The Dogs

Hazer

The fun police

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Tanglewood’s Who Dunnit Again CGC, PT.

(Call name: Hazer)

Where to begin? Hazer was/is my first carefully bred Australian Cattle Dog. He’s not my first ACD, but he’s the first one I’ve owned where I did a bunch of specific research and paid a whole lot of attention to things like health testing of the parents. In other words, I was picky. After having had two previous ACD who were NOT healthy (albeit, wonderful dogs), I decided that if I was going to stick with this breed  (a no-brainer) I needed to make sure certain criteria had been met prior to breeding.

ACDs are prone to blindness and deafness. They also (IMO) have a high incidence of skin allergies and ACL tears, the latter which could be part hereditary and part environmental influence. (Over-exercise) My first two ACDs suffered with sudden onset eye issues that rendered one totally blind by age 4 and the other lost one eye to a luxaited lens. (PLL) The female then developed a rare, untreatable liver condition and I had to make the difficult choice to let her go at age 5. They say hindsight is 20/20, and I promised I would be a much better informed buyer next time around.

Pretty is as pretty does

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Enter, Hazer. Hazer is the poster dog for Autistic dogs: incredibly smart, but socially inept. While he has improved some over the years, he remains predominantly unable to communicate even the most basic emotions to humans and dogs alike. Yes, he was heavily socialized and handled as a pup. Everything was done “right” to insure this boy would have plenty of opportunity to thrive. And yet he didn’t. Although I’ve raised several dogs over the last 40 years, this dog has had me totally stumped. And frustrated, to say the least.

Though fairly biddable, Hazer didn’t even wag his tail at us until he was about five years old. He flipped between having a “deer caught in the headlights” look of surprise on his face, and being over-reactive/over-stimulated in very normal circumstances. He picked premeditated, unprovoked fights with housemates. He tried to herd birds in trees and airplanes. He shrieked. A lot. Still, I adored this dog. I held fast to the notion that given the right training, support and environment, he would eventually thrive. But he continued to flounder.

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Get lost, this is MY chair!

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At 13 weeks old we did puppy Kindergarten. Looking back I realize I should have pulled him out of that. He was a land shark who wanted nothing more than to terrorize all the other puppies. But we graduated from that and signed up for basic obedience, which was just more of the same horror. Other classmates kept their distance. Some moved to another class. Hazer was an odd combo of thoroughly irritating and class demo dog. When he wasn’t trying to nail another dog he was learning everything in just one or two tries, then getting bored. I’d retreat to a corner and work on tricks or anything I could think up to keep him focused and working. Somewhere along this time he took (and passed) his CGC. He really didn’t deserve to pass. We used a “test” dog that we knew he wouldn’t try to eat.

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At this point he was still being shown in confirmation. For some reason he could handle being in a venue with thousands of dogs better than a class with just a handful. Go figure … that’s just Hazer for you. At sixteen months, after having suffered through a half dozen or so fights with my older blind ACD, I called the breeder and told her I was through living with an intact male. She co-owned Hazer with me and she had been showing him, hoping to get her first home-grown champ. Fortunately, she understood my situation. She offered to take him back and finish him, then have him neutered and sent back to me, but I didn’t get my pup to have him live with someone else. So Hazer was neutered and his show career came to an end.

Over the course of several years I continued to take different classes, always looking for something that would trip Hazer’s trigger and make him shine. Rally. More obedience. Agility. He continued to nail all the requirements in only one or two tries, but he couldn’t focus on anything if other dogs were nearby. I’d like to say his being neutered helped with the household angst, but truth be told I just became much better at reading body language. There’s a learning curve. I grew eyes in the back of my head and learned what triggers could preempt an altercation. I spent a LOT of time shuffling dogs around and making sure my older blind guy was always safe.

I tried a lot of different training methods. Hell, I probably tried them all. Bottom line, Hazer is smart as a whip, but emotionally he’s not all there. (His thyroid is fine) I learned to adapt my skills to suit his needs and we’ve come a long way. When Hazer was about five he started showing some vague signs of affection. He wagged his tail slightly. He started to hunker down at my feet on occasion. When riding in the car he would stand on the console between the front seats and actually lean into me a little.

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Busted!

