BELLA THE DOBERMAN IS ALWAYS READY FOR A GAME OF FETCH... AND SOME MORNING TEA.
BELLA, A SLEEK young doberman, greets every arrival to Hopeful, the Alto Olives grove at the foothills of the Great Dividing Ranges near Crookwell in NSW, with an enquiring sniff. She stands tall and her look is bright and alert. There’s a sense that you’re being appraised as a potential playmate. Her head cocks one way, then another, as she takes you in. Bella came to live on the farm with her owner Robert Armstrong when he bought her as a puppy to be a companion for his doberman, Zac. She came from the same breeder as Zac; in fact he was Bella’s uncle. “Zac was really put out when Bella arrived,” Robert says. “It was interesting to watch them. But over time Zac became her mentor. He taught her how to play with things. He’d wait for her to take her food first. It became a very paternalistic relationship.” Zac died at the end of 2015 and Bella has stepped up as top dog. “She has taken on a whole new role,” says Robert. “She’s an extremely good guard dog and follows me everywhere.” Everywhere includes early morning surveys of the olives, running after, beside and ahead of Robert as he rides the quad bike up and down the vertiginous slopes of the groves. Robert has always had dogs and Bella is his seventh doberman. “Dobermans are really gentle dogs, even if the public perception is different to that,” he says. “Although any dog’s nature depends on the personality of its owner,” he adds. Robert likes the definable traits of the doberman. “They are good guard dogs,” he says. “Interesting though, they don’t stop people coming into the house but they do try to stop them from leaving.” While Bella loves to nod off — at the back door, in a patch of sun, under Robert’s desk in his office — she is always up for a throwing game and waits patiently for Robert to find some free time. “She wants to play all the time and she wants you to throw sticks and balls for her to retrieve,” he says. “It encourages me to go for long walks with her, which is good for me. She keeps me young.” Bella retrieves the sticks and balls with speed, but has a habit of not wanting to release them. She is also an inveterate licker. “She thinks everybody is a dog.” To watch Bella’s long, loping strides as she runs up the drive or across the grove is a joyful sight. Her stride — dobermans stand on their toes, not their paws — is very different to working dogs, such as kelpies and border collies that are normally associated with Australian farm life. “When I moved to the farm in 2008 it was only natural that I would get a companion animal and I did get a pair of working dogs,” says Robert. “This area is renowned for its merino wool production but I’m in horticulture and working dogs without work didn’t make sense.” Even though she’s still young, Robert hasn’t put Bella though the training routine he would have with his previous pets. “Training is good for discipline,” he says. “Dobermans are not very good with vehicles and I do worry as there is a lot of machinery on the farm. I have noticed lately that she seems to have more traffic sense. And, she’s just started to travel with me in the car.” Bella is content to stay home though and has an uncanny knack of always appearing at the olive processing shed or office in time for morning tea. Then it’s time for another nap. “Dobermans are great sleepers,” says Robert. For more information about Alto Olives, telephone (02) 4834 6022 or visit alto-olives.com.au
Bella the doberman follows her owner, Robert Armstrong, everywhere. FACING PAGE Bella stretching her legs in the Alto Olives grove.