Back when the puppies were little, co-breeder Karen and I had the entire litter tested for temperament. The test, given by Virginia’s very own Dog Whisperer, Corally Burmaster, takes puppies through a series of activities designed to pinpoint specific character traits that are inbred. These are the strengths or flaws the puppy is born with and cannot be undone.
The purpose of this test is, first of all, to help in determining which dogs should or should not be bred (if the character flaw is particularly arresting), but also to help determine what sort of home they need to go to. Some “negative” traits that show up are merely breed personalities. Australian Shepherds are naturally stand-offish with strangers – Abbey, believe it or not, was very shy with strangers when she was a puppy and she still backs off until you call her by name. Then you can’t shut her up even though we keep telling her she’s supposed to be shy.
The reason I tell you all this is that, having experienced a heady dose of endorphins from frolicking in the woods with Zsa Zsa, I decided I needed to take the puppies out once a day for a good brisk rollick, more for my sake than theirs. They already chase each other around and play “Steal the Boney from Uncle Topper.”
So I dug out a Kong ball (which we keep hidden lest ‘Pode, the Parson Russell Terrier sees it and has a nervous breakdown trying to get at it) and went outside.
See – one of the temperament tests is to have the puppy attempt to retrieve a ball. Karen and Corally have a running disagreement whether this should or should not be a part of the temperament test for Aussies specifically, herding dogs in general. Because Australian Shepherds don’t fetch.
When we did the test, every one of the puppies refused to fetch the ball – except Hokie, but I think he was just trying to be polite.
Nonetheless, out I went with the ball and the Aussies, who were excited by the fact I was going outside with them for something other than to hang out laundry.
I showed them the ball. They look at it, then at me, than at each other, back to the ball. Obviously this was something Da Mama treasured, so perhaps it commanded a certain amount of attention. It triggered some ancient memory in Topper’s mind and he gave a little play pounce. So I threw it.
Topper ran after the ball, the puppies ran after him, Zsa Zsa brought up the rear telling them all to shut up and stop fooling around. Topper brought the ball back and placed it by the back door.
I went and got the ball and he pranced proudly by my side. Then I threw the ball again saying, “Go get the ball!” and the look on Topper’s face was one for the books. He looked like, “If you wanted it, why’d you throw it away again?”
The puppies, though, having witnessed Topper’s retrieval, went after the ball and fought over who was going to bring it back. Abbey the brat, of course, prevailed and trotted it back to me pretty as you please and let me take it from her mouth. I threw it again.
This time Topper and Hokie looked at me like I’m some kind of idiot. Abbey went after the ball, less enthusiastically this time, and brought it back.
Now they are behind me and they're growling to each other.
“She’s not going to throw that damn thing again, is she?”
“Well, I’m not going after it this time.”
I throw the ball. There is a pause and more growling in the ranks. Abbey plods on over, picks up the ball, plods back and drops it. Then she goes back to the others.
“I think she’s senile.”
I throw the ball again, “Go get the ball!”
No one goes. They’re all the way across the yard, tumbling around.
Except Zsa Zsa, who gently walks me over to the ball and observes as I pick it up. Then she slowly walks me to the back door –
I suppose to make sure I don’t wander off somewhere.