Australian cattle dog FAQ
This document contains some suggestions on how to handle common
ACD problems, answers to some common questions, and some other
useful tidbits. It is by no means the be all end all on raising
an ACD or handling a behavior problem. We only hope that this will
answer some of your questions or help you with raising your puppy.
In Internet lingo this is a "faq", that is a "Frequently Asked
That being said, we hope that this document helps answer some
of your questions and makes life with your ACD just that much more
ACDs are a lot of dog in a small body and it takes a lot of owner
to raise and handle one. If you're new to ACDs then get ready for
a wild ride. Like a rollercoaster it has its scary and difficult
moments but the end result is exhilarating. All of the effort that
you put into your ACD, and quite a bit will be required, will be
repaid tenfold. Everything that makes them a handful to own and
raise also makes them one of the greatest joys in their owners'
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What is the real name of these dogs
Australian Cattle Dog, Queensland Heeler, Red Heeler, Blue Heeler,
Dingo, Australian Heeler, these are all names by which these dogs
have been called. When the first standard was drawn up and the
first official registry established the breed had to be given a
name and "Australian Cattle Dog" was chosen. The dogs working Australian
cattle came with a variety of names, some local variations, some
more widespread. The name "Australian Cattle Dog" acknowledges
the widespread usage of the dogs and their Australian origins without
putting one local variant of the name ahead of the others. Nevertheless
many of the other names have survived as "nicknames" for the breed
and in some places are the more commonly used name. New nicknames,
such as "Dingo" which is popular in parts of the American west,
occasionally pop up to further confuse the issue.
Despite the plethora of names, they are all still the same breed
and the official name is "Australian Cattle Dog". Many people,
unfamiliar with the history of the breed and its names, believe
that the different names designate different breeds, in other words
that "Blue Heelers" are actually distinct from "Australian Cattle
Dogs", an understandable misconception.
There are a lot of dogs out there working on farms and ranches
and not registered with any of the dog-registering organizations.
Many of these dogs are purebred Australian Cattle Dogs or mixes
of Australian Cattle Dogs and other herding dogs. Frequently the
unregistered dogs are more likely to go by a locally used nickname
than by the official breed name and frequently the ranchers and
farmers with these dogs don't much care what the official name
is. Their interest is in the dog's working ability and they call
it whatever they please. They may not know or care that the "official" name
for their Blue Heeler is "Australian Cattle Dog" and as the dog
is never going to be registered anywhere it doesn't really matter.
Personally I think they can call their dogs whatever they want
and who are we to tell them that the name they're using is wrong.
As long as people are not spreading misinformation, perhaps something
along the lines of insisting that Blue Heelers and Australian Cattle
Dogs are completely distinct breeds, I do not feel that the name
used is all that important.
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While no two dogs are exactly the same there are some commonalties
you can expect between two dogs of the same breed. Knowing these
can help you choose the right breed for you, and also help you
be a better owner for the dog you have.
ACDs are high energy, intently focused dogs. Most will want to
be active and busy most, if not all, of the time. When young they
have two modes, 90 miles per hour and comatose. This energy has
to be directed somewhere or you will quickly end up with problems.
A bored ACD will find ways to entertain himself, usually doing
something you won't like, such as redecorating your house, rearranging
your yard, etc.
That they are intently focused means that whatever they are doing
they take very seriously. Everything they do is immensely important,
from their point of view, and they always do it to the best of
their ability. If they're doing good things then this is wonderful
but if they're doing something bad, count on it being horrid.
ACDs have been bred to herd and to do so with force, ie biting.
Without their own cattle most will find other things to herd, your
cats, toys, your kids, neighbors, the lawn mower, vacuum cleaner,
etc. This can range from cute to annoying to outright dangerous.
Biting at the ankle or hind leg is instinctive and this will come
out whenever they chase or herd something else. While this is sometimes
cute it also means they have a strong tendency to bite PEOPLE,
even just in play. This has to be strongly curtailed from day one
or you will end up with a problem dog. You need to find acceptable
outlets for this herding behavior to keep your dog out of serious
trouble. Encouraging your dog to herd certain toys (see Boomer
Ball) will help. Teaching him to play fetch so that he can chase
a toy repeatedly, which uses the same instincts, is also a good
Part of this desire to herd comes from a strong prey drive, that
is the drive to catch and kill small game. Expect your ACD to be
fascinated by squirrels, cats, and other small animals. Most are
fine with other species IF THEY ARE RAISED WITH THEM, but most
can also easily be cat-killers otherwise. Teaching your dog to
obey you and NOT chase that tempting squirrel can save your dog's
life when he decides to dart across a busy road in pursuit of what
he sees as a possible lunch.
The instinct to bite also means that these dogs are very oral,
that is they use their mouths constantly. They "taste test" nearly
everything and they love to chew. Many will try to gently chew
on people as a sign of affection. Most will chew anything in sight
if this is not directed toward acceptable chew toys. Directing
your ACD puppy's "mouthiness" is an important part of his socialization
While many ACDs are friendly with everyone they meet, most are
also protective of their house and family. Some are suspicious
of everyone new, especially on their home turf. This has to be
controlled as well or you may end up with a dog who does not welcome
guests into your home, or who bites solicitors at your door (which
while a somewhat appealing thought on occasion, does have some
serious legal ramifications.) The best solution is careful socialization
while a puppy. Introduce your puppy to as many new things and people
as possible while he is still very young. Teach him that new people
are a positive thing. Teach him that YOU decide who is safe and
who is not. This will stop the problem before it starts. This does
not mean that your puppy will no longer be protective, just that
he will be more accepting of new people and not automatically suspicious.
He will look to you for guidance as to whom to trust and when to
ACDs have a high pain tolerance and unswerving faith in their
own indestructibility. Couple this with their intense focus and
high energy and you have a dog who is likely to injure himself
not infrequently. Many problems can be prevented with solid obedience
training so you can call him away from or stop him from doing something
dangerous. But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, he will just
bang himself up. Don't panic, ACDs are almost as tough as they
think they are and they heal frighteningly well. It is just good
to be prepared for this when it happens, otherwise it can be pretty
The same instincts that make ACDs superb herders also leave them
highly at risk around automobiles. Every instinct tells them to
chase large moving things, and cars certainly fit the bill. And
the attitude which allows them to face down a charging bull will
lead them to try and face down a moving vehicle, with disastrous
results. It is critical for his own safety that your dog be taught
how to behave around automobiles and that you take into account
his instinctive herding behavior.
