Jan 052016

I have had “miniature” Australian Shepherds as pets, travel companions and training partners since the mid 1980’s. At the time my first Aussie came to live with me, the term “miniature” was not prevalent in the vocabulary of the Aussie world, at least not in this part of the country. An Aussie was an Aussie was an Aussie and some were bigger than others.

My first Australian Shepherd was a red merle female registered with National Stock Dog Registry.  She stood 17 inches at the shoulder and weighed about 28 pounds.  Patch was a beautiful girl with bright colors and excellent bone structure, but I had no idea how nice she was at the time because the breed was new to me and we just loved her for who she was. I also had no idea that because of her height of less than 18″ that she fit into the size specifications of a Mini Aussie.

Up until the time Patch came to live with us, we had larger working Border Collies on our farm out of the dogs produced by Harold Miller here in Kentucky.  Mr. Miller, along with his son,  are well known for their herding demonstrations at the Kentucky State Fair each year.  My dad and my young son went to visit a local farmer to pick out a little Aussie puppy and came home with Patch, a bundle of red mottled fur.  My dad brought her to my house for me to do some obedience work with her and to keep her until she was old enough to work the cattle as he had done with his other BC pups.  Well, Patch lived with us for over 16 years…in the house, in our bed, in the motorhome…coddled.  She definitely had the instinct to herd and would have been voracious enough to move those big Angus bulls, but she never had to work that hard nor risk her teeth or life in the barn lot.

Patch’s sire and dam were from an  Indiana breeder and I have searched to determine her pedigree.  Her breeder no longer have papers on the parents so I have not been able to trace her lineage although I have tried through the registry service.

Patch and Jessica

It is dogs of Patch’s size that have been selectively line bred by a few breeders, primarily in the Northwest over the course of several generations, to reduce the size of the Australian Shepherd creating the height categories that are recognized today.

This pattern of breeding small to small does create a bit of a problem when breeders are asked to guarantee the adult size of the Miniature Aussie puppy they are about to purchase. We use the term “throw back” when referring to the Aussie heritage of having larger dogs in the bloodlines in earlier generations.  That occasional size discrepancy in an otherwise standardized litter is reminiscent of great great grandpa or grandma contributing their genetic imprint to the current generation much as one of our children can carry forward a characteristic of one of their ancestors.

The size is basically unimportant other than convenience because the personality and intelligence of an Aussie, Standard, Miniature or Toy are top notch.  They are excellent house pets, wonderful hiking companions, and they love to work when it is time to train obedience, agility, flyball or the activity of your choice.  Aussies, regardless the size, live to please!




 Posted by at 5:43 pm
Jul 082013

Link to a quick video from our morning adventure:  Out for a Walk

I like to take Fancy and Ike, my “big” little dogs around the two mile neighborhood loop at least once a day and morning is preferable for their walk.  They think they are out for a hunt and it’s all business to them from start to finish.  After the exercise, their day is much more relaxed as is mine.

I am fortunate to live in an area where we can walk with the dogs safely.  We have leash laws and our Animal Control facility is diligent about picking up loose or lost dogs and helping them to find their way back home, occasionally with a little reprimand for the owners.  Plus, our traffic is minimal and we can make the loop with very few stops if we time it right.

Today my thoughts were totally random, as they typically are, but as we were walking I had my headphones on and had chosen a station on my Iphone from the TuneIn Radio app.  I don’t know why this appeals to me, but I think it is fun to listen to stations from around the country and this morning the call was 96.3 The Wolf. When I kept hearing “Anchorage”, I thought..hmmm…that’s not far from me, maybe 15 miles.  But, when they gave the high temp today as 63, I realized, the music in my ear was being broadcast from Alaska which was a surprise.  Isn’t technology amazing?  I know that is a trite saying, but it really is amazing what information and media we have so easily at our discretion.  The younger generation expects it all to work, the older generation is still amazed that it does.

