Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherds are attractive, intelligent, and energetic dogs that can be seen participating in all kinds of canine activities. Aussies excel in many different competitive arenas including frisbee, agility, and obedience trials. They are ever-present in herding trials and their history as a livestock herding dog guarantees they are naturally proficient. Because of their intelligence and trainability, Australian Shepherds also fill many service dog roles.

Australian Shepherd
Australian Shepherd Original image by user mediaexpression.nl on Flickr. CC BY-ND 2.0.
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If you plan to bring an Australian Shepherd into your home, you should be prepared with a varied training plan that will keep your super-smart dog interested and entertained. In addition, you should be prepared to deal with any undesirable herding behaviors, including heel nipping. If allowed, the confident Aussie will assume the role of pack leader and will herd all members of your family, including children, adults, and other pets. However, this behavior can easily be redirected with the correct training methods. An Australian Shepherd is loyal and affectionate with his family and will want to spend as much time with them as possible. He's going to want to be involved in all of the family activities and adventures especially if they involve anything outdoors. This is the perfect companion for active families with the time to devote to a loving, energetic, and intelligent dog.

Key Breed Stats

Alternative names: The Australian Shepherd breed is also commonly known by the names Aussie or Little Blue Dog.

Popularity: Very popular

Life expectancy: 12 - 15 years

Breed group: Herding Dogs (AKC), Pastoral Dogs (KC), Sheepdogs and Cattle Dogs Dogs (FCI)

Size: Medium

Male Female
Height 20 - 23 in 18 - 21 in
Weight 49 - 64 lbs 35 - 49 lbs

Coat: Long

Colors: Black, Red, Merle

Key Breed Facts

Shedding: Average shedder

Grooming requirements: Very high

Good with children: Yes

Good with other pets: Average

Intelligence / Trainability: Very high

Exercise needs: Very high

Tolerates being alone: Not really

Hunting drive: High

Suited as Guard dog: Average

Sensitivity: Extremely sensitive

Good for novice owners: Not really

Hypoallergenic breed: No

Drooling: Very low

Barking: Frequent

General health: Below average

Cost to keep: Average

History

Despite the name, Australian Shepherds are actually American dogs, originally bred and developed in the western United States. In fact, there is no strong theory on how the name came about. Before Australian Shepherd became the accepted moniker, they had several other names, including Spanish Shepherd, Pastor Dog, Bob-Tail, New Mexican Shepherd, and California Shepherd. Though the origin of them name is uncertain, there is evidence that the breed is related to the original American dogs that came over the Bering Land Bridge. It is certain that the breed as we know it came about in western North American in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Legendary as herding dogs and bred by ranchers in Boulder, Colorado, Australian Shepherds were well-suited to the Rocky Mountain area, as they were not affected by working in high elevations. Selective breeding was employed to ensure that these dogs were hardy enough to withstand severe weather, and have plenty of speed, athleticism, energy, and endurance. They needed to be intelligent, flexible, and independent enough to herd with little human guidance while remaining obedient.

The breed enjoyed a leap in popularity in the post-World War II era when there was a keen interest in cowboys, horses, and "western" lifestyles. The Australian Shepherd Club of America was formed in the 1970 and as of 2016, the AKC ranked the Australian Shepherd as the 17th most popular breed in the United States.

Appearance

Australian Shepherds are keen, agile, and intelligent dogs with a strong herding instinct.
Typical characteristics are:


  • Strong head in proportion with the body, brown, blue, or amber eyes, triangular, and moderately-sized ears.

  • Strong, well-balanced body.

  • A straight tail is docked or naturally bobbed.

  • Weather resistant, medium length coat.

  • Colors: blue merle, black, red merle, and red - all with or without white markings and/or tan (copper).

Temperament

Intelligence/Trainability

Australian Shepherds are a highly intelligent breed. They will pick up new skills incredibly quickly and as the owner and trainer, you will need to be one step ahead of your dog. An Australian Shepherd requires varied activities to keep him mentally stimulated and entertained. They are loyal to their owners and eager to please, but can often try to become the dominant member of the pack. Additionally, you will need to pay special attention to curbing any unwanted herding tendencies. Because of this, they require a steady, kind, and confident owner/trainer and are not recommended for novice owners. Australian Shepherds excel in activities like agility, flyball, frisbee, and herding trials.

As with all intelligent breeds, Australian Shepherds require an outlet for their energy and intelligence. In short, they do best with plenty of exercise and a job.

Activity

Australian Shepherds are extremely high-energy dogs and require a lot of exercise. They need at least 40-60 minutes of vigorous activity, twice per day. Preferably, exercise involves some time off-leash and engaging in an activity with you.

A bored Australian Shepherd is definitely an unhappy dog. Bored dogs with too much excess energy will quickly develop and undesirable and destructive habits and will most likely bark incessantly.

Exercising your Australian Shepherd puppy requires a few special considerations. Aussies have an increased risk of hip dysplasia. Avoid exercising on slippery surfaces and climbing stairs under the age of 3 months. Exercise is needed, however, as strong muscles will increase the stability of the hip joint. Outdoor exercise on soft, uneven grounds seems to have a lower risk. Try to avoid exercise that involves running, jumping and playing on hard surfaces until the age of two.

