Despite his name, the Australian Shepherd (often called Aussie) is not at all an Australian dog! These dogs were originally developed in the USA to herd livestock. These dogs’ true origin is quite a mystery. The theory is that Australian Shepherds were brought to America by the immigrants who came there and brought sheep and other livestock with them. They also brought their favorite herding dogs.
18–23 in (46–58 cm)
40–65 lb (18–30 kg)
Many of these dogs were from Australia, and although it is a common belief that Australian Shepherds have some Basque roots and were brought to the USA via Spain, the name Australian Shepherd stuck. Some people believe that the breed’s name is a result of this breed’s affiliation with Basque shepherds that came from Australia. Whatever their history is, once a number one herding dog, today Australian Shepherd is a great family dog, a superb search and rescue dog, assistance dog, therapy dog, detection dog, etc.
Dog Breed Characteristics
Australian Shepherds are medium-sized dogs. These dogs are well-balanced and their body is a bit longer than it is tall. They have one of the most beautiful coats in the canine world and there are a lot of colors that are allowed and mentioned in their standard. Australian Shepherds have a medium-length water-resistant coat that comes in several colors: red merle, blue merle, red, black, and tri-color (white, black, and tan). They are a working breed that was created for herding and shepherding purposes and that is what they do best. Their herding capabilities are as good as the Border Collie’s and the Australian Shepherd was the go-to breed of many shepherds around the world.
Canine historians believe that this breed is about 200 years old and their ancestors include different Collie breeds. It is not the oldest of dog breeds but they are registered and recognized by most of the world’s cynology associations and breeding clubs. We will be focusing on exploring the two most important ones when it comes to Australian Shepherds - the American Kennel Club and the Fédération Cynologique Internationale. Both of these major cynology associations have standards in place for this breed so let’s see what they say about them.
The Fédération Cynologique Internationale or commonly abbreviated to FCI is a union of 98 national cynology associations that currently has 98 members from 6 continents.
It describes these dogs as being a versatile farm and ranch working dog breed. They say that these dogs are attentive, animated, agile, and lithe with a solid muscular structure and great agility and stamina. Their coat is of moderate length as well as moderately coarse. Aussie Shepherds can be born with a tail or can have a naturally docked tail. FCI placed this breed in Group 1 (Sheepdogs and Cattle dogs, except Swiss Cattle dogs), Section 1 (Sheepdogs). Even though these dogs are incredibly agile and were bred primarily as a working breed, the FCI does not require them to undergo a working trial.
They have a preferred size for the male Aussie Shepherd dogs and it is 20-23 inches (51-58 cm) in height and they weigh 50-65 lb (22-30 kg). Females are slightly smaller with an average height of 18-21 in (46-53 cm) and a weight of about 40-55 lb (18-25 kg).
These dogs have been officially registered by the FCI on the 21st of May 2007.
AKC or the American Kennel Club is the governing cynology association for the United States of America. It is a very old institution that is celebrating it’s 135 birthday in 2020. They are in charge of organizing, sanctioning, and promoting all nation-wide dog-related activities. They are also in charge of keeping the records of all pureblooded dogs that were bred and born on their soil. Since this dog breed has been molded and bred in the United States, they have the patronage over it and were in charge of developing it’s standard.
The AKC standard describes them as very intelligent dogs with an impeccable working and herding instincts. They also say that these dogs are slightly longer than they are tall and they describe them as loyal companions and tireless workers. The preferred measurements for this dog by this standard are identical to the measurements in the FCI standard (as FCI molded their standard according to the AKC standard) and it is 20-23 in (51-58 cm) for males and 18-21 in (46-53 cm) for females.
Despite being an all American breed, these dogs were not registered by the American Kennel Club until 1991.
TIP: Avoid purchasing an Australian Shepherd who is primarily white. White color usually occurs when two merle-colored Aussies are bred together and are genetically linked to deafness and blindness.
Australian Shepherd shedding and coat care
Aussies shed year-round (during shedding season in spring and fall they shed heavily) so make sure you brush your Aussie regularly. Use a long-bristled brush with stiff nylon bristles. Bathe the dog only when needed. Bathing can strip the natural oils in their coat that make it water-resistant, so it is not recommended to do it often. This way your Aussie’s coat will always look its best.
TIP: Before brushing, sprinkle the dog’s coat with a dog hair conditioner rarefied with water to detangle the hair easier (mats are most common behind Aussie’s ears).
These dogs were bred to work and live outside but in the more recent times, they migrated to the position of a beloved family pet and are more used to indoor living. With a different lifestyle, their grooming and general care changed. Keep in mind to take care of your dog’s teeth, ears, and nails.
