From the Mailbag: Stacie writes: My daughter brought home a 2 month old Aussie pup. I had never had one or didn’t know anything about the breed. I have 2 dogs that got along great and just need affection and some backyard time and they are fine. I have some major medical challenges and am trying to make this work with the new pup. He ,as everyone says is super smart but I’m just not sure I can provide what he needs in energy. We are working with a trainer and he knows tons of stuff. But his energy is killing me! I can only walk him every other day for about 20 mins. I try to play with him in the back yard but he will only chase a ball a couple times or I play soccer and he will only do that for a bit too. I know he is young and we already love each other but my question is will his energy likely be controllable? Can I make it work with backyard time and games or will he and I be unhappy? He is in a pen most of the day per the trainer because he is so out of control if he’s out. He has toys all over the floor but only chews on furniture, me, and rugs. He bites my legs constantly even though I doing everything the trainer says! It would kill me to give him up, is this just a typical puppy stage for the Aussie. I have had other puppies and they were not like him. I don’t want him to be unhappy if I can’t give him what he needs:( What do you think??? Thanks very much!!!! Stacie
Stacie, first, let me say that all of the behavior you are describing is pretty normal for an under-exercised Aussie pup. My sympathies :) Having a working dog like an Australian Shepherd is like having a Ferarri. Sounds like fun in theory, but hard to handle in reality. So, yes, you’ve got a really high-performance machine that’s easy to spin out of control if he’s not handled properly.
I have a few suggestions that may help make your situation more workable:
First: Keeping an Australian Shepherd puppy penned for long periods is not going to help your situation in the long run. I’m not sure why the trainer recommended this for most of the day. Aussies need exercise, they need to use their minds, and they need to be with their people in order not to become neurotic and/or destructive. I recommend you get in touch with your local chapter of the Australian Shepherd Club of America ASAP and find out who they recommend for training. You really need to be working with a trainer who specializes in herding dogs.
Second: Do you know if your daughter got your Aussie from a breeder? If so, that breeder will be a great resource for you. First question I would ask (if there is a breeder to ask) is how their dogs age — do they mellow, do they stay really active? Most dogs do calm down as they grow into themselves but that can take a couple of years. If you don’t know where your puppy came from, then I wouldn’t assume that he’s going to mellow that much. A little bit, for sure, as he grows from puppy to adolescent to adult. But Aussies are typically high-energy dogs.
Third: With your medical issues, you may be facing a tough decision in figuring out what’s best for both of you. It sounds as though you are trying to do the best you can, given your circumstances. And if it’s not working, as hard as it may be to face that, perhaps the best thing you can do is to try to find the right home to help this puppy achieve his full potential. If this puppy came by way of breeder rather than pet store, then the breeder should be happy to take your puppy back. If not, again, please get in touch with your local chapter of the Australian Shepherd Club of America and ask them to help you find a good home. Please don’t let this dog go to just anyone. This is how so many Aussies wind up in shelters or in Rescue–because people like the way they look and don’t know enough about the breed to make a good choice. Then when they realize they got way more than they bargained for, they look for somewhere to dump their dogs.
And finally: If you absolutely feel you can’t part with him, then I would suggest that you try to find a find a 4-H kid who would be interested in training your dog for agility. As your puppy gets past one year, you could find a jogger to take him as a running buddy. Essentially, there are lots of people who love dogs who can’t have one, who would be delighted to help you out. Ask trainers, vets, 4-H groups, girl scouts, boy scouts, running groups, etc. if they know anyone. Preferably you want to get someone to volunteer who has experience with Australian Shepherds. I’m sure with a little looking, you can find someone who will be able to pitch in.
My last suggestion is that you act quickly to either find another trainer experienced with Aussies, and then find people willing to keep him active, or you bite the bullet and make the hard decision to let him go with the help of someone from the Australian Shepherd Club to find him a good home. Your pup is at a critical age in his development and without the proper guidance now, he could wind up being a handful permanently.
If you can’t find the right help, while it’s never easy to give away an animal that we’ve come to love, without enough space for him to run around, and you not physically able to manage him, neither one of you will be happy. So forget guilt, and you make the decision that works for where you are in your life now.
Good luck and keep me posted.