Monday, September 15, 2008

Maggie Mae the Cattle Dog

Maggie Mae, Maggie for short, came to us as an abandoned dog, like most of the dogs and cats we've had in our family. #1 Son was working at a state park a few years ago. One evening at dinner, I think he mentioned, but I'm not sure about this, that there was a dog wandering around the park cabins. The dog had been there for days with no apparent owners, but did have a red collar. The park ranger was going to call the dog warden the next day. I remember vaguely listening to his tale. He said the dog looked like one of those Australian Cattle dogs, like in the movie Last of the Dogmen. It was one of those times when I was half listening. I should have picked up on the intent in his voice, but that's what happens when you don't pay closer attention!

The next evening, #1 son came home from work and in the passenger seat of his Jeep is a dog. Out of the blue he'd brought a dog home. I was not happy. These things are suppose to go by me first! He claimed he told me about the dog yesterday, I don't recall he said anything about bringing it home.

My first impression of the dog, who #1 son named Maggie Mae right from the start, was that she was kind of, well, not pretty. She had one eye that was a very light watery blue and one dark brown eye. I kept focusing on the blue eye. She had nice pointed ears. She was of medium size, maybe about 45 pounds. Her coat was exactly like I'd seen on cattle dogs, they call in blue merle. She did look like one of those Australian Cattle dogs, but not quite as stocky and her tail wasn't docked. I figured she was a mix, but the cattle dog was more present. #1 Son seemed very pleased with himself as he explained to Hubby and me that if he hadn't brought "her" home, the ranger was calling the dog warden. He was proud of himself for saving her.

I was more concerned how Xena, our German Shepherd would respond to the new dog. Xena has never been nasty toward people but she did have a tendency to be aggressive toward other dogs. We missed the boat in socializing her with other dogs but she rarely left our country property. Well, there were a few growls and the usual laying down of the submitter, Maggie, but then Xena just seemed to accept Maggie. We were all astonished and relieved.

Maggie turned out to be a very loving dog. You could see she wanted to be accepted and would work hard to get that acceptance. I guessed her age to be around 9mos to 1 yo and was guessing she hadn't been spayed yet. Didn't see any surgery scars. Of course I did the usual "she's your responsibility, son" talk which I really knew was just that. I'd end up being the one to take care of her. I think Maggie must have figured that out too because she tried really hard to bond with me. She seemed to figure out quickly she had the rest of the family wrapped around her paws! It wasn't that I didn't like her or want to give her a home, I just have this thing about upsetting the balance sometimes. I usually get over it, but my worry is always I don't want to have problems. I have learned over the years that animals will accept each other if the heads of the herd (or pack) are receptive. I saw this work with Maggie and Xena.

Things were tense for a few months. Maggie came to us in the fall. She obviously had the herding instinct going on. For awhile, I had to keep an eye on her with the horses. She wanted to chase. They wanted to chase her back unless Spirit got a little agitated, then he'd just start running all over the field, with Maggie barking after him. Sometimes, I believe the horses egged Maggie on. Other times I would look out in the field and see one horse lying down, one horse standing and Maggie lying close to them.

Maggie's other annoying habit was barking. She barked alot at night those first months. I started using loud sound therapy. I had a bunch of pennies in a small coffee can that made really loud clanging noise when shook. At first bark, I opened the door and shook the can, telling her to "Quit!". Didn't take her long to figure out, no barking. She's not so much a barker now, unless something is really going on. I've learned to trust her that way.

I was cursing Maggie for a while. She also had a tendency to crawl under our fence and go to the neighbors to torment their 4 fenced in dobermans. I didn't like that at all! Maggie soon had to be kept on a short leash, so to speak, and training to our property was a must. Took some time, and some energy, but by Spring, Maggie had evolved into a better mannered farm dog. We had her spayed shortly after we knew she was here to stay. The vet guessed her age at about the same age I had estimated.