The most important thing to know about an ACD is that you will
be the center of his universe. ACDs bond so closely with their
humans that it can be scary. Some pick one person in the household
who is their special person and virtually attach themselves at
the hip while some bond closely to everyone in the household. Either
way the attachment is intense. On ACD-L people describe their dogs
as "Velcro dogs", because they attach to you so firmly, and "Furry
tumors with adoring eyes." Expect your ACD to follow you everywhere
you go and expect him to want to be a part of everything you do.
Proximity, physical contact, interaction such as obedience work,
herding, and just plain play, are the lifeblood of ACD existence.
Keeping your ACD away from you is just about the harshest punishment
you can inflict. This is definitely not a dog who can live in the
back yard and get occasional attention. They need to have your
presence on a regular basis.
You can use this bond to further your training with your dog very
easily. ACDs are forward and like to see what they can get away
with but ultimately the live and breathe to make their people happy.
One book describes them as "Obedient yet bold" which is a superb
characterization. Expect your ACD to constantly test the rules,
probe for the limits, and to test your sense of humor about what
is and what is not acceptable. But also expect your ACD to truly
care if you are happy, to truly want to please you, to truly be
interested in your welfare at all times.
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Hereditary health problems
The only common and hereditary eye problem in ACDs is PRA, progressive
retinal atrophy. Most of the other eye diseases you can detect
in a slit lamp exam at a young age (under a year.) but PRA sometimes
cannot be detected until 5-6 years, and this disease can easily
cause blindness in older dogs. If one of the parents is affected
with PRA, than all puppies out of that dog will be carriers or
will be affected. CERF, the Canine Eye Research Foundation, registers
and tracks incidences of PRA. Before buying a puppy you should
insist on seeing the CERF registration for BOTH of the parents.
Canine Hip Dysplasia (often abbreviated as CHD) is a malformation
of the hip socket. It is hereditary and varies widely in severity.
There are cases of ACDs being so crippled with hip dysplasia at
under a year that the owners were told by the vet that the dog
must either have 2 total hip replacements (cost $4,000) or have
the dog euthanized. Other dogs will be minorly affected and the
problem might not be noticeable until old age.
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, OFA, maintains a registry
of dogs tested for CHD. Owners send in x-rays of the dog's hips
and OFA rates them, Poor, Fair, Good, or Excellent. The owner is
given a certificate which gives the registration number and the
results of OFA's screening. OFA will give a young dog a temporary
registration and rating but a permanent registration and rating
must wait until the dog is at least 2 years old.
Even those not interested in breeding need to insist on seeing
the OFA & CERF clearances for at least the sire and dam of
the puppy. Many breeders when asked about hip and eye problems
say "Oh no, we don't have that problem in my line," but the truth
of the matter is that if you don't check then you don't know. If
dogs are clear of these problems the breeder should be willing
(and proud) to give you the proof of these tests. You can also
call OFA to see if a dog has a OFA# though this only tells you
that the dog has been checked, not how the dog was rated.
Some of us learn the hard way that even though dogs are advertised
OFA good, sometimes it's a lie. Don't be shy. You have every right
to ask for this information. Even with this information there are
no guarantees, but you can greatly reduce the chances that you
will buy a puppy with these problems. And by not buying puppies
from unscrupulous or careless breeders who do not check for hereditary
health problems you are encouraging them to improve their practices
and hence doing a service for the breed as a whole.
Another genetic problem is inherited deafness. This is a problem
in our breed but it is something that can be tested for by the
breeder while the puppies are still in the whelping box. It is
not something that they will acquire later. If a puppy is deaf
in one ear at 6 weeks, it will forever be deaf in one ear but will
not become deaf in the other.
To date there has been no specific research done on Australian
cattle dogs and to do research costs a lot of money. Breed specific
research is almost always funded by the parent club of that breed,
at least partially and so far the Australian Cattle Dog Club of
America has not had the funds for it. However research has been
done on many other large populations of dogs and cats with congenital
deafness and in all the published cases for all the different breeds,
English Setters, Dalmatians, White Bull Terriers, cats, Boxers
et al, the research indicated that the gene for deafness was color
linked. The genes for deafness, when present, are probably linked
to the genes that cause them to be born white, or to have a Bentley
mark, or for the white hairs through the coat that cause the roaning
pattern. This means that it probably will not be removed from the
breed until gene splicing is a possibility.
BAER testing is useful for finding dogs with hearing problems
but it is only a tool not a cure, and no other breed has gotten
rid of deafness by only breeding BAER tested full hearing dogs.
At least one cattle dog person who is a fanatic on deafness and
thought she could rid the breed of the problem has given up. After
7 generations of BAER testing she still gets the occasional deaf
puppy. (Monica Shifflet)
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PRA and "Glowing" Eyes
A quick note on canine eye structure and vision since many ACD
owners worry about PRA. A common rumour states that if your dog's
eyes glow green in bright light then he has PRA. This is half right
but since a healthy dog's eyes can glow green in some circumstances
further explanation is in order.
The iris is the colored part of the eye. It opens to let light into the eye
through the pupil (the dark hole in the middle). The pupil, by opening and
closing, controls how much light is allowed into the eye. Light enters the
eye through the pupil and then travels through the lens which focuses it on
the retina, a very delicate sheet of tissue lining the back of the eye. The
retina contains cells that receive light and send an image of what's seen to
the brain. In PRA, the retina slowly degenerates and vision is lost.
The eyes of dogs and cats have an extra layer of reflective cells (called the
tapetum), located behind the retina. This layer reflects light back into the
retina, giving more sensitivity in dim conditions. In effect, dogs (and cats)
get two chances to see something, once when the light comes in and once when
it reflects back out.
The "glow" that you sometimes see in your dog's eyes, especially in pictures
taken with a flash, is light reflecting off the tapetum. In reality this "glow" happens
all the time as light is always reflecting off the tapetum but in order to
see it a couple of things have to happen. Most importantly, the pupil has to
let in enough light that the reflection off the tapetum will be bright relative
to the surrounding light. As an example, if you shine a flashlight in a dark
room, it looks very bright, but if you shine the same flashlight outside in
sunlight, it looks dim or its light isn't noticeable at all. Since the amount
of light the pupil lets in is based on how bright the surrounding conditions
are, the circumstances necessary to see the glow do not happen very often.
