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Frequently Asked Questions...

We get a lot of email and phone calls from present and prospective Aussie owners who have questions, and we notice that the same questions keep being asked over and over.  Below are some of the questions and our answers.  Please Remember that our answers reflect OUR opinions only and not necessarily those of every Aussie breeder or stockdog trainer!  Do you have a question?  Please email it to us, and we'll try our best to answer it!

I understand males (or in some cases) females are best? I hear a male (or in some cases) female is more aggressive, or harder to housetrain, or not as good with children.

Whether you're picking a companion, worker, or competition prospect, in our opinion the sex of the dog is not a determining factor in how good it works, whether it's a good watchdog, or companion, etc. It all depends on the individual animal and how their genes happened to come together. We've had females that were very dominant, much more than our males, and we've got males that were sweet and gentle, and vice versa. A lot of people say that a male is harder to housetrain because of his inclination to "mark" his territory, but again, this depends to a large extent on the personality of the individual male. Some males never mark inside, on the other hand, there are females that are very hard to housetrain. Neutering does seem to help the marking problem, and the more submissive males do not seem as inclined to mark as the dominant ones. If there are no other males around, or no intact females, you may also find your male less likely to "mark"...in short, analyze the individual puppy for the traits you are looking for, without regard to sex.

Although we don't have young children of our own we encourage all our neighbours' kids, and kids belonging to our friends, to come play with the puppies.  All of our pups that have gone to homes with "dog educated" children have done extremely well and they love kids, cats and other people...again it's a matter of proper socialization! 

Is it true that red dogs are more aggressive than other colors?

Absolutely not in our opinion.  We've got Aussies of each of the four colours and none of them are overly aggressive except working stock and when it's appropriate and required...training plays a huge part in this.  We believe that the aggressive behaviour is more likely a combination of the ancestry of the dog, the upbringing and handling and possibly many other reasons.  We personally do find that our dogs can be more reserved with strangers but we believe it is just that they are 'working bred' from good strong working bloodlines and they can exhibit more of the natural "who are you and what are you up to: type reserve found in a lot of working Aussies.  With proper socialization they overcome their reserve and are very people oriented.

Can I let my dog run loose?

This is one of our big NO NO's! If you don't care anything about your dog or your neighbours you'll let your dog run loose unsupervised.  Any dog that's worth anything is going to be a little trouble, and Aussies are no exception. They are an intelligent, high energy breed, inquisitive and easily bored. Remember that they were bred to work livestock.  If left unconfined and alone, they will quickly seek a way to amuse themselves. If they have any working instinct, they will look for stock to work -- either yours or your neighbours. When they find it they will work it by their own method, and it most likely will not be a method you will approve of!! They might bring a neighbour's stock home to you, push stock through fences, become excited and chase young stock -- all sorts of things. One of the quickest ways to teach a young, good working dog bad habits is to allow it to run out and work the stock any time and any way he wants to.

Even if they don't have any working instinct your dog will find something to get into…something that can be fatal. Things that we don't even think of as being harmful can be deadly to a dog. We even know of a dog that swallowed a golf ball he found on the neighbouring golf green and nearly died. And of course there are always the highways. "But my dog never goes anywhere" you say. Well, he may stay around for a while, even a long time, but one day he will decide to explore. Especially an intact male dog -- the enticing aroma of a bitch in heat travels for miles and a male dog will forget all about his loving master and home and do whatever he has to do to find that bitch. And when he does, if she has a conscientious owner, you can bet your male won't be welcome in her boudoir!!  Mind you a conscientious owner won't leave a bitch in heat loose to start with!

We love dogs and animals as much as anybody, more than most people. But we will also be the first to say that there's nothing more irritating than a dog that comes around uninvited, be it a much loved neighbour's pet or a rambling stray. We are firm believers that no dog, including ours, should bother anyone. But everyone is not as patient and tolerant as we are, and farmers and ranchers in our area especially don't like loose dogs...they have a tendency to chase livestock!  If you allow your dog to run loose and be a nuisance, it may very well turn up missing or injured, or even dead by very unpleasant means. Some people will do anything. So if you care about your dog, don't let it get in a position where this could happen to it.