I didn't know much about Australian Cattle Dogs, Queensland Heelers, Blue Heelers, as they are known by these various names. I read up on them. I'd seen the dog, "Zip", in the movie Last of the Dogmen and thought that the breed must be an interesting dog to have around. At least as depicted in the movie. "Zip", seemed like a cool partner.

Well, I've learned that these medium sized dogs are some of the most intelligent in the dog world. Maggie is a great example. She is sensitive and learns quick. All I have to say is "Maggie Out!" and wave my arm toward the fence, when I'm working with the horses and she retreats to the other side of the fence to wait. She has even taught our newest abandonee to do this. There really wasn't much formal training with this command, she just learned what I meant over a period of time. With these dogs, its as if they read your mind, so in that respect, they can be alot like communicating with horses.

Maggie isn't a chow hound, but that could just be her personality. Our other two dogs would eat anything and everything placed in front of them. Maggie wasn't much of a leftovers type. If we had some leftovers from dinner that we decided to add to their evening meal, gravies or something in the bottom of the stew pot, Maggie looks at whoever is feeding her with a "What's this?" expression. On the other hand, Xena would gobble the special treat down and Lucy didn't stop until every morsel is gone. Slowly, Maggie will lap at the mixture, and eventually, she will finish it. Maggie seems to prefer attention and a little job performance to worrying with food. Even if I give treats to Lucy and Maggie, sometimes Maggie will drop it and walk away.

Australian Cattle Dogs have an interesting history. Originally, the breed started out, in Australia, as part Dingo-blue merle collie mixes, back in the early 1840's. They have the "wild" side in them which sometimes comes through in the way they herd livestock. The first dogs produced had great herding instincts. They became popular for the cattle ranchers in Queesnland and around Australia. In trying to improve the breed, they used Dalmations which turned the colors to a spotted blue and red speckle. The orginal breeders chose the Dalmations to intstill a love of horses and faithfulnees to their masters, the hopes of having these dogs watch their horses and gear as well as work the cattle. In the early 1900's the breed standard was based around the Dingo type.

For certain, these dogs are loyal. I have watched Maggie evolve into a very loving obedient pal. Now, she's not perfect. Sometimes she will still run up into the woods after that darn pesky squirrel and not stop when I call, but other times, when she runs after an ATV riding up the road, she'll stop on a dime and come back to me. She does like to chase but she and the horses seem to have come to an agreement of sorts. She is often seen lying just on the other side of the fence, watching over her herd of two. These dogs are also lively so if you consider actually getting one, be prepared to keep them entertained or give them a job, if you don't have property for them to run on. They will entertain themselves, probably by trying to herd cats, dogs, goats, chickens whatever. They can't help it, it's in their genes!

The circle of life is mysterious. Many times I thought about Australian Cattle Dogs after seeing "Zip" in the movie, but I probably never would have actually gotten one. Well, as fate would have it, one ended up with us anyway. After our first months of trials and tribulations, she has rewarded us with being a great family member. Always smiling, always alert, and always looking for our love.

After Xena died, a couple of weeks ago, Maggie grieved for about a week. Now, she is slowly accepting her place as the Queen dog around here. We have all girl dogs. I like it that way! I think girl dogs are more loyal and stay around the house better, but that's just my opinion. Anyway, I never would have believed I'd have an Australian Cattle dog in my life, but here you go. You never know what's in store!


Laura Crum said...

I'm sorry its taken me so long to get here, but I'm slow. I so love Queenslands--most of my dogs have been Queenslands! And thanks for the mention of my book, Slickrock. I also appreciate your kind comments on my blog. If I don't get here often, I'm struggling with writing book #11 and homeschooling my son and keeping my horses going. But all good wishes to you--you sound like a great person.

LJS82 said...

Thanks, Laura! I appreciate your comments. I finished Slickrock this weekend and can honestly say I loved it! Roey reminded of Maggie in so many ways! Best wishes with the new book! Looking forward to reading it one day.
Can be rewarding to homeschool! Great bonding time. As you probably know, to do it well, it's as tough as any other job.