The Australian Shepherd Dog: Right Canine Breed for You?
The Australian Shepherd dog is known to be hard-working, intelligent, loving and full of personality. If you’re in the market for a loyal family dog that is easy to train and full of energy and fun, the Aussie might be exactly who you’re looking for.
This detailed guide about the Australian Shepherd will surely tell you everything you need to know about this popular breed before you adopt or purchase. You will learn their history, characteristics, physical and personality traits, how to care for them and health issues common to this breed.
Australian Shepherd History
The United States lays claim for the Australian Shepherd dog.
There are many theories as to how the Aussie came to be, but according to The United States Australian Shepherds Association, it is suspected that their name comes from their association with the Basque Sheepherders who came from Australia in the 1800’s.
Aussies gained popularity after World War II with the popularity of Western Riding. They were involved in rodeos, horse shows, movies and television, which provided a lot of exposure.
Initially, Aussies were referred to as Spanish Shepherd, Pastor Dog, Bob-Tail, Blue Heeler, New Mexican Shepherd, and California Shepherd.
Ranchers in Colorado started breeding them because they were unaffected by the altitude in the Rocky Mountains. Their sheep herding ability attracted buyers from all over the United States.
In 1991, the Australian Shepherd dog was registered and recognized by the American Kennel Association.
Australian Shepherd Characteristics
Australian Shepherds are medium-sized dogs with high-energy! These pooches will NOT do well in apartment living. If the Aussie is confined in a small space, he will become bored and might show signs of bad behavior. Such as barking or destroying furniture. Therefore, be sure your Australian Shepherd dog has lots of space to move around.
Australian Shepherd dogs are highly sensitive and NOT easy-going and resilient as one would think. This breed doesn't due well in a busy noisy house. They prefer a quiet home-body family, as they can have separation anxiety if left alone for long periods of time.
The Australian Shepherd dog is not necessarily the best choice in breed for first-time dog owners. Although, they are highly intelligent and hardworking, their high sensitivity makes them independent thinkers and assertive. Which can make training difficult if you don't have experience in dog training...
Generally, Aussies are very affectionate with their families, good around kids and other dogs. The earlier you socialize your Shepherd with people, places and other animals, the better your pup will respond as an adult dog.
The Aussie was bred for sheep-herding, therefore he requires vigorous daily exercise and a walk around the block just won’t cut it. When this dog breed is overfed and not exercised properly, they are prone to weight gain, which can lead to health problems down the road.
When Aussies don't get enough exercise, they just might channel that unused energy into traits you might not enjoy. Such as barking, digging and chewing on your furniture. Their intelligent nature also requires mental exercise, such as interactive dog toys, obedience training and agility training.
Australian Shepard dogs do best with families that are active, outdoorsy and most important... loving.
Physical Traits of Aussies
Here are some key stats to know about the Australian Shepherd dog:
- 18 to 21 inches tall at the shoulder when fully grown.
- 40 to 65 pounds when fully grown.
- Average life span of 12 to 15 years.
Their coats can be black, blue merle, red merle and red with or without white markings and tan points throughout.
Aussies can be solid black, or have white and tan markings on the face, chest, legs and under parts. Generally, they have brown eyes.
Blue Merles have black spots on a smoke grey to light silver coat, making their appearance look blue. They may also have white or copper markings on the face, chest, legs and underparts. Their eyes can have blue, brown or a marbled effect of both colors.
Red and red merles have a coat that can be light cinnamon to dark liver in color. They can have light amber eyes, or be bi-colored with one blue, one amber. Like the blue merles, red merles can have the same marbling effect on their eyes.
Australian Shepherd dog coats are in moderate length, with a moderately coarse texture that goes from straight to wavy. Their undercoat is soft and dense, and the amount varies by climate.
Personality Traits of Aussies
Your Aussie will be your most loyal companion. They are smart and instinctive and love to participate in every aspect of your life – even running errands.
Australian Shepherd dogs are highly versatile, and are often trained for the following:
- Sheep-herding dogs
- Seeing-eye dogs
- Police dogs
- Therapy dogs
They always need to have a “job” to perform. They are very energetic and need mental and physical daily exercise.
One of the main reasons Aussies end up in rescues are because their owners did not anticipate just how energetic they are and how much attention they require.
They are very affectionate, will follow their master from room to room and they are always ready to protect, compete and herd.
Australian Shepherd Dog Care & Grooming
Your Aussie sheds all year round, but they will shed more during the spring as they lose their winter coat. It is important to brush them at least once a week during this time to prevent excessive matting of the fur. It is also best to start this process as early as possible so they can get used to the brush.
Finally, You Can Now Groom your Australian Shepherd on your own at home without having to hire an expensive groomer!
