Surviving a Smart Dog's Puppyhood

An Inauspicious Start to Dog Ownership

When I was 15 years old, my parents decided to give in to my siblings' pleas for a puppy. A teacher we knew had accidentally bred her dog, and one of the puppies was returned after being neglected and abused by the previous owner. Since I was a teenager, and knew everything, I had decided a dog was not right for our family. I argued against getting a dog on the drive over to the teacher's home. I sulked as we walked up the door, and I stood sulking as she opened it. I don't remember greeting the woman, but I remember seeing the little Border Collie mix for the first time. She was very small, hyper, and hated my skirt. I loved her instantly.

Erin at sixteen weeks
Erin at sixteen weeks

Erin was an incredibly bright dog who had survived parvo, abuse, and severe neglect. She needed experienced dog owners who had a grip on their personal lives and surroundings. I was none of these things, but I loved her and did the best that I could. Erin's story does not have a happy ending. As is common with improper breeding of dogs, Erin had health problems. She suffered from severe hip dysplasia, a disorder common in herding and large breed dogs. This disorder is not typically fatal, but Erin's veterinarian was. When she was 3 years old, he used ten times the sedatives her size required to sedate her so he could put her hind leg back into socket. She died, was cremated, and disposed of without even a phone call to inform us anything had gone wrong. My mother stood sobbing with Erin's leash in her hand, arguing with the receptionist to be able to check the back room for our dog.

Erin's passing was traumatizing. As I got older, I realized that her life was not as full or happy as it should have been. Her high energy demands brought about manic behavior in her, including excessive chewing, barking, and running in circles in the backyard. I went for a run with her three miles every day, but this was not nearly enough to drain her energy. She would have been happier had I known more. For a long time, this regret made me hesitant to get another dog. And then, I met Mellie.

Mellie at 3 months
Mellie at 3 months

Learning How to Live with Mellie

My boyfriend and I decided that we wanted to get an Australian Shepherd, though it was mostly my doing. I didn't think I could get another Border Collie without expecting the dog to behave or think like Erin, but I still wanted an active, intelligent, and fun breed. Mellie is certainly all of these things, but much, much smarter than I had expected. Mellie is a year old and knows all of her toys, doggy-friends, and human-friends by name. She knows that she gets in trouble for nipping hands when she is excited, and knows that my cell phone ringing at night means my boyfriend will be coming home soon, so she grabs her favorite toy, positions herself near the door, and waits in anticipation for his arrival. When he comes through the door, the toy in her mouth keeps her from nipping his hand. She started doing this when she was four months old. It is embarrassing to admit how long it took us to figure it out.

Young puppies have much higher energy levels than adult dogs. At a young age, a puppy that hurls herself at the camera whenever you try to take a picture is funny. As the dog gets older, however, this behavior becomes annoying and eventually, downright dangerous.

Cute at 10 weeks, Dangerous at 10 months

Find an off-leash park! This photo taken at Point Isabel park in Richmond, CA
Find an off-leash park! This photo taken at Point Isabel park in Richmond, CA

How to Survive

So, what do you do to survive a smart, hyper puppy with your sanity intact? I've compiled a brief list of things I've discovered that help.

1. Exercise!

For extremely active dogs, such as Mellie, this means romping around off leash for at least an hour a day preferably 2 hours a day. Most dogs can get by with multiple walks or a good run. Keep in mind, however, that young dogs cannot handle long runs on hard pavement. Their joints are still developing and their tendons can be quite fragile!

2. Training

Intelligent, active dogs need an outlet. Imagine Einstein as a caveman. He wouldn't have been satisfied by spending his days hunting and gathering, and an intelligent dog won't be satisfied with simple obedience commands. Watch your pup and see what they enjoy doing. Does your dog have a particularly good nose? Try teaching it the name of a favorite toy, then hiding it somewhere in your home. Ask the dog to "find ___" and search it out (they need quite a bit of help at first). With consistency, the pup will get the idea and you will have a mentally and physically tiring game in your arsenal!

Mellie knows a whole series of tricks, but not from any choice of my own. We feed her dinner with kibble acting as training treats, and go through her entire set of tricks plus any new ones we come up with. She gets very excited when we try to teach her something new, and has been training us to be better puppy educators in the process.

