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Finding Lost Pets

April 16, 2009

“Cold Nose Investigators” Pet Detectives

Missing Pet Detection for

“All Creatures Great and Small”

Cathy Orde of Centennial, Wyoming, is a certified MAR Tech. She and her two Golden Retrievers, Moose and Zoe, are Search and Rescue dogs that track and find both lost humans and pets all over the nation. Zoe is the main ‘lost pet’ detecitive. She and Cathy offer the following services:

  • Trailing
  • Area Searches
  • Trap-and-Reunite
  • Flyer Distribution
  • Lost Pet Profiling
  • Attract-and-Capture

If you have a lost pet, please contact Cathy and her team at 307-761-1799 and visit their website at www.coldnoseinvestigators.com

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Hip Dysplasia and OFA Ratings

April 11, 2009

More Myth Busting

I am often surprised, while at Aussie events or such, at conversations involving hip dysplasia and OFA ratings. Clearly there is some misinformation and/or misunderstanding going on. Hip dysplasia is a disease – a chronic and progressive disease. It is not some kind of continuum, although there are continuums – or grades – within the categories of hip ratings. In other words, either a dog has it – or it does not. Much like its hard to “kind of,  sort of” have cancer. The Orthopedic Fountaion of America (OFA) has become our premiere service organization in diagnosing and categorizing canine hip dysplasia for all dogs or breeds. X-rays can be taken by your local vet or canine orthopedist and sent in to OFA for what is called hip grade ratings. OFA has three categories of ratings: 1) Normal, which means a dog does not have hip dysplasia and all categories therein are within normal limits; 2) Borderline, where it is too hard to clearly see on an X-ray whether hip dysplasia is present or not (they suggest to re-X-ray six months later; and 3) Dysplasic. Within the Normal and Dysplastic categories there are successive grade ratings depending on the absence of or degree of hip socket subluxion. Within the Normal rages of non-dysplastic are three grades or ratings: Excellent, Good and Fair. Borderline is just what it suggests – borderline. Then, in the Dysplastic range, there are three grades or ratings of dysplasia: Mild,  Moderate and Severe. Yet, I often hear dog enthusiasts say things like “Oh, my God! You should NEVER breed a dog with a Fair hip rating!!!!” as if that dog was ABOUT to catch the disease – or that somehow “Fair” means ALMOST dysplasic. Again, I reiterate, a dog either has hip dysplasia or it does not. The ratings are not a progressive continuum! Yet, some mistakenly think that Fair is “Fair-botten!” Nothing could be farther from the truth. While not breeding dogs with Fair hip ratings is certainly a personal choice, a Fair hip rating shouldn’t been seen as the kiss of death either. How do I know this? Because I did have a female who’s hip X-rays came back with a “Fair” rating and I called OFA – twice – speaking with two canine orthopedists – and got educated. Another word of caution is to not do what I did and X-ray a dog while in the midst of her heat cycle. I was told by both OFA specialists that the increased hormones during heat cycles very much effect X-ray results. Best to X-ray again in three months for truer results. So, before more misinformation is passed around, I invite all canine enthusiasts to get educated at http://www.offa.org. Or, if there is something that you still do not understand, give them a call. Very nice people. Better to be educated than misinformed when that certain someone next to you adamantly declares  “Oh, my God! You should NEVER breed a dog with a Fair hip rating!!!! You will then be armed to myth-bust the conversation.

Also, be aware that hip dysplasia can be a poly-genetic inherited disease – although this is not always true. It can also come from a congenital deformation of the hip socket – such as a pup didn’t have enough amino acids to produce properly formed bone mass of the hip sockets – or even injury. Again, best get educated. Locate a premier canine orthopedic or neurologist (get references)  – or call OFA – if you have any concerns. And, please, always get a clear OFA rating before you breed. Although it can never guarantee against producing dysplasia, it oftentimes can help reduce your chances.

Please support humane canine genetic research to help elimanate this debilitating disease!!!

“The Myth of The Pattern White”

April 11, 2009

Pattern Whites in Non-Merle to Merle Breeding

The Pattern White Australian Shepherd is distinctly different from the white Double Merle Aussie. Although many have confused the two because of predominantly white body color or white body splashes, in actuality their coat color is inherited through entirely different genetics.

