The Australian Shepherd
Despite his name, the Australian shepherd (often called Aussie) is not at all an Australian dog! These dogs were originally developed in the USA to herd livestock. These dog’s true origin is quite a mystery. The theory is that Australian shepherds were brought to America by the immigrants who came there and brought sheep and other livestock with them. They also brought their favorite herding dogs. Many of these dogs were from Australia, and although it is common belief that Australian shepherds have some Basque roots and were brought to USA via Spain, the name Australian shepherd stuck. Some people believe that the breed’s name is a result of this breed’s affiliation with Basque shepherds that came from Australia. Whatever their history is, once a number one herding dog, today Australian shepherd is a great family dog, a superb search and rescue dog, assistance dog, therapy dog, detection dog, etc.
Australian shepherds are medium-sized dogs. Males are 20-23 inches in height and they weigh 50-65 pounds. Females are slightly smaller with an average height of 18-21 inches. They weigh about 40-55 pounds. Australian Shepherds have medium-length water-resistant coat that comes in several colors: red merle, blue merle, red, black, and tri-color (white, black, and tan).
TIP: Avoid purchasing an Australian Shepherd who is primarily white. White color usually occurs when two merle-colored Aussies are bred together and is genetically linked to deafness and blindness.
Aussies shed year-round (during shedding season in spring and fall they shed heavily) so make sure you brush your Aussie regularly. Use a long-bristled brush with stiff nylon bristles. Bathe the dog only when needed. Bating can strip the natural oils in their coat that make it water resistant, so it is not recommended to do it often. This way your Aussie’s coat will always look its best.
TIP: Before brushing, sprinkle the dog’s coat with a dog hair conditioner rarefied with water to detangle the hair easier (mats are most common behind Aussie’s ears).
FUN FACT: A lot of Australian shepherds (one in five, to be exact) are born with a naturally bobbed tail. This is a result of breeding the tail out of breed.
Australian shepherds are highly energetic and active breed. They were bred to work all day, so these dogs need a lot of daily exercise. Australian shepherd need an active lifestyle to be happy. They love to be outside and to be part of an action, whether it is running, and chasing balls, playing, jumping or jogging. If you are thinking about getting an Australian shepherd, make sure you have enough free time and energy to spend it outside playing and training your Aussie. If your schedule can’t allow you that, consider getting some less active breed. Except for daily activity, these dogs also need consistency. They like things to happen at the same time every day.
FUN FACT: Aussies love to play Frisbee. In the 1970s, there was Australian shepherd named Hyper Hank who was famous for his Frisbee playing skills. Hyper Hank and his owner, Eldon McIntire, even performed at the pre-show of Super Bowl XII.
Australian shepherds thrive on attention and are very fond of their owners. They want to be with them constantly. They are an excellent choice for families with children of all ages. Many of them consider kids part of their flock, so they might want to keep them in one place by chasing and nipping at them. Just make sure that your Aussie is taught not to herd the children. Australian shepherds are good with other pets too (but they will probably try to herd them as well). These dogs are loyal companions, very protective of home and their people, and make excellent watchdogs. Because of their inborn protective instincts, Australian shepherds are not very good with strangers. They can be standoffish to strangers so an early socialization is a must. Without it, Aussie can become shy or even aggressive in the presence of people he had never met.
The breed is considered to be one of the most intelligent ones and easy to train. Many of them (but not all of them) are known as dogs that are especially eager to please their people. Female ones are sometimes manipulative, and they know exactly how to have it their way. It is important to teach your Aussie to respect you and listen to you, since day one. This way, training later will be easy. Aussies respond well to training methods that use positive reinforcement.
Australian shepherds have a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years, but there is a list of health problems these dogs are prone to. Aussies are often affected by a number of eye problems, such as detached retina, progressive retinal atrophy (a degenerative eye disorder that eventually causes blindness from the loss of photoreceptors at the back of the eye), cataracts, distichiasis (caused by an additional row of eyelashes that grow on the oil gland in the dog’s eye and irritates the eye), collie eye anomaly, etc.
TIP: If you are getting an Australian shepherd, don’t be shy to ask the breeder whether the puppy’s parents were confirmed to have healthy eyes by a certified veterinary ophthalmologist. Ask to have the puppy you are interested in also examined, before you take him home. You should continue to have your Aussie's eyes checked annually by a veterinary ophthalmologist.
Other conditions these dogs are prone to are: hip dysplasia (you can read more about hip dysplasia here) and elbow dysplasia, epilepsy, multiple drug sensitivity (MDS) caused by a mutation of the Multidrug Resistance Gene (MDR1), which produces a protein called P-glycoprotein. This protein help remove toxic substances from the body of the dog. When this protein is not working properly, toxins are taking over the body and the result is drug sensitivity. There is no treatment for this condition, but, luckily, there is a genetic test that can identify dogs with this nonfunctioning gene.
FUN FACT: Aussies have very sensitive ears, are highly sensitive to sound and may develop noise phobias if they are not accustomed to loud or unexpected noises.
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