Australian Shepherd Breed Overview
Lovable, hardworking, and athletic, the strikingly good-looking Australian Shepherd is an extremely intelligent dog breed who thrives on constant mental and physical enrichment. This high-energy dog breed loves having a job to do and need lot of room to run and roam. Just as important as physical exercise is keeping the Australian Shepherd’s mind occupied with new challenges regularly. The breed is affectionately referred to as “the Aussie” even though the breed has its origins in America.
This working dog breed doubles as a loyal companion and friend to his owner and family members. The Aussie Shepherd can be protective of his property and family, as guarding is part of his personality. He may also be reserved or standoffish with strangers and visitors. This breed’s love for family cannot be questioned, and he does particularly well with children. Life with this type of dog is a whirlwind of energy and adventure, and as such, this breed is only appropriate for active owners and families.
They come in different colours such as:
- Red Merle
- Blue Merle
Aussie can reach up to 58 cm in height and 29 kg in weight.
Their life expectancy is approximately 15 years.
- Suitability for Children – Medium
- Tendency to Bark – High
- Energy – High
- Suitability as a Guard Dog – Medium
- Grooming Requirements – Once a Week
- Trimming Required – Occassional
- Amount of hair shed – Little
- Food Cost – 15 to $20
- Average Monthly Pet insurance Premium – $44
As a medium-sized dog breed, the Australian Shepherd can live between 13 and 15 years. This breed is a reasonably healthy one with fewer genetic health issues than most other dog breeds. However, all dogs can be susceptible to certain medical conditions, and a prospective Australian Shepherd owner would be well served to learn about these health concerns.
Male Aussies should be between 51 – 58.5 cm in height while females are typically 45.5 to 53.5 cm. Female Australian shepherds are smaller in weight and stature, weighing in between 14 and 20 kg. The male Aussies are considerably heavier at 23 to 29 kg.
Origins of Australian Shepherds
Although he bears an Australian name, the Australian Shepherd is an American-bred dog who has never been registered as a native breed. This dog was originally bred by Basque shepherds in the Pyrenees mountains who eventually travelled in the 1800s from the French-Spanish border to Australia and then to the United States. In America, the breed was used to herd livestock on farms and ranches in the Midwestern and Western United States. It became known by a series of different names, including the Bob-Tail, Pastor Dog, Californian Shepherd, and Spanish Shepherd.
The Australian Shepherd is likely to have had ancestors that include shepherd dogs and collies. Once the breed was imported in the 1840s from Australia, it earned the name that is now so recognisable. Breeders who continued to improve upon the dog worked to enhance the Aussie’s considerable talents: versatility, intelligence, and dedication. The breed experienced a surge in popularity post-World War II when Western horseback riding became a widespread athletic interest in America. Despite the breed’s popularity, the American Kennel Club did not officially recognise it until 1993.
Today, the Australian Shepherd continues to herd cattle in the American West, but he also has branched out into a variety of other areas. The dog’s intelligence and athletic talents have made him a staple at dog shows and in obedience and agility competitions. Moreso, the Aussie Shepherd makes for an excellent seeing-eye guide dog, drug-sniffing dog, and search and rescue dog. Above all, the Australian Shepherd is a hard-worker and a loyal family companion.
Australian Shepherd Temperament
Australian Shepherds possess a wide variety of personalities: many are outgoing and friendly while others can be aloof and standoffish with strangers. If a dog is not adequately exposed to many people in Puppyhood, he can become fearful of people he doesn’t know as he grew up. Socialisation is essential with this dog breed, so having your puppy around many people and new situations will help him improve his social skills. The Aussie loves his family, though, and craves being in their company as frequently as possible. At no time should your dog be left alone for long periods, especially in the backyard where he may be tempted to get in trouble.
Because this breed needs a job to do, it’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure the Aussie Shepherd is kept appropriately busy. If you don’t provide this breed with a focus, he will find one on his own, generally through misbehaviour like digging and chewing. As such, the breed needs consistent, firm, confident training and leadership is necessary for a happy, socialised dog.
General Exercise and Care
The Australian shepherd is an energetic and clever dog and needs the proper amount and type of exercise as well as backyard setup yo give him the happiest and safest life possible. This dog breed should receive at least a half hour of strenuous exercise daily; this type of activity can be running, agility style training, or fetch or Frisbee play. However, because the Australian Shepherd is so intelligent, he also needs mental stimulation and exercise. Consider getting some treat puzzles to keep your dog’s mind active and engaged. If your dog is not both physically and mentally engaged, he can revert to destructive behaviours or bark loudly and frequently.
To keep your Aussie safe and secure outside the home, you need a secure fence that the dog will not be able to dig under or jump over. Invisible, electronic fencing will not deter this breed from running off the property to chase after an animal. Aussies have herding instincts, and they will chase and drive small animals because that action is in their genetics. Unfortunately, chasing can put them in dangerous situations if they run off your property. Additionally, chasing and nipping behaviours, also commonplace with herding breeds, can be misdirected toward people, children, and other animals. This breed would be easy to train.
Obedience training and positive reinforcement are necessary to direct your dog’s herding instincts in the right direction. Play, praise, and treats work wonders when training this breed. Ultimately, the dog wants to know his job, and when he does, he will throw himself into doing the best job possible for you.