With a sudden bright light, such as with a camera flash, the pupil is caught
off guard and before it can respond, a large amount of light is let in. This
bright light is reflected by the tapetum and you can see the eyes glowing.
Similarly, if you shine a flashlight at your dog in the dark, the amount of
light reflecting off the tapetum is bright relative to the surrounding darkness
and you can see the glow. (The green glow from a camera flash is similar to "red
eye" that you sometimes get from people's eyes in a flash picture. People have
no tapetum so the red glow is due to the light reflecting off the blood vessels
in the eye.)
In a blind dog things work out such that the glow is easier to see under normal
circumstances. Because the dog is blind, the brain assumes that things are
just too dark to see and tells the pupil to open as wide as possible, to let
in as much light as possible. This means the pupil is open wide all the time,
regardless of how bright the surrounding light is. Because of this, the maximum
amount of light available is reflecting off the tapetum making it more likely
that it will be bright enough to see. Also, because the pupil is open so wide
it is easier to see into the dog's eyes which makes it easier to see the glow.
This is not specific to PRA. Any dog that is blind will show this picture because
the retina is just not registering the light.
If you want to do a quick amateur check of your dog's vision, take the dog
and a flashlight into a dark room and then shine the flashlight into the eye.
You should see the pupil shut down fairly quickly to a smaller hole if the
eye is detecting light. If the wide-open pupil stays that way, the eye isn't
seeing. Do make this a fairly quick check- you wouldn't want someone blasting
your eyeball with a flashlight for long periods of time either.
To complicate matters, the lens (seen through the pupil) often looks cloudy
in older animals - this is usually senile cataracts, not PRA. This clouding
cuts down the amount of light getting into the eye which can slow down pupil
response as well. In the right circumstances the clouding can look enough like
the "glow" to fool the casual observer. If the lens is very cloudy, a veterinary
ophthalmologist will not be able to see through it to examine the retina during
a CERF exam.
If you have any doubts about your dog's vision, make an appointment with your
vet. Not all visual problems are due to PRA and not all are necessarily permanent
if treated in time.(Rosemary Hoffman, Mark Abbott, and Leslie Welch)
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ACD puppy owner's mantra
"A tired puppy is a good puppy. A tired puppy is a good puppy.
A tired puppy is a good puppy."
Not enough exercise, mental as well as physical, is a common cause
of behavior problems in this breed. As one breeder puts it, "An
intelligent dog like a cattledog puppy is always on a quest for
knowledge. Use that to your advantage, teach them good things,
because if you don't, left to their own devices they will learn
bad things. And trust me, Hell hath no fury like a bored cattledog
puppy. (Monica Shifflet)
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Building a Healthy Relationship with
Humans and dogs get along well with each other because we both
are social animals. We both want many of the same things and make
strong social bonds, however it is critical to remember that your
puppy is not a person. He does have some crucial differences in
what he needs from you and how he communicates with you. By taking
these differences into account you can use your knowledge to build
a healthy and happy relationship with your puppy.
Many people do not realize it but dogs treat people as if we were
other dogs. They use the same methods of communication and expect
the same sorts of relationships as if we were just funny two-legged
dogs. This means that in your dog's eyes your household is his "pack",
much like a wolf pack.
acks have structure. Each dog knows his place in the pack, whether
he is top dog, somewhere in the middle, or bottom dog. Most dogs
are quite happy to hold any position in the pack as long as it
is clear cut. Ambiguity in the pack hierarchy is stressful for
the dog and he will attempt to remove the stress by clearing up
this ambiguity, usually by testing to see if he can dominate other
members of the pack/household. This is definitely NOT viciousness,
even if it involves some aggression, it is just an attempt to get
Contrary to popular opinion it is not necessary to beat your dog,
terrorize him, or in any way abuse him to make sure that you are
alpha in the household. (By the way, top dog is called the "alpha
dog" in animal behaviorist lingo and I'll be using it as well.)
There are non-forceful methods to cement your position with your
dog which work very well.
People often ask if it is truly necessary to be alpha with their
dogs, can't they just be friends? Here is how one ACD expert answers
"Damned straight, we must. While I adore my 1300 lb horse, there's
no way I'm letting him be in charge of our relationship. Because
he and I BOTH know that I'm in charge, he can relax and quit worrying
about mountain lions and the equally dreaded blowing plastic bags.
If it's scary, I'll let him know. "Alphaness" is much more than
terrorizing your dog (or horse) into submission. It's leadership,
authority, fairness, consistency. Alpha is interesting, always
has fun games to play, good stuff to eat (or sniff) and is altogether
a much cooler critter to be around than just anybody. Alpha takes
care of the pack, and can be trusted to do the right thing. Alpha
will decide whether the mailman lives or dies (personally, I let
him live!), and can be depended upon to retrieve toys that get
smooshed under the bed. Those "rule books" we laugh about are a
dog's lifeline. They NEED that kind of structure, to have clear,
black & white explanations.......A good alpha is*attitude*
and posture, and only very little action. They establish their
leadership just by being leaders." (Mary Healey) Being alpha AND
friend is the best bet, and easily accomplished.
So, how can you go about having your puppy see you as the leader?
1. Food is a wonderful tool to use to establish your position
in the pack hierarchy. The alpha gets first choice in all food
and decides if others get to eat or not. You can use this to your
advantage is several ways. For one, eat your own dinner just before
you feed the puppy. This teaches your puppy that he ranks below
all the humans because they eat first. Two, as soon as your puppy
knows some basic obedience commands, use them! Have your puppy
sit before you give him his food. By making your puppy be obedient
for food you are sending strong signals that you are alpha.
hree, hand feed your puppy often. If you sit on the floor and
dole out his kibble by hand this is another very strong indicator
that you rank him. Similarly, handing out tidbits from your own
food is a powerful tool to use. This shows your dog that you have
special food and that occasionally, if he's very good, you will
Four, while your puppy is eating give him a basic obedience command,
such as "Sit". If he obeys then praise, treat, and let him go back
to eating. If he ignores you then pick up his food and put it away
for 5 minutes or so. Only obedient dogs get food is the message.