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I’m not sure what the deal is with Hazer, but I’ve learned to accept him for who he is. If you’re looking to have a pet that gives you a lot of warm fuzzies, then this is a pretty bitter pill to swallow. The truth of the matter is, I think Hazer was born damaged. His litter was whelped almost two weeks premature. The puppies had to be taken from the Mom and tube fed for two weeks, then when it was time to put them back with the bitch she wouldn’t have much to do with them. I learned after the fact that this bitch had previously had two litters, one that produced only one pup and a littler that only had two. That’s NOT a good sign. I’m not sure if Hazer was injured while being tube fed (he vomits bile almost daily) or if it produced some sort of Post Traumatic Stress syndrome in him. Or maybe his brain just wasn’t fully developed when he was born early and the neural synapses just isn’t there. Either way, it really doesn’t matter at this point. Hazer is Hazer and I love him with all his warts, bumps and quirks. And boy does he have quirks! In fact, his name tag says “Captain Quirk” on the flip side ’cause that’s what we usually call him.

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Two years ago we started formal herding training. Hazer’s done very well and it’s been a great mental exercise for him. I can’t say enough about getting these dogs out and doing what they’ve been bred to do. It’s life-changing for them. I raised Hazer to respect the livestock (horses) on my small farm, but actually teaching him to herd and giving him the opportunity to do what he’s meant to do was hugely satisfying for us both. He’s still not allowed very much free access to my horses, but I think he understands that as long as he’s willing to use restraint here at home, he’ll get his herding ops later. I did put a PT on Hazer, but we don’t herd for titles anymore, just fun and mental stimulation. That’s all we need.

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The sweet smell of fall!

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Living with Hazer has taught me more than I’ve learned from owning and raising any other dog. It hasn’t all been pleasant and our relationship to this day is best described as love-hate. He can swing from being enormously frustrating and infuriating one moment to endearing and silly the next. Like living with any other “special needs” animal or child, he often takes one step forward and three steps back, with triumphs few and far between. We’ve worked enormously hard to achieve the slightest behavior modification toward the goal of desensitizing reactivity tenancies. I’d like to say we’ve found success, but we haven’t. Or perhaps my expectations were to high or I need to redefine success? I don’t know. Either way, we now strive to achieve a middle ground of sorts. We try to accentuate the good, focus on the positive and above all else, keep our sense of humor. With a large catalog of absurd quirks and behaviors, Hazer often makes us shake our head and laugh. If it’s true that pretty buys a boatload of forgiveness, then Hazer has the Mother Lode. He is a looker, for sure.

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Neena

Blue Girl

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Neena-Beana-Banannahead  is the dog that wasn’t supposed to be. Allow me to explain.

I got a call one Friday afternoon from an Internet associate who helps find homes for “rescued” herding dogs; all breeds, but specifically Australian Shepherds and Australian Cattle Dogs. She knew of a young female (possibly) ACD who had been rescued by a small (privately run) Pit Bull group outside NYC. Her parent organization was contacted by this group who in turn called her, asking if she could do an evaluation to help establish the breed and general temperament of the dog. Unable to do the evaluation, she called me to beg me to take on the task. She knew I was causally thinking about adding another dog to my household, but that really wasn’t the point. Being some sort of herding breed, her organization was concerned that the Pit Bull rescue might not adequately screen potential homes for this dog. Herding breeds (in general)  can come with some pretty specific fine print.

I reluctantly said yes. It was a Saturday and a holiday weekend. And did I mention that I’m NYC phobic? Yeah. But I was worried about the dog, so I threw a crate in my car (Huh? I’ll come back to that later!) and hit the road early.

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Iron Queen

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I had an appointment to meet one of the volunteers a half hour before the facility opened. They were staging an Adoption Day and with the spring holiday (Memorial weekend), they expected a crowd. The rescue was nice, but chaotic to say the least. I identified myself and asked to see the herding dog rescue. They had about 30 Pitties and several assorted mixed breeds (predominantly Pit) in a maze of indoor cages and runs. As we wound our way through the back of the kennel the battery of noise rose to a deafening crescendo. We finally stopped beside a small run where a small, thin, plain-looking blue dog paced nervously. I wasn’t sure what to think, but I knew instantly that this was an Australian Cattle Dog, quite possibly a purebred at that. The volunteer asked if I would like to move her to a larger outside run so I could see how she might interact with me and another young mixed breed that they knew she got along with. I agreed.

Once outside, “Cheyenne” never stopped moving. She wasn’t unfriendly, but she was shy and not interested in humans at all. That spring had been one of the wettest on record and the outdoor runs were boggy with pools of stagnant dirty water. Weeds grew rampant everywhere, but I looked around and found a soggy, mushy half-chewed tennis ball. I called the dog, tossed the ball and watched as she instantly shot after it like a bullet. Her companion quickly quit the chase and came over to lean against my legs as “Cheyenne” paced back and forth just out of reach, the ball clamped in her jaws. Eventually she lost interest, dropped the ball and moved off to run through filthy puddles. I bent down to pick up the ball and noticed several medium sized snakes in the knee-high grass. No wonder the dog wouldn’t come any closer!

