Australian Shepherd

Breed At A Glance

Classification
Herding

Personality
Easy-going, playful and loyal (working lines are more wary)

Life Expectancy
12-13 years

Average Height
18-23 inches

Average Weight
40-65 lbs

Coat Color
Varies

Coat Length/Texture
Medium length and straight or wavy, with undercoat

Shedding Propensity
Average

Also known as Aussie

General Temperament

The Australian Shepherd is a loving and playful breed. They are easy-going, loyal and affectionate. Aussies are good with children, especially active children who will give them lots of play time. They are generally quiet when at work and inside the home, although they are a protective breed that can be very wary of strangers, so be sure to socialize them thoroughly from puppyhood. Typically this breed is not aggressive towards dogs or other household pets.

The Aussie’s intelligence and willingness to learn and work with a handler makes them highly trainable. In addition to being excellent herders, they often succeed in obedience and field trials, as well as dog sports such as flyball, agility and Frisbee. Without focused activities, whether play or work, Australia Shepherds will find other ways to keep themselves busy. Owners often mistake this behavior for hyperactivity: the dog may suddenly go from rest to running several laps around the house at top-speed for no apparent reason. They can also become destructive without proper attention from their family or their “shepherd figure.”

Aussies from working lines often require more exercise than those bred for companionship, and can be somewhat reserved with family members. This can make life as a companion pet difficult for everyone involved. They tend to be much more focused on guarding and herding, sometimes attempting to herd people by nipping at their heels if not well socialized and trained. These protective instincts can be frightening to children. When purchasing an Australian Shepherd, be sure to locate one that suits your lifestyle.

Given it’s need for activity and exercise, the Australian Shepherd is not recommended for apartment life.

Breed History

Despite it’s name, the Australian Shepherd is not from Australia at all. The breed as we know it was entirely developed within the United States. When Basque shepherds traveled to the U.S. from Australia in the 19th century, they brought a hearty herding dog with them; thus the dog was termed the Australian Shepherd, although it most likely originated in the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France. Once in the U.S., the dog was likely mixed with existing collie stock, and possibly other herding breeds. When Western-style horse riding became a popular media subject after World War II, the Aussie enjoyed a surge of popularity as well, making appearances in television, films, and horse shows and rodeos. During this time, it maintained it’s usefulness as a herding breed on farms and ranches.

The Australian Shepherd was accepted into the American Kennel Club as a part of the herding group in 1993.

Body Structure and Composition

The Australian Shepherd is a well-balanced dog, with a level topline and oval feet. The head is flat or slightly domed and the muzzle is approximately the same length as the skull. The triangular ears set high on the head are carried folded forward, but break forward and over or to the side when the dog is at attention. The tail is naturally bobbed or in other cases docked, although tail docking is now illegal in many countries. Aussies are an agile breed with with a smooth and easy gait.

Coloration varies widely in this breed. Unlike most other breeds, an Aussie’s eyes can be almost any color, including flecks or marbling of multiple colors. Fur color can be blue merle, black, red merle, or red, and all can have white markings and/or tan or copper points. Nose color can also vary: black on the blue merles or blacks, and liver on the reds or red merles (the same coloration pattern occurs in the lips).

Medical Information

Unfortunately, the Australian Shepherd is plagued with many hereditary diseases.

The Aussie as a breed is afflicted with many eye problems, such as cataracts, Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), and Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA). PRA leads to degeneration of the retina and eventual loss of sight, usually beginning with night vision. CEA is a congenital, inherited eye disease occasionally affecting the Australian Shepherd, and is sometimes mistaken for conjunctivitis. Iris Coloboma, or a hole in the iris, can be present from birth and, depending on the size of the hole, can either severely affect vision or barely affect it at all.

Selective breeding is extremely important with the Australian Shepherd, as mating indiscriminately can have disastrous results. The same gene that allows for the coveted merle coloration (both red and blue) can also carry blindness or deafness, primarily when two merles are mated together. Crosses of individuals with naturally bobbed tails to each other can result in offspring with severe spinal defects. Reds and Red Merles can suffer from sunburn, and nasal solar dermatitis (also known as “Collie nose”) can be a problem for any Aussie with little to no pigment in the skin on their faces, particularly exposed areas like the nose and lips. When this occurs, the dog can develop lesions or ulcers that can cause variable discomfort, from mild irritation to severe hemorrhaging lesions.

There is a relatively high incidence of Pelger-Huet Anomaly (PHA) in Australian Shepherds. PHA is an inherited blood condition in which the nuclei of several types of white blood cells have unusual shape and structure. This disease is a problem more for breeders than for potential owners, since pups who receive the gene from both parents will either be reabsorbed in-utero, stillborn, or will die shortly after birth. Aussies who receive the gene from only one parent (known as an “incomplete dominant”) will most likely be completely healthy, but breeders are wise to having their stock checked for this gene before breeding.

Other medical concerns for the Australian Shepherd that occur with less frequency than those listed above include Hip Dysplasia, Hypothyroidism, and epilepsy (recurring seizures). Hip Dysplasia is a condition that occurs when the head of the thigh bone no longer fits firmly in the “cup” provided by the hip socket, causing lameness and arthritis-like symptoms. Hypothyroidism is characterized by underactivity of the thyroid gland causing lethargy, weight gain, skin infection and hair loss, cold intolerance, chronic ear infections or severe behavioral changes.

Australian Shepherds should only be bathed when absolutely necessary to avoid removing the necessary oils from the dog’s skin.

Anecdotal Information

Like many working breeds, the Australian Shepherd has gone by many names throughout it’s history, such as Spanish Shepherd, Pastor Dog, Bob-Tail, Blue Heeler, New Mexican Shepherd, and California Shepherd.

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