Ever read about a really amazing fictional dog and started to want one? Here's what our life with an Aussie is really like:
Meet the Dog Behind the Books
In The Coral Killer, Ruby West's fictional dog is a full-sized, tri-color Australian Shepherd named Angel. Our real-life dog is a Mini Aussie named Gracie (technically minis are also called American Shepherds). Gracie is a blue merle (which means she looks like someone splashed white and black paint on a blue-gray dog).
Before you get to the knitty-gritty, I want to point out two things in the above picture: the exhausted child, and the protective (and still awake) Aussie. They will out-last even your most energetic family members, but they are loving and watchful.
That said, if you're wondering if Real Life Aussies are as awesome as the fiction ones, here's a break-down for you:
Aussie Fur: Of Dirt, Fluffiness, and Vacuums
In the Books: Angel mimics Gracie exactly with this!
In Real Life: Gracie has the best coat of fur I've ever had to take care of, hands down! She is super fluffy soft, and yes, she does shed, but it's manageable with a cordless vacuum. Even better is how very little maintenance her fluff requires! No trimming fur needed. She can run through mud, and ten minutes later, she is dry and fluffy. The dirt falls off, and beggar weed seeds don't stick to her. She can be sopping-wet and dry again in minutes. It's as if she came with a self-cleaning feature that is set to Super Fluffy all the time.
Aussies and Their Family
In the Books: Angel is protective, but calm. She is an older dog.
In Real Life: Gracie is very protective of her flock (my family). For the first two years, she thought it was her job to herd the children if they tried to leave the garden and play in the yard. In her third year, she seems to be chilling a bit (by Aussie standards). She also knows exactly how many children there should be, and if one is gone for the night, she has trouble settling down.
Aussies and Other People
In the Books: Angel is willing to sit back and stay when told. She has free range at the beach where Ruby works, and could care less about the random people there.
In Real Life: Gracie is, well, suspicious of everyone outside our family circle. The suspicion is not equal though: some new people are met with constant barking. Some only get a "Hey Humans! Your Friend is HERE!" A select few have been urinated on (you did ask what it was really like to own one, just saying). Some get a couple minutes of barking and then she finds somewhere to watch them from.
Aussies and Barking
In the Books: Angel barks, but knows when to quit.
In Real Life: Gracie has to wear a bark collar. It vibrates and makes an annoying beep when she barks. In all fairness, if she's had plenty of brain and body exercise for the day, she hardly barks at all. But the barking is her job. I never have to worry about anyone un-authorized sneaking into the yard/house.
Aussies and Weather
In the Books: Angel mimics real life.
In Real Life: Gracie can handle the heat (we live in FL), but if it's really toasty, she needs a good soaking. When our weather does turn crisp/chilly, it's as though someone tripled her energy meter. Fast, bouncy, happy. We always get a good laugh at her antics on chilly days.
Aussies and Chickens
Aussies and Water
In the Books: Angel loves water.
In Real Life: Gracie swims really well. She enjoys the beach, the boat, and climbs the ladder into our above ground pool, where she will sit on a boogie board and guard the children.
In case you think I'm pulling your leg about the climbing, here's our tiny Aussie showing the toddler how to climb ladders:
Aussies and Exercise
In the Books: Angel is fast. She needs to run and swim.
In Real Life: Gracie may be tiny, but sometimes we call her the Gray Streak of Lightning. She gets two walks a day, and still has more energy than a toddler that's found a stash of candy.
Aussies and Smarts
In Real Life: Gracie really is smart. She knows exactly which family members to trick into thinking she hasn't had dinner, or that she should totally be allowed up on their lap. She also knows which ones that doesn't fly with.
Anything that I've put the effort into teaching her has gone well. If I wasn't homeschooling a pack of humans, she'd probably be as well trained as Ruby's fictional dog Angel.
With Aussies, you definitely get out what you put in. If you keep their body and brain busy, they are amazing. If not, they will eat your kids' favorite toys and find other doggish sources of entertainment! Buyer, beware!