The Australian Shepherd, the cowboy’s herding dog of choice, is a medium-sized worker with a keen, penetrating gaze in the eye. Aussie coats offer different looks, including merle (a mottled pattern with contrasting shades of blue or red). In all ways, they’re the picture of rugged and agile movers of stock.
Aussies exhibit an irresistible impulse to herd, anything: birds, dogs, kids. This strong work drive can make Aussies too much dog for a sedentary pet owner. Aussies are remarkably intelligent, quite capable of hoodwinking an unsuspecting novice owner. In short, this isn’t the pet for everyone. But if you’re looking for a brainy, tireless, and trainable partner for work or sport, your search might end here.
The Australian Shepherd is descended from a line of Europe’s finest herders.The Aussie’s world tour began in Europe, near the Pyrenees Mountains. It was here, in the borderlands between France and Spain, where the indigenous people known as the Basques built their centuries-old reputation as world-class shepherds. Their herding dog of choice was called the Pyrenean Shepherd, progenitor of our modern Aussie.
In the early 1800s, Australia’s Anglo émigrés began a push into the continent’s vast interior in search of rich pastureland for cattle ranching. Eventually, many Basques, with their faithful shepherd dogs in tow, sailed east to try their luck on the virgin Australian continent, a wide-open paradise for sheep herders.
During their long sojourn in Australia, the Basque shepherd refined their dogs with judicious crosses to Australia’s British imports, Collies and Border Collies, among them. After building up their flocks, the intrepid Basques left Australia for greener pastures—literally—and set sail to California.
California ranchers admired the Basques’ herding dogs and assumed they were an Australian breed—thus the misleading name Australian Shepherd. Aussies, further refined and perfected in America, have been an iconic part of cowboy culture ever since. Many are still happily herding in the American West, others earn their feed as rodeo performers, and still others of this exuberantly versatile breed work as therapy dogs, drug detectors, service dogs, and search-and-rescue dogs. The Australian Shepherd entered the AKC Herding Group in 1993.
Australian Shepherds are an intelligent working dog of strong herding and guarding instincts. Aussies are a loyal companion and has the stamina to work all day. He is well balanced, slightly longer than tall, of medium size and bone, with coloring that offers variety and individuality. He is attentive and animated, lithe and agile, solid and muscular without cloddiness. He has a coat of moderate length and coarseness.
STANDARD: Height for both male and female is 19 inches up to 23 inches at the top of the withers.
MINIATURE: Height for both male and female is 14 inches up to 18 inches at the top of withers.
TOY: Height for both male and female is 10 inches up to 14 inches at the top of the withers.
They like to be as close to them as possible: sitting on a foot, leaning against a leg, or even wedging themselves into your lap. That’s probably to make you feel better about not being quite as smart as the Aussie.
Australian Shepherds are super-smart, versatile, adaptable and energetic. This is a thinking dog, bred to use his brain and make decisions. He wants to be a part of everything that is going on and needs an active lifestyle to be happy. He is also big on consistency. He likes things to happen at the same time every day -- meals, walks, bedtime. Any time you want to change something, your Aussie will have to sign off on it first.
Expect to spend plenty of time training the Aussie so he can learn things to do that will keep him occupied. Teach him to bring in the paper, take dirty clothes to the laundry basket, help you in the garden by pulling a cart and more. When he’s done with his chores, he’ll be ready to play outfielder in sandlot games or accompany you hiking or biking.
Like most herding breeds, the Australian Shepherd has an inborn protective streak and can be wary of strangers. He’s not a buddy-buddy dog with everyone he meets, even with plenty of socialization. Without early and frequent socialization, the Aussie can become shy or aggressive in the presence of people he doesn’t know. Aussies are also highly sensitive to sound and may develop noise phobias, especially to thunderstorms, if they are not accustomed to loud or unexpected noises. On the plus side, they are excellent watchdogs and will always alert you to anything or anyone out of the ordinary.
It’s essential to purchase an Australian Shepherd from a breeder whose stock is temperamentally sound and who understands the importance of early exposure to many different people, noises and situations that come with life in a family home. Run far away from breeders who raise their pups in a barn or a pen out in the backyard. An Australian Shepherd who is to be a family companion needs plenty of socialization.
The Australian Shepherd has many great qualities, but they don’t just magically develop. Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, countersurfing and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised. And any dog can be a trial to live with during adolescence. In the case of the Australian Shepherd, the “teen” years can start at six months and continue until the dog is about two years old.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
The perfect Australian Shepherd doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Whatever you want from an Aussie, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
The Australian Shepherd has a lot of hair and his grooming needs may appear daunting, but caring for him isn’t as much work as you might think. Brush the coat regularly to remove dead hair that will otherwise land on your clothes and furniture.
The Aussie sheds, but it’s a major event only twice a year, in the spring and fall. Frequent brushing, warm baths and thorough blow drying during that time will help keep the handfuls of hair under control. Outside of shedding season, bathe the Aussie only when he gets dirty.
The rest is basic care. Active Australian Shepherds often wear their nails down naturally, but it’s a good idea to check them weekly to see if they need a trim. Otherwise, just keep the ears clean and brush his teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath.