Honesty From an Australian Cattle Dog Owner: These Little Biters Can Drive You Crazy
2020 Update on Yusuke, the Cattle Dog
Although I have received a lot of positive comments and questions from people over the years, I have also received a lot of hate from people who have read this article. And I know you can't please everyone but all of the hate mail seems to have been kicked into high gear lately so I want to write an update or preface, if you will.
1. For everyone that was encouraging, found my article helpful, related to it heavily or asked me questions for the past 6 years, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your comments and questions made all the hate mail worth it.
2. This article was written 6 years ago. Yusuke is now a happy, 6 year old dog in 2020 who grew into an absolute wonder and is one of the best dogs I've ever known. So to the folks who said that I am the reason dogs end up in animal shelters, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but Yusuke is alive and well and still living with me.
3. The primary reason I wrote this article is because having a Heeler is a handful and I wanted a place to discuss my struggles while also offering hope and comfort to others going through the same thing. I was never intentionally trying to "gloat" about my "unique dog." Doing the same training over and over every single day for months and feeling like you are getting nowhere is frustrating. I wanted to help ease some of the discouragement someone else might have been feeling when training their Heeler not to heel them. Just because my dog isn't always rainbows and sunshine does not mean I hate my dog nor does it mean I am an awful human being. I said right in the title of this article that this is an honest account of owning a heeler. I will not sugarcoat the difficulty of raising a Heeler or act like it was easy the whole time nor will I lie about my experiences with my dog.
4. I am aware you aren't supposed to get a puppy before 8 weeks. I state that we got Yusuke too early within this very article so there is no need to send me hateful messages regarding it or telling me I didn't deserve to get a dog. I could very easily tell you all of the reasons and circumstances for why we had to do what we did when getting him so young but the people who are already sending me hate mail will just see them as excuses. So I'd rather use this space for a bit of education.
Everyone you see is going through a battle you know nothing about and every story has details you never get to hear. So be kind to others and don't start your conversations with hate because you may never know how that hate will be received or how those words affect that person. If you still want to call me names, so be it. But I'd get Yusuke again in a heartbeat if the choices were between me taking him home too young versus the possibility of him ending up in a dog fighting ring or abandoned on the side of the road because the person who did get him didn't have the patience and determination to handle a difficult puppy.
Thank you for reading my update. Whoever is reading this, I hope you are happy and well and that life has been treating you kindly. And if it hasn't, hang in there. Brighter days are ahead.
Australian Cattle Dogs Can Be a Lot of Work
It was a Sunday night when my boyfriend Colin and I brought home our brand new puppy. We'd been waiting to get a puppy for years and finally settled on an Australian Cattle Dog. Now, before you go judging Colin and me for picking this breed as our first dog, I want you to know that I extensively researched this dog more than I studied for my finals during all four years of college.
I read so many articles, books, blogs, etc., saying that ACDs are better for experienced owners. Those sources also stated that ACDs should not be in an apartment, as they need vigorous exercise and plenty of it.
Well, folks, Colin and I are "technically" first-time dog owners. We've had family pets, but we have never actually raised a dog on our own before. And guess where we live? That's right—an apartment. And before you "tsk" at me, I was well aware of these warnings about first-time owners and apartment life before we even put down a deposit for our puppy. And the fact that I was aware of these warnings has made me slightly more patient when it comes to training this amazing dog.
Even though I knew that we didn't have the ideal lifestyle for an ACD, we knew that this was the dog for us. We knew that he has a fit and active lifestyle, and though neither of us are members of Crossfit or currently sporting a six-pack, we were (and are) dedicated to giving this new dog the kind of workout that he needs both physically and mentally every day.
Going along with these demands of his breed, we realized right away that this breed would be a challenge. This idea probably scares a lot of dog owners. It's hard enough to train mellow dogs not to chew up your entire house and tear your flip flops into pieces. However, these more mellow dogs are the kinds of dogs Colin and I had known in our lifetimes thus far. We both had some experience with the chihuahuas, beagles, labs, and miniature pinschers of the world. We wanted a dog that was different. We even had a unique and different name picked out for him: Yusuke (pronounced: You-skay).
Lots of families choose to get labs, shepherds, golden retrievers, chihuahuas, or a similarly well-known dog breeds. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. A lot of the best dogs I've ever known were one of those breeds. We just knew that we wanted a standout dog. What can I say? We wanted the kind of dog where people stop and honestly don't know what breed our dog is. It's exciting for us to introduce people to this new breed they may not have known much or anything about. We were up for the challenge of this dog. We had been looking them up online for months and melting over the adorable photos of them. Have you seen how cute those puppies are? I think they're cutest when they're sleeping.