Let me explain. Genetic theory tells us that each cell is comprised of two chromosomes, one contributed from each parent. Each chromosome is comprised of genes, which are the basic units of inheritance. Genes are arranged in a linear order on chromosomes. On these chromosomes are specific locations called loci (singular: locus) where genes, or more specifically gene pairs, are located. The various forms of a gene that can be located at the same site (locus) are called alleles. In dogs, ten loci have been identified which contribute to coat color: A,B,C,D,E,G,M,P,S and T. Some of these loci may contain any one of several alleles (called multiple alleles), some only two. The various alleles that make up gene pairs on the chromosomes are the genetic make-up of the individual. This is called the genotype. In contrast, how we actually see these alleles expressed in the individual (i.e., coat color, eye color) is called the phenotype.

In dogs, the “B’ locus is the major determinant of body color. The (B) allele is dominant and produces black body color. The (b) allele is recessive and produces a red or liver color. These are the two body colors recognized by our breed standard. However, Aussies have been blessed with an unusual coat color variation of both the above body colors called the merle. This merling pattern is also found in many herding breeds like Collies, Shelties and Border Collies.

The “M” locus is the site of the merle alleles, which produce the merle coat color pattern. This locus contains two alleles: The (M) allele is dominant and produces the merling pattern and the (m) allele is recessive and produces uniform pigmentation, or predominantly solid body color (black or red). Healthy merles (a misnomer) are genetically Mm – which means heterozygous. Applying genetic theory, when breeding two merles together, Mm x Mm, the results of the breeding will statistically produce 25% solid dogs (mm, homozygous), 50% healthy merle dogs (Mm, heterozygous) and 25% double merle (MM, homozygous). It is this double dominant combination that can also carry what some have referred to as “lethal white” genes, (although this term is actually a misnomer) causing deafness, blindness and some even say heart problems. Typically, double merles puppies can have excessive white body color, little or no color around the eyes and ears and may be deaf or blind. The propensity for deafness and blindness has been found to be genetically linked to coat color however deafness and blindness may – or may not – occur. Some double merles live perfectly healthy lives, some with more body color than others. In fact, some breeders like to keep double merles in their lines as they will always produce merle puppies, whether bred to solids or merles.

The Pattern White is not a Double Merle in any way. Since one or both of its parents are solid, the Pattern White is genotypically (the dog’s genetic make-up) either BB, Bb, or bb having either predominantly black (BB or Bb) or red/liver (bb) body color. At the “M” locus, this individual would be Mm or mm. This dog may have tan markings or “tan points” (contributed from the “A” locus) or a varying distribution of white marking. It is the “S” locus which effects the distribution of white coloring over the body’s surface. In contrast to the “M” locus, the “S” locus has four alleles: S, Si, Sp and Sw. These alleles effect body color in the following ways: (S) – completely pigmented body surface (solid), (Si) – typically called the Irish Spotting Pattern with white patterns occurring in specific areas (i.e., collie collar, white blaze, white socks), (Sp) – the Pattern White or, more correctly the Piebald, with usually white body coloring with a solid saddle pattern, typically seen in Beagles, and (Sw) – extreme white or albinoism. These alleles may have plus and minus modifiers which can either increase or decrease the allele’s effect, as well. Minus modifiers produce more white while plus modifiers reduce white.

The Pattern White (also called Piebald) is a product of the influences of the “S” alleles and not the merling gene (M).  Although this dog is genotypically a solid dog, it is the “S” alleles which determine how much white is distributed over the body’s surface. Since Aussie genetics are often still misunderstood, looking at the genetics of its close relative, the Collie, is very informative. The Collie has the same operative alleles as the Aussie. Based on Collie genetics, it is unclear whether the Pattern White is truly a pattern (SiSi) or a Piebald (SpSp) or both (SiSp) or, as Little (Clarence Little, The Inheritance of Coat Color in Dogs, Howell Books, 1957) offers, there may be incomplete dominance of Si over Sw, as well. Since plus and minus modifiers may act upon all the “S” alleles, this makes precise identification very difficult without specific DNA testing or test breeding. Nonetheless, existing literature suggests that what we refer to in our breed as the Pattern White is produced by the “Sp” piebald allele since the Irish Spotting Pattern “Si” allele is more specific to certain body areas and “Sw” is closer to extreme albinoism.

