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Australian Shepherd

The Australian Shepherd is a cowboy’s dream herding dog! Noticed by their mesmerizing eyes and distinct coat, this active working dog is filled with energy! Let’s take a look into the AKC’s 12th most popular breed.

Australian Shepherd Breed Standards:

Kennel Club Member?: Yes

Australian Shepherd Lifespan: 12-15 years

Australian Shepherd Exercise: More than 2 hours per day

Height: Male 20-23 inches Female 18-21 inches

Weight: Male 25-32 kilograms Female 16-25 kilograms

Hypoallergenic: No

Temperament

Australian Shepherds are intelligent, affectionate, energetic, versatile, loyal and adaptable. When working Aussies are incredibly focused on completing their job efficiently. They’re packed with energy and require an outgoing owner that can dedicate the time they need.

As active working dogs, the Aussie is at their happiest when carrying out a task. They’re very smart and trainable in the right hands. Aussies are obedient thanks to the strong bond they build with their owner. They’re also eager to please!

These incredible canines aren’t just popular herding dogs, they also save lives! Aussies make fantastic Search and Rescue dogs. They even work alongside the law by sniffing out drugs!

This breed is typically reserved and sceptical of strangers. With socialization, they may become more tolerant of those they don’t know. Although some Aussie’s simply won’t accept them. They aren’t the best guard dogs but make great watchdogs and will instinctively protect their family.

Australian Shepherds do well in family environments with older children. Due to their strong herding instincts, they may display this behaviour towards smaller children. Chasing and nipping are some things they may do. 

Aussies are very social and get along with other dogs well. They’ll happily interact with other pooches in the park, making friends wherever they go! An Australian Shepherd puppy will be more accepting of cat companions than adults. 

Characteristics

Check out the positives and negatives of the Australian Shepherd dog breed below.

Positives:

  • Intelligent and hard-working
  • Easy to train and eager to please
  • Exceptional dog sports competitor
  • Great watchdog
  • Search & Rescue dog
  • Drug sniffing dog

Negatives:

  • High exercise needs
  • Strong herding instincts
  • Prone to separation anxiety
  • Not an ideal breed choice for first-time owners

The Australian Shepherd size is classed as medium. They have a low centre of gravity and a solid build. Their coat colours include merle, blue merle, red merle, black, red tri-colour, black tri-colour, and red. 

Australian Shepherd History

Despite their name, the Australian Shepherd actually originates from the Western United States. They’re descendants of the Pyrenean Shepherd a herding breed used by the Basques, a group of indigenous people.

During the 1800s the Basques set sea arriving on the Australian continent. Here they bred their Shepherds with the British Collies who were already imported there. After crossing the canines they set sail again to land in California. 

Here American ranchers automatically assumed the breed was native to Australia. This is how they were landed with the name Australian Shepherd. In America, the breed’s development continued. Quickly becoming a firm favourite in the ranch and cowboy world. 

Soon after, breed enthusiasts worked to create a smaller version resulting in the Miniature Australian Shepherd. Only the standard size is used for livestock herding, whereas the miniature is used for solely companionship. Teacup Australian Shepherds have also been created.

Even though the breed has a long history in the United States, they were only accepted into the AKC Herding Group in 1993. Australian Shepherd dogs are more popular in the US than in the UK. They only arrived in England during the late 1980s. 

Exercise & Grooming

Australian Shepherds need an incredible amount of daily exercise. They’ll need over two hours each day. A lack of activity could lead to destructive behaviour. The Aussie dog should receive off-leash time where they can sniff around, explore, and let off some steam!

It should be no surprise that the Aussie makes an excellent dog sports competitor. He particularly excels in obedience, dock diving, agility, flyball, and herding. These intelligent canines need lots of mental stimulation to prevent boredom. So, get the doggy puzzles out!

Aussies have a double-layered, waterproof coat that requires a brush every couple of days. They shed their heaviest during the spring and autumn months. A rake and wire brush are the best tools to use on their coat.

