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Australian Shepherd – Everything You Need To

Australian Shepherd is a medium-sized dog known for his impulsive herding instincts and powerful penetrating gaze. Their origin can be traced back to Europe’s basque region of Spain, located in the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France. These purebred canines followed the sheepherders from this region to the US through Australia. Nevertheless, the breed existing today was from the United States. Therefore, they are closely associated with the cowboys who used them for herding sheep and cattle in rugged terrain. Hence, Australian Shepherds are delightful when assigned work. In short, they are quick-witted, tireless, and trainable partners who bring along a zestful spirit to transform your home.

Australian Shepherd Pros and Cons 

ProsCons
Loyal and friendlyOver protective
Hardworking and intelligentHigh maintenance
Excellent companionDestructive Behavior

Australian Shepherd Basic Information 

  • Name: Australian Shepherd
  • Origin: United States
  • Group: Working
  • Size: Medium
  • Height: 18 – 23 inches
  • Weight: 40 – 65 pounds
  • Coat: Double-layer, medium length with a curly or wavy texture
  • Color: Blue, gray, black, and white
  • Energy: High
  • Activities: Companion, sports, obedience, agility
  • Barking Level: Medium to high
  • Shedding Level: Medium to high
  • Hypoallergenic: No 
  • Litter Size: 6 to 7 puppies
  • Other names: Spanish Shepherd, Pastor dogs, BobTails, New Mexican Shepherds, California Shepherds.
  • Life Span: 12 – 16 years
  • Breed’s Original Pastimes:Herding

Types of the Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherds are classified into different types based on their coat types they include: 

  1. Blue merle Australian Shepherd
  2. Red merle Australian Shepherd
  3. Red Australian Shepherd
  4. Tri-color Australian Shepherd
  5. Black Australian Shepherd

History 

The modern-day Australian Shepherd was bred in California in the 19th century. Hence, Australian Shepherds began to spread to other Western parts of the US. This is where Californian Shepherds used them as ranch herding dogs. The ancestry of Australian Shepherds includes Border Collies from Australia and New Zealand, who contributed its name. The breed was unknown to the world outside livestock until the mid-20th century, when Jay Lister, a rodeo performer, popularized the breed through his shows. The United Kennel Club was the first to recognize the breed, followed by the American Kennel Club in the 1990s. Therefore, since the late-20th century, the Australian Shepherd has been featured in conformation shows and has become a top-rated companion dog. 

Australian Shepherd Highlights 

  1. Australian Shepherds are known for their job-oriented nature. Hence, they require at least an hour of exercise. They excel as police dogs to sniff out narcotics or aid in search-and-rescue missions, and as service dogs helping individuals with a disability.
  2. Aussies are prone to have heterochromia—a condition where dogs have two different colored eyes. 
  3. Aussies are pretty wary of their surroundings and in the event of a peril, they bark to alert their owners and fiercely protect them. 
  4. Open spaces are a must for high energy breeds like Australian Shepherds, without which these canines adopt destructive behavior exhibiting longer barking periods. 
  5. Since this breed is pretty standoffish with strangers, early socialization skills are necessary for them. 
  6. Aussies are very fond of their pet parents which has earned them the nickname ‘velcro dogs’. 

Australian Shepherd Personality

Australian Shepherds are longer than taller. They are blessed with a distinctive long, wavy double-coat with medium-length fur. The upper coat is coarse, while the undercoat is thick. The hair is short on the face, and the back legs are well-feathered. These medium-sized canines have triangular ears set high on their heads. When attentive, their ears rise slightly but then fall off the sides. They are endowed with almond-shaped eyes, varying in colors such as brown, blue, or amber, colored with black-pigmented eye rims. They may also have different colored eyes, known as heterochromia. They have a pigmented nose with pinkish lips and teeth meeting at scissors bite. 

Friendliness Overview

Affection level Medium to high
Family-friendly High
Kid-friendly Medium to high
Pet-friendly High
Stranger -friendly Medium

Adaptability Overview

Good for apartment living Low
Good to new owners Low to medium
Sensitivity level High 
Tolerates being alone Low 
Cold-tolerance Medium to high
Heat-tolerance Medium to high

Australian Shepherd Physical Features 

Head: The Australian Shepherds have a well-defined, proportionate head with an equal length and width dome-shaped skull. Their well-rounded muzzle tapers and merges into the head through parallel planes with a well-defined stop.

Neck: Their neck is slightly arched, medium length leading to shoulder blades. Their shoulders are long, flat and well-laid back and attached to the upper arm at right angles where forelimbs drop straight. 

Topline: These deep-chested canines have a firm topline with long ribs. 

