The Australian Shepherd (History and Explaination)
The Australian Shepherd is not really an Australian breed, but came to America by way of Australia.
During the 1800s the Basque people of Europe settled in Australia, bringing with them their sheep and sheepdogs. Shortly thereafter, many of these shepherds relocated to the western United States, again, complete with dogs and sheep. American shepherds naturally dubbed their dogs “Australian Shepherds“, since that was their immediate past residence. Some legends claim that the dogs offered their masters protection from some of the Indian tribes, who held a certain reverence for them because of their often blue eyes. The rugged area of Australia and western America placed demands on the herding dogs that they had not faced in Europe, but through various crosses and rigorous selection for working ability the Basque dog soon adapted and excelled under these harsh conditions.
The breed kept a low profile until the 1950s, when they were featured in a popular trick-dog act that performed in rodeos and was featured in film.
Many of these dogs, owned by Jay Sisler, can be found in the pedigrees of today’s Aussies. A club was formed in 1957, and the first Aussies were registered with the National Stock Dog Registry. In the midst of some controversy, the AKC recognized the Australian Shepherd in 1993. It quickly became a successful show dog. Its popularity according to AKC statistics vastly underestimates the popularity of this breed as a pet, as a large proportion of this working breed remains unregistered with the AKC.
Form and Function
This is an athletic dog of medium size and bone, lithe, agile, and slightly longer than tall. It is muscular and powerful enough to work all day, without sacrificing speed and agility necessary to cope with bolting sheep. The gait is free and easy, and the dog must be able to change direction or speed instantly to manage a flock. The coat is weather resistant and double, with the outer coat of medium texture and length, straight to wavy, and the undercoat varying in quantity according to climate. An Aussie’s expression is keen, intelligent, and eager.
The Australian Shepherd is bold, alert, confident, independent, smart, and responsive. It has the stamina to herd all day, and the brains to outsmart a flock of uncooperative sheep. If this breed doesn’t get a chance to exercise and challenge the strongly developed mental and physical activities, the dog is apt to become frustrated and difficult to live with daily. With proper exercise, An Aussie is a loyal, utterly devoted and obedient companion. They often are reserved with strangers. Australian Shepherds may try to herd children and small animals and display natural herding instincts which can include nipping as they are bred to do with stock. Dogs from working strains are more energetic and more difficult to keep as non-working pets.
This is a breed that is happiest when it has a job to do. This breed needs a good, strenuous workout every day, preferably combining both physical and mental challenges. The coat needs brushing or combing one to two times weekly.
- Eyes color is brown, blue, amber, or any combination Head: moderate well-defined stop
- Ears are triangular, set high; at attention they break forward and over, or to the side
- Topline straight, strong, level, feet are oval
- Tail docked or natural bob
- Ht: M: 20-23″; F: 18-21″ / Wt: 40-75 lbs.
- Colors: blue merle, black, red merle, or red, all with or without white and/or tan trim.
- Major concerns: CEA (Collie Eye Anomoly), hip dysplasia
- Life span: 12-14 years
- Note: Often sensitive to ivermectin (the ingredient in HeartGuard), Intercepter is recommend for heartworm prevention. Merles should not be bred to merles because a homozygous merle is lethal or detrimental to health (deafness, blindness, internal organ problems). Can be identified by having excessive white (outside of trim area), especially around ears and eyes.(See Resources for a link to the Australian Shepherd Genetics (ASHGI))
At a Glance
- Energy level: High
- Exercise Requirements: Very High
- Playfulness: Very High
- Affection level: High
- Good with children: Medium High
- Friendliness toward dogs: Medium High
- Friendliness toward other pets: Medium High
- Friendliness toward strangers: Medium Low
- Ease of training: Very High
- Watchdog ability: Very High
- Protection ability: Medium High
- Grooming requirements: Medium
- Heat tolerance: Medium
- Cold tolerance: Medium High
Some of the above information can be located within the “Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) Australian Shepherd Breed Standard“.
Aussie Times May-June 2009: 76.