Dog Time recommends that it is best to spritz their coat with a water-diluted conditioner to detangle and make it easier. With your brush, you want to make sure you get all the way to the skin, where you can also check his overall health.
Check for rashes, inflammation or anything else that may look out of the ordinary. Their coats should be shiny and not dull, and if you can hear his nails on the floor, it’s time for a trim.
Australian Shepherd Health Issues
Every dog breed has its own genetic predisposition to certain illnesses and conditions. While that doesn’t mean that every Australian Shepherd dog is going to get every condition a Australian Shepherd is prone to get, it does mean that you, as an owner, should be extra alert to the signs and symptoms of the following conditions so that you can get treatment as quickly as possible:
- Hip and Elbow Dysplasia: A heritable condition causing problems between the pelvis and femur, and joint laxity in the elbow. This gets worse with age, as arthritis can form.
- Epilepsy: This is a disorder that causes seizures.
- Deafness: This is usually common in this breed. This can be treated by surgery and medication, but often cannot be cured.
- Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD): This involves the improper growth of cartilage in joints that causes painful stiffening.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): This is a degenerative eye disorder that causes blindness.
- Cataracts: Opacity in the lens of the eye causing sight problems.
- Distichiasis: This occurs when there is an addition eyelash row grown, causing irritation to the eye.
- Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA): This is an inherited condition that can lead to blindness.
- Drug Sensitivity: Sensitivity to drugs is common in herding breeds.
- Nasal Solar Dermatitis: Commonly referred to as Collie Nose, this can cause lesions from sunlight on the nose and around the eyes.
You can also decrease the risk of your dog getting these conditions by opting for a mixed breed rather than a pure bred. The increased genetic diversity of mixed breeds makes them more resistant to breed-specific illnesses while still letting you enjoy the physical and personality traits of the Australian Shepherd dog.
Australian Shepherd Feeding
How much your Aussie eats depends on his size, activity level, age, metabolism and build. It is recommended that you feed them 1.5 to 2.5 cups of high quality food per day. Since they are prone to food allergies, it is imperative that you fed the a high quality food.
Since they are also prone to weight gain, it’s important that you measure their food, rather than leaving the food dish out all the time. Health issues can arise from weight gain, just like in humans. Therefore, it is best to keep an eye on this, so your pooch stays in great shape.
Australian Shepherd Dog Training
Your Australian Shepherd is incredibly intelligent, hard-working and lives to please. Aussies are highly sensitive, so a gentle approach of rewarding good behavior is most recommended by the American Kennel Club.
This may make them a little difficult to train for a first-time dog owner, because they are independent thinkers. It is always a must to incorporate basic obedience training into your routine to be a responsible pet owner. This is an important time to enlist the help of a professional.
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Crate Training Aussies
As with all dogs, crate training your Australian Shepherd should start as early as possible. Crate training a full-grown dog is usually stressful and they have a hard time adjusting – especially for a highly sensitive breed. Crate training can be hard at first, but it is worth it for both of you once they get used to it.
Your Aussie is prone to separation anxiety, so it is best not to leave him for too long. These dogs should be in an environment where someone is home most of the time or they can accompany you to work.
If you do need to leave your dog at home, a crate is important because their intelligent minds will get bored and they will destroy your belongings while you are gone. A few hours in their crate at a time and they will be happy to see you again. Leave them with an interactive dog toy to keep them occupied.
After time, the crate becomes their "safe space" where they can go to sleep or to relax, and they should never be disciplined in it. It is in their nature to instinctively search for a small, safe place that they consider their private space.
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Australian Shepherd Cost & Buying Tips
A certified purebred Australian Shepherd dog from a reliable breeder will likely cost somewhere between $800 and $2500. If you don’t need the official certification, you can get a pure bred for as low as $200 (but without certification, you can’t verify that it is 100% pure bred).
If you go for a rescue Australian Shepherd, you could pay just $50 or less. On top of these initial costs, you may need to pay for vaccinations and neutering.
We recommend getting a rescue because it’s just generally a more rewarding experience. However, if you really need a purebred, make sure that you are buying from a legitimate and humane Australian Shepherd breeder. Puppy mills are a real threat and they can sometimes be difficult to identify.
Keep an eye out for these red flags to spot a puppy mill. And if you do come across a breeder that seems suspicious, not only should you avoid buying from them, you should report it to the authorities
The Australian Shepherd dog is a great choice if your family is on the active side. The high energy level of this dog makes them the perfect motivation to get you off the couch and out of the house. And they are also highly responsive to training so you can easily train them to be obedient even when you are out of the house in a new environment.
However, if you don’t train them and give them tasks to do, they can become restless and bored which can lead to troublesome behavior. So you may want to consider a less active breed if you’re hoping for a cuddly friend to veg out with.