Brush their teeth at least three times a week to prevent tartar buildup and infections. Make sure you use products that are made especially for dogs as human products could potentially harm them. Trim their nails if they don’t wear them down naturally. A good indication is if you can hear them clicking on the floor while they walk. Clean their ears and check for signs of redness or infections. Use a cotton cloth and never insert anything in their ear canal. You can always check with your Vet about the products you should use and the proper technique.
FUN FACT: A lot of Australian shepherds (one in five, to be exact) are born with a naturally docked tail. This is a result of breeding the tail out of the breed.
Australian Shepherds are a highly energetic and active breed. They were bred to work all day, so these dogs need a lot of daily exercises. These dogs need an active lifestyle to be happy. They love to be outside and to be part of an action, whether it is running, and chasing balls, playing, jumping, or jogging. If you are thinking about getting an Australian Shepherd, make sure you have enough free time and energy to spend it outside playing and training your Aussie. If your schedule can’t allow you that, consider getting some less active breed. Except for daily activity, these dogs also need consistency. They like things to happen at the same time every day.
FUN FACT: Aussies love to play Frisbee. In the 1970s, there was an Australian Shepherd named Hyper Hank who was famous for his Frisbee playing skills. Hyper Hank and his owner, Eldon McIntire, even performed at the pre-show of Super Bowl XII.
Training and socialization
These dogs are extremely intelligent and love to learn new tricks and commands. They have a strong wish to please their owner and that makes training them easier. You can achieve the best results with your Australian Shepherd if you use positive reinforcement as a training method and include a lot of treats and praises. Harsh training methods are not the best option. They are demanding and need a firm owner that will know how to handle such an active dog breed so it is not the best option for new or inexperienced owners.
Socialization is a process all dogs should go through. These dogs have a tendency not to trust strangers and if they are not properly socialized they can become overly distrustful, fearful, or shy, and then they naturally react with biting. Expose your dog to different situations, sights, sounds, people, and other dogs to teach them how to properly react in different situations. Socialization will help your puppy develop in a stable and well-behaved adult dog.
Aussie and children
Australian Shepherds thrive on attention and are very fond of their owners. They want to be with them constantly. They are an excellent choice for families with children of all ages. Many of them consider kids part of their flock, so they might want to keep them in one place by chasing and nipping at them. Just make sure that your Aussie is taught not to herd the children. Aussie Shepherds are good with other pets too (but they will probably try to herd them as well). These dogs are loyal companions, very protective of home and their people, and make excellent watchdogs. Because of their inborn protective instincts, Australian Shepherds are not very good with strangers.
The breed is considered to be one of the most intelligent ones and easy to train. Many of them (but not all of them) are known as dogs that are especially eager to please their people. Female ones are sometimes manipulative, and they know exactly how to have it their way. It is important to teach your Aussie to respect you and listen to you, since day one. This way, training them later will be easier.
Australian Shepherds have a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years, but there is a list of health problems these dogs are prone to and some of them are hip dysplasia (you can read more about hip dysplasia here) and elbow dysplasia, epilepsy, multiple drug sensitivity (MDS) caused by a mutation of the Multidrug Resistance Gene (MDR1), which produces a protein called P-glycoprotein. This protein helps remove toxic substances from the body of the dog. When this protein is not working properly, toxins are taking over the body and the result is drug sensitivity. There is no treatment for this condition, but, luckily, there is a genetic test that can identify dogs with this nonfunctioning gene.
FUN FACT: Aussies have very sensitive ears, and are highly sensitive to sound. They might develop noise phobias if they are not accustomed to loud or unexpected noises.
Australian Shepherd eyes
Aussies are often affected by several eye problems, such as the detached retina, progressive retinal atrophy (a degenerative eye disorder that eventually causes blindness from the loss of photoreceptors at the back of the eye), cataracts, distichiasis (caused by an additional row of eyelashes that grow on the oil gland in the dog’s eye and irritates the eye), collie eye anomaly, etc.
TIP: If you are getting an Australian Shepherd, don’t be shy to ask the breeder whether the puppy’s parents were confirmed to have healthy eyes by a certified veterinary ophthalmologist. Ask to have the puppy you are interested in also examined before you take him home. You should continue to have your Aussie's eyes checked annually by a veterinary ophthalmologist.
This is one of the most popular dog breeds in the world and with such popularity problems can occur. You should be very careful when buying such a popular breed and some people decide they want this breed for its staggering looks. As we said, this is a very active dog breed that requires a lot of activities. Make sure that fits in your lifestyle and try and research as much as you can about Australian Shepherds before you decide to buy one.
If this breed is a good fit for you and/or your family, make sure that you find a registered and reputable Australian Shepherd breeder that can provide you with a great dog that will be physically and mentally healthy. Ask the breeder to show you the health certificates of his breeding dogs and if you can try and see what the puppy’s parents look like.
If you complete these steps, we have absolutely no doubt that you will make the right choice and get one of the best dogs in the world.
World Dog Finder team