Last Updated on August 22, 2023 by Fumipets
Australian Shepherd: A Dynamic Canine Companion
The Australian Shepherd, often referred to as the “Aussie,” is a versatile and intelligent breed known for its boundless energy, remarkable agility, and strong herding instincts.
Despite its name, the breed’s origins trace back to the United States, where it gained popularity for its exceptional herding and working abilities. Here’s a summary of the Australian Shepherd’s traits, characteristics, and unique qualities.
Australian shepherds, sometimes known as Aussies, were bred as working and herding dogs on the American Frontier, despite their name. The energetic, lively, and unwaveringly devoted Aussie has grown to be one of the nation’s most well-liked dog breeds since its arrival in the 1800s. They are rapid learners, which is fantastic for training but may make them a bit of a challenge for inexperienced owners due to their high intellect and desire to please.
Aussies need a knowledgeable owner who understands how to appropriately harness their high prey drive and strong herding instinct via regular training and exercise. Whether working the field, managing animals, or running the trails with their owner, these tireless puppies are happiest when they are engaged. Despite being able to spend hours outdoors, Australians need little upkeep. The Australian shepherd can be the ideal dog for you if you’re seeking an energetic friend that would enjoy nothing more than spending the day by your side.
In 1993, the American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed, and as of 2020 (based on 2019 statistics), it is the AKC’s 13th most popular breed.
The Australian shepherd is a medium-sized, well-built herding dog whose colors and patterns may vary widely. Its body is somewhat longer than it is tall. Aussies have a double-layered coat that protects them from the elements and aids in temperature regulation. The top coat is medium long and straight or slightly wavy. Although Aussies can go weeks without a full bath, they do need to be brushed once a week to remove debris and avoid matted fur.
The tails of some Aussies are said to be naturally bobbed, meaning they are shorter at birth, whereas those of others have traditionally had their tails docked when they were puppies. However, the American Veterinary Medical Association no longer endorses tail docking and views it as a purely cosmetic procedure that may actually do more harm than good. It was once believed that keeping the tail shorter would help prevent injuries as the animals worked in the fields.
The United States Australian Shepherd Association classifies Australian shepherds into four primary color and pattern categories: black, red, red merle, and blue merle. Merle is a hereditary pattern that may emerge in a dog’s coat as scattered areas of color. Australian shepherd dogs with red merle coats have spots of red (sometimes called liver) color on a white or tan background that becomes darker with age.
Aussies with red merle or solid coats often have crimson lips, noses, and eye rims. Aussies with the blue merle pattern have gray backgrounds with black markings that become darker with maturity. Australian shepherds with black or blue merle coats often have black noses, lips, and eye rims.
The greatest distinguishing feature of this dog breed, outside their clever capacity to herd just about anything with legs (even children! ), may be their eyes, which are very genetically variable. Australian shepherds with black and red coats often have brown, amber, or blue eyes. Merle-colored Aussies have a larger variety of eye colors, including brown and blue, blue and brown marbled, and even two distinct colors or patterns combined in each eye.
Australians were without a doubt raised to be hard workers. These puppies need a lot of daily exercise, mental stimulation, and obedience training to be happy since they traditionally spent hours in the fields with their owners herding sheep and calves. If you don’t intend to herd sheep in the fields with your Aussie all day, hiking, jogging, endless retrieve games, and agility course practice are excellent methods to keep them happy, healthy, and properly active.
“A good herding dog doesn’t run in the field for 20 minutes before declaring, ‘Oh, I’m weary.’ According to Brian Kilcommons, the creator of The Great Pets Resort, a specialized training facility in Connecticut, “They run for a very long period at great speeds. This isn’t a dog you can leave on a shelf, exercise when you feel like it, and then treat them unfairly. You can go trekking with them, and it’s a major benefit if you run. You may take them to agility training, conduct scent work with them, or practice herding with them. But daily exercise must be mandatory.
The Australian Shepherd Club of America notes that if these super-smart puppies are left alone for an extended period of time, their enthusiasm may lead to mischief and even harmful if improperly directed. It’s crucial to think about if your way of life will provide you with enough free time for play, exercise, and training before settling down with an Aussie.
Australians are known for their tremendous loyalty, therefore even though they aren’t often violent, they could be a little bit possessive. They often avoid interacting with outsiders and prefer to remain by their owner’s side, giving them the endearing nickname “Velcro dog.” They will raise the alarm at the sight of strangers since they were designed to be protective animals. Although their herding instincts mean they might try to use those skills on small children or other pets by nipping at ankles, well-adjusted Australian shepherds get along well with cats, other dogs, and children when kept under close supervision. As with any dog, it’s crucial to socialize your Aussie early on and to teach kids how to behave around dogs.
Despite the fact that these classic livestock dogs have been modified to fit the needs of contemporary owners, they still need access to a respectable amount of outside area for exercise. An acreage is not necessary to maintain an Aussie’s happiness, yet it can be the best setting for this energetic breed! All you need is a home with a big fenced yard. Due to their need for physical activity, Aussies aren’t the best fit for apartment living unless you have access to stimulating outdoor activities like a daily 40-minute walk, hike, or game of Frisbee at the dog park.
According to Kilcommons, an Australian shepherd will be robust, intelligent, and highly energetic. It requires a lot of physical activity and cerebral stimulation. You must be prepared to enter dog in both mental and physical activities, such as agility, fly ball, or obedience contests.
Australians are eager to please, fast learners, and prefer routine training sessions. They react well to positive reinforcement training techniques, and many Aussies excel in agility training after mastering the fundamentals of obedience. Although the typical owner is unlikely to use this dog to herd animals on a farm, many professionally-trained Australian shepherds serve in search-and-rescue, narcotic detection, and guide dog capacities.
