Don't let the name fool you, the Australian Shepherd was actually developed in the USA.
Australian Shepherd History
During the late 1800's, ranchers in the United States began importing herds of sheep, many of which came from Australia. Shepherds and their herding dogs naturally accompanied the flocks and it is to these dogs that the Australian Shepherd traces both its origin and its name.
Once in the United States, ranchers took note of these dogs' superior abilities in the field, and began selecting the best specimens for breeding based on intelligence, temperament, agility and herding instincts. Ultimately, the breed evolved into what is now considered one of the finest live-stock handling breeds in the world.
The Aussie, as the breed is affectionately referred to, is a sturdy dog of medium build, who is highly energetic and keenly intelligent. He is able to observe a situation, reason out a course of action, and then go to it. These qualities are what make him a superior dog in the field.
One very distinct characteristic of the breed is its bobbed tail, which is barely noticeable amongst the thick coat.
The Aussie should be slightly longer than it is tall, and should be hard muscled, not fat, and ready to go to work.
- Males: 20 to 23 inches tall
- Females: 18 to 21 inches tall
The Aussie carries a double coat. The outer coat is hard and acts as a water-proof barrier for the undercoat, which insulates the dog from both heat and cold. Combined, these coat textures serve the Aussie well in all weather conditions so he can remain on the job with his flock. The coat is medium in length, with a fluffier collar around the neck, shoulders and chest, sometimes referred as a "ruff."
Coat colors include:
- Blue Merle
- Red Merle
The Australian Shepherd is a good natured dog who can give the Energizer Bunny a run for its money, but it's only natural for him to be a bit reserved when meeting strangers. Aussies are extremely devoted to both their human family and their flocks, and will go to great lengths to watch over and protect both.
What does this mean for owners? Expect an Aussie to follow your lead, just waiting for a job to do. These dogs are very devoted to those they love and they are eager to please.
The only real drawback to the Aussie personality, if it can truly be called a drawback, is their highly energetic nature and their need to burn off some of that energy. This means you need to give your dog plenty of exercise on a daily basis or else he will find it hard to contain himself.
Smart as a whip and eager to please are an unbeatable combination. Aussies are generally easy to train for nearly anything, be it house breaking, field work, or as service dogs for the disabled. These dogs truly have the ability to become Jacks-of-all-trades if you are willing to put in the time with them.
Like many dog breeds, the Australian Shepherd faces certain health problems.
Canine Hip Dysplasia is perhaps the most common ailment found in the breed today. Malformed joints lead to excessive wear on the cartilage, eventually resulting in bone rubbing on bone. This is very painful for affected dogs and can be crippling.
Additionally, Aussies may be prone to:
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy and other hereditary eye diseases
- Thyroid disease
- Canine Epilepsy
- Skin problems
The Right Breed for You?
Australian Shepherds are devoted pets and tireless workers, but they might not be the ideal breed for everyone. An Aussie needs plenty of space to exercise, ideally lots of open pasture. He also enjoys being useful and is never more fulfilled than when he has a task to do. After all, these are working dogs, so life cooped up in an apartment would likely be frustrating for both man and beast.
Unless you are prepared give as much devotion to your pet as he will shower on you, it might be better for you to consider a less active breed. An Aussie needs both challenges and supervision to thrive.