Despite its name, the modern Australian Shepherd was actually developed in the western United States by ranchers and sheepherders. It has been known by many names, including the Spanish Shepherd, Pastor Dog, Bob-Tail, Blue Heeler, New Mexican Shepherd and California Shepherd. Today, it is typically called by its nickname, the "Aussie." This is an extremely sound-minded dog, so versatile that it can adapt to almost any situation or living condition. Aussies are loyal, friendly, affectionate, protective, active, brave, playful, sturdy and tireless. However, these qualities and traits, while endearing to their fanciers, make Australian Shepherds unsuitable for some households. They need a fenced yard and regular walks, always on leash. Their temptation to herd extends beyond livestock to other dogs, children and cars. If not exercised regularly, they can turn their intense energy to destructive tasks, such as chewing, digging and barking. According to the parent club, Aussies are quite capable of out-thinking their owners. They are naturally wary of strangers, and some Australian Shepherds never learn to accept new people. Naturally protective, they can become aggressive if not raised and socialized properly.
Australian Shepherds were entered into the American Kennel Club stud book in 1991, and they were fully recognized as members of the Herding Group in January of 1993. This breed is not registered in Australia as a native breed.
Aussies are naturally bobtailed, wavy-coated sheepdogs. The mature male should be 20 to 23 inches at the withers, with females being 18 to 21 inches at the withers. They typically weigh between 35 and 65 pounds. Their double coat can be straight to wavy and is medium in length. Aussies can be blue merle, black, red merle or red – all with or without white markings and/or tan/copper points. Their coat patterns are unique and can be quite variable.
This breed probably originated in the Basque region of the Pyrenees Mountains, between Spain and France. However, it was named because of its association with shepherds who came to the United States from Australia in the 1800s. While in Australia, Pyrenean Sheep Dogs probably were crossed with various types of Collies. Then, they were brought with herds of sheep to the United States – primarily, to California - in the mid- to late- 19th century. They were developed by American ranchers as sound, stable stockdogs with an honest work ethic and tremendous endurance and trainability. They commonly were used to move huge herds of sheep and cattle between summer and winter grazing grounds. They especially excelled at managing livestock in tight quarters, such as alleys and chutes. In America, the Australian Shepherd's popularity rose with the popularity in Western horsemanship after World War II. The breed became well-known through appearances in rodeos, horse shows, television programs and movies. Despite this surge in popularity among companion owners, American ranchers continued to use and breed these talented dogs for their inherent herding instincts, versatility and keen intelligence.
Aussies are highly competitive in obedience, agility, utility and other performance disciplines, as well as quite recently in the conformation show ring. They are used as working ranch dogs, guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf, therapy dogs, drug detectors, show dogs and search-and-rescue stars. They are perhaps best known as affectionate family companions. The Australian Shepherd Club of America became the parent club for the breed in 1957. Australian Shepherds were entered into the American Kennel Club stud book in 1991, and they were fully recognized as members of the Herding Group in January of 1993.
The average life span of the Australian Shepherd is 12 to 15 years. Breed health concerns may include allergies, autoimmune diseases, cancer, cataracts, congenital deafness, cryptorchidism, Collie eye anomaly, corneal dystrophy, dental problems, epilepsy, hip dysplasia, iris coloboma, osteochondritis dissecans, patellar luxation, patent ductus arteriosus and persistent papillary membrane. But overall, this is a sound, healthy breed.
Personality traits of the Australian Shepherd vary from dog to dog. Some can be outgoing and friendly, while others are shy and reserved. Regardless of the individual dog's personality, a few things remain constant. Aussies are highly intelligent, loyal, and thrive on human companionship. Aussies are at their best when they are engaged in interaction with a person, whether it be walking, running, or fetching; and are the perfect companion for an active family.
Australian Shepherds need a lot of physical activity. They are a working breed, so they thrive on learning new tasks and engaging in those tasks as often as possible. Families who are active outdoors will benefit from the company of an Aussie. They are incredibly agile and enjoy games like fetch and catching a frisbee. Apartment dwellers should be cautioned against adopting an Australian Shepherd. Though they are medium in size, they require a lot of exercise and stimulation, and if they don't get it, can become destructive or develop separation anxiety.
One of the most intelligent breeds, Australian Shepherds can be trained to do just about any task put before them. A firm hand is not needed to train this breed; positive reinforcement works just fine. They are a people-pleasing breed and quickly learn behaviors that are consistently rewarded with praise, or a small treat. Aussies excel in simple obedience training, and once they have mastered the basics should be enrolled in an advanced course, or more appropriately, agility training.
Training should begin early with Aussies, as their herding instinct can take over and cause havoc. Without setting proper boundaries with this breed, they can try to herd other pets or even children. They should also be socialized as early as possible, as they have a tendency to be standoffish or even aggressive to strangers.
Australian Shepherds crave human companionship and love being included in all family activity. The flip side to this is that they can easily develop separation anxiety or barking behaviors. Early training, plenty of exercise and mental activity can keep these problems from developing.
Their herding nature can cause Aussies to be chasers or nippers. They will chase birds, rabbits, cats, bikes, and even cars. Australian Shepherds should be closely supervised if not on a leash, or in a fenced yard, to avoid potentially dangerous situations.