The pooches and I had a pleasant walk with the sun starting to shine after several days of gray skies summer and rain.  The dogs probably could hear the beat of the country music from my ear buds and we were in step in more ways than just our feet.  They didn’t care that a human + computer thousands of miles away programmed the music itinerary for this morning, but it gave me random food for thought.  Walking for exercise and relaxation is good, life is good and dogs in step make it better.

If you’d like to subscribe to the blog for email notifications, click HERE. Your comments and experiences with your dogs are welcome!


 Posted by at 10:05 pm
Jun 272013

easy walkOver the years, I have walked many miles with my own dogs on leash and also with others of all sizes and breeds during the years that I owned a pet sitting business.  I found there are no absolutes to easy leash walking but experience has taught me what works best for me and mine.  I want to start with the ones that I found do NOT work well.

Extend leashes have their purpose but that is not for walking a dog for exercise.  I do use them for little puppies in my yard that are learning potty habits with no other dogs around but that is about it.  Extend leashes are dangerous for lots of reasons.  The leverage a dog has when they “hit” the end of the long line amplifies the pressure on their neck for injury to them and the pressure on the person’s shoulder as well as a risk for fall.  Even more dangerous is when the dog catches a finger in the rope and then decides to pull or when they run around another dog or person or your own legs with the rope extended.  A cut is the least that can happen, and a rope around another dogs leg or even neck could be a disaster.  There is also the psychological aspect of the extended leash to the dog who now thinks they are the leader.  How many times have you been for a walk and seen a dog at the end of their extend leash pulling their owner down the street?  Sadly, I’ve even been that person in my early years of owning dogs.

Harnesses that have a clip on the back of the neck or shoulders also have negatives.  While they protect the dog’s neck from the injury of pulling and are good for puppies, they increase the “need” to pull by creating that negative force which I call the “sled dog” mentality.

Collars are meant to use for identification and are important, but unless fitted properly can slip right over the dog’s head when walking.  I’ve seen many dogs do a little twist about and slide right out of their collar and dash away which was a nightmare in my first year as a pet sitter.

Slip  chains…just too dangerous for the dog.  When the chain tightens, the dog can sustain damage to their neck and esophagus.  These were the standard for a long time and trainers told us to snap the chain to get the dogs attention.  Now we know that may have left permanent damage.  Plus, if a dog pulls, they are literally choking themselves.

Pinch collars have their place and I have in the past used them for dogs that just are too strong for me and refuse not to pull.  Do I like them?  No.  Do I use them any more?  No.  There are other solutions in most cases.  While not nearly as dangerous as a slip chain that tightens as the dog pulls, the negative with a pinch collar is when the dog you are walking sees another dog or person and leans toward the dog he is meeting..he gets a pinch.  In the dog’s mind, the pinch was caused by the otherwise friendly dog and can and often does lead to on leash aggression because of the association.  My German Shepherd who has been gone a few years was a very friendly dog but I walked her using a pinch collar.  Over time, she became very dog aggressive on our walks and I now believe the pinch was part of the cause.

So…what should we use when walking our dog to keep them safe and to help them learn not to pull?  What has worked the very best for me are the Easy Walk Harness and the Gentle Leader Head Halter.  Note here–I find them periodically for a very low price, as low as a third of the regular price, on Amazon under the Used tab but coming directly from Amazon with free shipping.  I’m guessing these are items that have been returned so they cannot advertise them as new.

My trainer leans toward the Gentle Leader and encourages everyone to use them, especially those with medium to larger dogs.  They do work miracles but it takes time because the dogs hate them at first and they have to be fitted properly.  They work much like a halter on a horse and once the dog is acclimated to the little strap over the nose, it’s all good.  I use one on Fancy, my larger mini Aussie because she has notoriously been a puller when excited.  First trip out she was aggravated by the nose strap, but we just kept on walking.  I didn’t acknowledge her pawing at it and by the time we had walked a mile and she had learned to stay with my pace so there was no pressure, she walked perfectly.