Contrary to some people's misconception that confining a dog is cruel, it actually is one of the most responsible and loving things you can do for your dog. But let's be sure we define what we mean by "confined". We don't mean crated all or even most of the time, or confined in a small space with inadequate exercise. What we mean is having a good, secure fenced yard (be sure the fence is high enough and remember that Aussies are very athletic and can JUMP and CLIMB!!  We have a few that can jump a 6 foot height of chain link from a stand-still) or a nice, shady or covered secure kennel that your Aussie can stay in when he's not with you. All of us love our Aussies but remember they are animals, and since they don't have our reasoning ability they don't always perceive danger. It is up to us to protect them.

My Aussie is about eight months old and all of a sudden is scared of everything. What's going on?

It has been our experience that almost every Aussie goes through several "fear periods" during their first two years.  These can occur when it is anywhere from a few weeks to over a year old. Suddenly everything becomes a "booger". You might walk out one morning and the dog barks at you like you’re a stranger. Things that it has seen every day since birth are new experiences. It acts scared of everybody and everything. This stage can last from one week to several weeks but with few exceptions, they all do recover. During this fear period, we continue to treat our dogs just as we always have. Don’t pamper them, just normal treatment like nothing is wrong. One day you’ll go outside and everything will be back to normal.

Do you have any of those "rare" white Aussies for sale?

Sadly, we get inquiries similar to this quite often. We also get inquiries from people who have bought a "rare" white Aussie and now notice or heard that there might be something wrong with it, and want to know to do. White Aussies (also called merle whites and lethal whites) sometimes result when two merle Aussies are bred to each other. (For more information on the merling gene, click here.) Whether caused by ignorance or greed of money, anyone who knowing sells these puppies should, in our opinion, be banned from the registries.  Having said that, we do not ever had white Aussies for sale.

My Aussie is scared of bad weather and loud noises. Is there anything I can do to help him/her?

This is a common problem in Aussies, and a tough one to solve. We've had Aussies like this and through various conditioning methods have seen some improvement in their behaviour, but no cures. We've tried relaxation CD's of thunderstorms and even cassettes especially designed with thunderstorms and gunfire. The dogs paid the tapes absolutely no attention e think because they knew they weren't real. We've tried conditioning by getting out a favourite toy and playing with the dog while it's thundering, to distract them and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Even if it helps in that particular storm, the next time one comes up, you will need to do the same thing all over again. We've tried herbal remedies with very little success. We think that it’s not only the sound of the thunder that makes dogs afraid of the storm, it also has something to do with the change in the barometric pressure. Our dogs that don’t like storms act peculiar and let us know several hours before the first cloud appears that a bad storm is on the way.  None of our dogs is overly fond of gunshots and usually will go in their kennel or come in the house if they hear them and we believe that's a good thing!

How do you pick the best working pup from a litter to keep?

It doesn't seem to matter how much time and thought we put into the selection, sometimes we find out later we let the best pup go!!  In selecting a working pup, we look for the most aggressive on stock one. The one who thinks, who sits back and watches the others before jumping into the fight is generally a good one too.  We like the "thinkers".  We also like a puppy that would rather follow us around than play with its littermates, the one that comes running when we call. We usually bring a lamb or a duck either in the kitchen or the kennel (depending on weather conditions) and let the pups get an introduction...and we watch carefully for the reactions.  Some pups are interested others are "on it" right away...trying to herd the animal around.  We've seen everything from no interest to a couple of 5 week old pups that grabbed a Runner Duck by the neck within 3 seconds!  Indecently even the pup that showed no interest is working stock like an old pro by the time she was 6 months old...she turned out to be the best worker in that litter!

Is there anything in particular you suggest doing with a working puppy that will make it a better dog?

Keep the pup with you as much as you possibly can when it's young!  We have a handout we give folks with herding commands, many of which can be taught as part of puppy obedience training.  You need a good solid "come to me" and "down" before you start trying to train a pup on stock...and a "that'll do" and "leave it" are also extremely handy to get their attention when the excitement of being with stock is there.

I've got an older dog that works good. Why can't I just turn this pup out with it and let the old dog teach the young dog how to work?