Freya in the Mountains

Freya in the Mountains

My Freya (Freya Delamere ATDs OTDc STDd CD CGC TDI Therapy Dog) was an excellent example of a Pattern White Aussie. Freya’s sire was a red-bi and her dam was a black tri. Genotypically she was a black tri (BB or Bb), however the influence of her “S” alleles contributed to excessive white marking, giving her the appearance of white body color. Freya also had a ticking pattern in her coat color (influenced by the “T” locus.) It is this phenotype (what she looked like), excessive white with ticking, that is often confused with the Double Merle to those who don’t understand coat color genetics. However, the ticking pattern cannot be merling as we know definitively that neither of her parents were merles: she was (mm) at the “M” locus. Freya came from very old Northern California/Oregon lines which often produced pattern whites. Talking with knowledgeable old-time breeders from this region suggests that the “S” alleles that produced this color pattern act as simple recessives. In other words, only when two dogs were bred that carried this “S” allele recessive, did the breeding produce pattern white puppies. What we know of Freya’s lines suggests the same, as well.

Hopefully, the reader can know understand that the Pattern White Aussie is not the same as the Double Merle or the Double Merles thought to carry “lethal white” genes. Actually, genetically speaking, there is no such thing as a “lethal white.” Nor are they “defective whites,” an equal misnomer. It has been a very sad history in our breed that these two types should have ever been confused at all. Out of ignorance, the Pattern White has been much maligned and completely misunderstood. For the most part there is nothing unsound about this dog, even though it is not accepted in our breed standard. Since many breeders have not understood the difference between the two (pattern white and double merle) the majority of these dogs were unnecessarily destroyed at birth. In fact, out of ignorance, many old-time breeders purposely selected for only solid or self-merle individuals, with no white markings at all, from fear and misunderstanding of the so-called “lethal white” merle genes. Sadly, many pups were destroyed simply because of one white hair!

Fortunately, Dr. Weldon heard, founder of the Flintridge line, did much to explode the myths surrounding the Irish Spotting Pattern versus “lethal white” double merle during the early 60’s. As a veterinarian and livestock breeder, his knowledge of genetic theory led him to suspect, correctly, that the Irish Spotting pattern was responsible for the white trim that we typically see preferred in Aussies today (white collars, socks and blazes) and was completely unrelated to the double merle genes. Dr, Heard identified that the white trim so typical in Collies was inherited consistently and was specific to certain body areas (neck, face and belly). He then used line-breeding to solidify this lovely white trim into our breed.

Nonetheless, when our breed standard was written and adopted, many Aussie breeders did not completely understand the genetics of this breed. Since there was much confusion between the Double Merle and the Pattern White, our standard was written so as to disqualify both – all individuals with excessive white. Since most Pattern Whites are absolutely sound, this was a great shame and disservice to perfectly healthy animals. The Collie Club has come a long way in their understanding of coat color genetics and recognizes the Pattern White as a full-fledged representative of their breed. Similarly, I hope that one day too our breed will re-think its position on Pattern Whites so that healthy pups will not continue to be unnecessarily destroyed at birth. If this article can shed some light on the myth surrounding Pattern Whites, then maybe I have helped bring us all a step closer to a fuller understanding of what they are and why they occur. Pattern Whites are simply a fact of our breed and all Collie-type breeds. So, too, are other colors like sables. What we see in each other’s breed standards are really statements of preference; what colors we like and others we don’t. Most of our standards were based on misinformation and misunderstanding of coat color genetics at the times when they were written. Now that genetic science has become more definitive there is absolutely no reason to fear the Pattern White or put it down as “defective.” It is simply a solid (genotypically) in an overly white suit (phenotypically). Percentages show that it is statistically unlikely to drop dead or be deaf or blind, especially when there is significant pigmentation around the eyes and ears (although I have seen numerous Border Collies with white heads and/or split faces that are as sound as can be.) Most Pattern Whites are perfectly healthy puppies that deserve the love and quality of life we hope for in our other fully recognized Aussies. They are merely blessings of a different color – a color that is in every way a part of our breed.

Darcy & Freya 1995
Darcy & Freya 1995

DISCLAIMER: Although there are merles that are also Pattern Whites (Poco – See Poco’s Story – “The Telltale Heart) that broader topic is beyond the scope of the above article. Please visit ASHGI.org for more examples.

Further Suggested Reading:

Genetics of the Australian Shepherd, Lucia D. Kline, DVM in All About Aussies, Jeanne Joy Hartnagle, Alpine Publications, 1985. (Also re-published)

Australian Shepherd Manual, C.B. Publishing Co., 1981. Articles by Terry Martin and Wanda Robertson (available through ASCA)

Australian Shepherd Quarterly, Hoflin Publishing, Spring 1988 Issue. Interview with Phil Wildhagen, ASCA Historian.

