Australian Shepherd

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australian shepherd's portrait
Meet the Australian Shepherd, a breed that's as unique as it is lovable! With their piercing blue eyes, boundless energy, and unmistakable "wiggle-butt" dance, these herding dynamos have captured the hearts of dog lovers everywhere.

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

The Australian Shepherd is an ideal match for active individuals or families who enjoy spending quality time outdoors and engaging in stimulating activities. They may not be suitable for those seeking a low-energy, low-maintenance dog, as they require consistent mental and physical stimulation.

Overview

OFFICIAL NAMEAustralian Shepherd
OTHER NAMESAussie
ORIGINUnited States
BREED GROUPHerding Group
BREED SIZEMedium
HEIGHT18-23 inches
WEIGHT40-65 lbs
LIFESPAN12-15 years
LIVING SPACELarge
SENSITIVITY TO COLD WEATHERModerate
SENSITIVITY TO WARM WEATHERModerate
GROOMING NEEDSHigh
EXERCISE NEEDSVery High
TRAINABILITYVery High
BARKING TENDENCYModerate
BITING TENDENCYLow
DROOLING TENDENCYLow
SHEDDING LEVELHigh
POPULARITY RANK12th
australian shepherd playing in water
Photo: Fotoshautnah/Pixabay

Appearance

The Australian Shepherd is a medium-sized dog breed, well-balanced and boasting a robust appearance. With their strong, agile bodies, they are the epitome of both endurance and grace. Males typically stand between 20-23 inches tall at the shoulder, while females range from 18-21 inches. As for weight, males usually fall between 50-65 pounds, and females weigh slightly less at 40-55 pounds.

Aussies possess a slightly rectangular head with a flat or slightly domed skull. Their muzzles taper subtly to a rounded tip, giving them a well-defined, chiseled look. The breed’s stop, where the muzzle meets the forehead, is moderate yet distinct. Australian Shepherds have strong jaws, and their teeth meet in a scissors bite, enabling them to have a firm grip on objects.

Their eyes can come in a variety of colors, including blue, amber, brown, or even a combination of these colors. They often exhibit heterochromia, where each eye has a different color, or marbling, where multiple colors are present within a single eye. This striking feature adds an enchanting touch to their alert and intelligent expression.

The ears of an Australian Shepherd are triangular and set high on the head. They fold forward, close to the skull, and have a slight lift at the base, giving them a perky and attentive appearance.

Aussies are known for their “wiggle-butt” dance, which is partly due to their bobtail, a naturally short tail that may be docked in some countries. However, not all Aussies have a bobtail – some are born with a full-length tail, which can be left undocked.

The coat of an Australian Shepherd is one of their most distinctive features. The breed has a double coat, with a weather-resistant outer coat and a soft, dense undercoat. Coat textures can vary from straight to wavy, but should always be moderate in length and never excessively curly or fluffy.

The Aussie’s coat comes in several striking colors, including black, blue merle, red, and red merle. They may also have white markings on the face, chest, and legs, as well as copper or tan points on the face and lower legs.

Overall, the Australian Shepherd’s appearance exudes strength, agility, and elegance, making them not only a versatile working dog but also a visually stunning companion.

australian shepherd lying down in nature
Photo: Kurt Pas/Getty Images

Temperament

The Australian Shepherd possesses a temperament that is as multifaceted and captivating as their striking appearance. Known for their intelligence, loyalty, and exuberance, Aussies have earned a reputation as remarkable companions and exceptional working dogs.

At the core of the Aussie’s personality is their incredible intelligence. They are highly trainable and excel in various dog sports and activities, such as herding, obedience, and agility.

Their keen minds and eagerness to learn make them enthusiastic participants in any task they are given. This innate intelligence also means they are quick to pick up on their owner’s emotions and moods, making them highly attuned and empathetic companions.

Loyalty is another hallmark of the Australian Shepherd’s temperament. These dogs form strong bonds with their families and are known for their unwavering devotion. Aussies are natural protectors and will not hesitate to defend their loved ones if they feel they are in danger.

