The Australian Shepherd– The Complete Guide

Australian Shepherds are by no means a new breed, and due to their dated origin story, there is much speculation about their lineage. These dogs were bred to be active and to help ease the burden of intensive labor required in farming.

Australian Shepherd lying down

Origins

What is an Australian Shepherd dog?

Funnily enough, the Australian Shepherds originated in the US, not in Australia. The original dogs that the Australian Shepherd originated from are the Pyrenees, which is a Basque region between France and Spain.

It is thought that Shepherds from Basque migrated to the US with small working dogs around the late 1800s or 1900s, where the dogs were bred with sheepdogs. A conflicting theory states that the dogs immigrated from Australia to the US.

Whatever you believe about their origin, the Australian Shepherds were undoubtedly established in the United States. The American Kennel Club recognized this breed in 1992. Other names that the Australian Shepherd is known for include Spanish Shepherd, Blues, Pastor dogs, Heelers, Bob-tails, New Mexican Sheepdog, and also Californian Sheepdog.

For this particular dog breed, the breeder’s main aim was to create a working-class dog, and they had no real interest in how the dog would look. [1]

Appearance

The Australian Shepherd is of medium height, with a non-muscular build. They have friendly, open faces, and they resemble the Border Collie to a great extent. Their ears stand erect with the tips of the ears drooping downwards in a distinctive way.

They have medium-sized eyes that are oval in shape and have a wide variety of colors like brown, black, blue, or amber. At times, their eyes can have heterochromia, which means that each eye has a different color.

Their muzzles are not very long, and they have a broad forehead with an overall rounded head. They do have “manes” which are more noticeable in males as compared to females.

Their tail is long and feathered and can be docked or undocked, which is up to the owner’s discretion. The American Kennel Club (AKC), however, suggests that tails longer than 4 inches should be docked.

They have a deep-set chest that is not unusually broad with straight front legs that appear to be perpendicular to the ground. They have rounded feet with arched toes, and it is recommended that dewclaws on the hind legs should be removed,  although the front ones can be left alone.

Size, Height, Weight

Australian Shepherds are considered to be medium-sized dogs, almost as long as they are tall. Their height ranges from 18 to 22 inches, with females generally being smaller than males. Their weight varies from 35 to 70 pounds, which ultimately depends on their diet and level of activity.

Coat and Color

Australian Shepherds have a very distinctive coat type, with long wavy hair that feathers both on the tail and the legs.

Their coat color varies from black, red, blue merle and red merle. Merle is a blotchy mixture of different colors that darkens as the Australian Shepherd ages.

One distinctive feature about the Australian Shepherds coloring is that they all have white markings on legs, chest, right below the muzzle, as well as on a patch on their forehead.

An Australian Shepherd’s coat is generally of normal texture and thought to be weather resistant, and this means they have more excellent resistance to cooler weather.

Their undercoat also shows considerable variation in terms of length and weather resistance. Generally, the undercoat is thought to adapt to whatever is suitable for the Australian Shepherd in a particular climate.

Australian Shepherd Standing up looking into the distance

Temperament

Australian Shepherds are among the friendliest dog breeds present. They are natural charmers, and their affinity for activity makes them excellent working dogs.

Are Australian Shepherds good pets?

There are a lot of merits for adopting an Australian Shepherd, some of which are listed below:

  • They are eager to please: Australian Shepherds are always invested in their owner’s impression of them. Given the proper incentives, they are willing to do anything for their owners.
  • They are friendly: Australian Shepherds are naturally social. They enjoy interactions with other people and do not react negatively to new people.
  • They are loyal: Like most dogs, they showcase a protective streak when it comes to their owners, and are faithful companions.
  • They are super intelligent: Australian Shepherds are quite talented. They can understand a lot of social cues. This, coupled with the fact that they are eager to please, means that they are incredibly easy to train.
  • They are naturally protective: Australian Shepherds are loyal guardians and friends as they want to provide their owners with the right level of protection.
  • They are gentle: Australian Shepherds may act aggressively towards any sheep they are herding, but they do not showcase any of this attitude with other people.
  • They are highly adaptable: Australian Shepherds may have been bred for open fields, but this does not necessarily mean that they will only thrive in homes with spacious yards. They can also thrive in apartments, provided they are given ample exercise throughout the day.
  • They are versatile: Australian dogs can be trained to be herding dogs or can take to performing in show rings and other performance-based dog contests. They enjoy both activities, as they love to be active and busy at all times.

To gain an insight into the whole picture, here are some of the negatives that can come with owning an Australian Shepherd.

  • They are vocal: As Australian Shepherds are essentially herding dogs, they tend to vocalize quite a bit. In order to lower the potential of their vocalization, it is essential to train them well while they are younger.
  • They can sometimes nip or bite: Australian Shepherds naturally nip at the heels of sheep when they are herding. If, however, they are being kept in a home environment, they can sometimes take to nipping at people, especially younger children. It is essential to establish that this behavior is not alright when the Australian Shepherd is still young.
  • They can be time-intensive: Australian Shepherds are very active by nature, which means a reasonable amount of time should be devoted to their exercise regimen.
  • They can be aggressive: If Australian Shepherds are not adequately stimulated, they can give in to their destructive tendencies and be disruptive.

Do Australian Shepherds bark a lot?

As Australian Shepherds are herding dogs, they do have the tendency to vocalize frequently. If they are not appropriately trained as puppies, they can cause quite a disturbance in their adulthood. If this tendency is not adequately controlled, it can mean that they could become unsuitable for apartment living.

Teaching an Australian not to vocalize starts from a young age, when their vocalizations seem harmless. Encouraging them when they are young can make them think that barking is the only way to get their owner’s attention. Therefore, owners should be careful about remaining consistent with their training, especially with regards to their vocalization.