My two smaller dogs, Rosie and Swagger, do best on the Easy Walk Harness because their little noses are small.  The harness has the leash clip on their front chest and if they pull, the setup of the harness actually turns their body toward me instead of creating leverage against me.  It works.

Ike, my old male, and Izzy walk just fine with a flat martingale collar.  A martingale collar is a flat collar with an extra loop that stays loose around the dogs neck that only tightens if they pull which those two don’t.  I only use the collar for a dog that never pulls.

It is so much more enjoyable to walk with a dog that isn’t pulling and I think the trick is to evaluate what you are using to lead them and how their doggy minds might be reacting as you walk.  And, of course, be sure you have a 4-6 ft leather leash, with a couple of knots, for the comfort of your hands.  The leather gets soft with time like a comfy shoe 🙂  Have fun, walk more!



Aug 192012

Blue skies, puffy white clouds, temperatures only approaching 80 degrees on a Sunday afternoon–perfect day to take a dog for a walk, which is exactly what I did.  I had to draw straws, and since Ike, my older male, seems to be the last one chosen, he got the walk today!  Nice music with a good beat in my earphones, breeze in my hair, dog nose to the wind, bliss!

All said to review a product that is one of my favorites, The Buddy System Hands Free Leash, available on Amazon or perhaps a store near you.  It’s a nice adjustable and comfortable fit around my waist and the dog’s part of the leash attaches very easily to my part with a strong clip.  Of course, it depends on your dog, but Ike has a very nice heel so I keep the length of the leash where he’s right beside my left knee and AWAYYYYYYY we go!  With the Hands Free leash, I have a hand to adjust my music on my phone and another to hold my Tervis Water Bottle, a gift from my husband for my birthday 🙂

 Posted by at 10:44 pm
Jun 282012

While camping and riding the bike trail, we’ve picked up a few freeloaders, those icky ticks. I treat my dogs monthly with topical Revolution from my vet so the critters don’t “hang” around but I read a great idea for being sure the ticks and fleas that might hitchhike into our house get a really bad headache..put a flea and tick collar inside the bag of the vacuum cleaner.  That’s ingenious!!

Do you have other ideas like that one that you’d like to share? 

 Posted by at 2:29 am
Jun 262012

Puppy in Bicycle Basket

Our favorite vacations are to take the dogs in our motor home and ride our bikes, non-motorized, on a scenic rail to trail. This summer our choice was the Katy Trail spanning Missouri east to west. There’s always beautiful nature since the old rail lines ran through the countryside and often along waterways.  This trail is no exception.

After a slow start and a poor choice of campground for our first night, we landed in Hermann, MO in the middle of Mssouri wine country. The little town with obvious German heritage  was a neat place to relax. The city park had shaded campsites just half mile from one of the wineries with tours, tasting and a nice German themed restaurant menu. Poor planning delayed getting our rental car a couple of days, but once we were mobile to get to a trailhead, helmets to the wind. 

Although the trail is over 100 miles long stretching from St. Charles, MO to the west, we only had time to ride in 10 mile segments because of the heat of midsummer with daytime temperatures approaching 100 degrees F.  We hit the trail very early in the morning for our ride and if possible stoppwd at a local diner in one of the little depot towns for a hearty breakfast. The first morning’s ride took us from McKendrick east to Rhineland, MO with acres of flat cornfields with some hills in the distance.

This trip we traveled with Izzy, Rosie and Swagger our 3 mini Aussies. Ike and Fancy stayed home to be cared for by the lady that works for me in my pet sitting business. I bought a bike basket just for dogs on Amazon and this was our debut. Swagger LOVED IT!!  He has his face to the cool morning breeze and was a happy rider. Rosie and Izzy got in a morning nap back at ground zero.

 Posted by at 9:52 pm
Jun 082012

Since the puppies are with their new owners, except Swagger, it’s time for us to get my other dogs back into their exercise routine.  Exercise is so important for a happy and healthy dog and for a healthy and happy human.

It’s easy to do passive exercise with Izzy and Fancy, because they are disc dogs and will play until they can run no more.  However, there’s more to exercise than running after a disc in the back yard.