This can work but if you do this, your young dog could relate to the old dog as its pack leader and work for him instead of for you.  Also a pup will easily pick up any bad habits that the old dog has. It’s best to start a young dog by itself and let him learn that he works for YOU. Use the old dog for back-up but don’t let him teach the young dog how to work. That’s your job as pack leader. Later when the young dog knows his commands and is accustomed to working for you alone, you can work the two dogs together, and there's nothing more awesome to watch than a pair of dogs working stock in a quiet and controlled manner!

Why does my dog bark so much when it works?

We have found this is due most often to a lack of confidence in a young dog.  The dog is frustrated about something. They may be trying to figure out exactly what to do, how to get the stock to move, when they don’t have the confidence to walk up into the stock to get it to move. Some dogs will also bark when the working situation gets tough and stressful, as in a competition situation where precision control is essential and the dog is feeling a lot of pressure. Normally when a dog gets more confidence in himself and his handler and has more working experience, the barking will cease, or at least greatly decrease. If your dog is barking because of frustration, especially if it is young, you might try putting the dog in different working situations and helping the dog move the stock in different ways so that he sees he can be successful. Some dogs may never completely quit barking, as they may never gain the confidence they need in all situations. By barking, the dog feels that he will make the stock do what he wants them to do.

There is a lot of difference between a "frustration" or "stress" bark and a "control" bark. Some dogs will first warn the stock, in particular cattle, with just a bark or two (not a constant yipping). Even the tone of the bark is different from a "frustration" bark. This control bark tells the cattle, "Move on your own or I’m coming with teeth." Even the stock can sense the difference between a control and a frustration bark. Some people think a working dog should be completely quiet while working. During my thirty years of working dogs on livestock, primarily cattle, I’ve always found a control bark to be helpful. In a lot of cases than it is more effective than a bite, especially when working large groups. A control bark tells the whole group, "There’s a dog back here and I mean business." If a dog grips, the only one who knows about it is the one who got nipped. Also, to me a control bark is easier on the stock than a grip, and the whole idea is to move the stock in the calmest and easiest manner possible.

We like to teach our working dogs to bark on command. This is very useful when having to move stock after dark in the winter time, or when we have escapees at night. You can’t always tell where the dog is, but if you can give him the "Bark" command you'll soon know his exact position.

What about using my Aussie to work my horses?

We do not recommend using a dog to work horses, especially young dogs. An older dog with experience dodging cattle hooves might do better but we know of several who were either killed or severely injured while trying to work horses. Horses aim their kicks better than cattle and some horses will even come after a dog and try to stomp it. If you intend to use your Aussie to work horses both you and the dog should have a good deal of experience. It can be done, but be careful.  We choose not to let our dogs work horses because we like being able to take the dogs along when we're out riding the ranch or in the mountains...the last thing you need in the Rockies is a horse jumping around because one of the dogs got too close and it thinks the dog is going to heel it!

I've heard the working lines are aggressive toward people. Is this true?

Generally speaking, more dogs from working lines have retained the "old time" Aussie temperament than those from non-working lines. The Aussie was bred to be a working dog and protector of family and home, and in those days there were no conformation shows for Aussies. Now there are, and the dogs that are shown need a happy, never-meet-a-stranger, "pet me, pet me" attitude in order to do well in the breed ring. In our opinion this is not in keeping with the ASCA breed standard regarding temperament. We are not condoning aggression; there is no excuse for a dog to be aggressive unless it is provoked. However, we believe some people are using the term "aggressive" loosely and confusing the term with the naturally protective, reserved temperament of a lot of the working dogs -- which is how ALL Aussies used to be and in our opinion, should be.

True aggression can be caused by many factors – inheritance, lack of socialization, bad experiences at a young age, improper handling, and abuse, just to name a few. We feel there are just as many aggressive Aussies from non-working lines as there are from working lines.

Somebody told me that any Australian Shepherd would work my cows, because it's a herding breed and all herding breed dogs work. Is this true?

Absolutely, positively NOT. Neither can just "any" thoroughbred race!! It is a sad but true fact that there are an awful lot of Aussies out there who don't have any inclination at all to work; some are even afraid of the stock. Working instinct is an inherited trait and is easily lost if care is not taken in a breeding program to preserve and enhance it. Even if you breed two good working dogs, there is a chance there will be one or two puppies in the litter that, for unknown reasons, don't want to work. So if you want to increase your chances of getting one that WILL work, you should be sure that at least both parents (and preferably all grandparents) actually worked stock. It is also a little more difficult to select one to work cows. You should ask if both parents actually worked cows. Some dogs may work smaller stock but lack the power or constitution to tackle cattle. If the parents worked the type stock you have, your chances of getting a puppy that will be even better.

