Of dogs and gulls

We had several different pet dogs when I was growing up. Susan’s family had a dog when I first met her as well. I am comfortable around dogs and enjoy their company. Somehow, however, we did not have dogs when our children were growing up. Our kids had a series of cats and there were years when we had multiple cats around our house, but we didn’t have a dog. I don’t remember our kids asking to have a dog, either. Not having a dog wasn’t a problem for us. I know that caring for a dog can involve considerable expense and time.

Both of our children have had pet dogs as adults and we have enjoyed their animals, so they didn’t grow up with negative feelings about dog ownership.

My sister, on the other hand, has had a pet dog for most of her adult life. We’ve known the series of dogs that have been her companions. On occasion she has brought her dogs to our house when visiting and they have been welcome in our home. Once, when we were living in South Dakota, we kept her dog in our home when she made a trip to visit a friend in Minnesota whose home was too small for entertaining a guest with a dog.

Now, we’ve been keeping her dog in our home for a couple of months as her daughter has a brand new baby at home and my sister is more focused on grandma duties than on care for her dog. The dog has been a good guest in our home. We take the dog for a walk every day and often take it over to our son’s farm to run in the open fields there. It has been healthy and seems content to be with us while its owner is not around.

I admit that I’m not an expert in dogs, but I’m no stranger to them, either.

Since our home is a temporary home to a dog, I have been interested in reading articles about dogs that show up in my news feed. This morning I read about Ziggy, a dog that lives in Sydney, Australia and is taken daily to a cafe near the Sydney Opera House that has outdoor dining Ziggy loves to chase the seagulls and that is his job at the cafe. He is allowed to chase any seagulls that he sees. the diners appreciate not having the gulls hanging around and stealing their food. That is how Ziggy got the job of chasing the gulls. The gulls had become a nuisance for diners and the operators of the cafe, swooping down to steal food and upsetting dishes and even tables in the process.

I took note in part because the dog living with us is an Australian Shepherd. I took note also, because our new home is in a place where the gulls can be a nuisance. You can tell when it is garbage day in our neighborhood because of the gulls that sweep down upon the garbage cans and try to steal whatever food they can. They will rip open plastic garbage bags and spread the contents around. Some places have problems with raccoons and other small mammals getting into the garbage. Our neighborhood attracts seagulls.

I know for a fact, however, that Cody, the dog who is living at our house, would be completely worthless when it comes to scaring away the gulls. We walk Cody along the beach several days a week and he completely ignores the gulls. When we walk him out to on the pier in Blaine, he will often be within three of four feet of a gull and he simply ignores the bird. He also ignores ducks, geese, crows and every other type of bird that we see on our walks.

Cody loves to chase things. He will chase a ball for as long as I continue to throw it. He can catch a frisbee from the air and will catch and retrieve it over and over again. It seems that chasing balls and frisbees is among his greatest joys. But he ignores birds.

Australian shepherds are bred as working dogs and they have been selected for their abilities to keep working even when they experience pain. They will go without food when working at times. This means that it doesn’t work to use food as a reward. If I give Cody a dog treat, he will ignore it. He would much rather chase a ball or frisbee than eat. In the summer, when we have been at our family’s place in Montana, Cody will chase sticks thrown into the river to the point of being chilled and exhausted.

But Cody doesn’t chase birds. He doesn’t even seem to notice them.

He does, however, bark at every garbage truck that comes into our neighborhood. On garbage day he is uncontrollable when there is a garbage truck anywhere near. He runs back and forth, trying to chase the truck and barks loudly. If we put him out into our back yard, he will run back and forth, barking wildly, jumping to peer over the top of our 5 foot board fence, even if the garbage truck is a block or more away.

If he sees a garbage truck when we are walking him, he will bark and lunge at his leash trying his best to chase the truck. I have to drag him down the path until the truck is out of sight in order to get him to continue his walk. Most of the time he is a very pleasant dog to walk, staying beside us and keeping the leash slack. But if he sees or hears a garbage truck, it is a real chore just to keep him from running off, and I haven’t found a way to stop him from barking at garbage trucks. He gives the same treatment to UPS and FedEx trucks.

Cody simply is not the right dog for the job of keeping seagulls out of the garbage cans.

The dog in the article about the Australian cafe appears to be a border collie. The “border” in border collie refers to the border between England and Scotland where the breed originated. Australian shepherds, on the other hand, weren’t first bred in Australia. The breed originated in the United States from a variety of herding dogs. They do bear some resemblance and perhaps share some genetics with dogs that were taken to Australia by sheep herders from the Basque region of Spain.

Cody’s genetics, however, don’t explain why he chases garbage trucks and ignores seagulls. That is a mystery that I’m probably never going to solve.

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