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“Dammit Cooper” or Learning Patience One Puppy Step at a Time

October 30, 2011

Obstinate.

That’s my sister-in-law’s word for Cooper. He’s obstinate.

My dog has been a handful since the day I got him. He’s willful. And ornery. And frustrating.

I have gotten so fed up with him at times that I’m convinced he thinks his name is actually “Dammit Cooper!” when we’re on trail hikes.

The most frustrating thing he does? Completely ignoring a command I know he knows. Often, he’s distracted by puppy brain. At 18 months old, he looks like an adult, but still acts like a puppy much of the time. He’s impetuous. Reacting before thinking.

I know there are those who would say he can’t think or reason because he’s a dog. I don’t agree. It’s clear in how he reacts to commands that he’s often weighing the pros and cons of following direction. That’s the Australian shepherd coming out in him.

See, on the scales of the smartest dogs, poodles (one half of Cooper’s heritage) are in the top five. Australian shepherds are considered just average on the standard scale, behind Yorkshire and silky terriers (apologies to all the owners of these breeds, but that one really makes me laugh). So what separates Australian shepherds and border collies, which are No. 1? Well, given that dogs really can’t take a variety of aptitude tests like humans can, the only real way to measure breed intelligence is to look at things like how well they follow directions and learn new commands (interestingly, the final rank wasn’t determined by actual tests. It was based, instead, on evaluations filled out by obedience trial judges).

Border collies are bred to follow commands — even if they’re told to jump off a cliff. Aussies, which have been raised protect sheep with little guidance, are far more independent and do what they think is right rather than follow direction. They are not the type to jump off a cliff for just anyone.

That’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions to this general rule of thumb. There are independent border collies and needy Aussies. But from what I’ve observed and what ardent Aussie fans tell me, the breed is just as smart as border collies — maybe even more so when you factor in their general reasoning skills.

Cooper and the stick he found on a walk

Which brings me back to Cooper and the trail hikes.

I know that some of his “disobedience” is because he’s distracted by whatever interesting smell or sight (generally another dog) has caught his attention. But sometimes, I can tell that he’s heard me and he’s decided that what he wants to do — such as try to run off trail after whatever scent has caught his nose — is FAR more enticing than what I need him to do.

How do I know?

Because he gets the same look on his face that he gets when he “talks back” to me because he doesn’t want to go through the paces at home: his eyes narrow and his little brow furrows in concentration. The dead giveaway, though, is the slight wag of the very tip of his tail.

His escapades aren’t just limited to hikes, though. In our daily and (what should be) boring walks, he always seems to find something to entertain himself and irritate me along the way. He has been taught how to “loose-leash” walk. But while he will do a perfect loose-leash walk in front of the trainer, he often seems to have other plans when we are wandering through the neighborhood. He dances among the grass or twirls around and barks at the shrubs or he finds a random stick or piece of bark to pick up and destroy as he continues down the road.

But then, those are the same walks where I am reminded that for all his bluster and king-of-the-castle attitude, he really is still a pup, learning about the world around him. On our walks, I have seen him suddenly freeze and then bark and growl in fear over a swinging for sale sign. He has also refused to go near a fire hydrant that had been covered in a black plastic bag. And, as Halloween fast approached and decorations started littering yards, every walk seemed to be an opportunity to remind him that just because he’s never seen it before doesn’t mean it’s out to get him.

On one such recent walk, he completely ignored a dog that was barking at him from behind a fence and started growling at fake headstones and a plastic ribcage that had been set out on the lawn. I finally had to leave him on the sidewalk, walk over to kneel down beside the bones and touch them before he would even take a step toward them. He growled and let out soft woofs as he moved forward on trembling legs. Once he touched his nose to the plastic, he backed up, looked at me and was ready to go — clearly having realized that his fear was completely unwarranted.  He hasn’t given the decorations a second glance since.

So, I guess the education of Cooper has really been about educating me. I know and (generally) understand the world around me. He’s still learning. I need to learn to be patient and accepting, so that he can continue to grow into the type of dog I really want him to be — confident, happy and content.

From → Animals, Cooper

2 Comments
  1. Pet Sitter Diaries - Pacific Tales permalink

    Cooper is great looking. Just be happy he hasn’t experienced the joy of rolling in deer poop yet…

    • Lol … That he hasn’t, but he has tried eating it. I think the texture throws him though because he always ends up spitting it out before diving for it again. That’s when I give him the “leave it” command and drag him away.

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