Note, this is only fair to use when you are absolutely certain
that your puppy knows the command "Sit" otherwise he'll just be
Five, teach your puppy that you can reach into his food bowl while
he's eating. Start by being nearby while he eats and move up to
offering treats. When he's comfortable with this start putting
the treats directly in the bowl while he eats and eventually graduate
to reaching in, handling the food, and not leaving a treat. This
accomplishes two things: your puppy learns that you control the
food, even when he's already eating it, and that you are also the
source of special treats. You are showing your puppy that your
alpha-ness is a benevolent thing. You are demanding but also fair
and hand out treats. This is a very important exercise for children
as many are bitten when they get too near the puppy's food bowl.
With this training the puppy can learn that children are allowed
to not only be near his food, they can reach directly into his
2. Leash your puppy to your belt while you are at home. This accomplishes
several things. For one, you always know where the puppy is and
supervision becomes much easier. Keeping your puppy out of trouble
will make both of your lives easier. But this also teaches your
puppy that you are the center of his world and that being with
you is the preferred place. Everywhere you go the puppy goes with
you. It will also encourage you to talk to your puppy, as discussed
elsewhere in this document, if for no other reason as you jolly
him along while you walk around the house.
3. Alpha leads and so should you. If your puppy forges ahead of
you then he is attempting to lead. The easiest solution, assuming
the puppy is on leash, is to simply turn and walk the other way.
This teaches the puppy that you, not he, set the direction you'll
both be going, and he needs to watch you to see which way you go.
Similarly always be first through doorways. Make your puppy wait
while you go through any doorway. This is a big one for many dogs;
many see order through doorways as a clear sign of rank in the
pack. If I call my dogs to come into the house or get into the
car they always go in the pack order. If the more submissive dog
gets to the door or car first then he/she waits for the dominant
dog before proceeding.
To teach this simply tell your puppy to "Wait" at the doorway
and use the leash to enforce this (gently, no jerking just prevent
the puppy from forging ahead. You can teach the "wait" by using
the leash to prevent the puppy from going ahead while saying "Wait" and
putting an open hand in front of the puppy. The open hand will
often stop the puppy in his tracks, at least momentarily, so you
may not even need to use the leash.)
4. Work on establishing regular eye contact with your puppy. Dogs
use eye contact as a key part of their communication and you can
use this to your advantage. Whenever you notice your puppy looking
at you stop and praise him. Give him a pet or a treat as a reward
for looking at you. Quickly you will find that he focuses on you
regularly, making it easy for you to get his attention. This teaches
your puppy that you are the center of his world and that paying
attention to you is always a good thing.
You can also use eye contact, once it is a regular thing, to further
your own communication with your puppy. When you are scolding your
puppy look straight into his eyes and be angry. Your puppy will
see that in your eyes with no difficulty. Similarly, looking into
your puppy's eyes with love will communicate your love, strengthening
the connection between you.
5. Talk to your puppy. Many people feel silly talking to dogs
but it really helps your relationship. Dogs do not start off knowing
that they should listen to people but by talking to your puppy
regularly he will learn to listen to your voice. Sprinkle the occasional
pet or treat in with your talking to add extra incentive for the
puppy to listen. What you say to your puppy can be as simple as "We're
going downstairs now" or "I'm going to fold the laundry now". It
doesn't have to be anything special at all, what is important is
that you are keeping a line of communication going. This teaches
your dog to pay attention to your voice which is very helpful when
you want your puppy to obey a command. You'll also find that your
puppy will learn many phrases which you use regularly. Dog can
develop quite large vocabularies and this will speed the process
6. Once your puppy knows some basic commands, use them constantly.
Ask for a sit before you pet or play with him. Have him do a down
before you give him a toy. Make him drop toys on command on a regular
basis. This sort of thing goes a long way toward convincing your
puppy who's in charge. And the better your puppy becomes at listening
to you the more confident you'll become of your role as alpha.
7. "Get outta the way!" When your puppy is in your way make him
move. Rather than going around him, a submissive behavior, make
him get out of your way, a dominant behavior. You can do this with
just a gentle push with your leg, coupled with a word for a command.
8. Teach your puppy to drop things on command and then use this
command regularly. You can teach a "Drop it" (many trainers say "Leave
it", either is okay) command very easily. When the puppy has a
toy in his mouth offer him a tasty treat in exchange. Most will
immediately drop the toy to get the treat. If you give the command
as you hold out the treat your puppy will quickly learn what "Drop
it" means. Expand this command to having your puppy drop food .
This is an even stronger expression of dominance as food is very
important (see #1 above) and can also save your puppy's life if
he picks up something dangerous or poisonous.
Use this command regularly to have your puppy drop toys or give
up pieces of food. If he drops the toy/food he gets treats, praise,
and the toy/food is returned. If he refuses then take it away and
put it up where he can't get it.
9. Practice basic submission exercises. Two which are very useful
are the "Settle command" and tummy rubs. Tummy rubs are pleasant
for most dogs and so be sure to make them a part of your normal
handling. You can also stand behind your dog, lift up his front
paws so his is standing on his hind legs, and with your other hand
rub his tummy. This is a very submissive position for your puppy
but the tummy rub makes it pleasant as well.
For the "Settle" exercise, place your pup gently on his side with
his head on the floor. Using the words "Easy" or "Settle" in a
firm tone, require the pup to lie still for a few seconds and release
him with your release word ("Ok" is common, I've also heard "Finished!", "All
done", personally I use "At ease!") Do not release him when he
is struggling. Wait until you gain control and then release.
Most puppies will put up at least some resistance when you introduce
this exercise. Use your voice and hands effectively. Praise your
dog quietly and stroke him slowly when he is cooperating. At the
first sign of resistance, correct him in a firm tone of voice and/or
physically place him again into a full prone position with his
head on the floor. Follow with immediate quiet praise and slow
stroking. This is particularly important with a pup that is very
excitable or mouthy. Over-handling or rapid hand movements will
be counter-productive. Quiet hands will lead to a quiet dog!
Gradually increase the duration of the exercise until your pup
will lie still for several minutes without resistance. Three or
four brief sessions per day, especially during the early stages,
will produce the best results. Initially, you will want to conduct
your sessions in a low distraction environment.