Am I right? Adorable. I'm not exaggerating when I say that 5 to 10 people a day stop me and ask me what breed he is and tell me he's the cutest dog they've ever seen. When I take him on walks, I have yet to run into one person that doesn't stop and pet him. And if they start to walk by me, I can see on their faces that they're waiting for me to ask if they want to pet him. And I always do, and they always break into a smile and pet him and (as always) ask me what kind of dog he is. I can tell in some people's voices that they have no idea what a "red heeler" is. Most people do, but some seem to still be a little lost until I say he's a herding/working/cattle dog.
All cuteness aside, why did we choose such a challenging dog? Well, you need to know that I am a very honest person and don't really like to beat around the bush. So I won't lie to you, there are days when I wonder why I didn't just get a pug and call it a day. I'm not saying I don't love Yusuke, but sometimes puppies have a way of getting on your very last nerve. Or at least, Yusuke has a habit of getting on mine.
What's the biggest challenge you face with your dog?
The Challenges of Owning an Australian Cattle Dog
This is the part where you get to hear the times when my dog can be . . . not as cute and sweet as he looks in his photos. I must stress that these are my personal experiences with my ACD. These experiences don't reflect all ACDs. Although, if any of the ACD books I read were right, I'm assuming that some of these characteristics must be shared across the breed. Here are some examples of my daily hardships.
- Now, this should be a no-brainer with red/blue heelers. They are herding dogs. The word "heeler" is in their name. They were specifically bred to herd cattle and nip at their heels. It is well known to owners of this breed that this biting habit needs to be corrected as soon as it happens the first time and for every offense afterward. If you slip up even once, it is sure to rattle your system of correcting his biting.
- Our dog was taken from his litter early (at 5 weeks). I didn't want to take him this early, but I did not have a choice to pick him up later. Because he was taken so early, he missed out on a huge and very important lesson from his mama: bite inhibition. Yusuke honestly has never "mouthed" our hands and feet. He bites, and let me tell you; he bites hard. And I understand that this is a fault of my own for getting him so early.
- This issue made it even harder for Colin and me in terms of this breed being a "challenge." Why? Because when he bites, he really bites. I honestly feel like I cannot stress this enough. At 8 weeks old, he has bloodied my ankle twice in one day from one single nip at my heel. Trust me when I tell you, we diligently reprimand him when this happens. We reprimand him the way our vet recommended and the way that we've read in a number of books/online forums.
- This habit of theirs is just so instinctual, and our puppy never learned how much his bites can truly hurt. So this biting can really drive me up the wall since he hasn't yet grasped the meaning of the words "no bite."
- This trait is true of every dog breed, not just heelers. And we all know that puppies will inevitably whine. I must say though; I personally don't remember other dogs that I've known whining even half as long, half as loud, or as high-pitched as Yusuke. He has got some serious vocals on him and my gosh, he can whine for hours without stopping.
- Every new dog owner hates their puppy (at least a little bit) for the first few nights that they have them. This love/hate relationship is unavoidable those first few nights. Your puppy is in a new home. They're scared. Their momma is gone. And if you're like Colin and me, and don't want them sleeping in your bed, then those whines are pretty horrendous those first few nights.
- But all the books tell you, "under no circumstances, should you let your puppy out or go get him when he's whining, or else he will always whine when he wants your attention." I wish I could give credit to someone for this bit of information, but I have read it so many times in so many places, that I feel it's general knowledge to most dog owners now.
Chewing and/or Destroying
- This is another huge general doggy trait that we all just love our puppies for. They will chew on your things. No matter what. I've never met a dog that didn't destroy something their owner liked/loved/needed/owned. Case in point: my phone charger. Colin and I finally had some time to ourselves and decided to go out to dinner together. We put our dog in the kitchen, behind a baby gate. When we got home, the dog was no longer in the kitchen, the baby gate was knocked over and my phone charger no longer worked. Our 8-week-old puppy, somehow unbeknownst to me, broke down a sturdy baby gate and completely chewed through all the wires inside my phone charger cord. Talk about getting revenge for leaving him home alone for two hours.
- This sounds generic, and that's because I'm not sure how to categorize what I'm going to describe. Our dog is finally grasping the concept of "fetch." It's exciting for us because us wrestling him with stuffed animals is getting a little old. The latter play time example is still his favorite right now though. He's still just a little pup, and he misses wrestling with his brothers and sisters.
- What's frustrating though is that he gets very tired of playing with the same toys for extended periods of time. This is also known to be common in heelers. They need lots of mental stimulation, or else they can be destructive.
- Since our dog is still so young, he tires easily of fetch and just wants to wrestle. In his mind, it's probably great. He thinks to himself: "I could go get that toy and bring it back. Or I could go belly up and let this human wrestle with me. I'll have more energy and just as much stimulation." Our dog will fetch a few times, and then he'll decide he'd rather chew on a toy in our lap. However, after 2-3 minutes of chewing on the toy, if we're not part of this process, he gets frustrated and bored and lets out his "frustration bark." To me, it almost sounds like a scoff, bark and groan put together.
