Wednesday, February 4, 2015

WTH is Brockle? Behaviors

Yeah, I can't stand it.

I've got to let you in on the stuff I've been learning about dog behavior, because, well, it's awesome.

While all my research into dogs and their physical characteristics started me on some interesting trails, things became fun when I started studying the behavior of Brockle vs. the behavior of different breeds.

There are other factors involved here, mainly learned behaviors that came from his previous environment and interactions with people.

He's a walking, barking, shedding knot of nature vs. nurture.

Brockle and I met when I went to our local animal shelter to look at a female catahoula leopard dog. I wanted a female, because I think they are easier than males and I'm not a fan of marking. I'm aware all male dogs don't mark in the house, but it's a pretty standard behavior that comes with rescue dogs and I was planning on skipping that particular PIA.

Parkinson's is a disease that demands walking, lots of it. My dogs were older, sedentary, and perfectly content to stay curled on the couch instead of hiking in bad weather. I decided I wanted a younger dog who would offer a training challenge and would demand lots of exercise.

Boy howdy, talk about getting the dog you need.

I paused at a kennel with a beautiful large fluffy dog. He was stressed, but calm, looked straight into my eyes and very clearly said, "Hey, you, get me the hell out of here."

He was riveting. I never made it to the catahoula.

When we met he was brought in by a volunteer who proceeded to show me how nicely he sat, laid down and ate treats.

I think I hurt her feelings when I asked her to stop with the tricks and let me observe him on his own.

He paced around the small enclosure a few times, thoroughly sniffed the people he didn't know and politely tolerated the kidlet while she petted and played with him. I sat on my hands and watched.

He sat in front of me and stared straight into my eyes again. He didn't look away and it was slightly unnerving. I know this is supposed to be a dominant or aggressive trait, but that wasn't the vibe he gave. He was talking to me, as clear and straight as he could, and sizing me up at the same time. I read intensity, exhaustion, confusion and a question I wasn't sure how to answer.

He must have answered it himself, because he came to me and laid down with a sigh, his back against my legs like he had always been there. I was hooked.

When I applied to adopt him I was warned. He was a three time loser. Adopted out as a stray at three months, returned at ten months for eating a couch and chewing his way out of an apartment THROUGH THE WALL, all in the same day. Then he was adopted again, by a large active family, this time he lasted 12 hours before he was returned. The only explanation was "He's horrible, awful and needs to be put down." He was sent to the shelter's rehab for training, and returned a failure. He had dog aggression issues and wouldn't behave on a leash.

"I have time, and if I need help, I'll get it," I said.

I had my new boy.

Because of his speckled face he was named Brockle. It's a cowboy thing.

This is a brockle faced cow.

His bones were prominent under his beautifully groomed coat. He only weighed 47 pounds. He was fine with our family, both dogs and humans. Although he glued himself to my leg, he was gentle with both Jim and I, and careful not to upset our precarious balance.

He watched me constantly, seeking and holding eye contact as long as I would return it. Our first walk together went so well I took him off leash at the neighborhood off leash area. His joy was intense and he came to me the instant I called.

I couldn't understand what the problem was. He was awesome. Well, except for attempting to hump every person and dog in the house on his first night with us. But that cute trick had been dispensed with immediately and it took three days to get him to eat. I still felt we were truly on our way.

What I failed to realize on our first outing was that we hadn't seen any other dogs. The first time we crossed paths with another dog, Brockle launched through the air with a terrible snarl. 

I am strong. I can wrestle down an unbroke 4-year-old draft cross with one arm, a halter and longe line. 

Brockle pulled off my feet. I had to pull myself up the leash hand over hand and lay on him before he stopped. No, I wasn't doing the Cesar/Mosquito Monks alpha roll, it was all I could do to get him to stop trying to kill that dog. 

A week later I called a pro.

I had my project.

Here's what I've learned about my dog.

He's a brainiac. I'm not bragging, he freaks me out a little. I'll give three quick examples. 

#1. This morning, when I took the dogs out, I realized I didn't have my coffee. It was 5:30 am, still dark, I was groggy and not amused. I searched for 15 minutes.
Brockle pickd up that I was searching for something and offered me his ball, his duck, and his rope. I said, no, I want my coffee each time.
He started sniffing here and there, being especially thorough on the places I had been.
I finally found my coffee. 
I said, "There's my coffee!!"
I can guarantee, the next time I start looking for my lost coffee he will take me to it, because that's how he rolls.

#2. I took him to my amazingly awesome vet to check him for a sore back. She had found part of the problem but needed to explore his back leg. He was getting stressed (he doesn't like to be handled by anybody but me) so she stopped for a bit.
"I'll give him a break before I check his hamstring and leg," she said.
Brockle backed into the corner (she sits on the floor with them instead of using a table) placed his butt firmly against the wall and hid his hind leg.
"He understands words," she said.
"Yes he does," I replied.
"I mean, he understands me."

