by Nannette Newbury

An Aussie is not for every family! This is perhaps the most important item to keep in mind when looking into the possibility of adding an Aussie to your family, kids or not. Don't take it personally. Understand that quality breeders of Australian Shepherds want to place their dogs in permanent, loving homes. It has nothing to do with you personally but rather your attitude and lifestyle as it pertains to dogs. You may or may not qualify. The Australian Shepherd is generally very active and intelligent and wants to be around his family all the time. This may sound appealing to you as you fancy yourself a very bright, energetic family. Keep in mind that this means that Aussies learn bad behaviours as quickly as they learn good behaviours and if you are not on top of things immediately you will have problems down the road.

What qualifies a family as an ideal home for an Australian Shepherd?

1 . Although you are a busy family, you like having a dog with you at ALL times; going to the video store, the grocery store, picking up the kids at school and dropping them off for soccer practice. You even like planning vacations where the dog can go too!

2 . If you plan on buying a puppy, at least one adult family member should be a stay-at-home dog mom! Training and socialising a new puppy does not work well when both parents work full time. Remember these are not dogs that flourish when left alone in the backyard.

3 . You have attended obedience class with any previous dogs you have owned and actually liked the classes. Not only that, you have gone past basic puppy obedience class. This requires a commitment of one evening or day a week and short training periods during the week.

4 . You don't mind dog hair. You like spending time and have the time to groom your dog. Australian Shepherds have a long outer hair coat and a fluffy down-like undercoat. This is called a double coat. Although when the Aussie is spayed or neutered and groomed regularly they tend to shed less, they do still shed. Intact males generally shed all their undercoat once a year and bitches will shed with each heat cycle (generally twice a year). In the meantime both sexes shed daily! What is okay about this is that the coat is very easy to vacuum.

5 . You truly understand what it means to have a dog with tons of energy! The most common reasons that Australian Shepherds end up in a shelter or having to find new homes are: the dog is too energetic; the dog needs more room to run; I work all the time and the dog needs someone who can spend more time with him/her; the dog jumps up on people; the dog barks when left in the backyard alone; the dog chases things.

6 . You have adequate fencing. The Australian Shepherd does not do well left alone in a back yard. They want to be where the action is. This is not to say that you can't leave the dog in your yard when you run an errand on a hot day or have a function to attend where dogs are inappropriate. I am talking about leaving the dog alone all day, every day in your yard. They will get bored. To alleviate their boredom they will dig holes, rearrange your landscaping, bark incessantly and jump fences to find someone to be with. Dogs exhibiting these behaviours are generally not enjoyable pets.

7 . You have extra time and attention to give to a dog.

8 . You want to be owned by an Aussie!

9 . You are not pregnant nor have just had a baby. I receive many calls from parents who feel that this is an ideal time to introduce a new dog in the home. I personally don't think so and take in many calls from parents wishing to get rid of their dogs when the child is young or a toddler. Bringing a baby into your home is a major lifestyle change. Bringing a new dog or puppy home is, too. Your time and attention should be spent taking care of the new baby. In many instances a new puppy does not receive the proper socialisation and training during this period of time. A good time to introduce a new dog into your family is when the children are older, after the toddler stage.

10 . If you don't have the time to properly socialise and train a puppy, be open to the possibility of bringing an older, trained dog into your home. This can be accomplished through working with a qualified breeder.

If you think you meet the general qualifications for owning an Australian Shepherd, great! Contact one of breed clubs for qualified breeder referrals. In addition, ask for word of mouth referrals. Be sure to spend some time researching the breeder you decide to work with. They will become in integral part of your life when introducing your new dog or puppy into your home. Make sure the breeder will have time for you after the sale is over. Do not buy an Australian Shepherd out of the newspaper! It is a very rare instance when a reputable breeder resorts to a classified ad to sell an Australian Shepherd.

So you are ready to bring your new pup or dog home. What should you do ahead of time? Be sure to interview and sign up for a training class. You will start with a puppy kindergarten and then when the pup is at least six months old, it should be ready for its first beginning obedience class. Find an instructor who is familiar with Australian Shepherds (their training can be different than other breeds!) or at least familiar with the herding breeds. I suggest one full year of obedience classes for you dog and family!

Buy a crate! This will become your dog's home inside your home. A comfortable place he can go to rest, eat and sleep. It is also a place you can put your dog temporarily for convenience and makes for easy house training. I do not let 8 week old puppies loose in my home unattended. It makes house training that much more difficult once you have had an accident! I recommend a full size 400-size or large-size wire kennel or plastic crate. This will be the size the dog will use when full grown.

Buy and spend time reading the resources books and materials available about the Australian Shepherd. There are several excellent, all-around publications on the breed.

Interview and find a veterinarian familiar with Australian Shepherds.

Depending on the age of the dog you will be bringing home, buy water and food bowls (stainless steel is preferred), toys (nothing a dog can tear apart and choke on), fluffy, washable bedding, buckle collar and leather leash (nylon leashes can cut your hands).