This protective instinct can manifest as wariness towards strangers, but with proper socialization, these dogs can be taught to discern friend from foe.

Aussies are energetic and lively dogs that bring a sense of fun and playfulness to every aspect of life. They love to engage in interactive games, such as fetch or frisbee, and their athletic abilities allow them to keep up with even the most active owners. Their joyful demeanor and zest for life are infectious, making them a constant source of entertainment and delight for those around them.

Despite their exuberance, Australian Shepherds are also known for their adaptability. They can adjust well to different environments and situations, provided their mental and physical needs are met. Whether living in an urban apartment or on a sprawling farm, an Aussie will be content as long as they have a loving family and plenty of opportunities for engagement and stimulation.

The breed’s herding instincts are deeply ingrained in their personality, which may result in some unique behaviors. Aussies may exhibit a tendency to “herd” their human family members or other pets, gently nudging them with their noses or using a “play-bow” to encourage movement.

While this behavior is generally harmless and often seen as endearing, it’s essential to monitor and manage it, especially around young children or smaller animals.

Australian Shepherds are also known for their sensitivity and attentiveness. They are highly perceptive dogs that can sense changes in their environment and the emotions of their owners. This trait makes them excellent emotional support animals or therapy dogs, as they are adept at providing comfort and reassurance when needed.

However, this sensitivity can also make them prone to anxiety or stress if not properly managed. Establishing a consistent routine, providing mental stimulation, and offering positive reinforcement can help create a stable and secure environment for an Aussie to thrive.

Ideal Environment

The ideal environment for an Australian Shepherd is one that caters to their mental and physical needs, while also providing a loving and supportive atmosphere. As highly intelligent and energetic dogs, Aussies thrive in environments where they are given ample opportunities for exercise, mental stimulation, and engagement with their human family.

Physical Environment

Aussies are versatile dogs that can adapt well to various living situations, be it a rural farm or an urban apartment. However, regardless of the setting, they require sufficient space to move and play, as well as access to outdoor areas for daily exercise. A home with a securely fenced yard is advantageous, as it allows the Aussie to safely explore and expend energy without the risk of wandering off.

Climate Adaptability

When it comes to climate adaptability, the Aussie’s double coat provides protection in both cold and hot conditions. The dense undercoat keeps them warm in colder climates, while the weather-resistant outer coat helps regulate their temperature in warmer weather. However, precautions should be taken during extreme temperatures.

In hot climates, provide your Aussie with plenty of shade and fresh water to prevent overheating. Avoid exercising during the hottest parts of the day and consider using cooling vests or mats to help keep them comfortable.

In cold climates, be mindful of the risk of frostbite or hypothermia during winter months. While their coat offers some protection, it’s essential to monitor your Aussie for signs of discomfort and limit their exposure to extreme cold.

Ideal Owner

The Australian Shepherd is best suited for active pet parents who enjoy spending time outdoors and participating in stimulating activities. Owners who are willing to invest time in training, socialization, and daily exercise will find Aussies to be enthusiastic and loyal companions.

These dogs excel in activities such as hiking, running, agility training, or even herding, making them great partners for those with active lifestyles.

Other Pets

In terms of other pets, Australian Shepherds generally get along well with other dogs and animals, especially if properly socialized from a young age. However, their herding instincts may lead them to try to “herd” smaller pets or children, so it’s essential to monitor and manage this behavior to ensure the safety and comfort of all household members.

australian shepherd walking with a ball in its mouth
Photo: Ksuksa/Getty Images Pro

Grooming

Grooming is an essential aspect of caring for an Australian Shepherd, as it helps maintain their health and appearance. Aussies have specific grooming needs due to their double coat and active lifestyles. By establishing a consistent grooming routine, you can ensure that your Aussie stays clean, comfortable, and looking their best.

Coat Care

One of the most critical aspects of grooming an Australian Shepherd is regular brushing. Their double coat is prone to matting and tangling, especially in areas where friction occurs, such as behind the ears, around the collar, or under the legs.