Australian Shepherd Standing Up

Training

Fortunately, Australian Shepherds are thought to be relatively easy to train. One common mistake that is made with regard to exercise is that owners wait for the Australian Shepherd puppy to grow older before beginning their training.

Although it may be true that puppies have short attention spans, they are also the most open to picking up on the appropriate mannerisms. Habits like biting and vocalization are things that should be dealt with from a young age.

As Australian Shepherds are eager to please their owners, this means that they will thrive under positive affirmations. Therefore, care should be taken that training is done in a consistent and firm manner.

Health

Common Health Problems

Australian Shepherds are known to be reasonably healthy dogs. However, as with any dog, they are susceptible to specific genetic conditions. Some of the health issues that an Australian can suffer from include:

  • Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
  • Colobomas
  • Cataracts
  • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)
  • Collie Eye Anomaly
  • Multiple Drug Sensitivity (MDS)
  • Epilepsy

Hip or Elbow Dysplasia is a genetic condition that affects Australian Shepherds from a young age. In it, their hip and elbow joints are malformed and underdeveloped. If the case is severe, then the only possible cure for this condition is surgery.

People are urged to vet the breeders thoroughly they are buying their Australian Shepherd from, as reputable breeders take careful note of any genetic predisposition a puppy may have.

Australian Shepherds are also affected by a host of genetic eye conditions. Colobomas are a rare genetic condition in which a structural part of the eye is missing. In PRA, an Australian Shepherd can suffer from retinal degeneration, which ultimately results in blindness. For a genetic condition like PRA, there is no cure available.

Cataracts, especially if left untreated, can make the eyes of an Australian Shepherd milky, which occludes their vision to a debilitating extent. Eye surgery is the only cure for this particular affliction.

The Collie Eye Anomaly is the term coined for a number of conditions varying in severity, a genetic condition that affects a particular breed of dogs. In order to ensure that your puppy is not at risk for these diseases, breeders make use of the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF).

To further combat any potential eye issues, owners should get their puppy’s eyes checked once they are at least six weeks old. This can help add to the CERF database and can also help in diagnosing any potential health risks early on. Such trips to a veterinary ophthalmologist should be made on an annual basis.

Australian Shepherds are also among the dog breeds that are susceptible to MDS. In this particular condition, a dog can have a severe allergic reaction to some common veterinary drugs.

The best way to ensure this issue does not occur is to screen both the parents as well as the puppy at a young age. The screening process is relatively simple, as it only requires a cheek swab.

Epilepsy is another ailment that is commonly found in Australian Shepherds. This particular genetic condition has no cure, so screening your puppy’s lineage should be your top priority. [2]

Life Expectancy

Despite the potential health concerns, Australian Shepherds have a life expectancy of 12-15 years. Their life expectancy can suffer drastically if they are obese or have any of the aforementioned health issues.

Australian Shepherd Running

How to Care for an Australian Shepherd?

Australian Shepherds are happy and excitable pets. They have a puppy-like mentality throughout their adulthood, and they thrive when they get enough exercise and activity.

Food and Dietary Requirements

Despite their size, they don’t need an excessive amount of food and can function perfectly fine on 1.5-3 cups of dry dog food divided into two meals. The meal size also depends on their size, age, and level of activity.

Grooming Requirements

As Australian Shepherds have thick coats, this means that they need brushing at least once a week. They also shed twice a year, in both the spring and fall. Other than shedding seasons, they don’t shed a lot.

Thankfully, they don’t need to be bathed too often, and should only be washed when they are dirty. You should take caution with regard to the proper shampoo, as using the wrong brand can strip their hair from naturally produced oil.

Their teeth should be brushed two or three times a week, and their nails should be clipped using scissors or pet clippers. If you are unsure about how to proceed, then you can seek the help of professional groomers to accomplish this task.

How much exercise do Australian Shepherds need?

Australian Shepherds are quite an active breed, and they thrive on activities that keep them mentally stimulated. They need to be taken on long walks, both on and off-leash, at least twice a day. As they are intelligent dogs, they can perform well in competitive training, where they enjoy both the work as well as the attention that comes with it.

If an Australian Shepherd is not stimulated enough, it can become disruptive, grumpy, and can even act out. They can also put on weight if they do not have vigorous amounts of exercise on a daily basis. [3]

Using toys that stimulate their minds and burn energy are a great way to keep them entertained.

How much do Australian Shepherds cost?

On average, Australian Shepherd’s cost from $650-$850. Their price can vary depending on the breeder’s reputation. It is essential that you avoid puppy mills and other backyard breeders on your search to find the perfect puppy.

Summary

Australian Shepherds were primarily bred to be shepherding dogs, with no regard for their appearances. Despite that, they have a very pleasing facial structure, which is exemplified by their friendly ad excitable demeanor.

They are quite vocal and do have some mannerisms that need to be nipped in the bud when they are puppies. Thankfully their naturally inquisitive nature and intelligence make them among the most natural dog breeds to train.

The Australian Shepherd is not necessarily the best family dog, and it requires an attentive hands-on approach at all times. Whether this dog is a good fit for you depends entirely on how much time and attention you are willing to devote to its well-being.

Resources:

  1. Australian Shepherd Dog, https://www.purina.com.au/dogs/breeds/australian-shepherd-dog#.Xk5MOmgzY2w
  1. Australian Shepherd, http://www.vetstreet.com/dogs/australian-shepherd#health
  1. Vince Stead, Learn How to Train and Understand Your Australian Shepherd Puppy & Dog, https://bit.ly/2V5rybv

 

 

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