The Australian Shepherd Club of America Yearbook, 1957-1977, published by ASCA, 1978.

The Inheritance of Coat Color in Dogs, Clarence C. Little, Sc.D., Howell Books, 1957

 

Do Your Aussies Get Snow-packed Feet Too?

March 29, 2009

Aussie Feet in the Snow  

 

 

I have a question to share……. 

 

As you know, Wyoming winters can be most inclement. During times of bitter cold and snow, my dogs become house-bound as they truly don’t enjoy it outside – mostly because their feet pack up with snow. I’ve tried everything from trimming off all the hair on their feet, booties (Ha! That lasted about 3 minutes!!!), Pam cooking spray and even Vaseline. Nothing works and the more they try and get the snowballs off their feet, the worse it gets. However, I’ve been constantly amazed during my cross-country skiing days, that other people are out skiing with their dogs – a cornucopia of breeds – and all the other dogs are having a grand ole’ time. But not mine! Every time we would try taking our guys skiing, inevitably we would end up having to get them back to the car. I’ve asked other Aussie friends and they say the same happens with their dogs. So, what is it about Aussie feet that causes this, whereas other breeds don’t seem to be similarly affected?

 

I’ve studied wolf structure and wolves have very splayed feet so as to equally distribute their weight in snow or frost crust. Otherwise, they would fall through the snow and not be able to hunt and likely starve to death. So, could the issues with Aussies be “cat feet,” which our standard favors? Of interest, I was up at a show/trial in Montana one summer. Rhonda Silvera put on a handling clinic, mostly for Juniors, but some of us older folk attended. Betty Williams came with her daughter, Marsha, who was just beginning her 4-H show career. Betty started off saying that as a cattle rancher breeding only for working dogs, she knew nothing about the show ring or the structures most rewarded there. That began a really fascinating and lively discussion. Rhonda asked Betty a lot of questions about how she chose and/or bred her dogs and what attributes she favored. Betty said she needed a talented working dog but it had to have a structure that would hold up on the trail all day. She could not keep those that needed to come home on a saddle at lunchtime, therefore these dogs didn’t stay nor were they bred. In consequence, she was selectively breeding without really being aware of it. What Rhonda did was actually show Betty that she knew far more than she thought about working dog structure. In this discussion, I asked about feet, as I’ve had this nagging question for years. Betty said she found that her dogs with the tighter feet held up better on the trail than others with more splayed feet. So, we all concluded that this was why “cat feet” were included in out standard. However, it still makes me wonder because a good working dog would also be required to work in snow packed weather, especially in the northern most Western ranching states. So, if it could be that “cat feet” help an Aussie to better withstand a long day on the trail, could it be that this foot structure causes a detriment in winter conditions? Wolves certainly get around efficiently all year long, covering great distances in search of food. I don’t know about the foot structure of other similar breeds, like Border Collies, bred to work the frigid tundras of the Scottish moors. And, I do know that in Wyoming, herding dogs tended flocks all year long – herders often wintered in their sheep wagons under horrendous conditions.

 

So, do Aussies have a foot structure different from other working herding breeds? And, if so, how does it compare? Should it be a tight foot, good for the trail? Or should it be a more splayed foot more suitable for harsh winter work? Or, does this have nothing to do with foot structure, but rather, something else? I honestly have no idea – but have always wondered why my Aussies are miserable in the snow.

 

Any Comments, Suggestions or Solutions?

 

Poco Gets a Pacemaker

March 28, 2009
Poco

Poco

 

“The Tell-Tale Heart”

 

Poco’s Story

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday: Jammin’ around the house, as usual, with six rambunctious Australian Shepherds, ranging from 2 to 14, under foot. I casually noticed that Poco was down on the kitchen floor. Odd, I thought. Perhaps the youngsters had knocked her over. Later, she was down in the hallway. Very unusual, but I was busy. Then, getting her out of the van from a trip to town I noticed she was a bit unsteady. I was starting to take notice. That night, on the couch, she suddenly quivered all throughout her body. Oh no, I thought –not seizures!