Mellie and Polar Bear, BFF (until she ate him)
Mellie and Polar Bear, BFF (until she ate him)

3. Toys

Each dog enjoys its own type of play. Mellie likes to wrestle, which means the bigger the stuffed toy the better. As a puppy, her favorite toy was a Polar Bear stuffed animal that was nearly the same size as her. As she got older, the size ratio turned against the poor toy and she subsequently destroyed him. For a long time, we were at a complete loss. We tried frisbees, tennis balls, teething ropes, anything to keep her entertained. Intelligent dogs get grouchy when they are bored, and for heavy chewers, the first things to go are their defenseless toys. Find a puzzle toy they enjoy. Each dog is different: Mellie really enjoys the Bob-a-Lot and the Everlasting Treat Ball. Kongs are also incredible useful, though knowing what to stuff in them is key. Mellie's favorite is diced apple and salmon treats, with an ice cube pushed on top to block the large opening.

4. Security

Intelligent dogs are susceptible to anxiety and fear. It is crucial to make sure your home environment is stable, loving, and safe for the dog. Do not cuddle, pet, or soothe a puppy that is scared. If they are startled or frightened by something, approach the object confidently, examine it, and praise the puppy when it joins you. Don't make eye contact before then. Dogs, especially intelligent ones, need quite a bit of reassurance that you are in charge and capable of handling all the world's dangers (even the broom).

The "eye" is an intimidation tactic employed most often by Border Collies, though other dogs with herding instincts do this as well.
The "eye" is an intimidation tactic employed most often by Border Collies, though other dogs with herding instincts do this as well.

5. Consistency

Dogs, just as children, rely on routine. Try to establish guidelines before bringing home a puppy and then maintain boundaries consistently. For example, while friends were visiting, Mellie started whining and barking in her crate. Someone went in to reassure her. For the next two weeks, Mellie cried and barked the second she was alone until someone returned. By ignoring her, we managed to overcome this new behavior, but it took a great deal of time and patience.

6. Get Them a Job

Mellie's breed is built to herd livestock. As much as I think she is a great pet, she was not intended spend her days hanging out underneath the kitchen table while I work. Erin was a total mutt, but intimidated the children at a birthday party to stay on the grass. She wasn't actually herding, but she was working and loved every second of it. Intelligent dogs need a job! Depending on your dog's interests and abilities, there are a variety of classes and events you both can participate in. Flyball, tracking, herding, water retrieval, and agility are just a few examples of jobs your dog can try. Any nimble dog can herd, so long as it has the right temperament. We took Mellie to have her herding instincts tested. She is a bright dog and but extremely willful, so herding is not in her future until she grows up. Next we will try agility training, though it is crucial to wait until the growth plates in a puppy's hips fuse before attempting any large jumps or strenuous exercise.

The last known evidence that Mellie sleeps
The last known evidence that Mellie sleeps

Mellie is now almost four years old. We are still learning how to live with our intelligent and hyperactive dog. Though we were told Australian Shepherds reach full maturity around 2 to 3 years of age, I think we still have a long road ahead of us. If you are lucky enough to have an intelligent puppy, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and remind yourself it is only temporary. One day, it will all be over. And then your children will ask for a puppy of their own.

More by this Author


Comments 31 comments

sheila b. profile image

sheila b. 6 years ago

Gosh, it sounded so good until your last sentence!


Norah Casey profile image

Norah Casey 6 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area Author

I wasn't given a puppy (or any pet) when I was a young child, and I think it would have helped me develop a sense of responsibility. So, I'm sure I'll cave in at the first request when I have kids of my own :)


Rob Rumfelt profile image

Rob Rumfelt 6 years ago from Central Arizona

I've had a dog ever since I can remember. Wouldn't know what life was like without one. In this part of Arizona there are a lot of Australian Shepherds because many people here own horses and livestock. They are wonderful dogs and, yes, very smart.

I enjoy reading well written articles. You have a very easy, natural style. A pleasure to read!


Norah Casey profile image

Norah Casey 6 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area Author

Rob,

I used to live in the Phoenix-metro and in Tucson, which is where I first saw them. They seemed much more my style than the very serious Border Collies.

I'm glad you enjoyed the article!


squelch profile image

squelch 6 years ago

I had a dog just like yours once. She tried to eat my wallet one day so I gave her to the neighbor. I haven't seen my neighbor in weeks, do you think my ex-dog ate him?

I sure hope so!


Norah Casey profile image

Norah Casey 6 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area Author

How terrible! Hey, you have two covered parking spots now, eh? That's hot.