Independence

Australian Shepherds are people-oriented dogs and will want to be around their owners as much as possible. They will not appreciate being left alone for long periods of time. Loneliness and lack of attention/exercise may result in undesirable and destructive behaviors.

Protective

A loyal breed, Aussies can be standoffish with people they don't know. They are not aggressive dogs, but can be fairly protective of their home and family.

Living Conditions

Because they need some time to play off-leash, Aussies are not well-suited for apartment living, but this does not necessarily mean they need a huge home or yard. They are likely to stick near their owners, so a small yard will suffice and they are happy to play with their owners or go for a jog or an adventure. They do extremely well in rural areas where they have the room to run and play.

Bred for herding livestock in rough conditions, Aussies are hardy dogs and tolerate hot and cold well. But, their need for human companionship means that they will be incredibly unhappy if left outside alone for long periods of time.

Children and Other Pets

Australian Shepherds can make wonderful companions for families with kids. However, they will often try to herd children and even nip at their heels, especially if the children are running. Aussies should be taught early when herding behavior is appropriate and when it is not. However, special consideration should be taken with small children (under the age of 6).


  • Young children may unintentionally invade the personal space of your dog and are unable to interpret the warning signals of your dog.

  • Dogs consider the family as a pack, and may consider the younger children as subordinates and may try to correct them.

  • Young children are very time-consuming. They may take away from the time you have to spend with your dog and he may become bored or frustrated.

Same as with children, Aussies may herd other pets, which could become an issue. As with any dog, early, proper socialization is important.

Health

The average life expectancy of a Australian Shepherd is between 12 - 15 years. Like all breeds, the Australian Shepherd is prone to certain hereditary health conditions. A responsible breeder will only breed with dogs that have been cleared for these conditions. A Australian Shepherd is prone to these diseases:
  • Detached Retina (hereditary)
  • Nasal Solar Dermatitis (hereditary)
  • Drug Sensitivity (hereditary)
  • Hypothyroidism (hereditary)
  • Persistent Pupillary Membranes (PPM) (hereditary)
  • Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) (hereditary)
  • Distichiasis (hereditary)
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) (hereditary) : Progressive retinal atrophy refers to a group of inherited degenerative eye disorders, which lead to loss of vision. PRA affects both eyes simultaneously and is not painful More info»
  • Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD) (hereditary)
  • Elbow Dysplasia (hereditary)

Grooming

The Australian Shepherd has a medium-length, water resistant coat that requires a fair amount of maintenance. They are moderately high shedders, even more so in the spring. Your Aussie needs to be brushed weekly, preferably more with a slicker brush to remove loose hair and prevent matting. A light, spray-on conditioner can help prevent/remove mats.

Your Aussie needs few baths, probably two or three times a year or when he gets dirty using a pH balanced shampoo designed specifically for dogs.

Ears should be checked regularly for dirt, redness or a bad smell that could indicate an infection. Clean your dog's ears when needed with an ear cleaner made specifically for dogs.

Consider brushing their teeth with a soft toothbrush and dog toothpaste two or three times a week. Daily is even better. This helps prevent tartar build up and teeth problems. All puppies should become accustomed to having their mouths and teeth checked regularly.

Nail trimming is an important part of grooming if your dog doesn't wear them down naturally. Once or twice a month should suffice. Trimming a dog's nails too close can cause bleeding and pain, so it is important to trim carefully or seek the help of a vet or groomer.

All puppies and dogs should be groomed regularly (preferably weekly) and have their paws, ears, and mouth handled and examined frequently so that they become comfortable with the process. This way, you will quickly become aware of any problems that arise and your dog will be easy to handle for the vet, groomer, and any treatments that are required throughout its lifetime.

Feeding

Feeding recommendations: 1.5 to 2.5 cups of high-quality, dry dog food fed in two daily meals is a good starting point, but other factors need to be taken into consideration. Higher quality dog foods may require less food, as more of the food is digested properly. In addition, higher energy dogs will require more food, while more sedentary dogs may require less. Australian Shepherds are prone to obesity and special care should be taken to ensure that they do not become overweight. Obesity can cause many health problems, both in the short and long-term.

Puppies have special feeding requirements. Use food specifically designed for puppies. Adult dog food contains too much calcium, which will increase the risk for hip and elbow dysplasia. Don’t overfeed your puppy, as overweight puppies also have an increased risk for dysplasia. Puppies need to be fed 3 to 4 times a day. This might seem like a hassle, but it will help when it comes to housebreaking. A puppy’s digestive system works very fast. Five to 30 minutes after his meal, he will need to go out to do his business.

Just like any other breed, they need to have free access to fresh, clean water at all times.

Older dogs, like puppies, might need a diet adapted to their needs. In some cases, it is advisable to feed them smaller portions 3 to 4 times a day.

When changing your dog’s diet, it’s recommended to do it gradually over a period of a few days to avoid stomach problems.

Avoid exercise 1 hour before and after the meal, to reduce the risk of gastric torsion (bloat).