When talking about active dog breeds, there’s one pooch you simply can’t overlook: the Australian Shepherd. In this Dog Breed Corner, learn all about one of the world’s most dependable working dogs! Does your Australian Shepherd need a Dog Sitter in Canberra, Adelaide, or anywhere else in the country? Mad Paws can connect you with an active Sitter to give your Shepherd the workout they need!
Quick Facts ✔
Height – 46 – 58cm
Weight – 20 – 29kg
Lifespan – 12 – 15 years
Country of origin – United States of America
Breed type – Herding Group
- Very active families
- Households with outdoor space
- Owners interested in a working dog
Australian Shepherd Breed History ♜
Australian Shepherds are a wonderful breed that we would be proud to call our own. The problem is, they’re not actually Australian! That’s right – the Australian Shepherd is…American.
How are we to understand this?
There are two common theories about how this breed got started. Both of them suggest that the Australian Shepherd was an integral part of cowboy culture in the rugged, lawless landscape of the Wild West. It all started in the 1850s, when cowboys and gold miners were starting their new lives in California.
The first theory is that the rumours of a better life in the Wild West reached Basque farmers all the way in the Pyrenees Mountains. These farmhands packed up their things and boarded a ship to set sail to California. With them were some of Europe’s best shepherding dogs. It may be that these settlers went first to work in Australia before boarding ship for the Western US. Because they had stopped off for a time in Australia, they were able to add some Australian breeds, such as the Australian Cattle Dog, to their own shepherding dogs. Then, once the crew reached California, the locals mistook them for Australian dogs.
The other theory is that the sheep themselves were Australian. As such, it would make sense that the dogs who herded the Australian sheep may mistakenly be called Australian Shepherds.
No matter the true story, Australian Shepherds are as Old West as Quarter Horses and cowboy hats. They did exceptionally well in the high mountain ranges of the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains, where their thick coat and nimble feet gave them special advantages in the rough and cold terrain. Interestingly, some Australian Shepherds are born with a naturally bobbed tail. For the majority born with a long tail, ranchers would make sure to dock them to prevent injury on the job.
During this time, Australian Shepherds tested out a few different names – Spanish Shepherds (which probably would have been more accurate), Blues, Blue Heelers (which was already taken by Australian Cattle Dogs), Californian Sheepdogs, and Pastor Dogs, among others. In the end, the name of Australian Shepherd stuck, and they went down in cowboy history.
In 1992, the Australian Shepherd was formally recognised by the American Kennel Club. Today, you can still find them alongside ranchers all over the world. They have also been used as drug sniffing dogs and search-and-rescue dogs. The vast majority, of course, find themselves in the role of family dog, enjoying a life of luxury at home.
There are even miniature versions of Australian Shepherds today. You can find Australian Shepherds in standard size, miniature, and toy! All three are pretty similar in personality.
Australian Shepherd Personality Traits ★
If the Aussie Shepherd was bred in the Wild West, you can assume they’ve got a personality to match. Independent, intelligent, confident, and even wily, the Australian Shepherd knows how to earn its place in the pack.
This is a dog that will naturally gravitate towards a more controlling position in the household, which is why they may not be ideal for all families. Because of their strong work ethic and herding instinct, their main goal is to keep everyone in line, especially children and other animals. Even when they’re not actively involved in whatever you and the family is doing, an Australian Shepherd never takes their eyes off their loved ones. Those piercing blue eyes (sometimes brown or one of each – more on that later!) are striking at first, but you’ll get used to your doggo’s endless love stare!
And when an Aussie Shepherd puts its mind to something? Well, that’s when you’ll see their persistent nature and problem-solving skills shine. Whether it’s breaking into the food pantry for a treat or breaking out of the house to get closer to their beloved humans, an Australian Shepherd will surprise you with their smart solutions.
That’s not to say that the Australian Shepherd can’t be a wonderful family pet. But, they do need early and consistent training, as well as plenty of appropriate outlets for their working drive.
With all the basics, like proper socialisation, consistent training, and enough exercise, Australian Shepherds are some of the most fun doggos to have around. They’re playful and bright. Engaged and adorable. And they will absolutely cuddle their way into your heart.
Australian Shepherd Exercise Needs
An Aussie Shepherd’s exercise needs? We could just say “endless” and leave it at that.
This is a dog that seems to pull from a bottomless well of energy. They can run and jump and play all day long and still perk up at the mention of a walk or a game of fetch.
As a Pet Owner, it will take time to find the right amount of daily exercise for your Australian Shepherd. We say that because Aussie Shepherds don’t come with a fuel gauge that tells you when they’re tired. Other dogs will simply stop chasing the ball when they’ve reached their limit. The Australian Shepherd, on the other hand, will just keep going. So how do you know when enough is enough?
The key is trial and error. When an Australian Shepherd doesn’t get enough exercise, you’ll know. Aussie Shepherds can get pretty destructive and high maintenance when they’re bored and under-exercised. Take it as a sign to up their activity levels. On the other hand, if your Australian Shepherd is overtired at the end of the day, lighten up a bit.
Over time, you’ll find the right balance that will keep your Australian Shepherd healthy and satisfied, while also saving you from the overwhelming tasks of dealing with a wound-up pup. Make sure that you call in an energetic Dog Walker to help your Aussie Shepherd burn some calories while you’re away!
