A friend of mine posted a picture of a Queensland Blue Heeler puppy on facebook with the caption “Should I?” Of course I had to say “Yes!”, followed by “Best. Dogs. Ever!” But I’m not biased.
What can I say, my dog is cool!
Bruce is three and half or so years old now. He is getting to be a very, very useful dog. No, I don’t typically work cattle with him. Yes I have had to come down on him extremely hard about biting things. We may still need to have a few chats about that. The first time I actually worked Bruce on cattle he was about a year old and we were trying to get a bunch of Corriente bulls put away that had escaped. At that point, I didn’t really have a great handle on him. I could send him, but he went fast and hard because it was fun! He also learned then that biting sometimes was the only way to get those suckers to move. He will on occasion bite the horses, if he thinks that is the right thing to do. Since biting horses is never the right thing to do, this is an ongoing discussion we have, it has gotten much better. I don’t care if he bites cattle (if they need it), biting the horses is another story.
Some things to know about my dog. He is a workaholic. He is ball crazy, unless there is something to move. He’s proven to be handy with helping to push reluctant chickens into their house when it’s time for bed. Really, he’s a chicken herding dog. Sort of a new take on a bird dog, eh? We’ve had discussions about not biting the chickens too. They tend not to survive being bit.
More about him, he gets really pesky when he thinks it should be time to work. Like in the mornings, if it’s icky outside and I’m content to dink on the computer, he gets whiny and yippy and starts poking me with his nose to go do something. If I don’t get up when he thinks I should he’ll swat the bed with one of his paws, shaking it just enough to rouse me. That and he has a really high pitched whine that can turn into a yip quickly. If the paw shaking the bed doesn’t get me moving quick enough, he’s figured out how to poke me in the ribs that way. He’ll lay on the bed waiting while I get ready in the mornings, as soon as he hears my jeans get pulled on, he is right there stretching and making Wookie-like noises… telling me he’s ready to go. In fact it’s more like he’s telling me “jeez mom what took you so long, I was ready like two hours ago.” Like I said, he’s pesky.
Before I moved here he would ‘help’ me with round-penning horses. His help consists of running the perimeter of the pen and poking his nose in where he thinks it is appropriate to keep the horse moving. When you have a young heeler pup, you sometimes make choices that help get them worked down and worn out instead of the ones that will help make them a good dog long-term. This was one of those choices, I figured a tired puppy is a good puppy and I was taking any road headed to tired puppy. Not that this ruined him, but anytime I go to work a horse in anything resembling a round-pen (which my working pen pretty much does) he thinks it is his job to help. Sometimes I wonder if I seem that incompetent to him – as though he thinks I just couldn’t even get a horse to move with out his help. Often times, I will tie him up while I’m working the horses, so that I know they are working for me instead of him.
None of my horses are afraid of dogs, or of Bruce. They are aware of him though. Karat likes to act as though she’s going to stomp him. She might if she got a good chance too. She goes after all manner of small critters. Once I watched her chase the yellow tomcat through her pasture. The chickens have often come fluttering out of her pen in a hurry too.
A word about horses who are afraid of dogs. I suspect that they were raised in a sheltered environment and not allowed/expected to think. I also suspect that when they have met dogs, it has been the wrong kind of dogs. The sort of dogs who do senseless, pointless things. Most herding dogs do everything with purpose and intention. They will transmit that they intend to get the horse to move from a ways away. Also, my horses seem to understand that Bruce answers to me. Which translates to them as he is an extension of me. The horses will look at me if he is getting close, wondering if there is something they should be doing, or something I should be doing about the dog. Basically, the horses here think most of the time before they act. A useful trait.
It’s taken Bruce a couple years and quite a few discussions to understand that it doesn’t work to get rough with the horses. His most recent educational experience was a few weeks ago with Jr.