10. From an early age handle your puppy all over. It is the alpha's
privilege to touch his underlings however he wishes. If the puppy
complains then give him a light scolding and continue, or even
just ignore the puppy's complaints and continue. If your puppy
reacts positively to your handling, or even just ignores it, be
lavish with the praise and hand out treats. You can teach this
by doing no more than a second or two of handling followed by praise
and treats. If the handling is short enough your puppy will not
have a chance to complain before the praise and treats start, teaching
him that handling is fun. You'll find that your puppy will quickly
be happy to stay still for longer and longer handling sessions.
You can also use petting your puppy to work this. While petting
your puppy in a way you already know he enjoys, use your other
hand to handle the puppy in someplace more sensitive such as the
paws or around the genitalia. Your puppy will soon be happy to
allow you to touch him anywhere and your veterinarian will thank
you many times over.
11. Once your puppy is used to being handled try giving him a
massage. With the puppy lying down gently manipulate the muscle
along his back, chest, neck, and legs. This is a very dominant
exercise for you, and hence very submissive for the puppy, but
it's also very pleasurable for both. It will help to build a strong
bond between you while simultaneously cementing your position as
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In housetraining, the only real solution is extreme vigilance.
You just have to make sure that you're ALWAYS watching him so that
you can whisk him outside when he does go. And you need to take
him out constantly, maybe every 30 minutes, for awhile until he
gets the idea.
1. Always take him to the same spot outside so that the smell
will encourage him to go.
2. Take him out at regular, short intervals and give him the chance.
3. Take him out on leash. Stand around and wait for him to go,
don't make the trip out fun while you're waiting for him to do
4. If he does go while you're outside immediately hand him a treat,
play with him a bit outside, basically make sure that he has lots
of positive associations with going in the right place. If he doesn't
go after a minute or two, go back inside and try again later.
5. If he starts to go inside pick him up and whisk him outside
immediately. Most dogs will stop when picked up and now you have
him needing to go and outside. Note, this isn't punishing him for
going in the wrong place, just startling him into stopping and
then giving him the opportunity to do the right thing.
6. When you can't watch him confine him in a small place, preferably
right nearby. This will discourage him from urinating or defecating
because dogs like to keep their immediate areas clean. If the place
you confine him is near wherever you are he won't mind it very
much. You can put his crate in the room with you or you can put
him on a short leash, shorter than two feet long, attached to something
7. Even when he's confined take him out on a regular basis to
give him a chance to be good.
8. Make sure you use a good enzymatic cleaner to get rid of any
odors from where he has had accidents in the house. Even if you
can't smell it he probably still can if you've used normal cleaners
9. The most important part of all this is to take responsibility
for any time he goes in the house. If he urinates or defecates
somewhere inappropriate it's YOUR fault, not his. He's just a puppy
after all and you're an adult human. If you keep this attitude
it helps keep you from getting mad at him, which just doesn't help,
and helps you to adjust what you're doing to match what he needs
to learn. If he goes when you're not looking then you're not vigilant
enough. If he goes when confined then you haven't taken him out
recently enough, etc.
Using this attitude and methods I've never had any trouble at
all. With dogs I've gotten at 8 weeks old it's never taken more
than 7 days to have them going to the door to ask to be let out.
With our rescue pup, who had been living in a crate for a month
and had never been housetrained before it took nearly 3 weeks but
that's still not all that long.
Even when they start being good about it you still have to assume
that they're puppies and take them out fairly regularly. At 9 weeks
Clovis was asking to go out but he could only hold it for about
30 seconds. He'd freeze in the middle of playing, run to the door,
and stand there quivering. If I ran and took him out immediately
I'd get there in time. If I didn't get there in time he'd pee inside
and be very contrite. So I still had to watch him closely and I
still had to confine him when I couldn't watch him, even though
he knew what to do. Over several weeks his bladder control, and
his awareness of when he needed to go, both improved and this became
less and less of an issue.
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Nipping and biting problems.
ACDs are bred to bite in their work and this instinct will show
itself early on. Teaching ACD pups not to nip humans is a critical
part of early training. There are several different methods recommended;
the key is consistency. Pick a method and work with it. You may
not get an immediate response but hang in there. If after a week
or two you still don't see any change then consider switching methods,
but more likely the problem is in your consistency or delivery.
It's key to remember that ACDs have been bred to respond to force
with force; "if a cow kicks you then come back biting harder" could
easily be the ACD motto. Purely physical punishments don't tend
to work well with ACDs because of this. You need to make sure that
you are communicating with your dog, communicating that biting
is NOT all right. Here are a couple of methods:
One, act like the puppy's mother would when he bites her. Grab
the puppy's muzzle and pin him to the floor by it for a few seconds.
Growl angrily or verbally scold your puppy. Be really ticked off.
Being pinned to the floor by his muzzle is clear dogspeak for "you've
been very bad". Hold the puppy down for a few seconds, until he
gives in, and then let him back up. As soon as the correction is
over you have to immediately turn off your annoyance. From the
puppy's point of view the incident is now completely over.
If he bites again then do it again. Make sure that your growls
etc. are truly convincing. ACDs are virtual mind readers and if
you can't be convincingly angry then your puppy won't get the message.
Two, act like another puppy in the litter. Puppies bite each other
in play all the time and they quickly learn how hard they can bite
before their playmates get upset. Whenever your puppy clamps down
on you yelp in pain. Again, you have to be truly convincing or
your puppy will think you're just making play noises and take that
as encouragement. The yelp can be an angry yelp directed right
at the puppy to up the ante. You'll know your puppy understands
if he briefly submits, ie drops his ears, lowers his head and tail,
perhaps even lowers his whole body slightly. This submission will
be over almost immediately and you have to turn off your annoyance
just as quickly.
Don't forget to yelp when your puppy bites clothes. From the puppy's
point of view human's clothing should be an especially sensitive
part of their bodies, ie biting clothes seems to REALLY hurt people.
Your puppy will quickly decide that biting clothes is a bad idea.
Once your puppy is no longer biting hard, change your criteria
and yelp whenever he bites gently. When he's down to just gently
mouthing you switch to yelping whenever he initiates the mouthing
behavior. Using these steps you can train your puppy that 1. people
have really sensitive skin, and 2. they should never use their
mouths on people unless the people initiate the behavior.
I personally prefer the "Yelp" method because you can practice
it a LOT very easily. Just play with the puppy and put your hands
in his mouth as part of the game. When he bites, yelp, accept his
brief submission and then go back to the game. My preferences aside,
both methods work very well.
