“You are such a breed hopper!” a friend of mine told me. She was right. I am guilty as charged - if changing breeds every time I get a puppy is cause for guilt, I should be dysfunctional with the burden of it.
Only I’m not.
I’m dysfunctional with puppy-itis. Seriously. Wickedly. Bad. Puppy-itis.
The puppies are here! Nine beautiful babies delivered safely last night to a first-time mom who outdid herself. One will be coming to Iowa in a couple of months. Color and sex are undecided at the moment although there are boy puppies and girl puppies in all sorts of lovely colors so I’m not freaking out about which one. Yet.
They are . . . drum roll please . . . red bone coonhounds!
They are Australian shepherds. (I can hear the cheers of victory and the howls of defeat from Dear Readers who were breathlessly anticipating winning the not-a-contest in my last post.)
Yep. I hopped breed lines again - from tervuren to shelties back to tervuren to malinois and now into the great unknown of aussies.
Well, not totally the great unknown. It’s not like I’m importing a Short Snouted Norwegian Bear-Treeing Flueglehund.
I love my shepherd dogs. Shetland shepherds. Belgian shepherds. Australian shepherds. I’m very consistent in my inconsistency.
As Jamie quietly turned grayer and grayer and Phoenix mysteriously turned 7 years old last December, I knew at some point I needed to get a puppy if I intended to keep playing this game of dogs. I didn’t want a puppy. Really. I didn’t. I wanted my Belgians to live forever in a wonderful Belgian paradise where we were eternally happy and surrounded by nose pokes and tooth clacks and disappearing laundry because someone can’t keep his big nose out of the hamper. In spite of my denial, reality kept jabbing at me, inconveniently reminding me that my “baby dog” was 7 and my old dog was nearing 15 and this status quo was not going to last forever.
The act of starting the puppy quest was bittersweet. It meant that I knew Jamie would be leaving me in the near future. As much as I didn’t want to think about that, neither did I want to be a one-dog family for very long.
I spent a lot of time whittling down my short list. There are so many breeds I want to experience firsthand! Then I spent a ridiculously agonizingly stupidly insane amount of time on the final decision. People are blowing themselves up in the name of religion and using military power to conquer neighboring countries and I’m obsessed with what kind of dog to get next. No wonder I never have time to cause trouble. (Insert Farmer eye roll here.)
I admire people who commit their lives to one breed. Shelties. Tervuren. Malinois. Boxers. Poodles. Corgis. Labradors. I have friends who announce they are getting a puppy and I never have to ask “What breed?” I tell people I am getting a puppy and they raise their eyebrows and say, “What is it this time?”
We all play the “next dog” game, no matter how many dogs currently share our lives. I had an automatic list of breeds I would have gotten again in a heartbeat: tervuren, malinois, sheltie. Then I had a list of breeds that I seriously wanted to invite to share my life: Australian shepherd, Australian cattledog, English shepherd.
Then I ran all of them through the filter labeled: DOWNSIZE. GET A SMALLER DOG THIS TIME. NO MORE BIG DOGS. YOU ARE NOT 25 ANY MORE. YOU NEED SMALLER CRATES TO LUG. SMALLER STUFF TO SCHLEPP. THINK SMALLER. GET A DOG YOU COULD PICK UP AND LIFT INTO THE CAR IF YOU HAD TO.
I would have loved another terv. Jamie was the sweetest, gentlest, funniest dog I’ve ever had. He was gorgeous, dignified, graceful, kind and patient. I could sit here all day and type glowing adjectives to describe him. He was also nearly 26” tall. So Tervs were off the list. Yeah, I could have gotten a bitch, who would be smaller, but I was working under the “get a boy” assumption.
If I were 25 again (or had access to mind-altering drugs and prescription strength pain killers. Just kidding. Sort of.) I would get another malinois. Phoenix is an amazing dog. He is physically incredible and mentally staggering. I love him more with every beat of my heart. I am eternally grateful for our journey together.
But I am honestly not up for another journey of this magnitude. Maybe all mals are not all like him. Maybe they are. People who live with malinois will understand. There is normal normal and there is Malinois normal which does not come anywhere near close to normal normal. They are not for the faint of heart. Phoenix stands almost 24” and I am serious about getting a smaller dog so malinois were off the list.
Three breeds emerged successfully from the “GET A SMALLER DOG” filter: sheltie, Aussie and cattle dog. The English shepherds were still in the running, sort of, kind of, for awhile.
English shepherds intrigued me. I love their “farm dog” look. I love the air of good, old-fashioned, common sense they have. But ES are not an AKC-recognized breed. That is neither here nor there but I mostly show in AKC events so would have to register one as an “All American Dog” and it would eliminate me from being able to show at any AKC trials not allowing “All American Dogs.”
We could go the UKC route for trials, but UKC trials are not abundant in this part of the country. Plus ES come in a staggering variety of sizes which is understandable in a breed valued for working ability vs conforming to aesthetic values. I’m sure there are smaller lines but with my luck, I figured I’d end up with another 24 or 25” tall dog.
Shelties. Sigh. Smile. Sigh. I will have a sheltie again some day. But I’m not ready to go THAT small yet.
Australian cattle dogs fascinate me. Family members have had them. The Farmer had one when we first met. They have a lot of the same qualities that attracted me to malinois. Practical. Tough. Herding dog smart. Agile. Low maintenance coat. They have adorable smiles. (Oh come on, they do!) On one of my journeys with Phoenix, I met a retired K9 officer who had both a malinois and an ACD. ACDs are like mini malinois, she said. Hmmm . . . maybe . . . then reality smacked me up side the head.
What’s my favorite sport? Obedience! When was the last time you saw an ACD in an obedience ring? That would be . . . 20 years before God made dirt. Seriously. Yes, I know there are a couple of OTCh. ACDs. There are a whole lot more who aren’t. I know ACDs can be brilliant in that conniving, manipulating, controlling way of herding dogs who are happy to do whatever you ask unless they think they have a better reason not to do it. Along with a smaller dog, I am also looking for one who is a tiny bit more biddable and less inclined to argue about who is right and who is wrong and whose ideas are best on any given day.
And so we have arrived at Aussies. Sealey, Kina and Julia - this is all your fault. Over the last 15 years, you wiggled your cute butts through my classes and stopped at agility trials to say hit. You were sweet, bright, athletic, silly and gorgeous. I watched you learn during classes and if you thought your owners were dumber than a loaf of bread for wanting you to do stuff like fetch dumbbells they kept throwing away, well, you kept it to yourself and fetched the dumbbells because it made your people happy. You were enthusiastic and energetic without requiring anyone to put the paramedics on standby. You cared without arguing. You were diplomatic in your disagreements.
And now eight very long weeks begin.