These canines won’t need regular bathing. Every 3-4 months should be fine as their natural oils will look after the coat. Overwashing this breed can lead to skin irritation. Their fur will need a thorough cleanse to ensure the undercoat gets wet.

Vets recommend a dog’s teeth are brushed daily. Ears will need to be cleansed weekly too. Remove any debris or fur blocking the ear canal. Trim their nails fortnightly to prevent overgrowth.

Health

Have a look at the breed-related health conditions of the Australian Shepherd dog.

Hip Dysplasia: The abnormal development of the hip joint leads to pain, inflammation, swelling, lameness, and eventual arthritis.

Collie Eye Anomaly: This inherited congenital condition is caused by a mutated chromosome. The Australian Shepherd is predisposed to this health issue. Some dogs keep their vision, whilst others lose partial or complete vision. 

Progressive Retinal Atrophy: A degenerative condition targeting the photoreceptor cells in the eye. PRA is inherited and will eventually lead to blindness.

Cobalamin Malabsorption: A gastrointestinal disease preventing the dog from absorbing cobalamin resulting in low energy levels. Cobalamin is responsible for a variety of metabolic processes.

Multi-Drug Sensitivity: Dogs that inherit this condition will be sensitive to some drugs.

Elbow Dysplasia: The most common cause of lameness in adolescent dogs is elbow dysplasia. Poor development of the elbow joint will cause pain, inflammation, swelling, and arthritis.

Australian Shepherd Training

Australian Shepherd dogs are intelligent and eager to please so in the right hands, they’re easily trainable. But they can also pick up bad habits just as fast as good. An Australian Shepherd puppy requires an experienced owner that clearly establishes their leadership role.

Aussies are relatively easy to housetrain. Consistency is key. Take them outside every 3 hours including after every nap and meal. During this stage, basic commands should also be taught. Australian Shepherds work best with positive reinforcement.

Socialization should be continuously practised around strangers. It’ll help them become more accepting of visitors in the future. Australian Shepherd puppies should be socialized as early as 7 weeks old.

Those using the Aussie as a companion will want to prevent herding behaviours. The trick is to notice the signs before they carry out the behaviour. At this moment their behaviour should be intercepted. 

Training a working Shepherd dog will take months of work but it’ll reap great rewards! Owners will need to establish a form of communication with their pets. The most popular form is whistling. 

A small flock of livestock, a pen, and a leash will be needed. Slowly introduce the Aussie to the livestock on a leash, practising commands and rewarding the dog when they obey. Once the dog follows a pattern of listening to the commands, the Aussie can now be tested off-leash. 

Australian Shepherd Interesting Facts

  • Many Australian Shepherds have two different coloured eyes. It’s referred to as ‘wall eye’ and is caused by a gene that is passed onto the puppy by their parents. The unusual eye colouring often influences the coat too. 
  • Native American tribes considered the Australian Shepherd sacred. They called them the ‘Ghost Eye dog’ because of their blue ‘ghostly’ eyes. 
  • Dogs holding the double merle gene can face health issues such as deafness and blindness. So it’s important that Blue Merle Australian Shepherd puppies are obtained by a reputable breeder. 
  • Docking is common for the working Australian Shepherd. Yet somehow along the years, the tails have slowly been bred out of the dog! Today, around 1 in 5 Australian Shepherds are born with naturally bobbed tails.
  • Hyper Hank was an Australian Shepherd owned by Eldon during the 1970s. He was a popular frisbee champion performing in states across America. His biggest performance was at the Super Bowl XII. Hyper Hank’s popularity even saw him spend some time with the Carters at the White House! 
  • To this day the Australian Shepherd popularity ranking is growing. In 2016, the AKC listed the breed as 17th on the Most Popular Dog Breeds list. In 2020, they’ve climbed to the 12th spot! 

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