In both of the above methods there are ways to up the ante and
make the correction for biting more severe. With the "mother dog" approach
you can add in a scruff shake (grab the puppy by the scruff of
the neck and give a quick shake, again a behavior the puppy's mother
With either method social isolation is a powerful way to make
the correction more potent. When a puppy bites either his mother
or his playmates too hard too often they will refuse to interact
with him for awhile so again we're communicating with the puppy
by using a "punishment" which another dog would use. Immediately
isolate the puppy away from you for a brief period. 5 minutes is
ample. I find that isolation where the puppy can see you and hear
you but not actually get to you (behind a baby gate is great) works
really well. Make sure you completely ignore the puppy for the
entire time. Your puppy will find this EXTREMELY frustrating and
take it as a serious punishment.
Above all, be consistent. No matter how cute it looks for that
10 lb. puppy to be hanging on to your pants cuff you have to treat
it as a serious infraction. If the puppy thinks that you'll see
his behavior as cute, even just 1 time in 20, he'll keep doing
it despite punishments.
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Chewing and destructiveness in the
The easiest way to handle destructiveness problems is to never
let them start (see the ACD puppy owner's mantra). Make sure that
your puppy is always, always, always supervised. Whenever he shows
the inclination to chew on something inappropriate substitute something
acceptable. At first just use gentle distractions as you don't
want to discourage chewing in general, it's very good for the teeth,
you just want to discourage chewing on inappropriate things. When
he knows a "Drop it" command then you can use this to get him to
stop chewing something unacceptable and reward him with treats,
praise, and a good chew toy.
Make sure that your puppy always has a supply of acceptable, and
tasty, chew toys around. What your puppy likes will vary. Different
dogs like to chew different things and the same dog's tastes will
change with age. Try several different things to find what your
puppy likes and change which toys are out regularly to keep them
all new and interesting. Putting a toy away out of sight for a
few weeks can make it new all over again.
Toys with a central cavity or hole, things like Kongs (available
at most pet stores) or bones, can be made VERY interesting by smearing
a little peanut butter or cheese inside. This can keep a puppy
busy for hours as he tries to get at the good stuff just out of
When you cannot supervise your puppy then confine him someplace
where he has acceptable chew toys and can't reach anything unacceptable.
Crate training, for when you are out of the house and for at night
while you sleep, is essential for preventing destructiveness problems.
If you dog is already destructive in the house the problem is
more difficult but by no means impossible. Not only do you have
to teach your dog what is acceptable to chew, the same as with
a puppy, you have to completely remove the unacceptable chewing
behaviors. This can take some time as the behavior has become a
habit. You have to treat the dog as if he were a puppy and never
let him have the chance to chew on something forbidden. Encourage
chewing on "good" things on a regular basis. And remember, scolding
your dog for something which happened while you were out of sight
is counter productive. Most dogs will just associate the scolding
with your returning, not with the chewing. This makes the dog anxious
about you while you're gone, and anxious dogs chew to relieve stress.
The best bet is to treat him like a puppy and confine him someplace
safe while you are away.
(Back to Table of Contents)
Consistency is probably the single most important thing when raising
a dog. If you are not consistent the dog will see this ambiguity
as an excuse to get away with otherwise punished behaviors. One
important tidbit of animal behavior which has come out of behavioristic
studies over the years directly relates to consistency.
"The occasionally rewarded behavior is the longest lived behavior." If
you always reward a dog for something he will tend to show that
behavior regularly. If you then stop rewarding the behavior the
dog will usually stop showing it before long. If you always punish
for a behavior then the dog will stop showing that behavior quite
quickly. But if you punish for a behavior sometimes and reward
for it others, the dog will continue to show the behavior over
and over and over. In fact, if you sometimes punish and sometimes
reward for a behavior, even if you later switch to only punishing
it will take an extra long time for the dog to stop whatever it
is. This is a basic principle of animal behavior which works for
any animal tested, including humans.
To put this in concrete terms let's look at the behavior of begging
at the dinner table. Many people find this annoying 90% of the
time but occasionally the dog comes across as cute and receives
a tidbit of food. This is a classic example of the occasionally
rewarded behavior. Even though the dog is usually ignored or even
punished for begging at the table, because begging works once in
a great while he will keep trying it forever. The ONLY way to get
rid of the begging behavior is to make sure that it never, never,
EVER results in the dog getting food.
So, consistency is key to teaching your dog good behavior. "Bad" behaviors
must never be rewarded, they should always be either ignored or
punished, whichever is appropriate. No matter how cute the "bad" behavior
is you must not let the dog know that you find it so otherwise
that behavior becomes a standard part of his repertoire.
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Punishing your ACD for misbehavior
ACDs were bred for a hard physical job and they have very high
pain tolerances. They firmly believe that if something challenges
them physically the correct response is to come back biting. While
this is a helpful attitude when working grumpy cattle it does present
problems when you want to scold your dog for being bad. Physical
punishments just are not the right way to go. For starters, you'll
have to use a lot of force to actually upset your ACD, enough force
that you risk doing him substantial damage. Secondly, he is unlikely
to respond to this by being contrite but instead may see it as
a reason to challenge you. By far the best bet is emotional blackmail.
Emotional punishments are much more effective with an ACD.
Probably the harshest punishment from an ACD's point of view is
to put him behind a baby gate in the next room. He can see you,
hear you, but not be near you. The only physical punishment I ever
use is bitter apple sprayed in the mouth, and this is only for
aggressiveness with other dogs. Choke-chain, pinch collar, my ACD
really doesn't care. But a bad taste in his mouth makes him pathetic,
contrite, and very well behaved.
Note, when I say I do not use physical punishments with my dog
I mean that I do not jerk him around with a pinch collar and that
I certainly never hit him. This does not mean I never correct him
physically, just that any physical methods are based in dog communication.
Any physical methods I use are not done to cause pain but to provoke
an appropriate emotional response. By using methods based on understanding
dog behavior you can issue what your dog sees as a pretty severe
punishment without causing any pain at all.
If he is being truly bad, that is completely ignoring me or doing
something which is dangerous to himself, I use very strong corrections
to let him know that I am angry and I am definitely the BOSS! First
of these is grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and giving him
a good shake. Second is grabbing him by the scruff on either side
of his neck and cheeks and lifting his front feet off the ground.
