A happy, hardworking, herder: The Australian Shepherd

By Lauren Rey

The Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherd – Fast Facts

A hardworking herder with endless energy and intellect, the Australian Shepherd is a truly extraordinary breed of dog. Australian Shepherds are perhaps best known for serving as farmhands and family pets, but this versatile breed excels in a variety of roles including police work, search and rescue, and agility sports. They are also commonly trained as therapy, service, and seeing-eye dogs. The Australian Shepherd, also lovingly referred to as the Aussie, is a dog of many talents.

Australian Shepherds are pretty much good at everything, except sitting still! As a true working breed, Aussies are happiest when they have a job to do. Owning one is a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. Here’s an in-depth look at this one-of-a-kind canine.

History of the Australian Shepherd

While one might think the Australian Shepherd originated in Australia, this breed actually has a complex and somewhat spotty history that began in Spain but ultimately came together in America. Australian Shepherds are believed to be descendants of ancient herding dogs from Spain that made their way west, along with imported sheep, during the late 1800s. Some theories include these dogs having a brief stint in Australia before being imported to America which is one potential reason for their later naming.

Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, the American West was rapidly expanding farmland and herding dogs were in high demand. Ranchers in California began selectively breeding dogs, including those imported herding breeds to create a versatile working dog that served the needs of farmers and ranchers. These dogs became known as Australian Shepherds and they excelled at herding.

Today, Australian Shepherds not only still serve in herding roles but also work in law enforcement, search and rescue, and as guide and service dogs. Their unmatched intelligence and athleticism also shine bright in the world of agility sports. Aussies regularly come out on top in trials and shows and are a fan favorite among enthusiasts of the sport.

Australian Shepherd traits and characteristics

There are several unique attributes that help define the Australian Shepherd breed. Here’s what you can expect from a purebred Aussie.

Australian Shepherd size and appearance

The Australian Shepherd is a medium-sized dog with a lean, athletic build. Males of the breed weigh 50 to 65 pounds and stand 20 to 23 inches tall. Females are slightly smaller, weighing 40 to 55 pounds and standing 18 to 21 inches tall.

There is a smaller version of this breed – known as the Australian Shepherd Mini or Mini Aussie. These miniature versions stand at just 14 to 18 inches tall and weigh 20 to 40 pounds.

Aussies, whether standard or mini, have dense, double coats that can be fairly long with wavy or feathered ends. They can be either black, red, blue merle, or red merle which include a mottled pattern. Their eyes, which are one of the Australian Shepherd's most striking features, are often two different colors and can include any combination of blue, green, hazel, or brown.

Key traits of an Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherds are highly intelligent, energetic, and hard-working. They excel at every task and are most content when they have a “job” to do. When it comes to training, Aussies excel at that too. Their intelligence and eagerness make them excellent “students.”

While these dogs are athletes at their core, Australian Shepherds are also loyal and affectionate with their owners and often do great with children – though they may try to “herd” them. Once work is done (or the Aussie has had enough exercise) they’re happy to curl up on the couch with their owners.

Being the smart, active, agile dogs they are, Australian Shepherds need tons of exercise and mental stimulation. If they don’t get enough, they’ll make it their business to go find some and a standard fence is often no match for this breed. They can leap several feet in the air and have the endurance to run around the neighborhood for hours. Unfortunately, Aussies are among the top breeds reported missing yearly.

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Australian Shepherd health and lifespan

The Australian Shepherd is considered a generally healthy breed with a long lifespan of 12 to 15 years, however, like all purebred dogs, they can be predisposed to several health conditions such as:

Many of the Australian Shepherd’s potential health risks can be attributed to specific genetic factors within the breed, mainly the Merle and MDR1 genes.

The Merle gene, which is behind the Aussie’s signature eye colors and coat patterns is linked to hearing and vision problems. Double Merle Australian Shepherds, which have two Merle parents, can have a much higher risk of deafness, progressive retinal atrophy, and cataracts.

The MDR1 gene, or Multi-Drug Resistance gene, is common among herding breeds and can increase sensitivity to certain medications. Dogs known or suspected to have the MDR1 gene may be prescribed a slightly different medication protocol by their veterinarian.

While not every Australian Shepherd will be impacted by one of these conditions, pet insurance is always a good thing to have to help with veterinary expenses. Especially in cases of accidents or emergencies. Protect your Aussie with a 24Petprotect Insurance Plan.

Living with an Australian Shepherd

Being such an intelligent, high-energy breed, the Australian Shepherd is not for the novice owner. These dogs are best suited to spacious homes with owners who are committed to an active lifestyle. An Aussie needs plenty of room to run and play but also needs a controlled environment, like a high fence and a watchful owner.

Australian Shepherds need lots of exercise, usually a minimum of two hours a day. This breed is ideal for owners looking for a running or hiking partner, or those that enjoy participating in agility sports or really intense games of frisbee! In addition to physical exercise, Aussies need mental stimulation like nose work games and puzzle toys.

Life with an Australian Shepherd also means dealing with dog hair, and lots of it! Aussies have dense double coats that shed frequently and will need regular brushing. Aussie owners should invest in a good vacuum and keep some lint rollers on hand.

Top things to consider before owning an Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherds are remarkable dogs, but they’re not for everyone. This breed can be a challenge for certain lifestyles so it’s important to make sure you are truly ready before bringing one home. Here are the top things to consider if you’re thinking about getting an Aussie:

Bottom line – first-time dog owners, those with a more sedentary lifestyle, or those looking for a low-maintenance dog should steer clear of a high-energy working breed like the Australian Shepherd. On the other hand, active owners who love running, hiking, and trips to the park may find an Aussie to be their perfect match.

Australian Shepherd FAQs

Are Australian Shepherds good with kids and other pets?

In general, Australian Shepherds are known to be good with children and other pets. They are loyal, loving, tolerant, and often make great playmates for energetic children. However, with strong herding instincts, Aussies may try to “herd” their families, mainly smaller children and other pets. Proper training and socialization will help curb unwanted behaviors and create a well-rounded Australian Shepherd.

Are Australian Shepherds hard to train?

Australian Shepherds are highly intelligent and usually take to training very well. In fact, this breed often has the capacity to excel far beyond basic obedience training and learn tricks, run obstacle courses, and participate in other complex agility sports.

Are Australian Shepherds high maintenance?

Australian Shepherds are considered a high-maintenance dog breed. Mainly due to their high exercise needs and heavy shedding. While Aussies are amazing, this breed is much more work than an average dog.

How much exercise does an Australian Shepherd need?

Most healthy adult Australian Shepherds will need a minimum of two hours of exercise per day. This can be split up into several brisk walks, runs, or games of fetch. Some Aussies may need more or less depending on their individual energy levels. Your veterinarian can provide guidance on your dog’s individual exercise needs.

Can an Australian Shepherd live in an apartment?

While the ideal home for an Australian Shepherd would include plenty of space and a fenced-in yard, if an owner is committed to providing plenty of daily exercise and enrichment, they could make it work. Lots of walks, trips to the park, and interactive toys can all help ensure your dog’s needs are being met in an apartment setting.

Ready for an Australian Shepherd?

Owning an Australian Shepherd can be a lot of fun, just make sure you are fully educated on the breed and have the time, space, and most importantly – the energy, to keep up with them!