I hung out with the two dogs for the better part of an hour. By then, the kennel had opened and three volunteers had their hands full with potential adopters. I watched as several first-time hopefuls made contact with some of the adoptable dogs. My stomach did somersaults. I guessed that “Cheyenne” would need a herding breed savvy home. It wasn’t that she seemed to have much baggage, but she was wound up like a top and didn’t appear to be particularly interested in humans. That combo can prove difficult. Often ACDs are one-people dogs and all it takes is spending enough time with the dog to establish a strong bond, but sometimes not. Sometimes they can be very aloof and march to their own music,  and in the wrong home that can often cause trouble down the line.

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Dirty Dog

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I went back through the kennel and found the head volunteer. I told her I’d take “Cheyenne” with me if that was OK with them. They were thrilled. Fortunately, I’d thought to throw a crate in my car. (Make sense now?) Unfortunately, the dog was filthy, wet and smelly from running through stagnant water in the outside run. Next, I did something I’d never in a million years do with an ACD that I don’t know: I picked her up and put her in a wash tub and gave her a bath! Not once did she protest the whole time, but she was quite reserved and remained aloof.

The ride home was uneventful except perhaps for the fact that I doubt this dog had ever seen the inside of a crate. She whined the entire two-hour drive. Once home I made sure the dog was comfortably settled in my basement office. Since I wasn’t going to keep her (I told myself I was fostering her) I couldn’t see stressing her more by trying to introduce her to my gang. I gave her lots of long walks and eventually allowed her to exercise on a 40-foot lead line. We played lots of ball and she soon learned to retrieve and give the ball back to me. She had a happy, positive energy and seemed to bond quickly to me, doing just about anything I asked without question. Initially, I had no plans to keep her but as the days wore into two weeks, I liked more and more of what I saw. I gradually introduced her to Hazer and our aged blind ACD, Dozer. She handled Hazer’s personality handicap with ease and Dozer’s blindness wasn’t a problem. When I started thinking about names I knew I was a gonner: she was staying with me!

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De-stuff my toys? Who, me? No, I'm perfect!

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I’ve raised some pretty tightly bonded dogs, but Neena is probably the most bonded dog I’ve ever had. She would crawl through broken glass if I asked. I didn’t do anything to deserve Neena’s unquestionable devotion. Some will say my having rescued her made her this way, but I don’t think so. This breed never ceases to amaze me and their desire to bond so strongly with one person is not uncommon. To Neena, I’m the bomb. I can’t go anywhere or do anything but that she’s tightly glued to my leg, especially indoors. Yet, she’s not insecure. No. In fact, she’s quite a confident girl, unless there’s thunder and lightening. Then she’s phobic to the max.

Neena is what I call “Active.” She’s not hyper at all, she’s just very “busy.” Neena has a great sense of humor and is all about having fun. She’s the polar opposite of Mr. Serious above, which is good because frankly, I couldn’t survive another nutcase like Hazer. Neena is snuggley, loving, sweet, silly, lighthearted and a total workaholic. (Oh, and a compulsive water drinker. Rare, but true.) And she doesn’t take any crap from anyone either. (See photo below) Thing is, Neena has the appropriate ACD temperament. She has a big dose of patience, but she can (and will) kick butt when necessary. But she never holds a grudge. She’s much too happy for that kind of nonsense.

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Bitch face!

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Sadly, Neena doesn’t always get the accolades she deserves. I guess it can be like that when you live with a problem child who hogs all the (negative) attention. Neena was an agility dynamo for several years, but I “retired” her because it’s hard on their body and well, like most ACDs Neena tends to do everything 150%. She doesn’t care for herding, but loves a good chipmunk chase and will play ball for hours if she can sucker you into it. She’s a notorious counter-surfer who has been known to scale my refrigerator (yeah, figure that one out) and eat my defrosting pork chops out of the kitchen sink. And thanks to the errant engineer, she once free-fed herself full of pelleted beet pulp and had to be roto-rootered by the vet.  Don’t be fooled by her slim, trim physique, she’s a bit of a glutton. We’re working on that!

I adore my little Twinkle Toes. She’s my heart of hearts girl and I can’t imagine my life without her happy smiling face beside me. You won’t find a lot of pictures of the Twinkler on my blog. She’s a bit camera shy and not much of a poser, unlike the red goober above. Besides, I don’t call her Perpetual Motion for nothin’!

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