Despite their name, the Australian Shepherd probably originated in the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France and then they were brought to Australia – and then to America – by Basque Shepherds in the 1800s. The breed is known for being intelligent and versatile as well as very energetic.

 

History

The Australian Shepherd is something of a world traveler. Despite their name, the breed as its known today was developed in the United States, though it originated in Europe. There are a number of herding breeds in the Pyrenees region of Spain and France and these dogs probably contributed to the early gene pool. Dogs were brought along to Australia with Basque immigrants in the 19th century. Later, these Basque shepherds immigrated to the United States and brought their dogs with them. The name “Australian Shepherd” stuck, although the breed had a number of other names through the years such as Spanish Shepherd, Pastor Dog, Bob-Tail, Blue Heeler, New Mexican Shepherd, and California Shepherd. Because of their herding ability and versatility, the breed proved to be an asset on farms and ranches, especially in the western U.S. They became especially popular after World War II when Western riding became popular through rodeos, movies, and TV shows. The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1991. The kennel club in Australia does not recognize the breed as a native breed.

 

Today the Aussie is still used by ranchers for herding livestock and working as an all-purpose farm and ranch dog.

 

Temperament

Australian Shepherds are described as animated, adaptable and agile and they live to have a job to do. They love to work which, in their case, means herding. These dogs needs lots of activity and they generally need a purpose in order to feel happy. They are very intelligent, versatile dogs but they are usually not happy if they are left home alone all day with nothing to do. They have strong herding and guarding instincts and they need a job. They also require vigorous daily exercise. Simply taking an Aussie for a walk a few times a day will not be sufficient.

 

Australian Shepherds love to be with their families but they can be reserved with strangers as you would expect with a dog who is able to guard the farm. Some dogs “smile” by showing their teeth. They are very loving, loyal dogs to their owners. They tend to form very close, intense bonds with one or two people. Aussies are usually playful at home. Since they are very intelligent dogs, they learn quickly and they are usually easy to train. However, if they are left alone or not trained, they can become destructive and get into trouble. This is also true if they don’t get enough exercise. They love to learn tricks and perform. They usually get along well with other dogs and other pets and they are good with children, although they may try to herd other pets and kids.

 

Appearance

Aussies are medium-sized, solidly-built dogs. Male Australian Shepherds are 20-23 inches tall and females are 18-21 inches tall. Males usually weigh 50-65 pounds and females weigh 30-45 pounds. The breed is somewhat distinctive for the fact that many dogs are born with a naturally bobbed tail. Historically, tails have always been docked in the breed and they still are in the United States. Eyes can be brown, blue, amber or any variation or combination thereof, including flecks and marbling. The coat is of medium texture, straight to wavy, weather resistant and of medium length. Aussies come in a variety of colors: black, blue merle, red merle and red with or without white markings.

 

Health

According to the United States Australian Shepherd Association, the AKC parent club for the breed, the most common health problems found in Aussies are hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, hereditary eye defects, MDR1 [Multi-drug sensitivity], thyroid disease, cancer, and epilepsy. The club encourages testing for these issues where tests exist. There is ongoing research into many of these issues in the breed. http://australianshepherds.org/health-genetics/usasa-health-genetics-program/

 

There is some discrepancy about how long Aussies live. Some owners report dogs that live 12-15 years on average. Small Internet samples asking about the longevity of the dogs have found lifespans between 11-13 years.

 

One issue that does occur in the breed is the merle allele. Merle is the mingled or patchwork coat pattern. When two merle dogs are bred together the resultant offspring have a 25 percent statistical chance of having two copies of the merle allele. Such puppies are more likely to be deaf or blind. For this reason, many breeders avoid merle to merle breedings.

 

Training

Aussies are considered to be very easy to train. They have natural herding ability so if you’re interested in a herding/working dog, you should find your dog to be easy to train. According to experts, Aussies are a loose to medium-eyed dog in the way they work stock – “eyed” referring to the way they control other animals with their gaze. They do not stare at the animals as intensely as some other dogs.

 

But Australian Shepherds are very versatile and they can learn to do many things. They have been used as guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf, therapy dogs, narcotics detection dogs, and search and rescue dogs, for example. They also excel at sports such as agility, flyball, and frisbee.

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