Australian Shepherds are a medium size, solidly built, muscular breed with black, blue merle, red merle, or red coats. There may or may not be white markings on the coat, and the outer coat is medium-textured, straight to wavy, and weather resistant. The undercoat varies depending on region and climate. These dogs measure 18 to 23 inches at the shoulder and weigh 35 to 65 pounds.
They make exceptional farm and ranch dogs and are excellent at herding livestock.
Australian Shepherds, or Aussies, are animated and agile dogs. They make exceptional farm and ranch dogs and are excellent at herding livestock. This breed needs a lot of activity and a sense of purpose to remain happy and to stay out of trouble.
The Australian Shepherd is not from Australia and did not come from Australian ancestors. This breed was developed in the United States, probably from dogs that originated in the Pyrenees Mountains in Europe.
Australian Shepherds are intelligent, playful, animated, and energetic dogs that are good with people of all ages, including children. This breed gets along decently with other animals, but is prone to territorial behavior and is wary of strangers. Additionally, Aussies need a consistent routine and prefer meals, walks, and their family's schedule to be predictable and on time.
These dogs are very affectionate with family and need as much time with their human companions as possible. They even enjoy being lap dogs, although their size makes this difficult. Aussies are generally in a good mood, are easy going, and are rarely shy or aggressive. A veterinarian should evaluate dogs not meeting these characteristics.
Because this breed needs hours of activity every day, Australian Shepherds are not well suited for apartment living. If kept in a city, these dogs need access to a dog park and running trail, and they must be taken for frequent walks. Rural dogs should be allowed to run and play as much as possible. Aussies need to live inside; they are not outdoor dogs.
A generally healthy breed, Australian Shepherds are more prone to certain health conditions than some other breeds. Epilepsy, persistent pupillary membrane, nasal solar dermatitis, and Pelger Huet syndrome are all known to affect Aussies. These dogs are also at increased risk for hip dysplasia, a condition that leads to arthritis later in life and may severely limit mobility. Additionally, white Australian Shepherds are more likely to suffer from deafness and blindness.
Australian Shepherds are also prone to developing certain genetic eye conditions, such as coloboma, in which part of the eye is missing. Other concerns affecting the eyes include cataracts, detached retinas, and progressive retinal atrophy. Along with some other breeds, Aussies can be affected by a condition called Multiple Drug Sensitivity, or MDS. Dogs with this condition suffer fatal reactions to common drugs, including ivermectin, a common heartworm preventative. MDS is detectable with a simple cheek swab test.
Proper nutrition, frequent exercise, routine vaccinations, and regular veterinary care help ensure Australian Shepherds live a full life of 12 to 16 years.
Aussies are very territorial and need a ton of exercise and activity. Without an outlet for their excess energy, barking can become a problem and the breed will find ways to get into trouble. Keeping these dogs busy with dog sports, chores, and family activities will go a long way toward managing their energy. This breed does very well helping with household chores, such as carrying dirty clothes to the hamper, bringing in the paper, and helping with yard work.
Because of the breed's strong guarding and herding instincts, these dogs may nip at the heels of children, adults, or even moving vehicles. This behavior stems from their days of herding livestock. Socialization is important but won't completely get rid of the breed's shyness and aggression toward strangers. However, it may encourage good behavior toward other animals.
Australian Shepherds are sensitive to sound and may develop noise phobias, making them difficult to deal with during fireworks and thunderstorms. Training and medication may help if this becomes a serious problem.
Australian Shepherds have a lot of hair and need their coat brushed several times each week to remove dead hair and manage shedding issues. Major shedding generally only occurs in the spring and fall, and warm baths, more frequent brushing, and blow-drying can help manage shedding during these times. Outside of shedding seasons, bathe only when necessary to remove excess dirt.
The breed's nails are generally worn down naturally, but they must be checked weekly and clipped when needed. The ears should be cleaned weekly and checked frequently for signs of infection, such as redness, odor, or discharge. Brush the teeth with a veterinarian-approved toothpaste to maintain gum and tooth health and keep the Australian Shepherd's breath smelling fresh.
Begin grooming early in life to ensure cooperation. Because Aussies are so energetic, they may have difficulty sitting through lengthy grooming sessions. In these cases, it's best to break grooming up into shorter sessions that are more manageable.
Not much is known about the origins of the Australian Shepherd breed because these dogs were chosen for their ability to work and herd and not for their bloodlines.
Today's breed probably originated in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. The breed was originally called by a number of other names, including Bob-Tail, Pastor Dog, and Spanish Shepherd, but it became known as the Australian Shepherd due to its association with Basque shepherds who traveled from Australia to America in the 1800s.
Aussies were used on ranches and farms and in rodeos to round up cattle, help load horses into trailers, and perform other duties. They were loved and relied upon for their working and herding abilities. Today they are very popular companion animals.
The American Kennel Club officially recognized the Australian Shepherd in 1991.