Body: Their broad and deep chest reach their elbow with a moderately tucked up underline.

Tail: They have straight, docked and naturally bobbed tails.

Forequarters: Their shoulder blades are long, flat and well-laid back. Their upper arm and shoulder blades are of equal length. It attaches to the shoulder line with forelegs dropping straight.  

Hindquarters The width of the hindquarters and the forequarters are equal at the shoulders. 

Coat : They have a straight or  wavy, textured coat of medium length with weather resistance. The undercoat varies in density as per the climatic conditions. They have short and smooth hair on their head, ears, front of forelegs and below the hocks. 

Color: Blue merle, black, red merle, red-all with or without white markings and/or tan (copper) points. Merles characteristically become darker with increasing age. 

Gait:  The Australian Shepherd has a smooth, free and easy gait enabling them to be agile movers. Their stride is ground covering which helps them to alter gait instantly.

Australian Shepherd Temperament

Australian Shepherds have a lively personality with a passion for work. They also have a good flare for playing games, practicing tricks, and trying obstacle courses. These canines are pretty loyal, and their love for their pet parents is evident from their nickname, velcro dogs. They are well-known for their excellent guarding and herding nature. Due to their protective and alert nature, they always warn of any danger with a loud bark. Further, these canines are excellent therapy dogs who help the impaired and are often adopted into the police force for their unique sniffing ability. They are also intelligent, hardworking, and require plenty of exercises, without which they can be bored. Consequently, they exhibit certain destructive traits such as barking, chewing, and digging. Although obedient and well-behaved, their herding instincts may urge them to chase cars and herd children. In addition, they are admirable companions who help with household chores like picking dirty laundry off the floor. 

Australian Shepherd Training

Australian Shepherds are highly intelligent breeds whose passion for work and friendly nature makes them an easily trainable breed. Being active, they wait for their training sessions and love to take commands from their trainers. You can train them in commands, skills, sports, and any task you want them to master. However, they are prone to boredom with a monotonous training routine. Therefore, it is vital to make training sessions interesting. Similar to other breeds,  positive reinforcements work well with them in the form of rewards and cuddles. However, a lack of mental and physical stimulation can invite destructive behaviors like, longer barking periods. Also, due to their herding instincts, they chase kids and other smaller pets and may even nip them in the absence of proper training. Hence, you need to socialize them quite early to be wary of their surroundings. Alternatively, you can enroll them in early socialization and puppy training classes. In addition, you can enroll them for obedience training, which aids in behavioral correction.

Trainability Overview

Easy to train High 
Intelligence High 
Mouthiness tendencies Medium to high 
Barking and Howling tendencies Medium to high 
Prey drive Medium to high 
Wanderlust tendencies High 

Australian Shepherd Exercise Needs

Australian Shepherds require at least an hour of exercise to deplete their high energy. This will help them stay disciplined and prevent destructive behaviors. Since, they love to move around and play. Hence, they require a large playing area like a yard which has to be fenced to prevent them from jumping over or digging underground. These canines can be involved in brisk walking, running, swimming, jogging, playing fetch, or hiking for an hour and a half. While they are not playing, you can still keep them engaged with puzzle toys such as Buster cubes to stimulate them mentally. However, as puppies, they don’t have the necessary skeletal setup to become good running companions until they reach a year old. In addition, these dogs perform well at canine events such as obedience, herding, agility trials, or dock diving.Considering his herding and chasing instincts, it is always good to walk him on a leash unless he is taught to resist the urge.  

Exercise Needs Overview

Energy level High 
Exercise needs High
Intensity Medium to high
Playfulness High 

Australian Shepherd  Grooming

Australian Shepherds have a thick, waterproof, double-layer coat. Hence, they have to be brushed at least once a week to remove dead hairs, prevent matting and dirt. For this purpose, you can use an undercoat rake and a wire brush. However, during the shedding season they must be brushed  twice or thrice a week. Additionally, you also have to bathe him every six weeks and increase it as per his visits to the park. Further, never plan to shave off his coat as it protects him from the scorching heat and extreme cold. Shaving off your Aussie’s coat makes him vulnerable to heat stroke and sunburn during summer and hypothermia and skin injuries during winter. In addition, his other grooming needs include: 

Nails: Your dog’s nails are subject to breakage if they grow too long. Since broken nails are very painful, trim your pet’s nails regularly. 

Teeth: You can prevent periodontal diseases by regularly brushing your dog’s teeth with a dog-formulated toothpaste. Additionally, you have to schedule an annual appointment with the veterinarian. 