Trainability and Training Tips
As important as regular exercise is for an Australian Shepherd, training is equally necessary. Not only will it allow you to keep your Aussie Shepherd in check – this is, after all, a large dog – but it will also provide your doggo with the mental stimulation that they need to be happy. Keep in mind, working dogs were not just built for power and endurance. They were also carefully selected for independent thinking and problem solving. And the best way to recreate that perfect environment in a family setting is with fun and interesting training.
To start, make sure that you spend time teaching your Australian Shepherds the basics. They should know their name, come when called, sit and stay on command, and leave or drop objects at your direction. These are the fundamentals that are necessary for your doggo’s safety and the safety of everyone around them. And, because they’re all commands that any Australian Shepherd would learn first in the line of work, you’ll be amazed at how quickly they catch on.
From there, you can continue to bond with your Australian Shepherd by exploring increasingly more complicated commands. Think about all of the tricks and games that you would consider teaching your pet, and then make them more difficult. Your Aussie Shepherd will love you for it.
Consider the game of fetch, for instance. Yes, your Australian Shepherd will chase a ball for hours on end and be happy as can be. However, you can increase the difficulty by adding layers. Instead of throwing their toy and asking them to retrieve it, have your Australian Shepherd sit and wait while you hide their toy. Then, they’ll have the fun challenge of sniffing it out and bringing it back to you. Or you might teach your Australian Shepherd to differentiate between multiple toys and ask them to retrieve a specific one. What we love about these variations is that they mentally and physically tire out your Aussie Shepherd so that you have a cuddly fluffball at the end of the day.
One thing you should know about the Australian Shepherd is that although this breed was developed in the rough and tumble Wild West, they’re sensitive doggos. Harsh training tactics will make your Australian Shepherd shy away from learning new things. So, keep it fun and entertaining, and your Australian Shepherd will rise to the occasion.
Need some interesting treats for your training sessions? Take a look at our healthy dog treat recipes!
Because Australian Shepherds come in a variety of sizes, you can find one that will fit right into your living arrangement. That said, even the Toy Australian Shepherds need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation, so no version should be considered a low maintenance dog.
Large outdoor spaces are ideal for Australian Shepherds, although they are so people-oriented that they should never be left to live outside. In fact, anytime your Aussie Shepherd is outside, they shouldn’t be left alone. This is a wily dog that will find ways to stave off boredom, whether that means digging up your flower bed or burrowing into the neighbour’s yard. If you’ve got an escape artist on your hands, you may also consider learning How to Install a Dog Proof Fence for your Australian Shepherd.
Inside, it’s a good idea to reinforce door knobs and cabinets. Otherwise, you may come home to an empty bag of dog food, or whatever else your Aussie Shepherd found.
Clearly, Australian Shepherds can be a bit destructive in their living conditions. There are a few solutions – in addition to sufficient exercise, of course. One option could be to leave your Australian Shepherd with plenty of fun games and puzzles. Another great option is to call in a trusted Dog Walker to play with your pup while you’re away.
Australian Shepherd Health +
Similar to other large, active dogs, Australian Shepherds can suffer from the following health issues:
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
- Patellar luxation
Australian Shepherds may also be at risk for Epilepsy, various eye conditions including Collie Eye Anomaly, and a neurological disorder called Border Collie Collapse. Some Australian Shepherds also suffer from Multiple Drug Sensitivity.
In order to ensure that your Australian Shepherd is healthy, always make sure to adopt from a responsible source. Proper nutrition and regular vet checkups are also a great way to keep your Aussie Shepherd on the up and up.
Australian Shepherd Grooming ✄
The first thing you’ll notice about an Australian Shepherd is probably that big fluffy coat – well, maybe after you look past those bright blue eyes. As you can imagine, a coat like that does require a bit of care.
Regular brushing is the best way to keep your household from being overrun by Aussie Shepherd hair. And during the seasons when your Australian Shepherd sheds more than usual, you’ll definitely want to make brushing a daily habit. Otherwise, two or three times per week is plenty.
Make sure to invest in a slicker brush or long toothed comb to loosen any knots or tangles. Then, a grooming rake will do an excellent job of removing loose fur from the undercoat. Some Aussie Shepherd owners opt to thin out the fur around the trousers and neck with thinning shears.
When it comes to bathing, once every three or four months is recommended for this breed. To round out your grooming routine, you’ll want to accustom your Australian Shepherd to regular teeth brushing and ear checks.
Fun Fact ♥
In addition to all of the amazing facts we’ve already shared about the Australian Shepherd, there’s one more science-y one that we just can’t turn a blind eye to:
This interesting genetic trait gives dogs (and other animal species, for that matter) different coloured eyes. Australian Shepherds, along with some other breeds like Dalmatians and Siberian Huskies, are more likely to be born with heterochromia.
There are a lot of myths floating around about whether heterochromia can negatively affect a doggo’s health. But the science community says that most cases of heterochromia are the simple result of a genetic blip. Nothing to worry about!
Final Thoughts on the Australian Shepherd
The Australian Shepherd is the ultimate canine companion. Way back in the beginning, they proved themselves to be hardy and hard-working doggos, and today, they’ll wow you with their intelligence and dazzling personality.
This is a breed that requires a lot from their Owners: exercise, playtime, training, tolerance for dog shedding, and maybe even child locks on the kitchen cabinets. But, if you’re able to put in the time and effort into caring for an Australian Shepherd, this is a dog that you’ll want to have at your side at all times. They’re loving and dedicated, and they’ll keep a smile on your face.
This is such an amazing doggo that we wish we could claim it as truly Australian. But even if the breed was developed on another continent, we’ll gladly welcome these special doggos with open arms.