In spite of their name, the Australian Shepherd is not an Australian breed. Their ancestors were found in the Pyrenees mountains in Western Europe, where they were used as sheep herders. This is where the story gets a little clouded. Some breed historians feel that the breed’s ancestors made their way to the United States via Australia. Others think that the dogs got their name because they were associated with Australian sheep herders who came to America in the 1800’s.
No matter how they got there, the United States can take full credit for producing this stunning breed of dog. They were initially developed in the western states of America where they were still the most favored breed of stock dogs for many years.
In spite of their long history, the Australian Shepherd only entered the AKC stud book in 1991.
The Australian Shepherd is a very attractive dog, with their thick wavy fur which comes in a variety of colors. The most striking animals are the ones with the merle coat. This color pattern usually has a solid base coat, often black or red, with lighter blue or gray patches giving the dog a speckled appearance. The merle gene may also influence eye color, and merle dogs can have one or two blue eyes.
These dogs may be born with a naturally bobbed tail, which can range from very short, to almost full length. If the tail isn’t short enough, then it is docked when they are puppies. Many parts of the world have banned this procedure, so Australian Shepherds in those countries can have a wide range of tail lengths.
They are a solid dog of medium build, and in many ways look like a stockier version of a Border Collie. The Australian Shepherd can grow to 23 inches, or 58cm, at the shoulder. They can weigh up to 65lbs (25kg) when fully grown.
The Australian Shepherd is an even tempered, friendly and affectionate dog. They are very energetic, and retain the strong herding instincts that were developed over many years of selective breeding. This means that they may round up your children, or even try to nip you on the heel to move you along. Regular obedience training and firm but fair leadership will teach them that you are not part of their flock, and that you don’t need them to help you negotiate your home and back yard!
If they aren’t given enough exercise, and something to occupy their mind, Aussies can become bored and depressed. This will lead to destructive behavior, such as digging or chewing.
These dogs are very protective of their home and family, and effective watchdogs. They will growl to deter intruders, and confidently step in front of people to stop them coming any closer.
Generally, the Australian Shepherd is a healthy breed, but there are a few things a potential owner should be aware of.
The gene that is responsible for the merle coat coloration is also associated with blindness and deafness. This is usually only expressed if one merle dog is bred to another. Before you take your Australian Shepherd puppy home, have their hearing and eyesight tested.
Another health issue that is a risk in any species which can have a naturally short tail is spinal defects.
The breed is also prone to eye diseases such as Collie eye anomaly, progressive retinal atrophy and microphthalmia (small eyes). Like Collies, they can be sensitive to the drug ivermectin, which is used to control parasites. Those products formulated for dogs are quite safe for the Australian Shepherd, but you must not use any other form of ivermectin, such as cattle drenches, to treat your dog.
Responsible breeders will test their Australian Shepherds for hip dysplasia and eye disease before they are bred. This helps to reduce the incidence of these diseases in future generations. Before you buy your dog, ask your breeder for details of the tests they have had done on their dogs, and the results. This could save you from potential heartache in the future.
Australian Shepherds have a high energy level. As a working breed, they need vigorous exercise to keep their minds and bodies healthy. Because these dogs are so intelligent, they crave challenges. They are great running companions, and will excel at dog sports such as agility, flyball and Frisbee. It’s important that you decide whether or not you can meet their exercise needs before you choose this breed to join your family.
Their thick coat does need some care, but not an excessive amount. They really only need a bath when they are very dirty, and a thorough brushing once a week should keep them neat and tidy. These dogs do shed once or twice a year, and when this is happening, you’ll be brushing up dog hair on a regular basis. That’s a small price to pay for the companionship of this attractive and intelligent dog.
Australian Shepherds are a wonderful dog overall. They are keen to please their owner, and their ability to be trained and taught tricks is second to none. Aussies are naturally inclined to herd and run, making them a natural at flyball, Frisbee, and soccer. Their high energy levels will keep their owner busy, and their gentle and affectionate nature will win the hearts of everyone they meet.
These dogs love human companionship; after all, they were bred to work alongside people. This means they are not a suitable breed for people who are out all day. They are a great companion for youngsters as they are so affectionate, and they can play for hours without tiring.
The Australian Shepherd’s high energy level makes them not a good choice for apartment dwellers. They enjoy having a back yard to explore and run around in. Even if you do have a back yard, you will still need to take your dog for a good hike or run every day.
If you are looking for a loyal, active companion to share your life for the next 12-13 years, the Australian Shepherd may just be the right breed for you.