To prevent mats and keep their coat in optimal condition, it’s recommended to brush your Aussie at least once or twice a week. During shedding seasons, which typically occur in spring and fall, more frequent brushing may be necessary to remove loose hair and reduce shedding.

When brushing your Aussie, use a slicker brush or an undercoat rake to effectively remove loose hair and tangles from both the outer coat and the dense undercoat. Start by gently brushing against the direction of hair growth to lift and separate the hairs, and then brush in the direction of growth to smooth the coat. Be sure to pay close attention to any areas prone to matting and use a comb or dematting tool if needed.

Bathing

Australian Shepherds do not require frequent bathing, as it can strip their coat of natural oils and lead to dry skin. Generally, bathing your Aussie every 6-8 weeks is sufficient, although more frequent baths may be necessary if they become dirty from outdoor activities or have a specific skin condition.

Always use a mild dog shampoo that is specifically designed for double-coated breeds, and be sure to rinse thoroughly to remove all soap residue.

Before bathing your Aussie, it’s essential to brush them thoroughly to remove any tangles or mats, as water can cause these issues to worsen. After bathing, towel-dry your dog as much as possible and then allow them to air-dry or use a dog-specific hairdryer on a low heat setting. Avoid using high heat, as it can damage their coat and cause discomfort.

Dental Care

Maintaining your Australian Shepherd’s dental health is crucial for their overall well-being. Brushing your dog’s teeth daily with canine toothpaste and toothbrush is the most effective way to prevent plaque buildup, tartar, and gum disease. In addition to brushing, you can provide dental chews or toys designed to help clean your Aussie’s teeth and support good oral hygiene.

Nail Trimming

Regular nail trimming is essential for your Aussie’s comfort and mobility. Overgrown nails can cause pain, affect their gait, and even lead to joint issues. Ideally, you should trim your dog’s nails every 3-4 weeks, depending on their activity level and how quickly their nails grow. Use a dog-specific nail clipper or grinder and be cautious not to cut the quick, the sensitive blood vessel inside the nail.

Ear Cleaning

Check your Australian Shepherd’s ears regularly for signs of dirt, debris, or infection. Clean their ears as needed using a dog-safe ear-cleaning solution and cotton balls or pads. Avoid using cotton swabs, as they can push debris further into the ear canal and cause injury.

australian shepherd's face close up
Photo: ambaradan/Getty Images Signature

Exercise

The Australian Shepherd is a highly energetic and athletic breed that requires regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental well-being. As working dogs with strong herding instincts, Aussies thrive when given a purpose and an opportunity to expend their energy in constructive ways.

Exercise Amount & Types

Daily exercise is essential for an Aussie, with a minimum of 60-90 minutes of activity recommended. This can be divided into multiple sessions throughout the day, incorporating various types of exercises to keep them engaged and stimulated. Walking or jogging are excellent options for daily exercise, but these intelligent dogs often crave more challenging and interactive activities.

Incorporating games like fetch, frisbee, or tug-of-war into your Aussie’s exercise routine can provide additional physical and mental stimulation.

Off-leash play in a securely fenced area is another great way for your Aussie to burn off energy and socialize with other dogs. However, it’s essential to ensure that your dog has reliable recall and is well-socialized before allowing them off-leash in public spaces.

Regular visits to dog parks or arranging playdates with other dogs can also help your Aussie develop appropriate social skills and learn to interact positively with other canines.

Australian Shepherds are known for their exceptional ability to learn and perform tricks, making trick training a fun and engaging form of exercise. Teaching your Aussie new tricks can provide mental stimulation and offer a unique way for them to impress friends and family with their repertoire.

Dog Sports

Australian Shepherds also excel at dog sports such as agility, flyball, obedience, and herding trials, which not only offer physical challenges but also require mental focus and problem-solving skills. Participation in these activities can help strengthen the bond between you and your Aussie while keeping them physically fit and mentally sharp.

