Your dogs role....
Lazy D Ranch service dog candidates are selected soley from our breeding program which, for the last decade, has consistently selected for pronounced working ability and physical and emotional stamina. Puppies and adolescents are exposed to herding, agility, conformation events and temperament tests and, along with the adults, participate in family and farm activities. Aussies are endowed with an intrinsic richness of loyal character and a highly developed sense of appropriateness. Our evaluation process builds on these inherent qualities which aussies unfailingly bring to their work as service dogs. Throughout their early days, they are rewarded with praise, touch, or treats for every affectionate gesture towards people. As they mature, we use every opportunity to reward initiative and good judgment.
As evaluations progress, we begin to see who possess the highest level of potential and the dogs’ repertoire of skills broadens. Our top candidates almost imperceptibly assume a new, ‘professional’ demeanor. They are now in full swing of integrating any newly honed skills with a growing awareness of human diversity and needs. They are ready and eager to bond with their new partners.
The changes that take place when our aussies become working service dogs reflect a maturing process – the transition from learning skills to a lifestyle which integrates their education into daily life. They have learned to use their skills in different contexts, and they are motivated by the love and respect for their new partners; to apply their knowledge, experience, and intuitive wisdom. Repeatedly, we see our aussies undergo a graceful transformation from puppies and simply service dog candidates to working Service Dogs.
In order to formulate any kind of meaningful and broadly applicable standard of selection, we’ve reviewed our observations of puppy growth and development, trying to sort the many variables that have surfaced in the course of raising over 50 litters. We have tried to pinpoint the common denominators of quality and were helped considerably in this effort by our vivid and ever-present memory of the great, compelling individual Collies who have enriched our lives over the past two decades.
Each of these dogs has contributed to our understanding of aussie. Each has left a mark on our yardstick of criteria for quality and each has influenced our guidelines for puppy development and selection. What they all had in common are two great virtures: charisma and harmony.
Charisma epitomizes the strongly focused personality: alert, responsive, resourceful, capable of long-sustained interest. Harmony reflects the balance of outer and inner beauty: a dog with style, and with an unencumbered personality that feels free to make appropriate choices. Such individuals sense very early that they are special and important, and every positive experience reinforces their strong sense of self. They share an abundance of vitality, curiosity, innate intelligence, and a talent to elicit whatever they may need to secure their status. They convey to us beyond doubt, through persistent eye contact and eloquent body language, that they “belong” and are here to stay.
These future “greats” present themselves with style and panache, always standing squarely, their docked tails (carried at the proper height) wagging with delight. Little as they may be, they don’t paddle, pound, crab, or double track; with elbows tight and back steady, they float past us with effortless grace and return gleefully bearing well worn gifts. Whatever the situation or context may be, they prefer interaction to passivity and since every appropriate behavior is promptly rewarded with lavish praise, they are convinced that they have everything to gain – and nothing to lose – from their association with people. For most people, this conviction grows with experience, but the special puppies seem to accept it on faith. With beguiling personal magnetism, these puppies draw attention to their virtues while downplaying their faults.
Physical traits are often easier to chart than personality development, particularly for a breed as rich and diverse in character and ability as the aussie. The breed specific traits can be seen as a base line for selection: the longer the base line, the broader the repertoire of a dog’s behaviors. A short base line (i.e. ranging from ‘slow’ to ‘hyper’ or ‘dumb’ to ‘bright’) leaves no room for differentiation or gradations between extremes and would limit our choices to the point of boredom.
We appreciate and yes, prefer the more complex, differentiated personalities; dogs with the capacity to process lots of information and transform it into appropriate, specific, skilled, effective action. These are the dogs we most enjoy, be it at conformation shows, herding trials, show or agility events, therapy visits, or farm chores. We could sum it up as desire to learn coupled with the physical endowment to perform and the emotional expansiveness to initiate, bond, and follow through.
Incredibly, the signposts are all in place at a very, very early age. We see this attitude expressed in many, often subtle ways but at all times and in all situations, the dog’s charisma is palpably evident: the eloquent inner light is ever present.
The complexity of any breeder’s selection process increases with the number of variables being considered. Even with a clear mental image of the “ideal” aussie, any given breeding presents specific priorities which will influence the selection process for that particular litter. Needless to say, we will look for the puppy or puppies that most strongly display the specific trait(s) we sought to improve with that breeding. And so, the lofty goal of producing and selecting the individual that most nearly meets our image of perfection may become compromised in the process of juggling the nitty gritties.
Priorities change as a breeding program evolves. If we were looking for a top male or a great bitch, we would certainly consider the family background. Since assertiveness and libido in stud dogs and fertility and nurturing ability in brood bitches are strongly inherited traits, we would keep a boy dog from a prepotent male line and a bitch pup from a long line of outstanding dams – from individuals that can be counted on to produce their virtues, but not their faults.
Our criteria for judging quality change as we grow, as our eye becomes trained. As our capacity to see detail improves, our sensibilities become fine-tuned. 60-some litters ago, we hardly noticed big feet; 50-some litters ago, imperfect tails were no big deal; 40-some litters ago, ears were something to “work with,” not breed for. Now we look quite early for the puppies that display the most of all possible bests the elements of harmony.
A future “great” catches your eye at birth and probably always will hold your attention. It is the pup that, at ten days, is the first to notice the papered toilet corner of the whelping box; the one who, a few days later, is the quickest to react to the presence of people – the one who waddles determinedly to the edge of the box, strains to reach up and promptly relaxes when held against a warm face. It is usually the strongest pup with the best body tone and the nicest proportions.
Sometimes, of course, the cookie doesn’t crumble according to expectations, as when the best-headed pup lacks the all-important proud carriage or conversely, when the most animated, smoothly moving pup develops a terribly bad ear set or worse. Still we are amazed whenever we hear of a great champion who, at four, five or six months was nearly relegated to pethood, only to bloom to perfection later in life. Our best dogs never really suffered such drastic changes, even at the critical states of development.
Ultimately, not all pretty dogs possess charisma and harmony. Harmony is more than a collection of perfect components; it is a certain arrangement of components, a balance of lines, angles and weights, the total physical design displayed in a convincing manner, with charisma. With luck, we all will have the good fortune and tremendous satisfaction of sharing, through breeding or ownership, in the lives of some truly great specimens of our breed.
Example of our puppy development process
0-16 Days: See Text
14-16 Days: Eyes and ears open. Move from bed to pen. Start solid/canned food.
16-21 Days: Adjustment to larger exercise pen.
21-28 Days: Observe eye size, shape, set; who comes, plays, energy level.
4 to 6 Weeks: Observe range of outdoor play; use of space; footing changes. Group visits in the house; indoor games.
6 to 7 Weeks: Farm walk; exploring new terrain; following along. Eye checks.
7 to 9 Weeks: Puppy training; sit, down, stand, come. Potty training; crate and hourly intervals in the home. Walks in pairs; stairs. First cut; companion puppies leave (less charisma/harmony).
9 to 12 Weeks: Retrieving; early herding exposure; barn visits, individual walks. Observe expression, carriage, bone. Working pups and Service Dog candidates leave (or stay).
12 to 16 Weeks: Individual training; gaiting; focusing; leash, care; single visits. Observe bonding, stamina, interest in learning, ability, pride. Observe rears, movement, tails, bites, toplines, fronts. Show prospects leave (or stay).