The Australian Shepherd is a striking dog with an interesting history. With a name like that, you’d assume that they come from Australia, right? Well, no, they don’t. We’ll explain how this breed got their name, where they really come from, and what other dog breeds make up the gorgeous Australian Shepherd, also known as the Aussie.
Before welcoming any dog breed into your home, it’s important to understand what you’ll be getting with the new addition. Some traits, such as energy levels, just flat out can’t be untrained at all. Most Aussies have specific genetic traits that you’ll want to be aware of before deciding if this is the perfect breed to match your family’s needs. Yes, every dog will have an individual personality, but there are a few things you’ll want to be aware of with this breed.
The Australian Shepherd isn’t just a pretty looking canine. They are hardworking and energetic dogs who must be homed with an active family. If you’re looking for a couch potato, consider another breed. Aussies are fun, charming, and make fantastic family companions. But it has to be the right family. Here we will help you discover whether you’ve got what it takes to be a brilliant Aussie mom or dad.
The breed history all starts between the borders of France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountain range, with an ancient breed called the Pyrenean Shepherd. The breed masters there traveled to Australia in the 19th century to begin farming the land in Australia. Along the way, the Pyrenean Shepherd was bred with Border Collies and Collies. And this was how the breed was born.
Having spent little time in Australia, their masters packed up, set sail again, and traveled to sunny California. The local ranchers were so impressed by this ‘Australian’ breed that they became super popular as the cowboy’s canine colleague of choice. They nicknamed them the Australian Shepherd, and the rest, as they say, is history. Only in America!
They are still commonly found on ranches herding away and working hard as an all-round farmhand. You can also see them working drug service dogs, in search and rescue, and as therapy dogs. Their striking looks and fun personality have also increased their popularity as a family dog. Aussies commonly find themselves in the top 20 dog breeds in the American Kennel Club (AKC) registry.
A fun and boisterous dog, they make an ideal canine for those seeking a partner for adventures and long active weekends. This breed will judge you if you lead an inactive lifestyle! So, if you aren’t super energetic, you will be better off looking at another dog breed altogether, or consider an Aussie mix.
Of course, if you are looking for a dog to join you on the ranch and herd until the cows come home (literally), you can’t pick a better breed. A natural herder, if they aren’t herding in the fields, they are likely to try herding elsewhere. Such as rounding up other pets, visiting birds in the yard, or children at home.
Their hardworking nature and leading personality on the field make them dominant dogs. For this reason, they need an experienced dog owner who can handle their character. If you aren’t assertive with them, they will become unruly. First-time dog owners will probably struggle with the breed, as will passive owners.
Always happy to play with the kids, they are great for keeping the little ones busy. They can be a little aloof with visitors and strangers at first, but over time they will warm up. They are ideal watchdogs, and they will protect their family in the face of danger. If they are barking, they are either bored or letting you a stranger is about on your property.
When they aren’t herding, playing, or protecting, you will find them on the sofa, belly up, waiting for attention. But this is usually only after plenty of exercise. Be careful not to spoil your Aussie too much, or they’ll take a mile when given an inch.
Size & Appearance
The Australian Shepherd is a medium-sized dog breed. They weigh between 40 and 65 pounds and measure between 18 and 23 inches tall. Males tend to be on the higher end of the height and weight scale compared to female dogs. They are slightly longer than tall. But they are still well-proportioned dogs who are athletic under their fluffy coats. Lean and tough, their body is made for hard work.
Typically their tail is docked or naturally bobbed and always four inches or less in length. Their ears sit high on their skull, and his triangle-shaped drop-down ears fall just below their eyes. They have a bright smile, always happy to see their family after a few hours away from them.
Their eyes are almond-shaped and give an alert but friendly gaze. Their eyes can be blue, brown, or amber and be marbled or flecked in pattern. Aussies are one of a few dog breeds that can inherit the heterochromia gene, where they have multi-colored eyes. Different colored eyes are seen as a desirable aesthetic. These pups can be priced higher as there is more demand for them and their uniqueness.
Coat & Colors
The Aussie has a medium-length water-resistant coat that needs regular grooming. It is double-layered, with the underlayer being fine and dense and the outer layer being long and thick. Together, the layers protect their skin from the dusty ranches and hot Californian sun, and it is soft to the touch. Their hair can be straight or slightly wavy, and male dogs tend to have thicker hair on their necks and chests.
There are a few accepted coat color combinations that are considered breed standard. Black, blue merle, red, red merle are recognized by the breed standard. The coat can also have tan points or white markings, or both, across their entire coat. Most dogs will have black noses and other features, such as eye and lip rims. But some will have brown features. Pink spots on the nose are sometimes found in merle-colored pups.