Do you train working dogs for other people?

For several reasons we do not take any outside dogs for training. Time here on the farm is busy and limited and we don't believe you get the best value for your dollar having someone else train your dog.  The dog will bond with that trainer, will understand them and work well with them and then you come along and the dog doesn't "know you" in a working relationship and it's hard to ensure that you do things the exact same way we would, a very important part of the learning process!  We do however offer herding training for your and your dog!  We do offer clinics during the year that are open to all working breeds. For more information please see our herding information page or click on the following link to contact us.

Do you ever have started dogs for sale?

We get lots of requests for started dogs but unfortunately rarely have one for sale to the public. We have a long waiting list for started dogs and are able to produce only one or two per year. Normally the puppy (or adult) is purchased from us with the understanding that it will be started later on. Prices begin at $800.00, depending on the amount of training the owner wants the dog to have, and whether they wish it trialed and started titles completed.

A word of caution if you're planning on buying a started dog:  Be SURE that you and the seller have the same thoughts about what "started" means.  To some people, if a dog has been exposed to stock at all, even on a lead, it is "started".  Others don't consider it started unless it has a good, controllable "down" and is reliable on its flanking commands, walk-ups, etc.  Just be certain that if you're buying a started dog it has had the training you expect.  Ideally, you should visit the dog and owner and have him/her work the dog for you, then let you work it to see if you and the dog are going to get along.  The owner should also be willing to give you some tips on how to work the dog.   If that's not possible, at the very least you should see a good video of the dog working so there will be no misunderstanding about what it can/can't do.  Also, be sure that it's been started on the type stock you will use it on.  A dog started on sheep may not be ready to work cattle yet.

 

To our new puppy owners:

We sincerely appreciate your interest in our Australian Shepherds. We work hard at producing what we think are some of the best working dogs in this part of the country. It is of very important to us that you are happy with your Aussie and that you have a long and happy life together!  In order for you, and your dog, to be happy your dog must be able to do the job for which you purchased it. Each puppy is individually selected for a particular owner based on the puppy’s personality and what the owner’s expectations and needs are.

Many people ask if we will help them with their puppy. I am more than willing to help with dogs purchased from us; however, we do have things that we ask that you do in order to give your puppy every chance to fulfill your dreams!

Your Responsibilities:

As responsible breeders, we have a responsibility to you to help ensure that you are happy with your dog. Likewise, there are some things that are your responsibility to do to ensure that you are happy with your dog. Among them are:

Spend Time with your Dog - Bringing a dog into your family is just that - you are adding a family member. The life expectancy of a well cared for Aussie is 13-16 years, and your dog will spend the majority of those years loving you and trying to please you in a productive manner. But a dog that is left by itself all the time with no socialization and minimal human contact is probably not going to turn out like you want. The more time you can spend with your dog, the better. Get to know him - take him with you whenever possible, especially when doing chores. Even if not a "house dog", allow him to come inside for periods of time, for instance, at night when the atmosphere is relaxed. He will enjoy a little conversation and attention, and will learn how to behave inside. CAUTION: NEVER let your dog ride in the back of a pickup unless it is restrained or in a crate that is tied down.

Confinement - Strong working dogs are not like dogs bred for companionship or show...they are bred to work stock, and that is what they are going to do whenever they get a chance. That is one reason why you should never let a working dog run loose. First of all, it is dangerous for the dog (poison, communicable diseases, autos, other dogs, irate neighbours, etc.). Second, a working dog that wants to work will find stock to work if left running loose - it may be yours, it may be the neighbours’ - but work it he will, and unsupervised, he will do it according to his set of rules which you can bet will be very different from and much more lenient than yours. In today’s society most of us have fairly close neighbours, within easy visiting distance for a dog. Be courteous to others and do not allow your dog to become a nuisance. If he does, he may meet with an unpleasant accident, especially if he gets into someone else’s stock. We emphatically recommend that if you don’t already have a kennel, build one. Contrary to what many people think, it is not cruel to confine a dog. It is for the dog’s (and your, and your neighbours’) best interest.