Exercise Precautions

It’s crucial to remember that the exercise needs of an individual Aussie may vary depending on factors such as age, health, and temperament. Be sure to monitor your dog’s energy levels and adjust their exercise routine accordingly to ensure they remain happy, healthy, and well-balanced.

Training

Training is an essential aspect of raising a well-behaved and well-adjusted Australian Shepherd. These intelligent dogs are known for their exceptional trainability, making them highly receptive to learning new commands and skills. However, their energetic nature and keen intelligence also mean that they require consistent, engaging training to keep them focused and motivated.

Australian Shepherds excel at positive reinforcement training methods, which involve rewarding desired behaviors with treats, praise, or play. This approach helps create a strong bond between you and your Aussie while reinforcing good habits and manners. It’s crucial to start training as early as possible, ideally from puppyhood, to establish a solid foundation and prevent the development of undesirable behaviors.

Socialization is a vital part of training for an Aussie. Exposing them to various people, animals, and environments from a young age will help them become well-rounded, confident dogs. Regular socialization can prevent issues such as fearfulness, aggression, or excessive wariness towards strangers.

Puppy socialization classes, dog parks, and arranging playdates with other dogs are excellent ways to introduce your Aussie to new experiences in a controlled and positive manner.

Given their herding instincts, Australian Shepherds may display behaviors such as nipping at heels or attempting to “herd” people or other animals. Training your Aussie to understand and redirect these instincts is essential for their safety and the well-being of those around them.

Teaching commands such as “leave it” or “off” can help curb these behaviors and provide your dog with a more appropriate outlet for their herding instincts, such as participating in herding trials or other dog sports.

Consistency and patience are key when training an Australian Shepherd. These dogs are quick learners, but they may also test boundaries and push limits, especially during adolescence. Maintaining a consistent training routine and enforcing rules and boundaries will help ensure your Aussie remains well-behaved and responsive to your commands.

Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise for an Australian Shepherd. Incorporating puzzle toys, trick training, or scent work into their daily routine can help keep their minds sharp and prevent boredom, which can lead to destructive behaviors.

australian shepherd behind a fence
Photo: Kurt Pas/Getty Images

Diet & Nutrition 

A well-balanced diet is essential for maintaining the health and well-being of an Australian Shepherd. Providing your Aussie with the proper nutrients will support their energy levels, coat condition, and overall health throughout their life.

What to Feed & How Much

When selecting dog food for your Australian Shepherd, look for high-quality options that follow the guidelines set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). These guidelines ensure that the food contains the necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrients for optimal canine health.

There are various types of dog food available, including dry kibble, wet food, and raw diets. The best choice will depend on your dog’s individual preferences and dietary needs.

The amount of food you should feed your Aussie depends on factors such as their age, weight, activity level, and metabolism. As a general guideline, adult Australian Shepherds typically require around 1.5 to 2.5 cups of high-quality dry food per day, divided into two meals.

Growing puppies may have different nutritional requirements, and it’s essential to consult your veterinarian or follow the feeding recommendations provided by the dog food manufacturer.

Keep in mind that more active dogs may require additional calories to support their energy levels, while less active or older dogs may need fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight. Regularly monitor your Aussie’s body condition and adjust their food intake accordingly to prevent obesity or undernourishment.

It’s crucial to consult with your veterinarian when determining the best diet and feeding schedule for your individual Aussie. They can provide personalized recommendations based on your dog’s age, weight, activity level, and any specific health concerns.

Treats & Water

Treats can be a helpful tool for training and rewarding good behavior, but they should be given in moderation to avoid excessive calorie intake. Opt for healthy, low-calorie treats, and remember that they should not make up more than 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake.

Fresh water should always be readily available for your Australian Shepherd. Ensure that they have access to clean water at all times, especially during hot weather or after physical activity, to prevent dehydration and maintain proper hydration levels.

