The Australian Shepherd or simply Aussie is an intellectual working dog with a strong herding and guarding instincts. It is solidly built, loyal, energetic and well-balanced breed. It is attentive, alert and eager. It is slightly longer than tall when measured from chest to thigh and from withers to the feet. The head is proportional to the body with an equally proportional muzzle with well-defined stop that tapers little from base to nose with a rounded tip. Its almond-shaped eyes are brown, blue, amber or any variation. The moderately sized ears are triangular and feathered which break forward or to the side as a rose ear when the dog is excited. The slightly arched neck is moderate in length. The back has a level topline. The tail is straight and is docked or naturally bobbed. The front legs are straight with very slightly sloped pastern, cushioned to the ground by oval feet with thick pads. It has clearly defined stifles, moderately bent hock joints with oval, compact feet. The weather-resistant double coat is made of mildly textured outer coat that varies from straight to wavy with a soft undercoat that varies in density depending on the season. Hair is shorter on the head, ears, forelegs and below the hocks with moderate feathering at the back of the forelegs and britches. Dogs also have moderate mane and frill. Coat colours come in tri-colour (black/red/white), bi-colour (black/red), blue merle, black, red merle, or all red. Males are between 51cm to 58cm in height while females stand between 46cm to 53cm in height. Typical male weight is between 23kg and 29kg while females are on the 14kg to 20kg side of the scale.
The Australian Shepherd’s history is somewhat unclear as is the case with other breed of dogs. However, one thing is for sure: this breed is not of Australian origin. Previously, it was known by some other names including the Spanish Shepherd, Pastor Dog, Bob-Tail, New Mexican Shepherd, California Shepherd and Austrian Shepherd. Some experts believe that the Aussie might have originated in Spain and was brought to the American West via Australia by Spanish emigrants. What is known however, is that this breed has an Asian/Siberian origin whose ancestors were brought to the Americas by people who crossed the Bering Land Bridge some 20,000 years ago. Its modern ancestors however, were bred in the American Old West around the middle of the 19th and 20th centuries. According to an expert, the Australian Shepherd might have gotten its name from the imported sheep that it used to herd or that many of the shepherds from the Old West were from Australia. It is also suggested that because many dogs coming out of Australia during those years were blue merle, hence the term “Australian” became synonymous with any dog of that colour.
For many centuries, appearance was not a matter of importance for the shepherds as they were more interested in the dog’s working abilities. Over time, they interbred dogs that they presume would yield better workers depending on the type of weather and setting. This selective breeding produced a shepherd dog that can withstand any weather, fast and agile, athletic, energetic, intelligent, flexible and independent but obedient. However, the foundation stock for the modern Aussie was established only around the 1940s and early 1970s when a national club for the breed was formed.
The Australian Shepherd is an energetic dog, owing to its natural instinct to herd which requires a great deal of physical activity outside the house. It is an intelligent breed that enjoys doing work, whether its learning, competing, or any other activity that involves physical and mental stimulation. It is a kind and loving dog that is very loyal to its master. Originally bred as a sheep herder and property protector, the Aussie tends to bark at anything it deemed suspicious but it is not inclined to bark excessively.
Similar to other herding dogs, the Australian Shepherd excels in many dog agility competitions especially herding, Frisbee and flyball. It is fairly easy to train and responds well to a positive, rewards-based training methods. Just like any dog breed, puppy training is essential in order to raise a well-balanced companion. Basic obedience training commands such as sit, come, stay, and down are easily learned. One of the more important training to teach an Aussie is the recall command which will come in handy when keeping the dog off leash. Chew toy training should also be introduced to a puppy Aussie to prevent destructive behaviour.
The Aussie’s medium-length water-resistant double coat requires regular brushing, at least once a week to maintain a healthy coat and skin as brushing promotes blood circulation. Weekly brushing also prevents matting. It sheds its coat usually in the spring. Regular bathing should be done, especially if the dog tends to get dirty but it should not be done on a frequent basis because it might dry out the skin and damage the coat.
The Australian Shepherd shares a lot of common health issues with other working dogs, including:
Feeding between 1.5 to 2 cups of dry food a day is an ideal diet. The average lifespan of the Australian Shepherd is between 13 to 15 years.
As a working sheepdog, the Australian Shepherd shares the same exercise requirements as that of the other herding dogs in its class. It is an active breed that needs daily exercise to stay healthy both physically and mentally. Two to three hours of physical activity in a large yard, a long walk or jogging alongside a bike are ideal daily routines. It is not recommended for an apartment life but if the owner is able to meet its exercise requirements, then it will make a wonder pet at home. The best home for the Aussie is a house with a large fenced-in yard where it can freely play a couple of hours per day. An under-exercised Aussie can become destructive.
An Australian Shepherd is excellent with children because it loves to play around. It is a loyal and devoted guard dog, eager to please its owners. It is sometimes called a “Velcro dog” because of its tendency to follow and always be near its owners. It can also get along quite well with other dogs and pets in the house.