Monday, February 7, 2011

This One Goes to Eleven

The calendar got ahead of me.

Today is Pip's birthday. Eleven years old and still going strong. SAR dog, training partner, farm dog, pack matriarch, smartass.

The photo was taken last week. My "old dog."

Boy, here's a dog who has gotten me into a lot of trouble. If she hadn't been so damned much fun to work and train as a pup, I'd probably have quit SAR when Mel retired.

We had planned on another German shepherd to eventually take over Lilly's job. Had visited a breeder, met the dam, watched the sire on television. Great dogs, just what I wanted in a GSD. The litter was tiny, two males, and we were set on a bitch. So we waited impatiently until he bred her again, to the first sire's brother. Nice big litter, we were doing the happy dance.

And then they started dying. Mother was not producing enough milk, and breeder somehow failed to notice this.

By the time the breeder called us again, when the pups were a week old, half the litter of eight had "simply starved to death" and he was thinking of killing another weak pup. But no worries, we would have our bitch pup from the survivors.

No, worries.

Aside from our case of acute and debilitating WTF? about how a supposedly experienced working-dog breeder could fail to notice that his apparently overworked, undernourished bitch couldn't feed her babies, we knew enough about perinatal development to worry about the future of the survivors -- bodies and brains deprived of nourishment when they most needed it. We declined a puppy, leaving a pissed-off breeder who lectured me on how this kind of loss was "normal," as if I'd just fallen off a turnip truck.

So now it was a big problem. We'd devoted over a year to a puppy search, and over a year waiting for "our" German shepherd pup, and Lilly was not getting younger, her hip sockets were not getting any rounder or deeper.

Meanwhile, back at the AMRG ranch, our teammate Barb had been on her own long quest for a first SAR partner, and I'd been helping her.

She wanted a dog that was smaller than a German shepherd, but had a temperament like Lilly's, didn't shed much but was furry, would be healthy and long-lived. Border collie was clearly too high-strung, and the taillessness of Australian shepherds was a problem for her.

I'd heard about these dogs called English shepherds years before, when we still lived in Boston. "Like an Aussie with a tail, but calmer." We'd looked into them, but ended up finding Mel to become our second SAR partner and the transcendent dog whose soul merged with and vastly improved my own.

So I helped Barb find a nearby breeder who seemed to be on the right track, and visited to look at the dogs she was using. Saw a male and a female there on the dairy farm and had an instinct -- "Wait until she breeds these two to one another, your puppy will be in that litter."

The litter of five from Dust-Dee and Cocoa was as good a working litter as I'd ever seen. When Barb and I visited them at five weeks of age, I thought "Any one of these could make a SAR dog."

When our hopes for a German shepherd died along with those unnourished puppies, Theresa let us line jump. Barb got first pick, we got second. There were three bitches to choose from. Two nice, normal, balanced girlpuppies who performed beautifully on their puppy aptitude tests, and one cartoon lunatic whose response to adversity was to flip me the middle toe and ransack my gear box for a toy she'd seen ten minutes before and wanted, dammit.

Barb's Rozzie grew into a lovely, gracious, sensible dog. She was our dog-niece. And she lost her career to sickness and died far too young; I still believe it was goddamned lawn chemicals that gave her seizures and then, years later, finished her off.

We took the nut. Took her home on April Fool's Day, and ever since she's amused herself by making fools of us.

She spent her first months with us with her head inside Lilly's lupine maw. We later determined that the Old Lady had been injecting brain tissue -- and personality, character, attitude and highly specific memories -- via her impressive fangs.

Her operational testing for SAR in fall of 2001 was delayed by months when we all lost our damned minds, and every potential evaluator was either queued up or actively sifting through rubble for remains. By early spring, Lilly was more than ready to hand over the reins.

She has birthed and raised eighteen great puppies, and adopted one more.

Groundhogs tell their children tales of the bogeypip.

Baby chicks run to her for protection.

She stole and tried to nurse kittens when she was still a virgin bitch. Their mother resolved the conflict by curling up against Pip's belly and nursing her babies there, which was completely satisfactory to everyone.

She's been on ten commercial flights and has, despite her powers of invisibility in the normal course of travel, become legendary at the Denver airport as the dog who negotiates moving sidewalks at a dead run.

She has vanquished breakers in the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and a couple Great Lakes.

She has carried a backpack and ten unborn puppies to 14,000 feet.

She has climbed and crawled and chimneyed through caves.

She can tell a totally untrained dog to go to the corner, lie down, and damn well stay there, without lifting her head from her paws. That dog will obey.

She is the only ES I know -- other than some of her children -- who has green eyes.

Troops of scouts, whole elementary schools, and hordes of adults are entertained by her tricks. She is most entertained by herself when she can make a monkey of me by accidentally not on purpose doing the tricks in the "wrong" sequence, but always in a way that fits with the patter of my narrative.