Health

The Australian Shepherd is generally a healthy and robust breed, with a life expectancy of 12-15 years. However, like all breeds, they can be prone to certain health issues that potential owners should be aware of.

Some common health issues associated with the Australian Shepherd include:

Hip Dysplasia: A genetic condition where the hip joint does not develop properly, leading to arthritis and pain. Regular veterinary check-ups and maintaining a healthy weight can help manage and prevent this condition.

Elbow Dysplasia: A developmental abnormality of the elbow joint that can cause lameness and discomfort. Early diagnosis and treatment, including weight management and possible surgical intervention, can help improve your dog’s quality of life.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): A degenerative eye disease that can lead to blindness. Responsible breeding practices can help reduce the prevalence of PRA in Aussies, and early detection through regular eye exams can help manage the condition.

Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA): A congenital eye defect that can cause vision impairment or blindness. Regular eye examinations and responsible breeding can help identify and manage this condition.

Multi-drug Resistance (MDR1) Gene Mutation: This mutation makes affected dogs more sensitive to certain medications, which can result in severe adverse reactions or toxicity. Genetic testing can identify carriers of the MDR1 mutation, allowing owners and veterinarians to adjust medication protocols accordingly.

To keep your Australian Shepherd healthy and minimize the risk of these conditions, it’s essential to provide a well-balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs. A high-quality diet can support their immune system, maintain a healthy weight, and promote overall wellness.

Regular veterinary check-ups are crucial for early detection and management of any health issues. These visits allow your veterinarian to monitor your Aussie’s growth, weight, and general health, as well as administer necessary vaccinations to protect them against common canine diseases.

australian shepherd sitting in an open field
Photo: Johny87/Getty Images

History

The history of the Australian Shepherd, despite its name, can be traced back to the Basque region of Europe, located between Spain and France. The breed’s ancestors were primarily herding dogs used by shepherds to manage their flocks of sheep.

In the early 1800s, many Basque shepherds immigrated to Australia in search of better grazing lands for their sheep. They brought along their dogs, which were then crossbred with local Australian dogs to create a more versatile and hardy herding breed.

In the 1840s, during the California Gold Rush, there was an increased demand for Australian wool in the United States. Consequently, Basque shepherds and their dogs made their way from Australia to America, bringing the newly developed breed with them. Upon arrival in the United States, these dogs became known as Australian Shepherds, despite their European origins.

Once in America, the Australian Shepherd continued to be refined and developed as a herding breed. The breed gained popularity among American ranchers and farmers due to its exceptional herding abilities, adaptability, and intelligence. As the breed continued to evolve, it became increasingly versatile, excelling not only in herding but also in various canine sports and as a loyal companion to families.

Throughout the 20th century, the Australian Shepherd gained recognition in popular culture for its striking appearance and exceptional skills. The breed made appearances in movies, television shows, and rodeos, where they often performed tricks and herding demonstrations.

Their colorful coats, alert expressions, and agile movements made them an attractive choice for entertainment purposes, further boosting their popularity among dog enthusiasts.

Ranchers and breeders played a significant role in the establishment of the Australian Shepherd breed standard. Notable figures such as Juanita Ely, Jay Sisler, and Dr. Heard contributed to the breed’s development and promotion. They focused on preserving the breed’s working ability, intelligence, and unique appearance, resulting in the versatile and hardworking dog we know today.

The Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) was founded in 1957 to promote and protect the breed. The club established a breed standard and organized various events and competitions, including herding trials, obedience tests, and conformation shows.

However, it wasn’t until 1991 that the Australian Shepherd was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). This recognition marked a significant milestone in the breed’s history, as it allowed the Aussie to be registered and participate in a wider range of AKC-sanctioned events. Since then, the breed has continued to gain popularity in the United States and around the world.

Today, the Australian Shepherd is known for its versatility and adaptability, excelling in various roles such as herding, search and rescue, therapy work, and as family companions. The breed has also made a name for itself in canine sports, including agility, flyball, and obedience competitions.

