Written by Kim Taylor
This is Osirc (so he’s Ossy the Aussie :) ), my 6yr black tri Australian Shepherd.
Osric was the first dog we owned and although he’s now one of a pack of three, he’s the only dog we’ve owned from pup and the only dog we’ve bought from a breeder. Here’s 5 things my little goober has taught me over the last six years.
The Australian Shepherd was a breed my husband had loved for years. We’d always talked about getting dogs once we had our own place and a yard large enough to accommodate them. We contacted the The United States Australian Shepherd Association and asked lots of questions and they made sure we found an amazing breeder.
How did we know she was such an amazing breeder? Because she quizzed and tested us a lot before she even considered letting us have one of her puppies. She made it very clear they’re not an ideal breed for first time owners and stressed the importance of making sure we knew what we were getting ourselves into.
The first time we went to visit her, the puppy's aunt jumped up to greet us and gave me a little nip on the chin. As we’d done our research, we knew how common it was for this herding breed to use their mouths so we weren’t phased. It wasn’t aggressive and it didn’t leave a mark. If we’d have made a fuss, it would have been obvious this wasn’t the breed for us.
This doesn’t mean it’s acceptable for any dog to bite (it isn’t!), but puppies learn all about the world with their mouths and it’s a trait many Aussies carry into adulthood. It’s the responsibility of the owner to train them what is and isn’t acceptable.
We saw the puppies and their mum, we also met their aunt and uncles and she gave us the contact details of the father’s owner’s as he was an international dog. There was no doubt where our little jellybean was coming from.
Another sign of the quality of our breeder was the binder she sent us away with. It was huge and full of everything we needed to know about Osric. From his family tree (going back several generations on both sides), all the titles his family had won over the years through to a thorough guide on Australian Shepherds. When we took Ossy along to his first vet trip, our vet said they’d never seen an info pack like it from any breeder. She also set up a group chat and 6 years later, those of us who joined, still share pupdates and news so we know what his siblings are up to.
It doesn’t matter what breed you go for, puppies aren’t easy! Here’s a short list of some of the silly mistakes we made, or at least the things we’d do differently if we got another puppy:
Mistake 1: We’d just bought our first home and spent several weeks renovating and decorating it before we picked up Osric.
Lesson learned: never decorate before getting a puppy (especially not with light gray carpet!)
Mistake 2: Four months after Osric came home, I was in a nasty traffic accident. Although this wasn’t really something that was our fault, it meant my husband was suddenly responsible for looking after all the house stuff, working full time, visiting me in the hospital and taking care of Osric and his training at a crucial time in his development.
Lesson learned: Make sure your puppy can have 100% of your attention whilst they’re still learning.
Mistake 3: We knew Aussies were smart so it came as no surprise that Osric was top in puppy class every week. He mastered new commands quicker than any other puppy and we stood there proudly patting ourselves on the back.
Lesson learned: Don’t become complacent, the more your dog can learn, the more you should be teaching him. Luckily this was an easy one to fix, at the age of six, Osric still loves learning new commands and words so we make sure he’s never ‘done’ with training (just last week I accidentally taught him the word ‘Hippogriff’ whilst watching Harry Potter as he kept looking inquisitive at the TV every time it appeared).
My husband and I are both lucky enough to have worked from home long before Covid made it so popular. One of the main reasons our breeder let us have Os was because he’d rarely be on his own. Unfortunately, a family emergency meant he was left home alone for six hours one day when he’d never been alone for more than one hour. This freaked Osric out and he took his energy out on our $1000 armchair - in case you’re wondering, this is what it looked like once he was finished with it. I contacted a few furniture restorers to ask if it could be repaired and they all laughed at me!
Lesson learned: Even if you think your dog will never be left alone, make sure they’re OK with their own company. Practice separation training. Looking back, we should have tried leaving him on his own for a few hours here and there. We now have cameras around the house so we can always check up on our dogs if we do have to leave them. We also have contact details for several local doggy check-in people and dog walkers who have met our dogs and can check in on them if needed.
This is a common phrase associated with Australian Shepherds. It doesn’t mean that once they reach adulthood they’re sent to a careers advisor. It means they need something to do other than adorning the couch (or turning armchairs into abstract pieces of art).
Australian Shepherds are a working breed, they’re bred to herd livestock. You don’t need to send your Aussie chasing after several dozen heads of cattle but you should consider a hobby. Aussies are very smart and learn easily (with the correct training), consider things like agility, flyball or obedience training - all activities that Aussies are naturally good at.
For Osric, we found he was brilliant at scent work. We tried several different trainers, looking for one that would actually challenge the stubborn furball, and ended up with a working dog trainer that specializes in training gun dogs. Whilst Osric never got the hang of retrieving (not being a Retriever this was hardly surprising), he did turn out to be brilliant at ‘Seek’.
When Osric wants to play with a toy, we don’t just play fetch or tug, we play Seek. He has to wait outside the room whilst we hide it and then he finds it.
When we go for walks, one of us will scout ahead or hang back and hide from him and he has to find us.
If he wants a treat, he’s given the command ‘seek’ and he knows he has to find it.
Lesson learned: A walk isn’t just a walk, it’s a training or working opportunity. A treat isn’t just a treat, it’s a training or working opportunity. The more he’s made to use his brain, the calmer and more obedient he is. The more attention he gets from us, the happier he is.
Australian Shepherds are very similar to Collies, both are working dogs most often used to herd animals. Both are exceptionally smart and both can form very close bonds with their humans. That being said, Collies are more malleable whereas Aussies are more stubborn. When given a command, an Aussie will ask themself, ‘what’s in it for me?’ - a reward? The praise from my owner? Most dogs might follow a command because they want nothing more than to make their human happy but an Australian Shepherd can be a little more self serving.
When Osric plays Seek, he knows his reward is the toy or the treat or finding his missing pack member. When he’s told to sit, he knows it’s because I want his attention and his reward is my attention.
Lesson learned: Some weeks are easier to do more training in than others and when we’ve gotten lazy with his training, the change in his behavior is very obvious. He becomes less obedient or stops obeying commands all together. He barks for the sake of it or just to release energy. He’ll assign himself a job to keep himself entertained which is usually emptying a bin, digging a hole in the garden or barking at anything with a pulse that walks, flys or hops anywhere near our house.
As soon as we go back to more regular training sessions, he’s more obedient day to day and calmer and quieter.
He’s the sweetest, most lovable dog who never needs to be asked twice for a hug or a paw, he’s the first to greet us when we wake up in the morning and the last one to settle at night once he knows everyone else is tucked up safe in bed.
My greyhound is my sleepy constant companion and we’ve worked so hard with our Husky to teach him to trust us. Together they make the most wonderful pack.