When welcoming this breed into your home, expect a high level of energy. This breed was meant for herding, and their energy must be put to good use. And if you don’t provide them with an outlay for their energy, they can become a nightmare. Not only will they consistently try to herd the entire family, but they will also destroy the furniture and all of your homely possessions. They will also dig, bark, and become excessively dominant.
They need between 60 and 90 minutes of exercise every day. Nothing less, but they can handle much more if you have the time for it! They will happily work all day long if you require it of them, and you can count on them to be your hardest-working employee. Their exercise needs to be intense to expel their energy.
And because they are highly intelligent, it can be too much for their own good sometimes. You will need to challenge them consistently. This means making them fetch balls and frisbees or involving them in agility courses or flyball competitions. A long walk around the park is not going to cut it.
A trip to the local dog park is a great way for them to let off steam and run and play ’til their heart’s content, and you don’t have to do too much. It also goes a long way to keep their socialization skills topped up.
The Aussie ideally needs to live in a home with access to a yard. They are known to do well living in apartments, but only if they have access to a yard and are adequately exercised. Their yard needs to be secured, because they are protective, but also because they are roamers and may get lost if left alone for too long.
Their high intelligence and active mind also need stimulation. For those times where you cannot spend hours playing with them, a basket full of toys is required. They will play with anything they can get their paws on, but puzzle-solving toys are a fantastic way of keeping them busy for hours on end. Make sure they have a variety of Aussie approved dog toys to play with and rotate them so that they don’t get bored.
Their high energy and boisterous nature means that they are only suited to families with older children. With their intense nature comes rough play, and they can easily bump young children over accidentally. Combining that with their want to herd everything in sight, means that they are best placed with older children. As long as they are socialized well as a pup, they will coexist happily with other dogs. But again, be sure to keep an eye on their herding behavior in the home.
The breed has a very high level of intelligence thanks to their Border Collie influence. But, they also have an independent nature that makes them tricky to train. This is why they aren’t recommended for first-time dog owners. If you don’t start their obedience training early, they can become stubborn adults.
But if you can capture his energy and attention, he will do well at training. In addition to starting young, the trick to training independent dogs is to keep training sessions short and fun. If you bore them, you will lose all chances of training effectively.
Another important aspect of his training needs is the socialization process. It’s important for every dog, but especially dogs that are aloof with strangers and protective of their family. It’s important to teach them that not everyone is an enemy. It also shows them that visitors, strangers, and unfamiliar circumstances are a normal part of everyday life.
Crate training is advised for the Aussie. You’ll need to find the perfect size for this breed. Not only do they hate to be left alone, but they can become destructive if they become overly anxious. A crate will be soothing for your pup while you are away, and it will keep them out of mischief too.
Another important thing to consider here is his herding behavior. If you notice that he is herding inside the home, you need to take action. Herding will usually involve the famous Aussie stare and circling behavior. It’s annoying and can cause spats if they try it with other household pets. As soon as you notice it, redirect their behavior. It’s also a warning sign that they aren’t getting enough exercise.
This is a relatively healthy dog breed that enjoys a lifespan of 12 to 15 years, and sometimes longer. The best way to keep this breed healthy is to keep up to date with health checkups, lots of exercise, and top-quality nutrition.
The Aussie is a purebred dog. This breed, just like all other purebreds, prone to certain health concerns. Below are the main health problems to be aware of, and it’s important that you can recognize the symptoms should they arise.
Hip & elbow dysplasia: Hip and elbow dysplasia are common concerns of active and medium to large-sized dog breeds. This is where the hip and elbow joints do not form properly, and the bone and the socket grow at unequal rates. Causing increased wear and tear, and eventually pain and mobility problems.
Eye conditions: The breed can suffer from a variety of eye concerns. The most common are cataracts and distichiasis, where the eyelashes grow inside the eyelid, which is extremely irritating. Other eye problems are progressive retinal atrophy and collie eye.
Deafness: Deafness is more common in this breed compared to others. It is thought that it is partly connected to the lack of pigmentation in the ears. Puppies born from two merle parents are more likely to be deaf. A BAER test should be conducted to discover whether a puppy is deaf or not.
The average Australian Shepherd will consume between two to three cups of food every day. If they are working dogs, they will likely need more than this. And if you happen to have a uniquely lazy dog, they will need less. They should be fed a well-balanced dry kibble that consists of high-quality protein, carbohydrates, fiber, healthy omega fats, vitamins, and minerals. High-quality kibbles are ideal for Aussies specifically due to their high energy levels.
