Australian Shepherd, or Aussie, is not from Australia but instead is a native of the American West. When gold miners flocked to the American West in the 1800s, food became scarce and sheep were imported from Australia. Basque sheep herders managed these flocks and brought their dogs to assist them.
Although the true origin of the name is unknown, most breed experts assume that people thought the dogs came with the flocks of sheep, hence, Australian Shepherd. The dogs became very popular with western ranchers and farmers; they were versatile, hardy, and able to master any job required of them. Jay Sisler, a rodeo performer, brought the breed to the public’s attention in the 1950s when his Aussies performed amazing tricks at rodeo performances.
Australian Shepherds are medium-sized dogs, with males standing 20 to 23 inches tall at the shoulder and females slightly less. Aussies are quick, athletic, and agile and can work all day. An Aussie’s expression is very intelligent, bright and alert, with eyes that can be brown, amber, blue, or any variation or combination.
The Australian Shepherd coat is mediumlength, straight to wavy, with an undercoat. The coat can be black, red, blue merle, or red merle, all with or without copper and white points. (The merle color is patches of darker color on a lighter, but not white, background.) The breed has a docked or naturally bobbed tail.
Grooming an Australian Shepherd takes only a little time. The coat requires brushing at least twice weekly—more during the spring and fall when shedding is heaviest. Tangles can form in the soft coat behind the ears or in the pantaloons (the hair on the back of the rear legs). The coat requires no trimming. A breed developed to work hard, the Aussie needs vigorous daily exercise. A run alongside a bicycle, a jog with you, a game of flying disc, or a run through the agility course can all be part of the breed’s daily routine. Aussies also need a job, whether it’s herding sheep, keeping track of the family children, bringing in the morning paper, or learning tricks; Aussies need to be needed. Without exercise and a job to do, Aussies will find something to amuse themselves. Because of this trait, Aussies rarely do well in a home where they are alone for many hours each day.
The socialization of a puppy kindergarten class is important for Australian Shepherd puppies, as they are naturally reserved with strangers. As puppies, Aussies need to meet people of all ages, sizes, and ethnic backgrounds. Continuing training after puppy class is vital to challenge the Aussie’s mind and to teach household rules and good social behavior.
Australian Shepherds are excellent watchdogs, although once you’re a friend, you will always be recognized and greeted with exuberance. Aussie owners will never find a more loyal companion. Australian Shepherds can be great with children, although Australian Shepherd puppies can be quite exuberant and need to be taught how to behave. Many children get frustrated, though, with the breed’s tendency to herd (or circle) kids, trying to keep the kids in one spot as they would sheep.
The breed is usually very good with other pets, although the herding instinct can be quite strong and cats rarely enjoy being herded. Major health concerns include eye disorders, hip dysplasia, and seizure disorders.