Friday: I got her into my vet, Dr. Glenna Hopper. It was late in the day. We lifted Poco up on the examination table and Glenna began to take her pulse. Almost immediately she let out a “Oh, my God!” Not a good sign coming from your vet! Approaching panic, I asked, “What is it?” She returned that Poco’s heart rate was at 40! (Between 80 to120 beats per minute is normal.) Next, she took some blood but the test results wouldn’t be back until tomorrow. She suspected low thyroid, gave me some medicine and asked me to come back on Monday.

Saturday: Between 2:00 and 2:55PM Poco collapsed three times. Panic, indeed, was setting in. I called Glenna and rousted her out of her day off and we agreed to meet at her clinic in ten minutes. My husband, Hans, came with me. Poco’s heart rate was now a scant 44 bpm. Obviously the medication hadn’t worked. The results of her thyroid test showed low but not by much. What was going on? Glenna took x-rays. Thank God, no tumors. Next, Glenna put Poco on an EKG and there it was. Poco’s heart was only firing at every other beat. She then scattered her medical books around the examining room and, after a while, looked up and said, “What Poco needs is a pacemaker!” In the back of my mind I heard a little voice say “Yeah, right!?*!” contemplating the impossibility.  And then, Glenna got on the phone with CSU (Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital) and their Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery Unit and, sure enough, they did the surgery necessary to implant pacemakers in dogs. I was reeling; I never dreamed it was possible! Next Glenna said, with a tone of dread, to take Poco home, give her absolute rest, and IF she made it through the weekend, to get her to CSU immediately on Monday.

Monday: Poco was still with us. We were lucky to get a 1:00PM confirmed appointment, as the hospital was unusually busy that day. We packed ourselves up and headed south. It was blizzarding. Great!*?! After a tense hour and a half drive we arrived in Fort Collins just on time to be met by a cracker-jack cardiac staff. Initial observation concluded that indeed Poco needed a pacemaker but first they had to determine whether she was a good candidate at ten years old. An hour and a half of tests later showed that Poco was good to go. Surgery was scheduled for 2:00PM the following day. Driving back without her was heavy on our hearts. All that afternoon we had learned of the new procedures and strides made in veterinary cardiology. Our heads were swimming in all this new technology while only days before we would have never thought that these procedures were possible. Yes, both dogs and cats can now receive pacemakers – but there are risks.

The diagnosis, explained to us in layman’s terms, is this. Imagine your typical Valentine’s Day heart. Next, think of it divided into four quarters, two up, two down. Now imagine a node (we’ll call it Node A) in the upper right quarter. Now imagine Node B somewhere around the middle of the heart. What was happening to Poco was not seizures at all. Our poor Poco was fainting and collapsing from lack of oxygen. At CSU, they found that resting, Poco’s heart was actually only firing every third or fourth heartbeat. (What Glenna saw as every other beat was because Poco was stressed by being at the vet.) What they explained was that Node A would send a signal to Node B to tell the bottom of the heart to contract but Node B was only receiving the signal on every third or fourth beat. Thus, the heart was not contracting properly to send the necessary oxygen out into the bloodstream. Poco was in heart failure. Unequivocally, only a pacemaker would save her life.

The actual surgery required only two small incisions. First, they obtain what is referred to as an “expired” pacemaker. This is one that is normally used for humans but the normal human life span has “expired” leaving only five to ten years left on the functioning unit. Because a dog or cat’s life expectancy is so much less than ours, these expired units fit the veterinary requirements at a greatly reduced price. The first incision is made on the upper right side of the neck. Fatty tissue is removed from this area to make a platform large enough for the pacemaker’s implantation. Next, the second incision is made lower down on the throat where the pacemaker’s wire is navigated down through the right jugular vein all the way down and imbedded into the heart. The pacemaker is then programmed for the particular patient’s heart rate. Although this procedure sounds simple enough there are many risks, including lethal blood clots. If there are no complications, once recovered from the surgery, the patient may go home the next day. Absolute bed rest is needed for at least two full weeks. This time allows the wire to safely imbed into the heart. (Without rest, the wire may not connect properly and then the surgery would have to be repeated.) Constant monitoring of the heart is recommended throughout this time with a home stethoscope. If the heart rate should drop significantly the animal needs to get back to the hospital immediately. After six weeks, a non-invasive post-op exam is required to check the programming of the pacemaker.