That’s when he caught a hoof to the nose. At least it looked like that’s where Jr caught him, and certainly that’s where Bruce was bleeding. It went down like this… Jr was on the hot walker, he has learned that if he stops, the walker stops too. Because the motor keeps trying to work and belts and such will get worn out when the horses stop it, this behavior is frowned upon by me. My options to get him to not do this – (1) put a chain on his nose so that additional pressure is applied when the walker pulls on him when he stops. It’s effective, not necessarily nice, it can get you in a really bad spot if the horse sets back hard with the chain over his nose (broken nasal bones, severe damage to the cartilage of the nose) so is not a first choice. (2) Get the BB gun and let one fly every time he stops the walker. This is also effective, but requires me to have the thing, loaded and ready to go. It also doesn’t work well if I am trying to hold onto another horse while the shoer is working on him, which was the case that day. (3) Send Bruce (or any useful dog) in to ‘help’ the horse move forward again. Effective, doesn’t require any skill on my part (aiming accurately at a target) and if I’m multi-tasking is my first choice. Only problem with option #3 is that Jr is really smart and he always knows where his feet are.
I’d sent Bruce in a couple of times to step Jr forward again. Bruce was being good, hadn’t bit and was listening to me when I told him to come back. The most Bruce had to do up to that point was bump Jr’s back leg with his nose. We must have had a communication breakdown the last time because Bruce went in a little too fast and was going for a bite, meanwhile Jr got his hind legs sucked way under him as he saw Bruce come up. Bruce thought he would get the bite the same time Jr fired. Because Jr had his legs so far under his belly there was nowhere for Bruce to go when the kick came. He was ducked down, but still in too close – the kick connected and he tumbled back pretty hard.
There were definitely a couple of egos at work there. Bruce was going to teach this cocky colt to keep doing what he’d been told. Jr was going to get this dog straightened out about being so bossy. There is a lesson in here for where not to be if a horse kicks, I think Bruce is a little more aware of how far under the horse he goes to follow those hind feet. Jr may turn out to be one of those few horses that will sucker a dog into his space just so he can stomp on them. (Not surprising given his mother’s propensity for attempting to stomp small animals.)
I know a few people would have freaked out about their dog bleeding from the nose. I don’t. It’s not that I’m calloused, although I may be a little, really it’s that I know just how tough these dogs are.
There is a sort of long story with the heeler I had before Bruce, somehow she cracked her skull open. Literally, she busted open her sinus cavities above her left eye. I will probably never know how it happened, I had been gone and when I got home her head was busted open. The next day I took her to the vet… she was still cruising around at normal speed for most dogs. She hopped up on the exam table happy as can be. She gave no indication that she was really hurting. I could tell that she had been taken down a few pegs, she didn’t have her usual quickness going on. I think the vet was kind of surprised too when he got in there to clean out the wound and assess the damage. She healed up fine, other than having a permanent dent in her head.
So a bloody nose with no other signs of injury didn’t cause me great concern. Yes I watched him for a while to be sure he wasn’t disoriented. I also did not allow him to go back in after Jr. Although Jr really didn’t need any more encouragement to keep going. Bruce was game enough to go back in, I just wouldn’t let him.
I also know stories about heelers that have been mauled, kicked hard and even shot. None of them get too fazed by it. Many other dogs would be in a corner in a pool of urine. Every heeler I know just comes back ready for more. As Vicki Hearne, one of my favorite authors says in the Introduction to “Animal Happiness” regarding an Airedale named Texas, “he was ‘encouraged by the success of his last encounter.’” (In fact what I look for in a dog has been greatly influenced by reading works by Vicki Hearne – I highly recommend reading “Adam’s Task“, “Animal Happiness” and “Bandit“.)
Bruce is also indispensable for me in helping load horses. It took me a little bit of time with him, but he will stay behind the horse and help make sure they keep moving forward to the trailer. Most of mine don’t need much help, a couple of them though… lets just say it’s way easier with his help. It was probably one day last summer when he finally got how to help with loading. You know how it is when you have to explain to someone what to do to help? And how nice it is when you work with someone that just gets it? That’s what happened with Bruce and the horses. For a while I had to constantly tell him, “No” or “Get over there” or “here” or just have to keep an eye on him. Then one day he just was where he should be, waiting and watching for that slight signal to increase the pressure a little more. Maybe not perfect 100% of the time as evidenced by his recent kick to the nose, but mostly getting how to be helpful.
But really, his help in rounding up chickens is the handiest thing he does.