Personality Plus -
- By Kath Williamson
A rugged, handsome individual with a personality that forces you to earn his respect, easily describes an Australian Cattle Dog. Much mention has been made of his speed,agility and endurance, of his strength and other physical attributes.
But what about his mental abilities? We could compare his mind to his body. The mind of an ACD is admired for its quickness, assertiveness and supreme intelligence.
Bred to control the movement of cattle, the Australian Cattle Dog can adapt easily to controlling the movement of other livestock such as goats, horses, sheep, ducks etc. Whilst biting and heeling are integral parts of the breeds working ability, it is not always needed. For example, in the case of quiet dairy cattle or some other livestock, biting can be unnecessary. The dog is clever enough to learn not to use his teeth.
There are tales of dogs that learn not only particular words ("dinner", "ball" and "biscuit" not surprisingly being high on the list) - but after a period of time, like young children, what is meant when their owners spell these same words. The late Barbara Woodhouse, renowned U.K. trainer, often stated that many dogs had the same mental abilities of a five year old child. The Australian Cattle Dog is definitely in this category.
The Australian Cattle Dog's relationship with his owner, and especially with children is held in high esteem. These dogs have a natural love for children and even Australian Cattle Dogs owned by childless households relate easily to young children. Perhaps the dogs sense a kindred spirit - as both children and A.C.D.'s
are intensely curious, fun loving, shrewd and dextrous. They enjoy similar pastimes - learning, exploring, playing ball, eating and loads of attention, and they both work well with praise.
Whilst I have pointed out these similarities, it is to demonstrate the intelligence of the Australian Cattle Dog, and it should be noted that the major difference is of course, the animal can not reason or grasp the concept of logic. Anyone who treats their dog as a child is doing ill by himself and his dog. The commonly heard statement of - "Do that (misdemeanor) again and I will punish you," is indicative that people do treat their dogs as children and not as animals. The owner has to reassess his corrective actions so the animal can understand a reprimand, catching the dog in the act, whatever it may be, or preventing it from happening. Try to understand how the dog thinks and reacts.
An example of the way an Australian Cattle dog thinks is the dog who pulls the washing from the clothesline. imagine you are a six month old puppy; it's mid-afternoon in summer; you are a little bored and hot; you are searching for a cool spot to lay while waiting for your owner to come home. You flop on the grass under the clothes where there is plenty of shade, thanks to several towels and sheets. As you doze, a slight breeze causes something to swish past your head. Startled, you sit up, ears erect, and a big soft sheet comes (seemingly) from the sky and flaps directly over your head. Is this some sort of a game? Maybe a chasing game? What is the instinctive reaction of an Australian Cattle Dog when chasing? SNAP !! - a game, as tug-a-war has been played before with your master.
It is important to always be constant with this breed. Never punish for something you allowed the day before. If you don't want to share your bed with an adult Australian Cattle Dog, don't share it with him as a pup. One of the more fascinating traits of the Australian Cattle Dog is the individual mannerisms and idiosyncrasies adopted by different dogs. This is not a breed where you can generalize - each dog should be trained and treated as an individual to ensure full understanding and maximum co-operation between owner and animal. Some ACD's require quite physical correction methods, while others respond to a softer approach. Once again it depends on the individual. Some you can tell, other s must be asked of what is required.
A temperament characteristic which should be monitored is the strong will of the breed. Care in breeding will ensure this does not become overbearing dominance. Whilst Australian Cattle Dogs are strong willed and forceful (and have to be to move stubborn cattle ),they should be biddable and submit readily to discipline.
Breeders should note the requirements in the standard - "Alert, intelligent, courageous, trustworthy, loyal" - and select for these attributes in their breeding programmes. lack of attention in these areas can produce a dog with a temperament foreign to a working dog, with frightening results. Aggression, hostility and little or no respect for the owner can be the serious results. In such a powerfully built animal, these serious faults can combine into a potentially lethal animal. the future of the breed demands this does not occur.
If we lose the essential character of the breed as described in the standard, we will, in effect, have lost the true Australian Cattle Dog.
The Australian Cattle Dog is naturally suspicious of strangers. In the breed ring, judges should not penalize the puppy that may back off slightly when approached - the dog is merely fulfilling a requirement of the standard. Older dogs, more accustomed to showing, may appear distant or aloof but are simultaneously aware of the proceedings. Disregarding or ignoring strangers, when the dog is in unfamiliar surroundings is common. On well known territory, a more forward approach is taken towards strangers. If allowed, the Australian Cattle Dog will "hassle" visitors to the point of impertinence. I have seen my dogs "test" new people and take their judgment into consideration when meeting new people. The dogs have never been wrong in character assessment in all the years I have owned ACD's. The standard also mentions the Australian Cattle Dog's loyalty and protective instincts. In my experience the Australian Cattle Dog knows what action to take in a given situation. I have found my dogs accept any visitor who is welcomed into the house, yet the dogs will not allow the same person to enter if the house is unattended.
Another common feature is the one man or family policy taken by most ACD's. this bond, when very strong,is an incredible experience, but must not be allowed to develop into jealously.
early socialization of puppies is strongly recommended to strengthen and ensure correct temperament. Commence with gentle handling in the first few weeks following birth, then introduce regular household noises whilst the pups are still in their secure environment with their dam. progress from there to a small outdoor yard and continue to regularly introduce new sights, sounds and smells while their mother is in attendance. By eight weeks, pups that have had their senses stimulated in such a manner are outgoing and confident and settle in their new homes.
The Australian Cattle Dog is a breed that learns from an early age and can easily cope with training from six (6) months of age in either formal obedience or cattle work. By twelve months of age a good ACd with all the attributes of the breed's brain and temperament, should be very advanced in his education.
One apparent regulating aspect of the learning ability is instinct or working ability. Puppies which display more interest in heeling ( their dam, litter mates, humans or livestock ) seem to have more learning ability. Coincidence??? I doubt it, as to work well, the dog needs to be extremely intelligent. They also appear to have less difficulty learning, and a better capability to recall what they have been taught.
The nature and history of the Australian Cattle Dog will assure their popularity with dog owners into the second century of the breed's existence. A ANKC statistics show, The ACD is one of the more popular breeds in this country, with large numbers being bred each year 92,243 registrations nationally in 1993 - ref National Dog Annual 1994). people who are new to the breed should be made aware of the versatility of the breed - not only as a multi-faceted working cattle dog, but in the obedience field, the show arena and as a loyal, intelligent, protective family member. The ACD is not a show pony !!
Education of owner and dog is of paramount importance, especially with such an intelligent animal, and owners of this breed should try to accumulate as much information as possible to ensure each and every Australian Cattle Dog they own reaches it's full potential. With every little bit of knowledge gained, your Australian Cattle Dog benefits and attains greater heights, and you, the owner, reap the considerable rewards.