Children and Other Pets
This breed’s instinct is to herd, and your dog must be trained to curb his nipping and chasing instincts when it comes to children and other pets, especially smaller ones like cats. Once an Aussie understands that kids and other family pets are off-limits for herding, they make wonderful family pets. Other family pets may not be keen on the dog’s herding efforts, so always observe any interactions between the dog and other animals. The same rules go for children. All interactions between a dog and children should be supervised.
Coat and Grooming
This type of dog has a medium-length water-resistant coat designed to keep the dog warm and protected when out herding livestock in stormy or snowy weather. The coat grows heavier for dogs in northern climates and lighter for those in southern, warmer locations. The medium-textured hair ranges from wavy to straight. The hair on the head is short and smooth; the fur on the front of the forelegs, the ears, and the hock joints is the same. Feathering is found on the britches and the back of the forelegs. The breed also has a mane which is typically more dominant in males than females.
The Aussie coat comes in a variety of colours, including black, red, red merle, blue, blue merle and tricolour (white, black, and tan). A merle coat features darker-coloured splotches on a lighter-coloured background. The merles in this breed often become darker-coloured as they age. The dog may feature some white markings on the neck, legs, muzzle, chest, and a blaze on the head.
The Australian Shepherd sheds year-round with the heaviest shedding coming during the spring when he loses his winter coat. To manage the shedding, you will need to brush your dog daily. Regular coat care is also necessary to prevent matting and tangling from occurring. Mats can often be found behind the ears of this breed, and in some cases, an undercoat brush, slicker brush, or detangling spritzer may be necessary to keep the dog’s coat clean and smooth.
Aussies only need to be bathed when they are dirty. Otherwise, two or three baths a year is more than enough for this breed. Use a breed-appropriate shampoo for this process.
Common Australian Shepherd Conditions and Diseases
The Australian Shepherd is a lower risk breed for inherited diseases and health problems, which makes him more affordable to insure. That said, all dog breeds are susceptible to genetic illnesses, although there is no guarantee that any one type of dog will develop a particular health condition. If you are purchasing a puppy from a breeder, do some research to verify that the breeder is ethical and reputable. Health clearances and certificates for your Australian shepherd puppy should be readily produced by the breeder to prove your puppy has been tested and cleared of heritable medical issues.
Here are a few of the most common health conditions found in this type of dog:
- Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) is a genetic condition that causes blindness in some dogs. CEA is typically diagnosed before a dog reaches two-years-old; a veterinarian ophthalmologist must diagnose it. Unfortunately, there is no treatment or cure for CEA. However, dogs tend to adapt quite well to blindness by relying on their other senses. Because this disease is strictly hereditary, your breeder should be informed if your puppy develops it. Dogs with CEA should be neutered or spayed so as not to pass this condition on to their puppies.
- Elbow and Hip Dysplasia are common hereditary conditions that affect medium and especially large-breed dogs. With elbow dysplasia, the different bones that make up the elbow grow at different rates. This abnormal growth causes the joint to malfunction, causing lameness and pain.
Hip dysplasia is when the femur does not fit properly into the hip joint, and instead shifts in and out of the socket. This condition often develops earlier in a dog’s life and severely impacts the dog’s mobility and quality of life as he ages. Arthritis can occur due to hip dysplasia, resulting in pain, stiffness, lameness, and in some cases, degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis. Both conditions can be treated with dietary changes, supplements, physical therapy, and pain medications.
- Drug Sensitivity is a condition often found in herding breeds like Collies and Australian Shepherds. These breeds carry mutations of the Multi-drug Resistance Gene (MDR1). This gene produces the protein P-glycoprotein, and it removes toxins from the dog’s body. When a dog exhibits drug sensitivity, it’s because the MDR1 gene has stopped functioning. The reactions to the drug sensitivity range from depression and tremors to serious health issues like seizures, hypersalivation, coma, and death.
Most dogs with this condition are sensitive to ivermectin in heart-worm treatments and chemotherapy drugs, amongst others.
- Deafness commonly affects this breed to varying degrees. Mild forms of deafness or hearing loss can be managed with surgery and medication; however, there is no cure for deafness. Luckily, the Aussie is a highly intelligent breed that learns quickly and can be trained to respond to commands through hand gestures or the use of vibrating collars. If you purchased your dog from a breeder and the dog becomes deaf, make sure to inform the breeder.\
Australian shepherd puppies have a 1-in-5 chance of being born with a naturally bobbed tail, also called a very short tail. This trait was bred into the dog by ranchers because a short-tailed dog was safer while herding large cattle.
This breed became publicly popular because of the dogs who performed in rodeos. The intelligence level of these dogs made it easy for them to do tricks that wowed the audiences.
Australian Shepherds often have two different coloured eyes, a condition called heterochromia. The dogs can have a combination of blue, green, brown, amber, or hazel eyes. In some dogs, more than one colour may be evident in the eye.
Native Americans view the Aussie as a sacred being. They refer to the differently coloured eye as a “ghost eye” in those dogs with extremely light blue eyes.
Hollywood celebrities who own Aussies include Jennifer Connolly, Steven Spielberg, Trace Adkins, Mel Gibson, and Alyssa Milano.