Wednesday: Poco had recovered from Tuesday’s three-hour surgery well and spent the night in a sealed cage with infused oxygen. We were told that while she was a sweet and excellent patient, during the night she barked at everyone passing by. They all took this a good sign that she was ready to go home. Hans and I arrived at the hospital at 2:00PM, less then 24 hours after surgery, to go through the release procedure. Poco came into the examination room walking steadily and bright-eyed with her vigilant vet tech, Nate. What a joy to behold – our miracle! We were then educated about her home care with bed rest and that now Poco could never wear a traditional collar again, never have an MRI and blood could only be drawn from the left side as her right jugular now housed her heart wire. Not a bad prescription, considering. 

Poco, now three weeks later, is running along side her Aussie family with the best of them. She is bouncy and exuberant for life. We were told that one day Poco will leave us but it will never be from her Tell-Tale Heart!

Heart disease is now the second most common cause of death in dogs and cats. This had led CSU’s cutting-edge Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery Team to explore, research, educate and provide the most state-of-the art cardiology care in all species of animals in an accessible and compassionate environment. Among its many achievements, this world-renowned team was the first to develop an open heart surgery program and pioneer pacemaker implantation and surgical valve repair in animals. Additionally, the team collaborates with cardiologists at other institutions, both nationally and internationally, sharing their knowledge and expertise to create innovative treatments for human cardiac patients, as well. One such collaboration is with Children’s Hospital in Denver providing revolutionary treatment for infants with life-threatening cardiovascular disease. This team’s mission is to expand the universe of cardiac knowledge, research, technology and treatment for animals from all over the world. Presently this team includes cardiac surgeons Dr. Chris Orton, Dr. Jan Bright (Poco’s surgeon) and Dr. Leigh Griffiths along with the team’s residents, students and staff at 300 W. Drake Road, Fort Collins, Colorado, 970-221-4534.   

  
Poco 24 hours after surgery!!!

Poco 24 hours after surgery!!!

 

What Do “Guardian Instincts” Really Mean?

March 28, 2009

Are We Losing The Guarding Instinct?

In the Australian Shepherd Breed Standard it states, that “The Australian Shepherd is intelligent, primarily a working dog of strong herding and guardian instincts.” In my large dictionary it defines “guardian” as one who guards, protects or defends.” Under the word “guard” it says “to protect from harm, watch over, or defend ….” Although these definitions may seem obvious, they still do not clearly define for me what “guarding instincts” imply in relation to the Australian Shepherd. Yet, the words “guardian instincts” must have been rather important to the original authors of our standard to be included in the same sentence along with “working” and “herding.” But what does it really mean? To that end, this article is to invite dialogue to see if we can come to some consensus on what its meaning has for us today.

Since I’ve been mulling over the possible significance of ‘guardian instinct” for quite some time, and why it was written into our standard with such levity, I will share with you what I think it means to open discussion. Contemplating a clearer definition, I’ve often asked myself such questions as: “Does it mean guarding your truck and the tools inside?” This would almost suggest guarding like a Guard Dog breed, like how Dobermans and Rottweillers are frequently used. Surely it must have more import to Aussies than that. “Does it mean to guard your home, farm or ranch? Your family and your kids?” Somehow, that seems a little closer, but many dogs do just that. Then, I’ve pondered, does it mean something more? Especially for a working, herding breed? A larger, broader, more encompassing picture? Like, “to protect from harm, watch over, or defend…” your livestock too? What if “guardian” were to really mean a sense of stewardship? And, if so, wouldn’t that notion bring on a whole new connotation of what an Australian Shepherd should be – or do? Taking this thought to a further conclusion, if we have herding trials should we now have some sort of test or trial to prove a level of guardianship? Could be an interesting idea…… Again, the nagging question persists, why were these two characteristics given equal weight in the same very poignant, and obviously intentional, sentence?

I would like to share with you some stories that actually sparked my curiosity and interest on this subject:

In 1994, I was asked to write an article for my local newspaper about an upcoming stockdog event and therefore highlighted my good friends, Billy and Linda Pickel, who started out in Aussies and now have Border Collies. I also had to include descriptions of the many uses of herding dogs. The following is an excerpt:

“Over the years, Billy has not only amassed a great deal of knowledge about stockdogs, but many a tale as well. My favorite is when Billy and Linda were traveling back from the Grand Canyon through Arizona. Driving down a deserted back county road, Billy and Linda noticed a band of sheep off in the distance in the nearby hills. At any moment, they expected to see a herder crest the hill and appear over the horizon, so they stopped their car and waited for him by the road. Instead, what they saw was merely three dogs tending the flock. One dog sat atop a hill while the other two worked the sheep at a gentle pace. Suddenly, a lamb separated from the fold. Instantly, the dog on the hill swooped down and put the lamb in check and then calmly retreated back to his hill. The band continued their slow steady grazing. A shepherd never did appear.”