#3. Brockle eavesdrops when I'm on the phone. If it's my mother, Suzy or Kathy, all walking buddies, he stays and listens. If he hears them say (or spell) walk or go, or out, he watches out the front window until they arrive. We say round object instead of ball and hike instead of walk, because he understands the spelling of both.  

He's very high drive and has been diagnosed with OCD. When I got him he was self mutilating. That has stopped. Dribbling his tennis ball on the tile floor for hours at a time has not.

He's loves obedience work, I mean loooovveeess it.

When I first began to realize how smart he is, I immediately thought about border collies (BC). Thing is, he doesn't herd or nip heels.Not even a little. He doesn't slink, crouch or sneak either.

He's a head up, chest out, charging kind of guy.

He draws a perimeter around me and Charlie and guards it. Nobody is allowed in.When we are at protection practice he will attack an approaching bad guy (decoy) with everything he's got. If it's a fleeing bad guy, he will chase him to his chosen perimeter and stop. He won't leave me to catch a criminal. It's not his job.

Every night he does his "night bark." He stands in the back yard and barks for about 10 minutes. It's a steady warning bark. Deep, serious and calm. If we don't give him this time, he's anxious and restless until he gets it.

He spends his life at my side. When I walk through the house, he walks with me, usually with his nose touching my leg. He doesn't leave, ever. If he is accidentally let out of the house or yard, he lays on the porch by the front door.

Brockle doesn't cower, no matter how mad he's made me. When I yell at him he immediately makes puzzled eye contact and steps closer. He takes no shit. I've touched him in anger once. His response was to look me in the eyes, pee on the ground and kick dirt everywhere, staring at me the whole time.

I told my trainer and he said,"Then don't do that."

I've since learned that some dogs consider themselves partners, not subordinates. If they feel unfairly treated they have been known to turn on their handler. If these dogs are pushed with severe discipline they step straight into fight, not flight. It turns out it's an actual gene that creates this response. It makes a dog move forward into fear instead of back away. It appears Brockle carries this gene.

It's not that he won't accept discipline. I refocus him with work, one task or many, until we're back on track. If I'm unhappy with him he'll bust his butt to figure out what I want and then do it. He'll accept a snap of the leash and "Leave it!" just fine. I seriously doubt he'd accept being kicked, jerked repeatedly or punched.

Brockle has taken it upon himself to take care of me. When I'm tired he tries to guide me to the car, away from the stove, or back home mid-hike. Stupid PD makes my blood pressure plummet when I over do it. Brockle knows it's going on before I do and coaxes me into sitting down. He helps me up the stairs, off the couch and out of bed. If I fall he lets me use him to get back up. 

I don't suggest you punch me or break into my house, but he is now considered a happy friendly dog. Protection and obedience training completely turned him around.

He's devoted. His focus on me is so intense he won't learn from my trainer. HMT has to teach me how to teach him. He can't just take the leash and teach him because he's too intent on me to listen. He said he's only met one other dog in his career that wouldn't work for him. He stands between me and every single person who approaches.

He's kind of a dickhead. He likes to dawdle over breakfast and dinner, guarding the kitchen and not allowing the dogs to pass. He likes to roll small dogs at the park, part of why he stays on leash unless he's working. He argues with me, vocalizing with a loud "Rowr, rowr, rowwr, when he disagrees with my decision. He body blocks the kidlet so she can't touch me (or at least tries).

He is happier on a leash than off, unless we're working. If he doesn't have a focus off leash he gets nervous and runs from me to Charlie, over and over until he's exhausted. He sniffs only to identify and track an animal, mainly the predators that frequent my neighborhood. He rarely stops to mark.

He is not food motivated unless there's another dog with us who is.

He has, however, become incredibly well behaved and loves to learn. He walks on a loose leash, ignores other dogs, looks to me for an OK before he becomes aggressive, either with decoys at practice or stupid men who reach out to pet him or do anything to make me nervous. Again, it's a bad idea to try to punch me. He successfully worked off leash yesterday with dogs around and never lost focus.

He doesn't bother livestock, chickens, ducks, sheep, goats etc. Horses worry him, there was an incident, but that's a story for another day. Once I'm on, he goes back to the car. Not so good with cats.

He's 2 1/2 now and still growing, both height and width. 