She would rather be a dead dog than a show dog, Republican dog, or just about any other kind of dog I might name to her.

She knows what to do about bears.

She rode the roof of a house into a boat slip during Katrina recovery search, swam back to shore, shook herself, and ran back to the top of the rubble pile to resume working, tail wagging, while the nice firefighters restarted Mommy's heart.

She tells me whether a foster or a client's dog is okay or screwy. If she really likes another dog, I know that the dog is totally cool, even if he needs a lot of manners.

She can look kind of lazy on search tasks, until she detects a whiff of scent and sews up the problem in a few minutes. Her find distance is significantly longer than Sophia's. Working hard and working smart aren't always the same thing.

She thinks rather well of herself.

When I'm not glowering about being the butt of one of her unevolved jokes, I am inclined to agree.


  1. After reading that, I'm almost -- almost -- surprised you took Sophia. (If I'm interpreting the GSD chronology correctly.) That's a pretty damned cavalier attitude to have toward your animals.

    Border collies do get used in SAR contexts, but aside from their famous lack of an off switch, why else mightn't they be suitable for that kind of work?

  2. Also -- the taillessness part about Aussies -- they're not born that way, IIRC, so why would this be a problem if she told the breeder "hells, no" to docking?

  3. Happy birthday Pip - and many, many more!

  4. Rob, Sophia is six years younger than Pip, and came from a totally different breeder.

    BCs are very popular in SAR, very suitable, can make great SAR dogs, and are just not what Barb wanted to live with. Had nothing to do with their ability to do the work.

    Puppies are docked within days of birth. It's near impossible to get a breeder to agree to leave a tail on a pup in customarily amputated breeds. Just about the only way is to actually buy the puppy at birth -- in which case, you have no way of knowing whether the pup's temperament will be what you wanted. So most breeders won't even go along with that.

    A few years ago Barb's boyfriend Dave was able to get a gorgeous tailed Rottweiler pup by buying from someone who breeds to the European standard -- amputation not permitted. In addition to the tail he wanted, she benefits from much better genetics than really any American-bred pup.

  5. Ah, reading comprehension problem (missed the part where you declined a pup from that litter).

  6. Yep, I wanted an Aussie with a tail. The breeder said there was no way. She'd done it for a client, and then the client had reneged on the deal because she didn't like the puppy. The breeder then had an Aussie with a tail that no one else wanted to buy. Until docking is illegal, it will be hard to get an Aussie with a tail. Happy birthday to Pip!

  7. Back in about 1988 I saw a little ad in the back of a dog magazine for the "Basque Shepherd's Dog" club or association or society or whichever. The ad explained that the organization was for the preservation of the working Australian shepherd with whichever tail God gave it. A club for undocked Aussies.

    I was looking for them again a few years later when I found, instead, the English Shepherd Club.

    They do not appear to exist anymore.

    I don't think docking has to be illegal to create demand and then supply for tailed and eared dogs of historically mutilated breeds. The people who "love dogs" and have the power to revise "breed standards" could fix it rather quickly. They are just too cruel and craven to do so.

  8. What a dog.

    Have you ruminated aloud anywhere about what sort of temperament testing you do?

  9. Melissa, I have old video of puppy testing various litters that I need to get converted so I can YouTube it with commentary. Or else just take new video if someone would ask me to test a litter for them. (The old video is potentially interesting in that we can do follow-up on at least some of the pups and find out what kind of dogs they turned out to be.) I did a little bit of informal eval with the IPPs, but the barn was too dark and I didn't have a useful videographer. (PC takes a lot of footage of his feet, and also tends to turn the camera to get a "vertical shot" while videotaping.)

    I think it's more useful and would provoke more constructive critiques if those of us who use formal evaluations as part of the puppy sorting and selection process post video of what we do and how we interpret what we see, rather than just depend on words to communicate a very subjective process.

  10. Fun fact: I always say that Pip should wear an upside-down colander strung with blinking Christmas lights on her head, just to metaphorically alert everyone she meets for the first time how smart she is. And that she knows what you're thinking.

    I've been planning to draw this for some time, & should just go ahead & do it already.

    Pip is the best. Happy birthday, brainy girl!


  11. Kelly has produced the most perfect animal portrait ever -- precisely capturing the Pipiness of Pip.

    It's all about the eyes.

  12. Everyone I know who has gotten a "tailed" dog from a traditionally docked breed says they infinitely prefer the tails.

    In schutzhund, I've seen and been told, the tails on dobermans have completely changed the "classic" dobie problem of running super wide around the blinds--aha, it's a physiological issue, not a training issue! Go figure, there's a reason dogs evolved with tails! :)

  13. I'd love to see a split screen video comparison of THAT.

    Or of tailed/docked running agility, working stock, etc. on the same ground.

