Australian Shepherd (Aussie): Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Australian Shepherd

 

Tara Gregg / EyeEm / Getty Images

The Australian shepherd is a medium-sized, athletic working dog. Although it is called "Australian," the breed is thought to have originated in the U.S. Breed aficionados believe this collie/shepherd-type dog may have been imported with sheep from Australia or workers from Australia. The breed is extremely agile, intelligent, loyal and hard-working. Though known as a herding dog, the Aussie has a talent for all types of athletic activities. They are ubiquitous on the rodeo circuit and commonly associated with the cowboy lifestyle. However, the breed also makes an excellent companion dog for high-energy owners.

Breed Overview

Group: Herding

Height: 18 to 23 inches

Weight: 40 to 65 pounds

Coat and Color: Medium to long coat in blue merle, red merle, black, or red; all colors may have white markings and/or tan (copper) points

Life Expectancy: 13 to 15 years

Characteristics of the Australian Shepherd

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark High
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Australian Shepherd

The Australian shepherd breed was developed in the United States. Basque people from the Pyrenees of northeastern Spain/southwestern France came to the American West in the mid-19th century to herd sheep and brought dogs with them. The name "Australian shepherd" may have reflected those who came to the U.S. after first working in Australia or the origin of the herds of sheep, but this is not clear. These dogs are not registered in Australia as a native breed.

American ranchers raised and bred the dogs as livestock herders and farm workers. They do well at high altitudes such as in the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada, and high plains where ranchers pastured their livestock. As Western movies, television series, and rodeos were popular after World War II, the breed became well known.

Aussie enthusiasts and breeders have worked hard to keep the breed true to its heritage. Aussies were first recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1991. Miniature Australian shepherds were bred and the breed was accepted in 2012 as miniature American shepherds.

Rancher with an Australian Shepherd
John Carnemolla​ / Getty Images

Australian Shepherd Care

The Aussie has a thick coat that is medium to long in length. Routine grooming is very important to keep an Aussie healthy and comfortable as they shed year-round. They also shed their winter coat in spring. Thorough brushing of the hair should be done one to two times per week to avoid tangling and matting, and more frequently during the shedding season. The Australian shepherd's coat is weather-resistant and the dog won't need a bath very often.

Keep the ears clean to avoid ear infections and trim the nails regularly to keep the feet healthy and your dog comfortable.

It is absolutely essential for your Aussie to get frequent exercise, even more than most dogs. This high-energy dog breed can become bored, frustrated, and hyperactive if not active enough. Exercise will help maintain the Aussie's mental and physical health. Be sure to walk an Australian shepherd on a leash as the dog may chase and try to herd small animals, bicycles, and passersby, giving them a nip to encourage them to go the right direction. They will need a secure fence when they are out in the yard rather than an electronic fence as their urge to chase and herd won't be easily dissuaded.

Due to its high intelligence level, the Aussie is receptive to training and learns quite quickly. Give your Aussie the detailed training he needs to be fulfilled. With proper training, the Aussie is extremely obedient.

Remember that this breed's focus is work. The Aussie excels at dog sports and other activities like Frisbee, agility, and obedience competition. Most Aussies are happier with a "job": They excel at herding and general farm/ranch work, but they are also quite skilled in assistance/service, search and rescue, and pet therapy.

Overall, the Aussie is a very smart and loyal companion that is affectionate and connected with its owner. The breed is very alert and in-tune with the sights and sounds around it. They will protect their property by barking a warning when people approach their territory. However, they prefer to be around their humans rather than isolated in a yard. Proper socialization is important as they are reserved around new people; without socialization, Aussies can develop shyness or defensiveness.

The Aussie makes a wonderful companion for the right family. This breed tends to adapt well to all kinds of active households as long as they provide proper exercise and training. The tendency to herd children and nip at them can be scary for kids, especially visiting playmates. This breed will also try to herd cats, which is unlikely to be appreciated by the felines who are part of your household.

Aussies tolerate both hot and cold weather well. They don't adapt well to apartment living as they really need space for exercise throughout the day.

Australian Shepherd catching frisbee
Anna-av / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

One breeding concern is that dogs who inherit the merle gene from both parents can be born deaf or blind. These dogs will be mostly white and they are often euthanized soon after birth. While a challenge to raise, this trait does not carry any other health problems. They can have full and healthy lives with the right owners.

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the AKC. Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to inherit health conditions. However, some hereditary health problems can occur in the breed. The following are some conditions to be aware of:

Diet and Nutrition

An Australian shepherd should be fed two meals a day of up to 1.25 cups of dry dog food per meal. The amount will depend on your dog's size, activity level, age, and other factors. Monitor your dog's weight and address any tendency to be overweight. Discuss your dog's nutritional needs with your veterinarian to get appropriate recommendations.

Pros

  • Affectionate, loyal and eager to please

  • Highly energetic

  • Excels at "jobs" and athletic endeavors

Cons

  • Boundless energy must be channeled through training

  • Can become destructive if left without companionship for long periods too often

  • Overprotective nature may lead to aggression toward strangers

Where to Adopt or Buy an Australian Shepherd

The Australian Shepherd Club of America is a good resource for more background on the breed, as well as breeder referrals. Its website provides a list of affiliate clubs throughout the U.S., Belgium, and Scandinavia.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you want to become the proud owner of an Australian shepherd, take the time to do your research first. Talk to your veterinarian, other Aussie owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, look into these to compare the pros and cons:

There are a great many dog breeds out there. With a little research, you can find the right one to bring home.