- His constant striving for attention can get overwhelming and frustrating for us. We love playing with him, don't get me wrong, but sometimes fetch would just be a more preferable option on our end. We need to get things done too during the day! And if we ignore his antics, he usually starts back in on the biting. It's a vicious cycle.
These are just four issues that cause me some "psychological pain" every day. And Yusuke does all of these every single day. But don't let me leave you thinking that I hate my dog. There are days when I tend to feel dislike towards him, but I ultimately love Yusuke and want him to grow into a happy and healthy adult dog. He just so happens to be much cuter and sweeter when he's sleepy rather than when he's crazy.
His Colors Are Finally Coming In
Though He's a Challenge, He Can Be Sweet
Most of the time, he is always challenging me. I constantly have to remind myself of how young he is and that this means he needs more attention and more direction. We often forget this since we got him at 5 weeks. He's such a smart breed that he tries to get away with a lot of naughty acts and tries to trick Colin and I on a daily basis. However, he can be the world's biggest sweetheart, especially when he wakes up from a nap. He's always still sleepy and not exactly "all there" right away. He licks and whines for some loving when he wakes up.
There is one specific thing he does to me that always reminds me of how much I love him when I sometimes feel that he's driven me over the edge with his craziness. When he makes serious infractions that he knows are not allowed (mostly biting ankles/heels/fingers), we sometimes have to separate him from us because our usual corrections aren't working. This usually happens when he is so wound up or bored that he acts out by biting.
After his whining has ceased and I come to praise him for being quiet when he's alone, I am very aware that he often knows he's done wrong. He will skulk over to my feet and lay down, carefully placing his head on my foot and he'll oftentimes fall asleep like this if I don't move for a while. If I happen to walk across the kitchen, he will almost always follow me and lay back down, resting his head on my foot. It's like he's saying, "I'm sorry I did something wrong, but I still love you." It melts my heart every time.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
We have a red Heeler who is almost a year old now. We got him at six months. He mouths my hands and bites down so hard! Did your puppy ever stop that behavior?
Unfortunately, no. Our heeler still likes to mouth our hands very much but he doesn't do it unless: 1. We invite it by prompting wrestle/play time OR 2. He is bored and we have neglected allowing him to get some energy out through fetch, walking, tricks, etc.Helpful 41
Why does my heeler bite my husband and not me?
Hmm. That's interesting. I'm not sure I have a good answer for you. My only thoughts are if he sees him as a sort of threat to being the "leader of the pack" - like he is trying to be dominate. Or possibly if he has learned through experience (training, being told yes/no) that he is allowed to bite your husband but not allowed to bite you.Helpful 22
Can an electric fence help with stopping a cattle dog from climbing over?
I'm sorry to say that I've never had to worry about an electric fence because I've always lived somewhere with a 6' privacy fence or else my dogs were on a leash so I've never had to worry about my dog wandering off where he's not supposed to be. Are heeler did have some problems barking for a while and we did purchase one of those citronella collars and it worked for a little while but he eventually didn't care anymore and just barked right through it. I'm not sure if this is helpful or not but best of luck to you!Helpful 18
Can using a shock collar help stop an Australian Cattle dog from biting?
We never tried a shock collar. I just used training techniques of saying no and then replacing the part of me he was trying to bite or biting with a toy he COULD bite and then encouraging it strongly. He stopped biting our ankles around 6 months of age. Now he's almost 5 and he likes to "mouth" us when we play with him because he/we like to wrestle. So he does still do a bit of biting but he only does it when we play, never hard enough to hurt or pierce the skin and he stops when we say stop.Helpful 17
I have an Australian Red Heeler, he was a rescue at 5 weeks. We babied him because he was so small. He was aggressive from a small puppy. He is 2 years old now, he has been fixed and is still super aggressive. He broke my heel last August. I had to run him 3 miles in the woods 3 times a day. He is super energetic and needs lots of exercise. He is very sweet at home and snuggles. What do I do to cut the aggressive behavior?
It sounds like perhaps he's gotten away with a lot since he was very small when you got him? Perhaps he is aggressive because he was allowed to be when he was little and it is what he knows. I'm afraid I'm not very helpful for a question like this as there are too many variables in describing his behavior as aggressive. I would suggest seeing a local dog trainer and asking their advice. Perhaps you can find someone that is able to come and see your dog doing this behavior wherever it is that the behavior begins and if there is anything that specifically seems to trigger it. It sounds like it doesn't happen at home so I'm not sure what is triggering the behavior. Perhaps if it's in public it's an issue related to proper socialization? I hope you are able to find a trainer to shed some light on this for you!Helpful 15
© 2014 Katherine Shaffer