    That said, I had my first natural bobtailed fosters here -- Hope, who has the tiniest of invisible stumps, and puppy Bob, who has about a quarter tail. They are as God made them.

    I found Hope's jelly-butt "wag" to be adorable, and Bob's handle-stump charming. I still prefer a full-tailed dog, but could learn to live with a natural bobtail who has some expressiveness of ass.

  14. A grand post for a grand dog! What a match made in heaven.

    And if I ever find myself in your part of the world, I would love for my 11 year old Carolina Dog Vixen to meet your Pip.

    Vixen is a pet, not a working dog, but her first feat upon walking into my home was to tame my psychotic 3 yr old male GSD Casper (I am not kidding in calling him insane: working K-9 lines intentionally bred for high drive, high aggression, temperament tested as unpredictable at 2 months, sold as a pet to a cop who chained him outdoors with no stimulation or socialization until he was 6 months old, 70 pounds, and NIPPING THE KIDS, whereupon he gave the dog up free to good home. Thank all the gods that we lived on the same street!) After the first time he tried to introduce himself via neck-bite and mounting, and she literally bitch-slapped and shouted him into abject submission, he never again so much a growled in her general direction. He was the dumb, disorganized status-seeking dog to end all bad leaders, but Vixen took him firmly in paw, and never mind that she was half his size.

    Vixen has raised or helped raise every puppy my extended family has acquired, and she passes on her sensibility. The two bitches she raised from pups - a bully mix and a beagle - are wonderful affectionate creatures, and I will admit this is more to Vixen's credit than to mine.

    She has this quality of graciousness that I had never previously known to exist in a dog. She has turned dog-phobics into dog-lovers, she has met every stranger with a level of decorum most humans no longer display, and she has gone unleashed with me damn near everywhere for the last six years. I trust this dog as no other.

    All this, from a stray whom I first nearly ran over with my car, and then nearly allowed my asinine local A.C. to destroy (due to my ownership of aforementioned psycho GSD, I took her to them first instead of just bringing her home like my intuition told me). I'm going to give Vixen a kiss now, and hope that she knows she is as loved and adored as Pip.

  15. Anissa --

    Great illustration that Alpha Bitch is who you are, not where you come from.

  16. A Great Big Happy Birthday to PIP!!

    My 'River' who got to 13+ was a relative -- great aunt or something, same lineage and breeder. River was a smart bossy alpha bitch as well - and should probably have been in a working home where all her great attributes would have been needed and apprectiated. Still - she and I had a great long heart and mind connection.

    Thanks Heather, for sharing such a wonderful profile of PIP. May she have many more happy healthy years!!

  17. A good many Aussie breeders are no longer docking tails - Dana McKenzie stopped docking at least ten years ago - so it is possible to get an undocked Aussie from a stock dog person at least.

    Tuck sends birthday wishes.

  18. For some reason my first attempt didn't post.

    While I'm not aware of any "show" Aussie breeders who don't dock, it is becoming increasingly more common for stock dog breeders to not dock. Dana McKenzie stopped docking her dogs at least tenn years ago.

    Tuck sends birthday wishes to his Mom.

  19. Regarding the Bob Hope stumpiness — isn't it the case that stumpy tails are often an indicator of spinal problems, sooner or later?

  20. Happy Birthday mom1!

    Love and butt sniffs,

  21. And not all Aussies with short tails are docked. Two of my four have naturally bobbed tails.

  22. Happy Birthday, Pip. There can never be enough grand old dames like you in the world.

    Also, making a mockery of mommies is what dogs like you were born for. Otherwise, mommies would get just too full of themselves due to the sheer prideful joy of owning dogs as spectacular as you are.

  23. Thanks for sharing Pip's story.

    re: Tails like God gave 'em; watch a flyball tournament. Even the docked terriers don't have a natural turn about. More like a rudderless, flatbottomed scow banking off the wall.


  24. I saw a spot about teaching tail-less dogs to swim. That tail is VERY important as a rudder. I'll look for a breeder that doesn't dock tails in the future. I've also read that there are at least 13 separate messages communicated from one dog to another by how the tail is held or moved. Most poor Aussies just wiggle their posteriors. I wonder what THAT communicates?

  25. Of my 3 Aussies - one was a natural bob with a very short button of a tail, one was a natural bob with about 5 inches of tail, and one had her full tail. I got Bess in 1984 so even that long ago there were breeders who didn't bob dogs who were not destined for the ASCA show circuit.

    jan from NESR

  26. Happy Birthday to a well credentialed canine! That really is an impressive list of "been there, done thats". She sounds like that one special dog , the soulmate.


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