I then stare directly into his eyes at close range and tell him
in no uncertain terms just how annoyed I am. Finally is the so-called "alpha
roll", where the dog is rolled onto his back, held down with a
hand on his chest, and I stare into his eyes and tell him off.
All of these punishments are reserved for severe infractions and
all are very quick (it has probably been 5 years since any of my
dogs did anything which warranted an alpha roll, or even a lift
by the cheeks). None of these should last more than 5-10 seconds
and even that is getting long. And as soon as the punishment is
over the incident is forgotten; from the dog's point of view the
subject is forgotten after 10 seconds or so. Not that he doesn't
try to be extra good for the next three or four hours, but holding
a grudge will do no one any good.
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It's not uncommon for a dog to get into trouble while we aren't
looking. Getting on the kitchen counters, emptying out the trash,
etc. are favorite activities while the humans of the house are
otherwise occupied. You cannot scold a dog for something it has
done in your absence. This only confuses the dog and does not solve
the problem. So, how to handle such things?
I'm a firm believer in booby-traps. When Clovis went through his
brief phase of taking used Kleenex from the bathroom trash here
is what we did. I took a piece of cardboard and bent it such that
it rested, somewhat precariously, on the towel rack above the trash
can. Then I balanced 3 shaker cans (empty soda cans, penny inside,
taped shut) on the cardboard. Finally, I crumpled a kleenex, tied
it to the cardboard with a thread, and put the kleenex in the trash.
When Clovis rummaged in the trash he pulled down the shaker cans
and I didn't even have to be in the room at the time. Problem solved.
The key with booby traps is that they must be something which
will startle the dog but not hurt him. With a little creativity
almost anything can be booby trapped successfully. To really make
them work, arrange for them to be set off while you are in the
next room. When the trap goes off every human in the house should
run in and scold the dog. Your dog comes away thinking that 1.
that the kitchen counter (as an example) fights back when you try
to steal food, and 2. people are psychic, they knew when he was
getting on to the counter even though they were not there!
One final tidbit, if you can associate a particular smell with
the trap you will help the dog remember why he doesn't do that
behavior anymore. For example, if the trap is set on the kitchen
counter, switch counter cleansers the same day you set the trap
for the first time. You dog will associate the new cleanser's smell
with the trap.
As another example, here is how one owner cured her dogs of chasing
cars past her property. This isn't strictly speaking a booby trap,
because people were involved in scolding the dogs, but the spirit
is the same.
Well, today, one of the few cars that we see on our rather isolated,
dead end road, came along, and Bear and Sam who had not had their
usual daily exercise today for various reasons, RACED after the
car which can only travel very slowly on our gravel roads, and
I went nuts! Afterwards I frantically read through all my dog books
and found a potential cure. I called a friend, drove to her house,
sat in the passenger seat of her car (unknown car to my dogs) and
had her drive slowly past our place. I kind of hid down low in
the front with the door open and ready. When they came out running
toward the back wheels, she stopped and I jumped out, raising all
kinds of hell, alpha rolled everyone, screaming and carrying on!!
The expression on their faces when they saw it was me coming out
of the car was priceless! Anyway, we drove back to her place, borrowed
another car and repeated it - this time they were hesitant but
they still approached. Same thing. Sam ran and hid in the middle
of a patch of yucca plants and Bear didn't know what to do or where
to go. So, another car and one more pass. This time I was inside
the house so the dogs could know I wasn't in the car. My friend
was prepared to run out of the car as I had. Both dogs saw the
car coming and plastered themselves against the front doorway of
the house. It was very effective. Will repeat tomorrow with different
circumstances. Just thought someone might like to know.... (Karen Johnson)
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ACDs and kids
Before the baby comes home from the hospital, bring home something
with its smell (ie a blanket or clothes) and let the dog small
and snuggle with it. This will get the dog used to the new member
of the household before the physical introductions take place.
If you think it will be a real problem for the dog, you can buy
a baby doll a few weeks prior to the arrival of the baby and carry
it around. Let the dog get used to you having your time occupied
with something else.
When the baby comes home don't keep the dog isolated from it.
Your dog will naturally be curious and keeping baby and dog separate
will just increase this and perhaps make the dog a bit frantic
to find out what that new thing is. Arrange for the dog and baby
to spend as much time as possible near each other, playpens are
wonderful things, so they get used to each other from day one.
And from day one set up rules for interactions between the two.
And above all make sure you set aside some quality time for the
dog. Older siblings routinely are jealous of new babies because
they take up so much of the parents' time, and this problem is
just as common with dogs.
Clear rules for dogs and children solve most problems. Babies
arrive immobile and non-threatening, and then pass through a stage
where they are a source of lots of dropped food (very attractive
to an ACD) before reaching the toddler stage, so this gives the
dogs time to get used to the idea. It is important that the dogs
understand that the baby is part of the pack and is the alpha dog's
puppy. Children need to know that hitting, kicking, or teasing
the dog is unacceptable behavior. If you have a basically nice
dog and allow sensible controlled access to the new baby from the
start - and obviously never leave them together unsupervised -
you should have no problems.
All that being said, it is true that some dogs are just not going
to be good with children. When raising your puppy you should consider
whether you will eventually have children and this should affect
how you train and socialize the dog. An adult dog who has had little
exposure to children will not know how to treat them and may easily
be to rough. Some dogs will be suspicious of children, they don't
act like adults after all and this could be perceived as threatening.
In general these problems can be solved by carefully socializing
your puppy with children while it's still young. If you don't have
children of your own, find a friend and 'borrow' some.
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ACDs and cats
ACDs can do very well with cats though it helps if they are introduced
at the puppy stage. ACDs have a strong prey drive and unless they
recognize cats as members of the household they may consider them
lunch. The best bet is to handle the introductions while the dog
is still a puppy as this is when they learn which species are friends
and which are food.