This breed is highly active and their joints are always on the go. They are also at increased risk of hip and elbow dysplasia. For this reason, it’s important to ensure that what you feed them has high levels of glucosamine, as this helps to support their joints. Look for ingredients such as fish, meat meals, flaxseed, and plant oils. You can also add fish oil to their kibble as a supplement.
Their grooming routine is surprisingly less time consuming than you would probably think. Their soft coat doesn’t cling onto dirt compared to other dogs, and as such, they rarely get that dirty. A weekly brush to remove the dead hair is all this breed needs to stay looking clean. If your pup works on a dusty ranch all day long, you might need to brush them slightly more.
Aussies shed moderately throughout the year and heavily during the shedding season. Throughout the year, a pin or slicker brush will be the best tool to tackle their coats. They will need brushing several times a week during the shedding seasons if you want to keep shedding to a minimum. Here we would also suggest using an undercoat rake to keep fur down.
They should be bathed occasionally when they get super dirty. Do not wash them more than once every four weeks because you will strip their coats of their natural oils. When they get stinky on the ranch, dry doggy shampoo or wipes are useful to avoid overbathing.
Ears and teeth should be cleaned weekly to avoid the buildup of bacteria. As well as to reduce the risk of infections and periodontal diseases. Their nails will rarely need trimming due to the amount of exercise they do. But if you can hear them tip-tapping on the floor, they need to be clipped. You should pay extra attention to their eyes when grooming. If you notice any redness or irritation, dryness, or excess tears, it could be a sign that they are suffering from one of the above eye concerns.
Breeders & Puppy Costs
This breed is very popular in America, especially on the west coast, where he originates from. Depending on where you live, you shouldn’t have to travel too far to find a reputable and ethical breeder. It’s imperative that you only work with a breeder who has a good reputation and only breeds healthy dogs. A great place to start is the AKC’s list of registered breeders.
When finding a breeder, look for professional websites and those that will meet you in person. You need to meet the pups and at least one parent in person before making a financial commitment. Request to see the health certificates, and most importantly, trust your gut. A reputable breeder will sell their pups for around $1,000 and up. You can expect merle-colored dogs and those with different colored eyes to cost a little more.
A puppy mill will often advertise their dogs on ad listings online and meet you in a parking lot. Lower prices and pressurized sales are other sure-fire signs that they are not a reputable breeder. Walk away! Puppy mills breed unhealthy and sick dogs and rarely provide love and medical attention. Which results in equally poor quality pups and increased medical bills for you.
In addition to the initial puppy cost, you also need to factor in other puppy setting up costs. Things such as beds, crates, toys, and harnesses for your Aussie come at a price. And medical insurance and veterinary expenses are all factors that need to be taken into account.
Rescues & Shelters
Rescuing a dog is another option. Unfortunately, many dog lovers get Aussies simply because they are so gorgeous. But not realizing just how much attention, training, and exercise they need. As such, there are quite a few dogs in rescue shelters. But, this makes it an all the more important consideration.
Head out to your local rescue shelters and speak to the staff who will be more than happy to assist you in your search. There are also dedicated breed shelters across the country that focus on rehoming these beautiful pups if you have no luck there. The Australian Shepherd Club of America and Australian Shepherd Rescue are great websites to kickstart your search.
When looking at rescues, try to keep an open mind. There may be a mixed breed with Aussie genes that you absolutely fall in love with. Rescue dogs are cheaper, and allow you to save a life at the same time.
As Family Pets
- This is a very active dog breed, so plan accordingly.
- They need at least 60 to 90 minutes of exercise each day.
- This is a highly intelligent breed, needing consistent mental stimulation.
- They can be cuddly dogs once their energy has been burned off.
- The Aussie hates to be left alone and can suffer from separation anxiety.
- They are aloof with strangers and will bark at visitors.
- Their high energy level means playtime with small kids should be monitored.
- This breed ideally need a home with a yard to roam and play.
- They are highly intelligent and trainable, but also independent and stubborn.
- It’s not uncommon for them to try to herd small kids in the home.
- Stop herding behavior early to prevent behavioral issues as they age.
From Europe to Australia, all the way to America, this breed is a big hit. The Australian Shepherd is a flamboyant dog with a stout personality. They are fun, great looking dogs, and they typically know it! But this is all a part of their charm, and it’s loved by many owners across the world.
You’ve got to be the right family to welcome one into your home. They need company, lots of exercise, and lots of training and direction in order to be a happy pup. Without it, he can be a nightmare. But if you can provide them this, you can be sure to find a best friend in this wonderful dog breed.