The Australian Shepherd is an intelligent working dog of strong herding and guarding instincts. He is a loyal companion and has the stamina to work all day. He is well balanced, slightly longer than tall, of medium size and bone, with coloring that offers variety and individuality. He is attentive and animated, lithe and agile, solid and muscular without cloddiness. He has a coat of moderate length and coarseness. He has a docked or natural bobbed tail.
Size, Proportion, Substance
Size--The preferred height for males is 20-23 inches, females 18-21 inches. Quality is not to be sacrificed in favor of size. Proportion--Measuring from the breastbone to rear of thigh and from top of the withers to the ground the Australian Shepherd is slightly longer than tall. Substance--Solidly built with moderate bone. Structure in the male reflects masculinity without coarseness. Bitches appear feminine without being slight of bone.
The Head is clean cut, strong and dry. Overall size should be in proportion to the body. The muzzle is equal in length or slightly shorter than the back skull. Viewed from the side the topline of the back skull and muzzle form parallel planes, divided by a moderate, well-defined stop. The muzzle tapers little from base to nose and is rounded at the tip. Expression --Showing attentiveness and intelligence, alert and eager. Gaze should be keen but friendly. Eyes are brown, blue, amber or any variation or combination thereof, including flecks and marbling. Almond shaped, not protruding nor sunken. The blue merles and blacks have black pigmentation on eye rims. The red merles and reds have liver (brown) pigmentation on eye rims. Ears are triangular, of moderate size and leather, set high on the head. At full attention they break forward and over, or to the side as a rose ear. Prick ears and hanging ears are severe faults. Skull Top flat to slightly domed. It may show a slight occipital protuberance. Length and width are equal. Moderate well-defined stop. Muzzle tapers little from base to nose and is rounded at the tip. Nose--Blue merles and blacks have black pigmentation on the nose (and lips). Red merles and reds have liver (brown) pigmentation on the nose (and lips). On the merles it is permissible to have small pink spots; however, they should not exceed 25% of the nose on dogs over one year of age, which is a serious fault. Teeth--A full complement of strong white teeth should meet in a scissors bite or may meet in a level bite. Disqualifications--Undershot. Overshot greater than 1/8 inch. Loss of contact caused by short center incisors in an otherwise correct bite shall not be judged undershot. Teeth broken or missing by accident shall not be penalized.
Neck, Topline, Body
Neck is strong, of moderate length, slightly arched at the crest, fitting well into the shoulders. Topline--Back is straight and strong, level and firm from withers to hip joints. The croup is moderately sloped. Chest is not broad but is deep with the lowest point reaching the elbow. The ribs are well sprung and long, neither barrel chested nor slab-sided. The underline shows a moderate tuck-up. Tail is straight, docked or naturally bobbed, not to exceed four inches in length.
Shoulders--Shoulder blades are long, flat, fairly close set at the withers and well laid back. The upper arm, which should be relatively the same length as the shoulder blade, attaches at an approximate right angle to the shoulder line with forelegs dropping straight, perpendicular to the ground. Legs straight and strong. Bone is strong, oval rather than round. Pastern is medium length and very slightly sloped. Front dewclaws may be removed. Feet are oval, compact with close knit, well arched toes. Pads are thick and resilient.
The width of the hindquarters is equal to the width of the forequarters at the shoulders. The angulation of the pelvis and upper thigh corresponds to the angulation of the shoulder blade and upper arm, forming an approximate right angle. Stifles are clearly defined, hock joints moderately bent. The hocks are short, perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other when viewed from the rear. Rear dewclaws must be removed. Feet are oval, compact with close knit, well arched toes. Pads are thick and resilient.
Hair is of medium texture, straight to wavy, weather resistant and of medium length. The undercoat varies in quantity with variations in climate. Hair is short and smooth on the head, ears, front of forelegs and below the hocks. Backs of forelegs and britches are moderately feathered. There is a moderate mane and frill, more pronounced in dogs than in bitches. Non-typical coats are severe faults.
Blue merle, black, red merle, red-all with or without white markings and/or tan (copper) points, with no order of preference. The hairline of a white collar does not exceed the point of the withers at the skin. White is acceptable on the neck (either in part or as a full collar), chest, legs, muzzle underparts, blaze on head and white extension from underpart up to four inches, measuring from a horizontal line at the elbow. White on the head should not predominate, and the eyes must be fully surrounded by color and pigment. Merles characteristically become darker with increasing age. Disqualifications White body splashes, which means white on body between withers and tail, on sides between elbows and back of hindquarters in all colors.
The Australian Shepherd has a smooth, free and easy gait. He exhibits great agility of movement with a well-balanced, ground covering stride. Fore and hind legs move straight and parallel with the center line of the body. As speed increases, the feet (front and rear) converge toward the center line of gravity of the dog while the back remains firm and level. The Australian Shepherd must be agile and able to change direction or alter gait instantly.
The Australian Shepherd is an intelligent, active dog with an even disposition; he is good natured, seldom quarrelsome. He may be somewhat reserved in initial meetings. Faults Any display of shyness, fear or aggression is to be severely penalized.
Undershot. Overshot greater than 1/8 inch.
White body splashes, which means white on body between withers and tail, on sides between elbows and back of hindquarters in all colors.
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Sources: American Kennel Club