still lying in the back of the truck trying to avoid eye contact. He knew he was in trouble. He was put on his runner lead yet again, though this time he was either on the lead or in the house in “time out mode.”

For the next couple of hours I spouted the same stupid 8 words over and over.

        “We need to get rid of that dog!”

By the afternoon, once my knee and calf pain calmed down, I knew my assessment of the dog was wrong. As I began to reflect on how long we worked with George, and the length of time it took to see the gem we had in him, I knew the expectations I had for Bo were unrealistic. Training a dog takes time and patience. 8 months was not enough time to see the level of change I wanted.

We still have the dog. I have no plans of sending him to another home, or to a no kill dog shelter. He will stay here.

Does Bo’s behaviors send me off the deep end at times? Yes they do, but in the course of dealing with Bo, and remembering the training process with George, I have been learning two important life lessons.  Change takes time. Whether that change is in those around me, my dog or myself, allow that time. Allow patience to do what needs to be done. Trust is earned. A wounded person or animal is not going to automatically trust. Painful memories take time to heal, and healing comes as a result of trusting again.

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