You’ve probably seen adorable Australian Shepherds popping up on social media and in films recently! They are rather photogenic dogs! But is an Australian Shepherd the right dog for you? Read on to learn all about the history of this dog breed, food and exercise requirements, and where to get one!
A Pup of All Trades!
An Australian Shepherd is not just a pretty face! This breed is known for its all-around versatility, including strength, speed, intelligence, and agility. Although they were bred as working ranch dogs, they are also quick learners and make excellent, (albeit) high-maintenance) pets.
A Brief History of the Breed!
The Australian Shepherd, also known as an Aussie, is not actually Australian but originated in the Western United States during the 19th century. The Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) began in 1957. The American Kennel Club (AKC) did not, however, recognize the breed until 1993.
The breed is thought to descend from dogs originally brought from the Basque Country in Spain/France, though it was also bred with many other breeds to maximize its working potential.
Some people believe that this breed got its name from being mixed with Australian herding breeds, while others maintain that the name comes from the imported Aussie sheep that the dogs were especially good at herding.
Prized as working dogs, these pups are tied up in the mythology of the Wild West: cowboys, Gold Rush and all. More recently, Aussies have appeared in a number of movies, from Westerns to Disney flicks.
Try looking out for the breed in movies like Run, Appaloosa, Run, Flight of the Navigator and Famous Five.
Nowadays, Australian Shepherds still make popular working dogs, as well as loving pets. The breed has also been selectively bred to produce miniature and toy versions of the breed.
Australian Shepherds really are strikingly beautiful dogs. A medium-sized, long-haired breed, Aussies are visually similar to other herding dogs, including the Border Collie and English Shepherd. Their double coats come in a variety of colors (see below for more), and can be curly or straight.
Most Australian Shepherds have varied markings on the face, chest, and tail, and the breed standard allows this. Many will also have other colors flecked through their coat, making them either bicolor or tricolor. Again, the breed standard is permissive of both. Aussies often have striking eyes that are blue or of different colors.
Some Australian Shepherds are born with a naturally short tail, which is accepted under the breed standard. In the US, many of these dogs have docked tails (this is the breed standard of the AKC), though docking is illegal in Europe.
The breed comes in lots of beautiful colors including blue merle, red merle, black, red (liver-colored/reddish-brown/copper), and white.
Average Size and Weight
Aussies are a medium-sized breed, with an average height of 20 to 23in (51 to 58cm) for males and 18 to 21in (46 to 53cm) for females. Australian Shepherds have an average weight of 40 to 50lb (18 to 23kg) for males and 30 to 40lb (14 to 20kg) for females.
Mini Australian Shepherds stand 14 to 18in (35 to 45cm) tall, and Toy Aussies stand between just 10 and 14in (25 and 35cm).
Australian Shepherds are working dogs, and as such require a lot of exercise. If Aussies do not get enough exercise, or if they are fed excessively and are not on a nutritious diet, they can be prone to obesity and related health problems. A healthy, active Aussie should eat one and a half to two cups of dry food daily.
Temperament and Personality
The breed originated in the tough conditions of the American West, and to this day the breed’s temperament reflects these early years. These dogs were bred to withstand severe weather conditions and to have energy, endurance, and speed. They are intelligent, and while they are very obedient and trainable, they maintain an independent, even stubborn streak.
Australian Shepherds tend to be very loyal to their families, while more cautious around strangers. They have a tendency to guard their property closely, which in busier neighborhoods can result in anxiety and barking.
As Aussies are so intelligent, they can become bored and frustrated easily if they do not have enough exercise and mental stimulation. This can appear as hyperactivity or destructive behavior.
They tend to form very intense bonds with specific people and will aim to always be at their sides. This tendency has earned them the nickname “Velcro dogs”. This breed often suffers from separation anxiety.
Considering this breed’s origins, it is unsurprising that Australian Shepherds do best in rural conditions where they can roam freely, explore and play to their heart’s content. These dogs do not do well in apartments.
For These Dogs, Training is Life!
Australian Shepherds were bred over many generations to be working dogs. This instinct remains strong, even in those dogs that live as pets. These dogs are a big commitment, as they need at least two to three hours of exercise, play, training and activity every day. Training helps to keep their minds busy and to tire them out.
Working dogs are comfortable over varied terrain, and in harsh temperatures and conditions. Thanks to the breed’s ability to adapt and think for itself, these dogs can be used for herding a wide variety of animals, including sheep, cattle, poultry, and even rabbits. The breed also makes popular trail dogs thanks to their stamina.
For pet Aussies, training is just as important. These dogs love to learn tricks and do very well in agility training and obstacle courses. Australian Shepherds have won the agility classes at a number of dog shows, including Westminster and the Masters Agility Championship.
Aussie Puppy to Old Doggo: Average Lifespan!
The average lifespan for Australian Shepherds is 11 to 13 years, with 12.5 the most common, assuming that no other health issues (such as hip dysplasia) are present.
Potential Health Problems
Australian Shepherds, as with many pedigree dogs, face a number of potential health complications, some of which are life-threatening. Eye problems, especially cataracts, are common in the breed.
Double Merle Australian Shepherds have a higher risk of deafness and blindness. Australian Shepherds are also the most common breed to develop epilepsy. The breed is also prone to hip dysplasia, hyperthyroidism and Von Willebrand’s Disease.
Where to Get an Australian Shepherd
Thanks to the breed’s popularity, there are now Australian Shepherd breeders throughout the United States. Try looking on the AKC website for their latest list of puppies for sale.
Ask Animal Shelters about Australian Shepherd Rescues!
Unless you are lucky enough to find an Australian Shepherd in a regular animal shelter, if you’re looking to rescue an Aussie, you’ll need to go to an Australian Shepherd rescue center.
Luckily, the Aussie Rescue and Placement Helpline has branches throughout the United States, and lots of beautiful Aussies looking for a good home.
7 Tips for Owning One of These Beautiful Dogs!
- Australian Shepherds are naturally dominant dogs with a strong herding instinct. If you bring an Aussie into your house, you’ll need to establish yourself as pack leader as soon as possible, or else your pet might start to boss you, your other pets, and your kids around. This could even escalate to aggressive behavior as the dog tries to treat you the way they would an unruly sheep.
- If you want an Australian Shepherd to live in a household with kids, you will need to make sure that it will not try to herd or bully them. This will take careful training, and you may wish to work with a professional to make sure that your children are safe.
- Don’t get an Australian Shepherd if you’re not able to spend a lot of time and effort on the dog. They need lots of attention and training, as well as exercise.
- Australian Shepherds love to follow their owners around. This can be endearing, but it can also be dangerous if the dog is always underfoot, especially for older people, small children, or those who are unsteady on their feet.
- Aussies can be nervous around strangers, especially if they seem them as a threat to their home. Take care when introducing new people to your Australian Shepherd.
- Thanks to their double coats, Australian Shepherds shed a lot, and require frequent brushing, especially in spring. If Aussies are not groomed sufficiently, their coats can get matted and dirty.
- Although Australian Shepherds can live with other animals in the home, this will require careful management and socialization as a puppy, and may not always be possible.