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Australian Shepherd Breed Information & Training Tips

The multi-colored eyes and perky ears of the Australian Shepherd are simply unmistakable. This herding dog may be called an "Australian" Shepherd, but the breed actually originated in the harsh Old West, and is therefore an American breed.

Jump straight down to Aussie Shepherd training information.

The intelligence, loyalty, and agility of the breed all contribute to a dog that makes not only a great herder, but also a great family companion. If you are looking for a compact dog who loves a hard day's work, read on to find out more about the Australian Shepherd (often called an "Aussie").

Aussie Shepherd Puppies
Some Beautiful Australian Shepherd Puppies


History Of The Australian Shepherd

As mentioned before, the Australian Shepherd actually originated in the United States, not Australia. There are several surmised origins for the name however. Many of the sheep and shepherds in the Old West were from Australia, so some think the dog was named after these Aussie sheep herders. Others believe that the blue merle coloring inherent to many dogs from Australia was associated with that country, so when the breed began to take on that coloring it became known as the Australian Shepherd.

The end result of the breed was reached through much crossing and interbreeding. In the Old West herders were more concerned with how well the dog could work, not what he looked like. When folks from the East Coast came out to settle the West they also met the Spanish settlers who lived there already, along with Australians who shipped their sheep to the new land. All of these people, and their dogs came together and the result was a huge melting pot. Some of the breeds that are thought to have been mixed to produce the Australian Shepherd include the: English Shepherd, Kelpie, Australian Cattle Dog, Bouvier des Flandres, Scottish Collie, and the Welsh Sheepdog. Of course, there are probably other varieties not mentioned, or even known that went into the creation of this great breed.

Not until the 1950's was the breed truly standardized. At this point the dog caught the attention of movie makers, largely due to the breed's intelligence and how easy they were to train. Australian Shepherds have starred in some Disney films, including Run Appaloosa Run, and Stub: The Greatest Cowdog in the West.

Aussie Shepherd Appearance

The breed can be split into two categories when considering appearance - those bred for work and those bred for show. Show dogs tend to have longer coats and are bred to meet the breed standard, while working dogs tend to be a bit thinner and have shorter coats. Males tend to be about 21-23 inches at the shoulder and weigh 55-70 pounds on average. Females measure about 18-21 inches in height and weigh less at 35-55 pounds. The dogs usually have their tails docked at puppy-hood, though some are born with cropped or half-cropped tails.

Color-wise, Australian Shepherds are very interesting dogs. Their coats can come in four color combinations, including: black tri or red tri, merle, fully black or fully copper, or solid color trimmed with white. The breed also carries genes for many different colored eyes, including green, hazel, brown and blue. Some dogs may even have two different colored eyes or two colors in the same eye. This trait is especially true in merle Australian Shepherds. Whatever color combination the dog ends up with, the breed is truly unique and extremely interesting to look at.

Temperament Of Australian Shepherds

The Australian Shepherd is first and foremost a working dog that was bred to herd. Australian Shepherd BreedersThis means that the dog has a high amount of energy, agility, and intelligence. The herding instinct is also very strong, meaning that the dog will want to herd people or small children - which can be frightening to little ones. Because the dog has so much energy and intelligence he needs a job, or he will create one of his own! It is likely that his created job will be annoying and destructive; no one likes to be bored. Australian Shepherds excel at agility courses, and love to learn obedience and tricks. They are also quite proficient at herding unusual animals, such as ducks and geese. If you have a small farm or a little land, the Australian Shepherd could be the perfect dog for you.

Aside from the working instinct the breed is also very loyal. An Australian Shepherd tends to latch on to one person in particular, and he looks up to that person as his leader. The breed is generally good with children, when the herding instinct can be kept under control. Aussies will also tend to be very reserved around strangers, and the family must show the dog that this person is "ok" in the home. An Australian Shepherd certainly isn't a simple dog, though he is one that can be magnificent when well trained.


Australian Shepherd Health Issues

Like any purebred dog, the Australian Shepherd has health problems inherent to the breed. The best advice I could give to you is to seek out a reputable and well respected Aussie breeder when searching for your Australian Shepherd puppy.

Many suffer from eye problems such as cataracts, and epilepsy is also a common problem that may or may not be treatable. The breed also has certain genetic anomalies that need to be tested for prior to breeding. For example, the mutant MDR1 gene can create severe reactions to ordinary medications such as heartworm medicine. The gene removes the ability for the body to remove certain drugs and toxins from the brain, resulting in death. Other drugs that can affect the dog include diarrhea medicine and calming agents such as sedatives and anesthesia. Ask any Aussie breeder you see for results from genetic testing. Any good Australian Shepherd breeder will be willing to provide you with this information.

Also be aware that if two merle parents are bred they could produce an offspring which inherits two merle color genes. This results in a white dog with issues ranging from blindness to deafness. Please be wary of any breeder trying to sell a pure white Australian Shepherd, as the genetic defects are often inescapable.

Australian Shepherd Training

When it comes to training your Aussie they are a fantastic breed. Australian Shepherds excel at all kinds of dog sports and training activities such as flyball, agility and advanced obedience training.

Time spent training your Aussie is time well spent. You will build and strengthen a truly solid bond with your dog throughout the training process. Aussies are very willing and capable students who respond best to positive, reward based training methods such as clicker training. You certainly won't require any harsh punishments or corrections when training your Aussie.

Australian Shepherd Puppy Picture

Some specific training issues unique to the Australian Shepherd:

  • Proper puppy socialization and puppy training are essential for all dogs, including the Australian Shepherd. Your Aussie will have no trouble picking up all the basic obedience training commands such as sit, come, stay and down.

  • You must be very careful where and when you allow your Aussie off leash. Always keep in mind that your Aussie was bred to herd so those instincts are never far from the surface. For this reason one of the most important commands to teach and proof with your dog is the "recall" or "come when called" command.

  • One common theme coming from owners of Australian Shepherd puppies is that they can be very destructive little beasts! Aussies love to chew on things - including your expensive shoes and even your hands. This problem can be alleviated through some proper chew toy training and also teaching bite inhibition.

  • Aussies are such an intelligent, sociable and active breed which is great but the flip side is that they don't do well when left alone and isolated for long periods. Separation anxiety can be a real problem.

Australian Shepherds - Summing Up

If you are an active person looking for an intelligent dog who wants nothing more than to work hard to please you, then the Australian Shepherd may be the dog for you. The breed do require work and training to shape a balanced and well-behaved dog, but the effort is more than worth it. Good luck searching for the Australian Shepherd of your dreams, may you bring each other much joy!

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Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.