Crate Training - We highly recommend that you purchase a large size Vari-Kennel or "dog crate" and teach your puppy at an early age to stay inside it without whining or barking. Again, contrary to what many people think, it is not cruel to ask a dog to stay inside a crate for reasonable lengths of time (not all day long. especially when still a young puppy). From its wild ancestry, dogs inherit a desire for a hole, or den, to go to so that they feel safe, secure, and protected. Once your puppy gets used to the crate it will view it as its "den" and go inside readily. Many people use them as indoor dog houses. Crates are invaluable when your dog is ill and must be confined; those times when the dog doesn’t need to be underfoot; trips to the veterinarian, traveling in general, and as a housetraining aid. Speaking of vets, yours will certainly appreciate your puppy being used to a crate. Then if it is ever boarded, or has to stay at the vet’s because of illness, no one will have to listen to continuous howling and barking.

Basic Obedience - Every dog needs basic obedience. Short, simple lessons can begin as early as a few weeks. Obedience does not have to be taught in a structured environment such as obedience classes, although your dog will benefit from the socialization these classes offer. Basic obedience should be taught before formal herding training begins. Most of the basic obedience commands are also used in herding. Your puppy should be taught what we consider the "good manners" basics - walk on a lead, sit, lie down, quiet, come when called, stay, and no. It should also be taught not to jump up on people, using the command "off". At least basic obedience will also make the dog a more enjoyable companion for you.

 You Are the Control Panel

The dog must recognize YOU as the "control panel" , or "leader of the pack", the one who gives it assistance, guidance, and commands.  Be reasonable, but firm and consistent in your discipline.  Puppies establish a pecking order quickly once established, it is hard to change.  Be sure that YOU are at the top of your puppy's pecking order!!  This is another reason why it is important for you to participate in the training lessons with your dog. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know anything about working a dog right now, you can both learn together. That’s the best way and it all starts with basic obedience before it can lead to training your pup as a stockdog or agility dog, or anything else!

Be Patient!

Remember, this is a puppy!  You may begin your obedience lessons any time you wish and the earlier the better in our opinion; however, you do need to ensure that your puppy has sufficient vaccinations before taking classes!  For stockdog training we recommend waiting until the dog is at least six months old. It is normal to become impatient and want to see results from your working puppy at an early age, but it is important to remember that it is first a baby, then an adolescent, then a young adult, and finally a mature adult. Just as a baby, adolescent, or inexperienced young adult cannot be expected to do a job as well as an older, more seasoned adult, neither can the equivalent in a dog. It will take many months, or even years of practice for your dog to reach its full potential. Unlike other breeds, an Aussie does not mature completely mentally until about five (5) years of age, so it is fully capable of learning new things well into its mature years. Pushing and expecting (or demanding) too much of a dog too soon may create working or thinking habits that are hard, if not impossible, to overcome.

Five Free Lessons

As a new owner of a Mikatura Aussie you are entitled to five free lessons for you and your dog if you live close enough to take advantage of them. Subsequent lessons are available for a fee. Notice that we say "five free lessons for you and your dog". Your presence is required!  A handler and his dog are a team that work together to get the job done. Since you will be the one working the dog on a normal basis, it will not be productive for you to drop your dog off for us to train.  We will help you train your dog, but we will not fully train it for you. You must be a willing participant. In addition, please read the following:

Free Phone Consultations

If you have a problem, or have questions, we are always happy to try and help you over the telephone, at no charge. If you phone and get the answering machine, please leave us a message…we WILL get back to you as soon as we can!  If, in the future, you find you must re-home your Mikatura dog, you MUST contact us first.  Our dogs are not to be placed in a rescue or humane society for any reason...WE WILL help you find a new, suitable home or we will take the dog back into our own kennel until such time as we can find a suitable home.

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Mikatura Stockdogs®
Foss & Jeni Gallichan
Box 9 - Site 2 - RR #1
Eckville, Alberta, Canada TOM OXO
Jeni Cell ~ 403 - 877 - 4629
Foss Cell ~ 403 - 896 - 0724
Email ~ mikaturaaussies@gmail.com

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