The vaunted ACD high energy level and strong desire to herd may
make them less than ideal friends for a cat even when they do get
along. As long as the cat has a refuge from the dog then things
should work out. Here is an example of ACD/cat relationships in
On cat chasing: We have 3 cats as well as our two dogs and this
is an occasional issue. We police it somewhat but it depends on
which cat is involved. Binabik is the youngest cat and he joined
the household when Clovis was 1.5 and before we had Maeve. He will
come and ask the dogs to chase him around. It never looks like
he's enjoying it but he'll come back and ask for more. I've seen
him wake Maeve up to get her to play. Rhea is the grand damme of
the household, at 16. She bloodied both dogs when they were pups
and got a little too rambunctious for her taste and both have a
healthy respect for her. They both tease her unmercifully but if
she gets upset both back right down. Chase games are entertaining
to watch since nobody ever wants to catch her. If she escapes at
a fast walk then the dogs chase at her fast walk pace. Very amusing.
Moo-Cow (I know, dumb name but he looks like an Angus and he's
about as dumb as a rock. Which is insulting to some sorts of granite.)
at age 14 is afraid of both dogs, unless he's in one of his 'safe-zones'
(and nobody has been able to figure out yet why some places are
safe and others aren't). Both dogs know that if they go after him
he'll startle and scramble in terror and both dogs love it. Again,
neither wants to corner him because of the claws but mostly he
just runs away. In this case my wife and I interfere and help out
the cat. The dogs are not allowed to chase him around because it
traumatizes him so much. It's been made clear that if he's cornered
he panics such that he'll try to do real damage and Clovis will
then respond in kind. We just stop the whole thing from happening
before it starts.
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Adding another dog to the household
In general this will not be a problem as these guys are very pack
oriented. If your dog understands that you have added this other
dog to the pack acceptance should come pretty quickly. If your
current dog has been well-socialized then he will probably welcome
a puppy quite happily. Adding an adult dog can be a bit trickier
but usually you shouldn't have any serious problems. The two dogs
will have to work out who is top dog and this may lead to a bit
of sparring. In most cases this is noisy and looks and sounds horrible
but no real damage is done. Occasionally you will see two dogs
who truly do try to hurt each other and this is a much more difficult
problem, beyond the scope of this document.
Introducing the new dog someplace neutral, such as at a park,
is always a good idea as it reduces the chances of territoriality
being an issue. Once they have gotten used to each other then you
can bring the new dog home. For the first several days, until things
settle down completely, you probably should not leave them alone
together just to be on the safe side.
Jealousy over toys or food can spark squabbles but with a little
forethought you probably can prevent this problem from ever happening.
Make sure there are plenty of toys around so that each dog can
have what he or she wants. Feed the dogs in separate bowls at least
6-10 feet apart. If one of them has trouble with the presence of
the other while eating try separating them with a glass door. This
allows them to see each other while eating but prevents direct
interaction. You can slowly move the bowls closer to the door,
over a period of days or weeks depending on the severity of the
problem, until they are used to eating near each other.
You may have some difficulty with jealousy over human attention.
Setting firm rules about what is and what is not acceptable behavior
should solve this problem pretty quickly. Just make sure that you
are fair and give the established dog at least as much, if not
more, attention than the new dog. This will help the established
dog adjust to the newcomer.
One final issue, pay attention to how the dogs regard each other
as far as the dominance hierarchy goes. When you greet your dogs,
give them a treat, or do almost any sort of interaction with both
dogs right there, the top dog should be dealt with first. Doing
this in the wrong order can easily provoke fights. The top dog
will feel that you are undermining his position and may feel the
need to attack the subordinate dog to reestablish his status. This
can be difficult with a new puppy as their cuteness leads to them
getting the most attention and usually the first attention. Be
sure to greet the senior dog first and spend your time and attention
Puppies can be a real pest to adult dogs. They want to play all
the time, they steal favorite toys, they get in the way, a whole
host of little annoyances. Adult dogs need to be allowed to police
puppies for their own sanity if nothing else. If the adult dog
is not allowed to scold the puppy then you may have problems with
the two getting along. In addition, learning the ropes from an
adult dog is a normal part of puppy life. You, as alpha "dog" will
certainly scold the puppy when he gets out of line and your adult
dog should be able to as well. As long as the adult dog is doing
no serious damage, and it is a rare adult who would harm a puppy,
there is really nothing to worry about. And ACDs are often officious
and love enforcing the rules. You may find that your adult dog
not only keeps the puppy from being a pest, he may keep the puppy
from breaking YOUR household rules. Sometimes a puppy is easier
to raise with an adult ACD around as the adult dog will do some
of the babysitting for you!
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Chaining vs. Crating
There are several reasons not to chain out a dog, even for brief
intervals, and several good alternatives.
1) Dogs on chains can be teased by kids or attacked by unleashed
dogs. They really are at the mercy of whatever comes along.
2) The frustration of being tied up can lead to aggressive behavior.
(By frustration, I mean not being able to get to that squirrel,
kid walking by, other dog, etc.) I'm not saying this *always* happens,
but it is a frequent consequence. With a breed that was originally
bred to heel (read bite), this is something to be considered seriously
- especially because you have children around. You have a great
buddy for them and want to keep it that way.
3) You have to try to anticipate every place the dog could get
hung up and injured and shorten the chain or remove the object.
Dogs can be very creative this way, and ACDs are very agile and
athletic jumpers. I won't subject you to the horror stories, but
4) If dogs are left for any extended period of time, the weather
can change (so they need access to shelter) and they can easily
knock water bowls out of reach. It helps if there's a neighbor
willing to keep an eye out and rescue them.
Now for the alternatives.
A crate or X-pen (a 4x4' wire pen that can have a top put on for
the acrobats among us), works very well and allows you to leave
the dog in the house while you're gone. These can run you from
about $50 to $100, depending on how strong/heavy/fancy they are.
Most dogs LOVE their crates- especially if that's a place where
they are given food and toys. It becomes their private den. Some
like the wire ones even better if something is draped over it to
cover the top and sides (although puppies usually think the drape
is another toy!) We crate our guys when we need to vacuum (OK-
we *always* need to vacuum, but I mean when we actually get around
to it!), when we have people working on the house, etc.
We've also been amazed at how our dogs (Elkhounds, an Elkhound?
mix, and an ACD mix who used to snap solid fence boards in half
lunging at them) adjusted to "temporary fences" made from metal
T-posts hammered into the ground every 8' or so, and 5' wire fence
material that can be bought in rolls for about $0.50 - $1 a foot
at hardware stores. Somehow, when the dogs can see through it,
they don't try to go over, under, or through it. The quotes are
there because we've moved around the country a bit, and some of
our temporary fences stayed as long as we did. (Rosemary Hoffman)
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