I learned that all Belgian shepherds and particularly the malinois often carry the "never back down" gene.
Livestock Guardian dogs (LGD), Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherds, and Kuvasz  all guard their perimeter over chasing down intruders. They won't leave their flock. 
The only dog I've heard vocalize like him are GSD. 
Collies were crossed with sight hounds back in the day to make them pointier and elegant.
GSD are known for their obsessive devotion and need to touch their person. 
He doesn't have dew claws, unless they were removed as a puppy.
In town, the mutts crosses tend to be pits, rotts, chihuahuas, labs and heelers.
East of town in cowboy central, LGD, heelers, BC, working terriers and sight hounds, (mostly greyhounds and whippets) malinois, GSD are pretty common, and all the crazy crosses that can result.
Sport dogs are popular here, with a lot of crosses between sight hounds, terriers, BC and protection type breeds being made to compete in agility and fly ball. Coyote dogs (aggressive lurchers bred to hunt and kill coyotes) are not unheard of.

Whatever he is, he's become an amazing partner and definitely keeps me on my toes. It's going to be fun to see what his DNA tells me.


Antonia Wood said...

If this works, it should be a link to a picture of a dog that looks very familiar. It's a Collie/St. Bernard mix. Maybe add a little GSD and sighthound to the mix and you could have Brockle.

Katharine Swan said...

I think he chose you because he knew you needed him.

I had a dog very much like him, except she was a white shepherd, possibly with some wolf mixed in (although not a lot). She also gave you the strong impression that she understood 90% of what was said, she also dribbled tennis balls incessantly, and was protective of us (although not to the extent that Brockle is). Sadly, though, she'd been dealt a bad hip and a string of bad owners, so she also cowered when she was in trouble and retreated to a safe place if she heard curse words.

Looking forward to finding out more about your mystery mutt!

jenj said...

We recently acquired a Pyr rescue who shares a lot of the same tendencies. He's not as smart or as obsessive as Brockle, but he is next to either me or my husband every second he can be. I can't walk out of the room without having him attached.

The guardian tendency runs very strong in some dogs. Brockle is lucky to have found someone who understands him as well as you do!

Anonymous said...

I get the intense eye stare, listening, knowing what youre thinking at times, strong need to protect, completely ignores other animals, and extreme devotion. My papillon ( dont laugh he was a giant 7lber) was the same way. I dont think its necessarily the breed, I think certain dogs just love and respect their owners to the point of no return. He passed in November of complications from a disability and I miss him very much. My family jokes that he instead of romping and playing at the rainbow bridge, he is waiting at the gate for me watching and waiting. (We arent religious, whenever I left him anywhere he would sit by the door and shake till I got home.

Francis said...

I have read this three times, so far, and each time I get to this "I told my trainer and he said,"Then don't do that."" I laugh out loud..

Brockle so reminds me of my husbands GSD.. but that top photo of the St. Bernard cross is pretty interesting.. what always gets me is how unusual purebred dogs get mixed into the lot.. I will be interested to hear the results!!

Anonymous said...

In spite of the trainer's wife's observations about GSD color genes - I am still inclined to think that he has a decent sized shot of the German in him. Not all GSDs are red & black and you can get some pretty funky colors if you mess with crossing the different coats.....I am going to go and say that he is GSD & Borzoi (although I almost want to throw an English Setter in there---ha ha ha). In any case you have a very good dog !!!! Best Regards, owned by a GSD

Anonymous said...

Where in your research did you find documentation of a distinct "bravery" gene? I was just discussing this regarding my dog (adopted, looks quite a bit like bigger, light sable street dog). He does not back down from a threat, the more concerned he is the more aggressive he acts.

Heidi the Hick said...

I think you should just start a new breed registry for "Awesome Dog". Because he is awesome in the true sense of the word!

Talking about his background always gets me wondering who my gelding's daddy is, because he probably was not an Appaloosa. Then I start thinking about the dog DNA test video you posted, and I giggle, and then I start thinking maybe it's best to just leave it alone…!

mugwump said...

Anon. Give me a few days, I'm going to put together a bibliography on this stuff, and future stuff, and have it available on the blog.

Karen said...

Very interesting. I am also interested in the bravery/into fear gene. I've had/been around dogs my whole life. One of my current dogs is a German bred German Shorthair. She is the most fearless, secure, self assured dog I have ever met. She is a partner. She will obey, but she does not submit. She is also very smart, and always knows the score. She is a versatile hunting dog, so does not have all the spectrum of border patrol and protective behaviors, but is definitely a look you in the eye, let's DO this kind of dog and is very big on doing her jobs.

As to understanding speech, I do have an interesting story about her. We have a farm and one of her jobs is killing vermin. She's getting up there in age and had stopped being quite as vigorous in her pursuit. We told her, one day, that everyone has to earn their keep, and her rent was one gopher per month. She brought a gopher to the porch 2 days later. For the following 2 months, she brought us a gopher around the first of the month. It was probably coincidence, but I wouldn't put anything past her, and it does make a good story.

MichelleL said...

Sounds like my son. Seriously.

Wish I could have figured him out a hell of a lot sooner.

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