Isabelle22 profile image

Isabelle22 6 years ago from Somewhere on the coastline

Your dog is adorable. :)


Norah Casey profile image

Norah Casey 6 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area Author

Thank you, Isabelle. I wish she didn't know it already... she's the only dog I've ever known who likes to look in the mirror :P


wordscribe41 6 years ago

What a cutie! I'm partial to the breed though because I have an Australian Shepherd/Labrador mix. Seriously, he's the best dog I've ever had, just well behaved from the starting gate. Great tips, we had a high maintenance/hyper dog that passed away a couple of years ago. She needed to be busy all the time. And then there's our lazy Beagle/Labrador mix. Poor girl's almost 16... Never been the sharpest tool in the shed, but we love her just the same.


Norah Casey profile image

Norah Casey 6 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area Author

Thanks, wordscribe! I'm sorry to hear about your dog. They are wonderful creatures, better than many humans, in my humble opinion. :)

A lazy dog sounds so appealing. Sometimes my boyfriend and I look at each other and ask... "we wanted a herding dog?" It is so intense. Of course, ten minutes later she will do something that makes you really question assumptions about the intelligence of other species.


wordscribe41 6 years ago

Oh, Norah I couldn't agree more: dogs are clearly the superior species. I think most animals are... People look at me like I'm nuts when I say that, but many days I'd rather hang out with my dogs and cats than a LOT of people I know.

Earlier tonight I completely caught my toe on the side of a table and squealed out in pain. My dog came running over to me, starting licking my hand and giving me that "Are you okay?" look. So charming. My life would be so much less entertaining without my dogs...


Norah Casey profile image

Norah Casey 6 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area Author

I agree with you completely. Sometimes I wish Mellie was a bit more compassionate. She is more like a stereotypical, cat-meme in that respect. Once I tripped on something while getting her breakfast. I actually face planted. She sniffed me, walked past and sat next to her food bag, evidently concerned this latest development would distract me from feeding her. Quite a selfish puppy, but I wouldn't have her any other way :)


Stevennix2001 profile image

Stevennix2001 6 years ago

Wow, that was a very interesting hub and amazingly useful. Although I was a bit sad to read about what happened to your other dog, Erin. I'm sorry to hear you and your family had to witness that. As far as your dog Mellie goes, it sounds like you've done such a great job raising her, as I can tell you probably did a lot of research on this before you adopted her. I know she definitely has a good home from the way it sounds like.

Plus, I loved the part where you mentioned how she used to play with that stuffed polar bear. It kind of reminded me of my dog, itchy, when he used to play with this purple dinosaur doll I had as a kid, as I had him since he was a year old. Of course, he ended up eating it and ripping it apart. lol. However, it was cute and funny to watch. He's like 20 years old now, and most vets say he's surprisingly healthy for a dog his age. Although I know he's living on borrowed time right now, as most dogs don't live that long. However, I hope he continues to live on for a long time, as I kind of been blessed with not having anyone that's close to me die before. So I know when he dies, it'll definitely be a sad day. Anyway, sorry I don't mean to hijack your hub like that. lol. thanks for the great read, as I had a lot of fun reading this.


Norah Casey profile image

Norah Casey 6 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area Author

Stevennix2001,

It really was life changing when Erin passed. She was still such a puppy! There were so many things she never got to experience, and I wanted to make sure that I never let anything in my care (dog, baby, beta fish, etc) miss out on life.

That is amazing he is so old! A good friend of mine had a dog from when he was 2, and it lived to 25! It was an Irish Setter that almost died from eating an entire chocolate cake when it was ten. The vet told my friend (at 12 years old), "you should say goodbye." Thirteen years later, he was still stalking us while we were baking, lol. It wasn't until my friend's father suddenly passed away that Buddy finally succumbed to his numerous ailments. It was a shock he simply couldn't handle. Dogs live a long time if they are happy as well as healthy, so Itchy must be one lucky dog! :)


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

norah, I know this is going to sound inappropriate and ridiculous, but this is similar to raising a child. Or a cat. No younguns' are happy or normal unless given the mental and physical stimulation that they need to grow a brain and healthy body. Excellent article - voted up!