We have a 4 mile walking/running/biking trail just down the street from us and as of this week, I promised myself and especially Ike, Fancy and Rosie that we would be there once a day.  Besides burning calories for myself, the benefits to walking on a trail are numerous.

First, dogs need to walk on a loose leash beside you and that takes practice.  In my younger life, I thought an extend leash was the way to go and wondered why my dogs pulled until they choked themselves on a walk.  Now I know they had not learned that we were partners in the walk rather than them being the head honcho and me the underling. Some dogs learn this much more easily than others, but I’ve found that a pocket full of super yummy treats to pop in their mouth when they’re doing it right soon teaches them the reward of staying with me.  Loose leash is not “heeling” as we do in obedience competition, but does mean they walk at our side in a relaxed fashion.

Second, our dogs have to learn to make way for the other walkers with wheels: bicycles, little children on their trikes, and skaters.  Herding dogs like to herd, of course, so they have to practice ignoring those folks that buzz by us at top speed.  You remembered…a pocket full of treats, and add a clicker on your wrist if you think to bring it along.  Bike passing, say pup’s name, they look at you instead of the bike, click and pop a treat.  It won’t take long, until they are begging for bikes to come by.

And, of course, walkers with other dogs.  That one is not so easy because some of those “other” dogs aren’t as well behaved as ours.  If I’m out with more than one dog, I don’t typically do any greeting on the trail, it just turns into a mishmash of dog tails and is too risky.  It doesn’t always work, but I keep my dogs by my side as much as I can, do lots of singsong talking, pop treats and keep walking.  If you hear me singing Happy Birthday to my dogs, it doesn’t mean they have a cake with candles waiting at home.  It is a happy song after all, and gets their attention and gives me a more relaxed feeling so I don’t panic when I see a 120 pound Mastiff walking my way on the trail straining against the owner’s leash, and of course, the owner has on earphones and is not noticing their dog’s body language.  Happy birthday to you….pop a treat…happy birthday to you…pop a treat.  You get the idea.

Izzy got her dose of Frisbee tonight with Swagger running along behind her (so darn cute) and the other dogs got their walk on the trail.  They are relaxed and I’m relaxed.  What a good way to spend a cool Spring evening!

 Posted by at 3:30 am
Oct 072011

New River Trail ShoalsRailroad TrestleHiking with the DogsNew River TrailFries New River RV Park

There is just nothing more fun than camping in the mountains and hiking the trail with our three little Aussies.  One of our favorite times away is to take our motorhome and camp at Fries New River RV Park at the trailhead of New River State Park in Virginia.  The trail is just gorgeous the first week of October, so tranquil running along the New River for over 50 miles.

Fries is a small historical mill town and when the cotton mill closed, the railroad spur was turned into a linear state park by the state of Virginia.  It meanders alongside the New River through the little mountain towns with a number of entry points.  This is our fifth time to come here, but the first time we have rented a car so we could ride our bikes on different portions of the trail.  So far, our favorite rides are from Fries to Gambetta and from Ivanhoe to the Shot Tower.  Both trips are about 15 miles there and back, which is my limit to ride in an afternoon.

Fries RV Park is owned and operated by a retired couple originally from Winston Salem and it is impeccably maintained and “just right”.  Private, but not lonely, with full hookups.  The sites are fairly large and easy to access.  Just across the street and down the hill to the river is a flat public grassy area the size of two football fields that is perfect for Frisbee time with the dogs.

It is so nice to have mini and toy Aussies because they are so easy to travel with.  They aren’t finicky and love to hike, but will also hang out well when we leave them behind.  I have bought a Walkie Dog to let them run alongside our bike, but ordered it too late for this trip.  The reviews are really good on Amazon, but I’ll do my own once we try it out.  I’m predicting my girls will absolutely love it.  Ike, our male, might prefer to relax in the camper.

This is the good life, beautiful fall weather, a comfy campsite, and hiking with our furry friends.

 Posted by at 7:02 pm