What getting a deaf dog taught me about leadership

I tried my best to adopt a pet, I really did. But in my experience, simply wanting to do the world some good by bringing an abandoned puppy home to a spacious backyard, loving family and steady flow of treats. Not even having someone at home most days was enough. No. A rescue animal has to sleep inside. So I bought from a breeder.

I chose an Australian cattle dog because the breed isn’t plagued by an extravagant grocery list of ailments. Cattle dogs also don’t go walkabout because they form an intense bond with one person and want to be near that person at all times. This urge manifests itself in stalker-like lurking at windows around the house, staring at me.  

These are in-your-face real dogs. If you kind of like dogs, but don’t have the time or patience to put in the work to mould it into ideal companion: do not get a cattle dog. This breed will test you beyond what you thought possible. The flip side is that I trust Gruff with my children. Entirely. He’s still young and shaping his temper, but I have complete confidence that besides for knocking them over during play he won’t lash out with aggression.

It’s important for me to have that trust because I wouldn’t be able to call him off of a mauling should the worst possible situation happen. You see, Gruff is partially deaf and the sound range that he isn’t partial to includes the human voice.

Deafness does plague the breed. As well as an exceptionally high prey drive, excessive energy levels and supreme stubborness. They also nip at your heels when excited/frustrated/overstimulated – it’s a breed trait that works great for driving cattle, but less so for catching a human’s attention.

Cattle dogs, like people, crave attention and deeply desire a purpose to their lives. Gruff’s purpose, as far as i can define it at his young age, is companionship and protection. The problem is that he wants more compnionship than I am able to give him (my wife won’t let him sleep inside) and is a shit watchdog. The plan is to have him as my running partner when he’s old enough to hit the road – we’ve just acquired a German Sheperd for protection duties.

Training has been frustrating and greatly rewarding so far. I’ve been told that I’m too timid to be a cattle dog owner. Not “Alpha” enough, apparently. But the dog responds to me. 

I’ve learnt that dogs are mostly visual communicators and that you need to project confidence through your body language to get your point across. The new puppy sleeps inside because she’s a new puppy, and this breaks one of the cardinal rules that govern Gruff’s life. So now all the rules are up for breaking and he is trying to push the boundaries. I’ve had to be firm with him, but he has remained loyal and kind throughout.

I’ve learnt that dogs and humans are very similar in their desire to be part of a hierarchy. As long as the leader trusts them to do their job and empowers them to have he best possible chance of success, then all is well in the world. Well, until you break one of the rules. Then all of the rules are up for testing.


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