Ears: Your dog’s ears accumulate wax which has to be removed using a cotton ball dipped in pH-balanced ear cleaner. However, ensure not to damage his ear canal and check for signs of ear infection during the  annual appointment with the vet. 

Grooming Overview

Easy to groom Low 
Drooling tendency Low
Amount of shedding Medium

Australian Shepherd Health

Australian Shepherds are generally a healthy breed. However, some dogs develop certain specific health conditions when compared to others, these specific health conditions include the below:

Health Overview

Overall health Low
Weight gain tendencies Medium to high 
Size Medium

Hip Dysplasia: When the thigh bones do not fit into the pelvic socket of the hip joint of your pet, it results in hip dysplasia, which is a heritable condition. 

Other Causes of Hip Dysplasia: 

  • Injuries 
  • Excessive weight gain 
  • Wrong exercises 

Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia: 

Some of the notable signs that may be present on one or both rear legs include:  

  • Pain  
  • Lameness 

Treatment: X-ray screening for hip dysplasia, medication, and hip replacement through surgeries may also be preferred. This condition, if ignored, can be life-threatening.

Progressive retinal atrophy: An eye disease that causes blindness from losing photoreceptors. It can be diagnosed earlier. Dogs with this disorder can survive for many years since they have other senses to compensate. The gradual deterioration of the eye’s retina marks the progression of this disease. Affected dogs exhibit night-blindness symptoms, slowly progressing to complete vision loss. Most affected dogs adapt well to their limited or lost vision if they continue to reside in the same environment.

Collie Eye Anomaly: CEA is an inherited developmental condition usually seen in breeds like Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, Shetland sheepdogs, etc. This disorder leads to blindness. 

Distichiasis: Distichiasis is prevalent in dogs. It results from the abnormal growth of eyelashes. It occurs when eyelashes emerge from the eyelid margin instead of its skin. Most dogs don’t experience any adverse symptoms due to soft hairs. However, other dogs experience discomfort due to eye irritation. In severe cases, this condition can lead to corneal ulcers. 

Persistent Pupillary Membranes (PPM): Before the birth of canines, specific blood vessels are involved in nourishing their eye lens with nutrients. When these blood vessels don’t disappear after birth, they develop into strands of eye tissue known as persistent pupillary membranes. However, most dogs don’t experience any symptoms due to it. 

Cataracts: When your dog experiences a thickening lens, it results in cloudy vision due to their age. This condition is treatable either through medications or surgery. 

Detached Retina: Retinal detachment in dogs occurs when the retina isolates itself from the back of your dog’s eyes. This condition occurs due to underlying medical conditions such as glaucoma, high blood pressure, and/or hypothyroidism in dogs. It is a medical emergency as it can lead to blindness in dogs without immediate treatment. 

Deafness: Some dogs are born deaf, and others may acquire it with age. While hereditary deafness is due to genetic defects, acquired deafness results from decreased blood supply to the cochlea of the inner ear resulting in the loss of hair cells necessary for sound transmission. Deafness may present unilaterally (deafness in one ear) or bilaterally (deafness in both ears). Bilaterally deaf dogs require some special considerations. To get to know your pet better, you can subject your pet to the BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response), which helps you detect deafness in dogs. 

Epilepsy: Australian Shepherds suffer from a higher rate of epilepsy. Although the exact cause is unknown, a genetic base is often suspected. Epilepsy is a sudden spike in the brain’s electrical activity resulting in malfunctioning. Some of the signs to look for include:

Symptoms of epilepsy: 

  • A stiffening of the neck and legs 
  • Stumbling and falling over
  • Uncontrollable chewing
  • Drooling
  • Paddling of the limbs
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Defecating
  • Vocalizing 
  • Violent shaking 
  • Trembling

Elbow Dysplasia: Elbow dysplasia occurs when the elbow joint bones don’t align properly. This misalignment causes abnormal pressure at the joint, leading to chronic rubbing and severe osteoarthritis.

Symptoms:

  • Mild to moderate pain 
  • Lameness in the forelimbs 

Although the symptoms begin to show as early as four months, some dogs will not show these signs until later in life. Further, it involves both elbows, of which one may be heavily affected.

Osteochondrosis Dissecans: Osteochondrosis Dessicans is an inflammatory condition due to the cartilage’s abnormal development, leading to its separation from the underlying bone. Although it most prominently affects the shoulder, it may be prevalent at the elbow, hip, or knee.

Symptoms of OCD:

  • Limping in the affected leg 
  • Extremely painful when the affected leg is manipulated
  • Swollen or warm joint

Treatment generally follows a strict rest schedule, medications, supplements, and surgery, if necessary.

