ACD's As Pets
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. ACDs 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 must 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. A tired cattle dog is a good cattle dog.
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 are doing good things then this is wonderful, but if they are doing something bad, you can count on it being horrid.
ACDs have been bred to herd and to do so with force, i.e., biting. Without
their own cattle most will find other things to herd: cats, toys, 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 may be exhibited 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 (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 solution.
Part of this desire to herd comes from a strong prey drive, which 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 become cat or other small animal-killers. 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, or something to chase.
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 and training.
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 may come out after they have been in your home for a while and become comfortable. 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 still 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/situations and not automatically suspicious. He will look to you for guidance as to whom to trust and when to be protective.
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 more than occasionally. ACDs have been called the "rugby players" of the dog world. Many problems and injuries 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 nerve-wracking.
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 the online cattle dog listserves, people refer to their ACDs as "velcro dogs," because they attach to you so firmly, or as "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. They will make you mad, make you laugh, make you cry and make you love them, sometimes all at the same time.
ACDs are very ACTIVE both physically and mentally and it is EXTREMELY important that you can keep both their psyche and body active and entertained. These dogs make excellent hiking, biking, running, and rollerblading companions. ACDs are also known to excel in activities such as fly ball, agility, service work, tracking and Frisbee competition. There is no limit to their versatility when choosing an ACD as your companion. Mental stimulation of your ACD is just as important as physical stimulation. What that means is that they get bored easy and that if you are not inventive, then they will be. Buster Cubes, which can be found at PetsMart or PetCo, Kong Toys stuffed with treats, hiding various types of treats around the house, etc. can keep your ACD occupied for many hours. They are like little sponges, so train them, talk to them; you will be absolutely amazed at how much they can learn and understand.
Written by Shannon Stevens with the help of the volunteers of New Hope Cattle Dogs
|The questions you need to ask yourself when deciding whether or not an ACD is right for you are:
- Can I commit the time and energy to properly train and stimulate an ACD for his/her entire lifetime?
- Can I commit to proper socialization with other dogs and people for his/her entire lifetime?
- Can I handle the strong ACD personality? Do I have the strong, dominant personality required?
author - Shannon's Dogs
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