Find a high quality dog food to feed the new dog. Also have some small dog treats on hand.

When the puppy or dog arrives home

Make an appointment for a 'wel'l dog visit to your vet. Get on a vaccination schedule and be sure to get your new arrival on a de-worming programme. Beware that none of the de-wormers contain Ivermectin, which has been proven deadly to many Aussies.

House training: Remember, if you never have an accident, you will be more apt to have a quickly housetrained dog. Once you have even the first accident in the house, you are now re-training. So keep in mind that puppies drink and urinate a lot! The minute your puppy wakes up, take it outside. I pick my puppies up and carry them outside to potty. I use a command like, “Go pee!” When the puppy urinates I immediately reward them with a treat. Aussies tend to house train very easily. So being consistent and on top of things will help out here. Dogs tend to defecate right before or right after eating a meal. This is one reason I recommend feeding young dogs or new dogs in a home on a schedule. You can then almost predict when they will need to go outside. Learn to watch your dog carefully. They will generally try to tell you they need to go outside. Reprimanding the dog after you find an accident in the house is a waste of your time and energy. Unless you can catch them in the act, don't bother. If you do happen catch a dog, try to pick them up quickly, dash outside and place them on ground using your command for potty. Aussies respond well to tones of voice. A disapproving tone of voice is generally enough. They do not need or require hitting or slapping of any kind. If the dog takes a long drink of water right before bedtime, it will have to urinate during the night!

Sleeping: For new dogs I recommend using the crate and putting next to one family member's bed. Young puppies cannot hold water all night long, so you will have to find someone in the family willing to make at least one trip to potty the pup outside during the night. A new dog that is on a new routine will take a little time to get up to speed with the family routine and may need to go out during the night also. Be patient with the new addition. Aussies love to please and when you give them even the littlest of chances they will come through for you.

Eating: For young pups I feed three times a day. When the dog is four or five months old I reduce it to two meals a day. Many adult dogs are fed once a day. It basically depends on your lifestyle.

Down the road

There is not a dog owner around who has not encountered some sort of new behavioural issues or training problem with their dogs. Be willing to see the early signs of unacceptable behavior and seek help immediately. Most of the problems I encounter with the Australian Shepherd are indeed training issues. With a little attention and time the dog can be turned around! Left unanswered however, the behavior can become intolerable to the point of getting rid of the dog.

A major issue with Aussies in pet homes can be overfeeding. This is an active herding breed, and should never be allowed to get overweight. This can be hard to monitor, especially if the dog has been spayed or neutered. They tend to gain weight easily after this time. You should be able to feel the ribs and slight backbone and slight hipbone protrusions on your dog. If you have to push in to feel the ribs and the dog's sides feel mushy, it is time to put your dog on a diet. Restrict between-meal treats. Aussies work equally well for hugs and petting, and food is not often that necessary as a training reward.

Whatever time and attention you put into your new Australian Shepherd, you will be rewarded in spades. These dogs have a huge capacity for fun, loving, play and being downright adorable. You will soon fall in love with your new “wiggle-butt.”

Tips for Happy Aussies and Kids

1. Never leave the children and the dog unattended. A dog that never in the world would bite anyone may accidentally lash out at a child who has stepped on his genitals or pulled his hair or tried to ride the dog.
2. All dogs are pack animals and the Aussie is no exception. They tend to look at children in the home as low on their pack rating scale! This can cause dominance issues to arise in your family dynamics.
3. Toddlers and screaming young 'uns can be hard for Aussies to handle. The Aussies tends to be sound and emotion sensitive. Keep an eye on your Aussie in these situations, perhaps even keep the dog on a leash and close by you. Remind the parents of these children about how to properly approach a strange dog. Children should always be accompanied by a parent and ask permission to pet a strange dog.

Household Rules

1. Read as much literature as you can find on dominance and/or aggression issues in dogs.

2. You as pack leader must go through all doors before you dog does.

3. When introducing an Aussie into a household with other dogs and/or cats:
Be sure to introduce the new housemates on neutral territory. Pick a spot that your current dog does not consider his or her territory. Have both animals on a leash and gently introduce them. I do not recommend bringing a new puppy into a home with an older or infirm dog. It is not fair to the older dog who has given you years of loyalty to have to put up with a young pup hanging all over them and tearing at their ears. Aussies need not chase cats. This is a training issue you will have to control. Aussies can live quite nicely side by side with cats and other dogs.

4. Do not presume to dictate the pack order when introducing a new dog to a multiple dog household. Dogs have the marvellous ability to determine amongst them who will be the dominant member of the pack. However much you may not like their decision and think it should be another dog, you will spend wasted hours trying to make things different to no avail. Watch the dogs carefully; observe their behaviour and accept their decision in this matter. This does not mean that one of your older dogs should be bitten or tormented by a new dog. Remember, dog play can be rough. If you are in doubt, talk to your breeder.

5. Do not allow your Aussie be a bad neighbour. Always pick up after your dog when out walking in your neighbourhood or park. Never leave your Aussie unattended in your yard in case they bark and bother your neighbors.

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