The Aussie, often known as the “Velcro dog,” enjoys spending the most of the day with their owners and may not be the greatest choice for someone who works long shifts because of probable separation anxiety. Aussies are a terrific choice for active owners who want to spend time with their dog, whether it involves a multi-day outdoor trip or just accompanying them on errands. Before adopting any dog, it’s important to think about your lifestyle, but it might be helpful to discuss your expectations with an Australian shepherd breeder or rescue organization to determine whether an Australian shepherd puppy or dog would be a good fit for you.
Australian shepherds have longer-than-average coats, but their grooming needs are generally low-maintenance. They don’t need as many complete baths because of their weather-resistant top coat, but it does need to be brushed with a slicker brush once a week to prevent matting, reduce shedding, assist remove any debris, and support healthy skin. To maintain your Aussie’s coat clean and healthy, the Australian Shepherd Club of America advises brushing twice a week during times of significant shedding (such as spring and autumn).
Regular brushing is also a wonderful opportunity to examine your pet’s coat shine (dull hair may indicate a nutritional deficiency in the food), nail length, and ear and dental health. While it is not advised to shave your Aussie because their coat might not grow back the same and it interferes with the dog’s ability to control their body temperature, you might want to ask your vet or a groomer for advice on how to trim the longer hairs around the ears or along your dog’s rear end.
It’s crucial to attend to both your dog’s physical and mental demands when they’re as active and intelligent as the Aussie. Australians need a lot of mental activity to avoid boredom. Kilcommons asserts, “It’s not just ‘training’.” “It begins with the limits you establish with the dog via regular engagement, what’s acceptable and what isn’t. People need to focus on politeness in addition to compliance when it comes to livability. Australian shepherds are no exception to the rule when it comes to dogs behaving out out of boredom, fear, or a want to take control. Dogs get irritated, bored, and destructive as a result. Boundaries and obedience are essential with this breed.
The average lifetime of an Australian shepherd is 12 to 15 years, and although the breed is generally seen to be healthy, it is possible for some conditions like elbow and hip dysplasia and genetic eye problems to develop.
In order to prevent passing these conditions on to their litters, the United States Australian Shepherd Association advises breeders to screen for cataracts, autoimmune thyroiditis, drug sensitivities, and collie eye anomaly (CEA).
Dogs with close ancestors who have had hereditary diseases, such as lymphoma, are advised not to breed with other dogs that have a history of the same cancer, according to specialists who research genetic problems in Aussies. Although not all Aussies will experience serious health problems, it’s crucial to be aware of these issues when thinking about this breed.
Although uncommon, Australians with double merle traits—meaning they have a coat that is primarily white—might be more susceptible to vision and hearing problems. Nevertheless, with the right care, these Australians can still live long, healthy lives.
Inquire your trusted breeder about any genetic conditions before choosing a puppy from a litter, and be sure to inquire about any family and pedigree history so you can see any warning signs of inherited problems. Or, if you’re planning to adopt your Aussie, make sure to ask the rescue group for any available medical records.
In a strange turn of events, it’s possible that not much of Australia at all was involved in the creation of the Australian shepherd. According to the American Kennel Club, the Australian shepherds we know today are really descended from Basque sheepherders who came to America in the middle of the 19th century in search of employment and brought with them their herding dogs from the Pyrenees mountains in Europe.
In Western areas like Wyoming and Colorado, where shepherds brought their “little blue dogs” to work the land, ranchers fell in love with the robust, hard-working breed. Although some Basque sheepherders (and their dogs) may have traveled from Australia to the American West, some historians have noted that calling the breed “Australian” is a bit of a stretch given that the dogs are not recognized as native breeds in that country and have no other significant ancestors besides the Basque sheepherders who migrated to the American West.
Australian shepherds soon established themselves as a pillar of cowboy culture in the American West after immigrating to the country. They were regulars in Hollywood and made major cameos in classic Westerns like Run, Appaloosa, Run and the more recent Disney feature Stub: The Greatest Cowdog in the West. In the rodeo culture, too, they now have a prominent position.
Watch this video to see Jay Sisler, a renowned animal trainer and rodeo performer, with his amazing puppies Shorty, Stubby, and Queenie. Many Australians continue to gladly herd cattle and guard sheep while working on farms and ranches today.
Q&A: Australian Shepherd
What is the history behind the Australian Shepherd’s name?
Despite its name, the Australian Shepherd was developed in the United States. It is believed that the breed earned its name due to associations with sheepdogs brought to the United States from Australia in the 1800s.
What are the typical physical characteristics of the Australian Shepherd?
Australian Shepherds are medium-sized dogs with a well-balanced build. They have a double coat with a thick undercoat and a weather-resistant outer coat. Their coat colors vary and can include combinations of black, blue merle, red, and red merle, often with white and copper markings.
What is the Australian Shepherd’s temperament like?
Known for their intelligence and high energy levels, Australian Shepherds are lively and enthusiastic dogs. They are highly trainable and excel in various canine sports and activities. These dogs form strong bonds with their families and are often protective and affectionate.
How do Australian Shepherds fare as working dogs?
Australian Shepherds are exceptional working dogs with strong herding instincts. Historically, they were used to herd livestock, and they continue to excel in herding trials and other working roles. Their intelligence and agility make them versatile performers in various tasks.
What kind of lifestyle is suitable for an Australian Shepherd?
Australian Shepherds thrive in active households that provide them with plenty of mental and physical stimulation. Regular exercise, training, and engaging activities are essential to keep their active minds and bodies satisfied.