So, is this guardian instinct?

In 1998, I was invited to Warren Livestock, a large family-run ranch, to watch a large band of sheep being unloaded by trucks to be tended by a Peruvian herder, a Wyoming Black and Tan Bobtail,” and a Pyr for the summer. Of note, the Black and Tan Bobtail looked exactly like an Aussie. She, BeBe, calmly collected her sheep – about 2,000 – without fuss and little ado – and proceeded to naturally wear along the back line of the flock to keep them gently grazing. This was just one band; Warren Livestock had a great many. In the Fall, all the bands would be gathered up and trucked down to Laramie to a large holding facility with corrals, pens and chutes. At this time, the spring-born puppies were brought back to reunite with their mothers. It was here that they learned, by example, how to be working, herding dogs. At first, it was a little un-nerving to watch. All those wee pups among the densely crowded sheep. But after about a minute, they all “turned on” as if they knew exactly what to do. The following summer, they too, would be sent to the high ground to work all summer just like Bebe. Little training, most only by example, no stockdog clinics. Makes you wonder. So, is this what our standard’s authors meant by the guardian instinct?

A few years later, my then husband and I took a trip for several days down to Monument Valley on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico. There, we saw small flocks of sheep or sheep and goats everywhere. Usually they were tended by two to five dogs. Some looked like Border Collie crosses, some looked like Aussie crosses but the majority looked like blends of who knows what. As well, one we saw looked like a Lab and another like a pure-bred Chow. In every instance the flocks were being calmly grazed. And, there was never a human. Surely, this must be some form of guardianship!

So, too, my first Aussie, Freya, (Freya Delamere STDd OTDc ATDs)….. I could leave her out with my sheep for hours on end. (Pictures attached) To her, they were “her” sheep. She would patiently push them along to cover the pasture. Although she could be tenacious on cattle, heading and heeling, if need be, she was also a good, wise, and fair shepherd of her livestock. If an authoritative bark would suffice before a grip, she would use it. She knew instinctively the difference between her sheep and her lambs. She knew, again instinctively, the difference between a duck, a ewe or a steer and whether they were going to be cooperative or belligerent. She would herd friends’ children if they were getting too close to a precipice or harm’s way. She was reserved around strangers and protected our home with vigilance yet was one of Laramie’s first Therapy Dogs. While she was most definitely the Alpha to the rest of our pack – one slight curl of her lip would leave the others prostrate on the floor – she was also a benevolent ruler. Undoubtedly, these natural instincts illuminate some sense of guardianship.

 

In light of my experiences, particularly those above, this is what I suspect comes close to a good definition of the guardian instinct – a shepherd with a strong sense of stewardship. Not for just a truck with a toolbox, not for just the ranch….. your husband, wife or children. But an all-encompassing notion that all in the immediate and familiar environment must be guarded and protected with honesty, fairness and respect. So, if stewardship and guardianship could be synonymous, what would be the implications? What might it force us to conclude? Perhaps that we might be thinking about, breeding for, and training for a different kind of Aussie today than what was originally intended in our standard. As well, of late, I often hear the term “prey drive,” most often in conjunction with people saying they would like to add more of this to their lines. Although these words do not appear anywhere in our standard, taking this to its logical conclusion, wouldn’t this be adding the complete antithesis of what our standard calls for? So too, if strong guarding instincts were so important and integral to the original draftees as to be included in the same sentence with herding, is its primary significance being overlooked? Or, better yet, completely misunderstood?

So, if stewardship is a reasonable definition of the guardian instinct, then why are we not more mindful of it? Why, conversely, are there so many covers and pictures in the Aussie Times, on calendars and websites with the same picture, the same message – an Aussie about to hit the head of a cow? Yes, a good stockdog should be able to turn an obstinate head. And, yes a good Aussie should be able to head and heel, if need be. But, doesn’t that go without saying? Like a car comes with wheels? But, should we portray this – the aggressive stance so redundantly, over and over again? Is this the message we want to convey? And, more importantly, was this the intent of our breed standard? Or rather, instead, should we be championing, above all else, the calm, confident, authoritative worker who is truly a shepherd – and strong guardian – of our livestock.

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Freya Guarding Her Sheep