Today, Team Pearson (her husband, David, and twentysomething daughters, Anna and Laura) are all in on this versatile breed under the umbrella of Timberwood Aussies, in Granite Falls, Washington.
“When I married David (an Englishman), he knew that if you get me, you get my dogs,” she laughs. The girls, well, they didn’t waste any time either. Almost from birth, they found themselves wrapped up in the breed and a mix master of activities surrounding it.
“My first Aussie, Secret, picked me after I came home from the hospital,” Laura smiles. And Anna adds, “I was born into the breed and showed my first one at age 2.”
A Family Affair
Laura entered the ring as soon as she could walk at 9 months of age. “I put two leads on her dog, Secret, and gave one lead to her and one to an older Junior handler. I did the same with Anna,” her Mom recalls, “though she did not show a real interest to go in the ring until she was about 2, with her dog, Rudi. Laura showed for the first time without any help at age 3. Laura put points on her first dog when she was 4, Anna not much longer.”
David is a bit of a different story. Toni married him two decades after getting her first Aussie in 1975. He rarely attends shows but is an integral member of Team Pearson. He cares for the dogs when the others are attending shows, plus he has installed fencing, a dog tub, and updated the dog building into an upscale grooming facility.
“He is also a great puppy socializer,” adds Toni. “As soon as he sits down after arriving home from work (he is a manufacturer engineer for The Boeing Co.), the dogs fight for his lap.” But he has never bonded intensely with one dog until . . . More on that later.
Finding the Perfect Breed
Now back to the “Samoyed without a tail.” Prior to 1975 Toni owned an English Springer Spaniel but after a couple of incidents she recognized it was not a good match and found a perfect new home for him with a hunter.
It wasn’t long before a friend asked Toni to join her for an outing with a horse trainer who put his resident dog through a series of work moves that left Pearson in awe. “I asked the trainer what breed that was and he smiled, “A Samoyed without a tail.” Quickly, her friend interceded emphatically, “She is not. She is an Australian Shepherd and one day I am getting one.”
And so did Toni!
A short time later, she found herself the proud owner of her first Aussie, Woody, a 9-month-old blue merle with one blue eye and one brown eye. “I asked if I could take him for a walk and the breeder agreed. He immediately went to my left side, although he had no formal training. He never took his eyes off me in the process. It was an incredible feeling to be so bonded with an animal that quickly.”
Her friend informed Pearson that the breed was not recognized by the American Kennel Club but it was likely within the next five years (1980). Well, that didn’t happen until 1993, long after Woody passed.
Smart and Loyal
Woody, however, was the first Australian Shepherd to be shown at an AKC event (Seattle Kennel Club Dog Show), according to Pearson, who was a member of the Washington State Obedience Training Club at the time. Woody ran “scent and hurdle” on one of its teams.
At the time, unrecognized AKC breeds were not allowed on the show grounds of its events. “Woody was fast and accurate and everyone wanted him on the team,” Toni says. “The club and I wrote to AKC to seek permission for him to be at the event. The day before the show we had not heard back from AKC so we asked the AKC rep at the show for permission. He asked if we had another dog to run. We told him that we did not so he let Woody participate. I can still hear the crowd buzzing when Woody took off. The following Monday we received a letter from AKC denying him permission.”
Team Pearson’s story is one of love, trust, and commitment. Sure, there have been some surprises along the way, too.
“I don’t think anything prepared me for how smart and loyal this breed is,” Pearson emphasizes. “Though they love the whole family, each dog takes a specific person he or she is most loyal to. I have no doubt any of my dogs would step in to protect me or my family if needed but for the most part, they recognize friend/foe. Add to that, they are silly and goofy, which makes them endearing. But bottom line, my Aussies will meet you and wag their butts but will come back to me. I am their priority.”
The public’s biggest misconception of the breed, she adds, is that it has a size variety. Not! A 16-inch Australian Shepherd is a 16-inch Australian Shepherd, just as a 25-inch Australian Shepherd is a 25-inch Australian Shepherd. There is no toy, miniature or giant version of the breed. The standard notes a preferred height but quality should never be sacrificed for size.
The versatile herding breed is well-suited for most dog sports – Agility, Dock Diving, Herding, Trick Dog, etc. “They are great at anything competitive,” says Anna. “They have a terrific balance of drive and willingness to please.”
Conflicts of COVID
The COVID-19 craziness this year has tested Team Pearson’s managerial prowess in many respects from raising a litter born in January to keeping the other dogs busy on its five acres.
“Socializing the litter has been a challenge,” emphasizes Toni. “We have had to get very creative. Laura and I each kept a pup and the third one will be placed. We have taken turns taking them to a latte stand and getting them puppuccinos. We have also traded puppies with other breeders, which worked very well. Even if we don’t show the pups as soon as they receive their vaccines, they come along for socialization.”
To keep the Timberwood Aussies sharp physically and mentally, Laura and Anna take them on hikes, plus the dogs exercise on a treadmill and chase each other about a fully fenced acre.
In a normal year, Toni, Laura, and Anna are all involved with planning which shows to enter. Laura tracks the judges’ panel, maintaining a list for each dog, and notes each arbiter’s preferences. Her present job with a “very supportive company” allows her weekends off.
College and work today leave Anna little time to show. Add that to the COVID competition downtime, and you have all the ingredients for the buildup of frustration. “The hardest thing,” she explains, “is that my girl, Paisley, is at the perfect age and condition to go for her championship and I am left twiddling my fingers.”
Man’s Best Friend
Remember David, who never bonded with a Timberwood puppy through 29 years of marriage. Well, all that changed the past year when Ella, now 1, captured his heart.
“I don’t know why Ella became the dog for me,” he smiles. “It might be because we bonded when I was hand-feeding her as a newborn, although she is not the first I have done this with.”
A poignant moment occurred when 8-weeks-old Ella accompanied David to a local feed store. “I was carrying her and the checkout woman asked if I was going to keep her. I said ‘probably not,’ as we had enough dogs. She responded that she bet I would, as she could see that Ella loved me. After that, I decided to keep her.
“Through the years we have had several dogs that really liked me but none was attached to me the way Ella is. She is constantly climbing on my lap. She loves to sit with one paw on each shoulder.
“As I have been working from home since mid-March, she has spent most of her days sitting by my chair, occasionally getting up to go play with one of her many toys.”
Ella sports some personality quirks David has not noticed previously in the breed. For instance, she loves to hide treats around the house, and after finding a half-eaten hamburgers in the seats of his last car, she is not allowed to eat food in the new one.
While Toni remains hopeful David and Ella will give Agility and Dock Diving a try, David has no plans to do so.
“She is just my buddy and likes being out on the boat as much as I do. We are somewhat limited in what I can do presently due to a recently diagnosed heart problem.” When he is fully recovered, Pearson plans to introduce Ella to local hiking trails and spend more time on the boat.”