Norah Casey profile image

Norah Casey 6 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area Author

I don't think that is ridiculous at all! I feel like having a dog is like having a permanent three-year-old child running around. Can't wait to have children and get to deal with the next phases of development, like the teenage years... /sarcasm ;)


doodlebugs profile image

doodlebugs 6 years ago from Southwest

Great hub on raising a puppy. I've got a rescue border collie and Australian shepherd mix who is very smart and was also very destructive. Through firmness and patience he is now a well behaved house dog, though we have to exercise him every day to keep him that way.


valeriebelew profile image

valeriebelew 6 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

After you were so helpful on my censorship site, I decided to check out your writing to learn a little more about who you are. Happy to say, we have more in common than only writing. I am owned by three Australian Shepherd dogs and a golden retriever. Needless to say, I enjoyed your doggie pictures and the story as well. (:v


Norah Casey profile image

Norah Casey 6 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area Author

doodlebugs: If I don't exercise Mellie, all of a sudden the garbage can, toilet bowl, and other no-go areas become absolutely magnetizing to her. She doesn't run around in circles like Erin would, she just becomes vengeful ;)

valeriebelew: Three?! Wow, that is incredible! It takes a special kind of person to own an Aussie, and an even more special one to own multiple Aussies! I love Mellie to pieces, but I can't imagine going through raising an aussie puppy again, at least in the near future. The next dog is going to be a rescue, and only after Mellie grows up a bit.


Stevennix2001 profile image

Stevennix2001 6 years ago

Yeah, he was pretty lucky, as was I for having him. Sadly, I had to put him down over a month ago, because he lost his ability to walk completely and his teeth were rotten to the core. It was very sad to see him die like that, as I know there won't ever be another dog like him.


Norah Casey profile image

Norah Casey 6 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area Author

Oh no! I'm sorry for your loss. It is something most people never quite get over. I cried when I found the picture of Erin I posted in the first photo capsule, and its almost been a decade since she passed. They are such a joy to have, even though it is profoundly painful when they are gone.


KozmoKat profile image

KozmoKat 5 years ago from SW. Michigan

Erin, I can identify with so much of what you have written. We have a Border Collie-Aussie puppy that is 4 months old. This is the first time I have ever felt challenged in training a dog!

Even though we had a Border Collie mix dog for 13-1/2 years, with 7+ years of her back legs paralyzed and in a wheelchair, she was "easy" to deal with as a puppy.

Our latest pup, Kash, is a totally different story, which you can read about on HubPages or Colliemix.net. Check out our similar stories and see some photos of Kash.


Miss Lil' Atlanta profile image

Miss Lil' Atlanta 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

I mean, if I had the time to care for and Border Collie and provide it with the amounts proper mental stimulation I would, but the thing is that I just don't have time on my hands to care for a dog as intelligent as the Border Collie.

Maybe one day I'll have the chance to own a Border Collie or Shetland Sheepdog though. :)

~ Miss Lil' Atlanta


TheEpicJourney profile image

TheEpicJourney 5 years ago from Fairfield, Ohio

Hi Norah! I wanted to stop by and check out your articles after your kind words on mine. I loved this one! Your story of Erin was so sad :( I can understand why you were so hesitant at first. The rest of the article was just incredibly easy to read and understand and had a lot of great tips! Zoe is just about a year old so I can relate to a lot of the things you are writing about even if she's a different breed. I love your game of hiding a toy and then telling mellie to find it! I want to try that with Zoe and see how it goes.


mary615 profile image

mary615 5 years ago from Florida

I, too, am a dog lover. I enjoyed reading this Hub about yours. I wrote one about my Miniature Schnauzer who is constantly training ME. Read it when you have the time. I admire your determination with your dogs. Regards, Mary


Ari Lamstein profile image

Ari Lamstein 4 years ago from San Francisco, CA

Hi Norah,

When I try view the video in your Hub it says "This video is private."

Ari


Norah Casey profile image

Norah Casey 4 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area Author

Thanks, Ari! Should be fixed :)


Ari Lamstein profile image

Ari Lamstein 4 years ago from San Francisco, CA

Thanks for fixing it. A very cute video.

Also, you should bring Mellie into the office more often.


Norah Casey profile image

Norah Casey 4 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area Author

Thanks :) I'll try!


Rthumper1215@bellsouth.net 4 years ago

My "Chief" looks so much like Mellie. He is 10 weeks old.


Norah Casey profile image

Norah Casey 4 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area Author

Chief must be a handsome boy! :) Thanks for reading!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working