Allergies

  • Food-based allergies: This can be treated by following an elimination diet that eliminates suspected ingredients to which the dog may be allergic.  
  • Contact allergies: These allergies are caused due to the adverse reaction of a dog’s immune system when it comes in contact with a topical substance such as bedding, flea powders, dog shampoos, and other chemicals. Removing the cause of the allergy reduces the symptoms.  
  • Inhalant allergies are caused when your canine accidentally inhales airborne allergens like pollen, dust, and mildew. Treatment for these allergies depends upon their severity. Often, these allergies are accompanied by ear infections.

Hypothyroidism is when a dog’s metabolism is slowed due to the lack of thyroid hormone production. Symptoms are:  

  • Lethargy 
  • Gaining weight 
  • Reluctance to work out 
  • Hair Loss

Drug Sensitivity: Most herding dogs react adversely to certain medications due to a mutation in the MDR1 gene. Consequently, they experience enhanced sensitivity to certain medical drugs like antiparasitic, antidiarrheal, and anticancer drugs. 

Cancer: Cancer in dogs is treatable if detected early. Although certain dogs show no symptoms initially, some of the warning symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Prevalence of a lump or bump
  • A non-healing wound
  • Swelling
  • Enlarged lymph nodes, 
  • Lameness or swelling in the bone 
  • Abnormal bleeding 

Nasal Solar Dermatitis: Nasal solar dermatitis is a congenital condition that results from abnormal skin sensitivity to sunlight. This disorder worsens with exposure to sunlight and affects the skin, nose, eyelids, trunk, and limbs. However, its exact cause is not yet known. 

Recommended tests for Australian Shepherds 

For Aussies, you must look for health clearances before buying them. Here are a few of them to look for:

Health clearance issuing organizationsFunctioning /disorders to be clearedHealth Rating
Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA)Hip dysplasiaElbow dysplasia, Hypothyroidism,Von Willebrand’s diseasewith a score of fair or better
Auburn University Thrombopathia
Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) Normal Eyesight

Australian Shepherd Diet and Nutrition

Australian Shepherd requires a well-balanced, wholesome diet to stay strong and healthy. As working dog breeds they require a protein-rich, fatty diet with low carbohydrate contents. Further, inclusion of minerals, healthy fats, antioxidants, omega fatty acids and vitamins assures them a holistic diet. Hence, you can always include a good serving of fruits and vegetables. Aussies require 1300 calories to meet their daily nutritional needs. Hence, it is a good option to feed 1.5 to 2.5 cups of high-quality protein-rich  food. However, you need to ensure it is appropriate for her age, weight, and activity level and adjust the amount of food accordingly. In addition, a good physical exercise routine prevents obesity and helps them remain mentally stimulated while spending their energy. For this purpose, it is always good to divide their meals into portions throughout their feeding schedule. 

Australian Shepherd Living Condition

Australian Shepherds are known for their affectionate nature and crave for their pet parent’s attention. Therefore, they suffer from separation anxiety when left unattended for longer. They are not apartment dogs as they love to play around in a large area. In addition, their play area has to be fenced to prevent them from jumping over or digging. Further, lack of activities can make them prone to destructive activities like barking, chewing, and digging. They are pretty fond of kids and other animals. As Australian Shepherds are double-coated, they tolerate both extreme  hot and cold temperatures well.

Did You Know?

  • Native Americans consider Australian Shepherds sacred. This can be attributed to the presence of their scary ghostly eyes which are pale blue. 
  • An Australian Shepherd, named Hyper Hank, dominated canine Frisbee competitions in the 1970s. Hank along with his pet parent earned a place to perform at the Super Bowl and play with the then President Carter’s family at the White House.
  • AKC recognized the Australian Shepherd breed in 1993. Today, as of 2020, AKC has ranked the Aussies to be the 13th most popular breed.
  • The Aussies gained their popularity through their association with the cowboy culture through rodeos, Western films, and TV shows. 
  • Australian Shepherds trace their  origin to the mountainous region of Europe.

Australian Shepherd Club Recognition 

  • ACA = American Canine Association Inc.
  • ACR = American Canine Registry
  • AKC = American Kennel Club
  • APRI = American Pet Registry, Inc.
  • ASCA = Australian Shepherd Club of America
  • CKC = Continental Kennel Club
  • DRA = Dog Registry of America, Inc.
  • NAPR = North American Purebred Registry, Inc.
  • NKC = National Kennel Club
  • NZKC = New Zealand Kennel Club
  • UKC = United Kennel Club

Australian Shepherd Rescue Groups 

Adding an Australian Shepherd to Your Family 

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Australian Shepherd
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Australian Shepherd Videos 

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