Along with horses, chickens, and cats, we have an adorable German Shepherd/Australian Shepherd mix who serves as our farm dog, attempting to herd everything in sight (my daughter included!), watching to make sure no untoward characters enter the property (which could include the UPS man and our farrier), and generally getting into mischief when no one is watching him closely. Shadow, as my daughter named him, came to us from our county animal shelter a year ago, when he was just 9 weeks old. Although I’ve had dogs all my life, this was the first one I had ever raised from a young puppy. And it is a job! A little bit like having a baby at first, what with needing to go out to use the bathroom every few hours – if we could make it out the door before he went on the floor. But after the first few weeks, I found that I didn’t need to watch him every minute, and it got easier little by little. The joy of raising a puppy is knowing that his history begins with you – he has not had any bad experiences in the past that you know nothing about.
My entire adult life, I have adopted dogs from rescue organizations or from friends who found them. My first dog after I got married was a German Shepherd/Red Heeler mix who was found on the highway by a friend. We named her Dixie, and right away she became my buddy and our watch dog. About 3 years after getting Dixie, another friend found a purebred German Shepherd locked in a pen that was overgrown with vines next to a run-down house. He was skin and bones and covered in fleas, and she – being braver than I might have been – marched up to the house and told the owners that she would like to take their dog. They actually told her that they were going to put him down anyway, because they had wanted a guard dog but he wasn’t mean enough. (We later found out that the house was actually a meth lab.) So she cut into his pen and took him home, cleaned him up, fed him well, and let him run and play with the other dogs at her farm. I met him about six months later, and right away fell in love with this friendly, skinny German Shepherd. I told my friend that if she ever needed to find him another home, I would love to have him. A few weeks later, she called and said that her husband had decided that feeding six large dogs was a few too many, and she asked if I still wanted him. I was overjoyed, and the next day Diesel came to live with us.
He was, and still is, the absolute best dog I have ever had. Diesel had that unique combination of intelligence, eagerness to please, and fierce devotion that everyone longs to find in their canine friend. He just latched onto me from the beginning, and I to him. Training Diesel was the easiest thing in the world. If he didn’t know what I wanted the first time, he tried his best to find out until he got it right, and then he never forgot. I trained Diesel through Levels 1, 2, and 3 Obedience, as well as doing Rally and Agility classes with him. He passed the training and test to become a certified therapy dog when he was 3 years old, and we went together to nursing homes, inner city schools, my daughter’s kindergarten class, and libraries for their children’s reading program. People who had always been afraid of German Shepherds were amazed to meet one who was so calm and friendly. I lost Diesel this past summer, when he was 10 years old. It was one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever had. Losing a dog who is truly your best friend, who knows what you are thinking and feeling at those times when you barely know yourself, and who looks at you as he is leaving the world with love and trust in his eyes, is something that will take a long time to get over, if I ever do.
Thankfully, we had adopted Shadow about 7 months before Diesel passed away, Dixie having passed away the year before at age 13. Shadow and Diesel were buddies for the first part of Shadow’s life, with Shadow doing most of the playing and Diesel doing all of the patient babysitting as he tolerated Shadow’s antics. If anything, Diesel was a bit too tolerant, never growling or nipping at Shadow, but simply following me around closely whenever Shadow got to be too much. By the time Shadow was about 5 months old and Diesel’s arthritis was bothering him significantly, I would police their play sessions so that I could separate them when Shadow’s boisterous energy began to wear on Diesel’s near-endless patience.
Shadow learned a lot from his big brother, and when Diesel passed away I think Shadow was a bit lost for a while. After about a month, I decided that it was a good time to begin Shadow’s formal obedience training, although we had been doing training all along at home. I enjoy training my dogs at one of the training clubs in our area for the same reasons I enjoy riding my horses with a trainer. Learning from an instructor is always beneficial, even if you don’t agree with everything they say. I find that every instructor teaches me methods that I hadn’t tried before, and shares information that is new and often useful in my training at home. So Shadow and I completed the Level 1 Obedience class, and he did a great job. His greatest challenge, which is very common among young dogs, is simply paying attention when something else catches his eye (or nose!). He is extremely friendly, which is a wonderful trait. However, if I’m walking him on a leash and we pass someone, be it canine or human, he gets so excited to greet them that he has a hard time remembering he’s attached to a leash. I know that he’ll get better with maturity and consistent work. With his natural herding ability, I am planning to begin training him in sheep herding in the spring or summer. I’ll definitely post some photos of our progress, as this will be a new experience for both him and me!
Dogs are known as man’s best friend, and for good reason. They are part of our families and often serve crucial roles on our farms, bringing us joy, love, laughter, devotion, and most of all, showing us how to be a great friend.