The Aussie’s intelligence, trainability, and strong work ethic make it a highly sought-after breed for dog enthusiasts who appreciate its unique combination of beauty, brains, and brawn.

Parent Club

The official parent club for the Australian Shepherd dog breed in the US is the United States Australian Shepherd Association (USASA). Founded in 1990, USASA is dedicated to promoting and preserving the breed’s intelligence, versatility, and exceptional working abilities.

The organization offers various programs, events, and resources to support responsible breeding and ownership of Australian Shepherds. To learn more about USASA and its activities, visit their webpage here.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed. It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities.

Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

You can check the Australian Shepherd’s breed standard set by the American Kennel Club (AKC) here.

australian shepherd puppy outdoor
Photo: animalinfo/Getty Images

Acquiring

Acquiring an Australian Shepherd dog is a rewarding experience, as these intelligent and energetic dogs make excellent companions. To ensure a smooth transition, it’s essential to prepare your home, establish a routine, and gather necessary supplies such as food, toys, and grooming tools.

Instead of buying from a breeder, consider rescuing an Australian Shepherd in need of a loving home. Many dogs end up in shelters or rescue organizations due to various circumstances, and adopting one not only saves a life but also makes room for another dog in need.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) and the United States Australian Shepherd Association (USASA) can help you find reputable rescue organizations to adopt from.

By choosing to rescue an Australian Shepherd, you’re giving a deserving dog a second chance while enriching your own life with a loyal and affectionate companion.

FAQs

Are Australian Shepherds good family dogs?

Yes, Australian Shepherds can make excellent family dogs when properly socialized and trained. They are known for their intelligence, loyalty, and protectiveness, making them great companions for families. However, they do have high energy levels and require regular exercise and mental stimulation to stay happy and well-behaved.

Do Australian Shepherds bark a lot?

Australian Shepherds can be vocal due to their herding instincts, and may bark to alert their owners of potential threats or when they are bored or seeking attention. Proper training and socialization can help manage excessive barking, and providing them with ample physical and mental stimulation can also reduce unwanted vocalizations.

Are Australian Shepherds expensive?

The cost of an Australian Shepherd can vary depending on factors such as the breeder, pedigree, and location. On average, you can expect to pay between $600 and $1,200 for an Aussie puppy from a reputable breeder.

However, this price can increase for puppies with show-quality lineage or specific desirable traits. Additionally, consider ongoing costs such as food, grooming, veterinary care, and training when budgeting for a new dog.

How much exercise do Australian Shepherds need?

Australian Shepherds are highly energetic dogs that require a minimum of 60-90 minutes of daily exercise. This can include activities such as walking, jogging, playing fetch, or participating in dog sports like agility or flyball. Regular exercise is essential for maintaining their physical and mental well-being.

How often do Australian Shepherds need grooming?

Australian Shepherds have a double coat that requires regular grooming to keep it clean and free of tangles. It’s recommended to brush your Aussie at least once or twice a week to remove loose hair and prevent matting. During shedding season, more frequent brushing may be necessary. Regular bathing, nail trimming, and ear cleaning are also important for maintaining your Aussie’s overall health and appearance.

Are Australian Shepherds hypoallergenic?

No, Australian Shepherds are not considered hypoallergenic. They have a double coat that sheds moderately throughout the year and more heavily during seasonal shedding periods. As a result, they may not be suitable for individuals with severe allergies to pet dander.

Can Australian Shepherds live in apartments?

While it is possible for an Australian Shepherd to adapt to apartment living, it can be challenging due to their high energy levels and exercise requirements. If you live in an apartment and are considering an Aussie, be prepared to provide them with ample daily exercise and mental stimulation to keep them happy and healthy.

Fun Facts

  • Despite their name, Australian Shepherds are not actually from Australia. The breed was developed in the United States as a herding dog. The “Australian” part of their name comes from the Australian sheep that they were initially bred to herd.
  • Australian Shepherds have a history of performing in rodeos. Their agility, intelligence, and instinctual herding behavior make them excellent performers, and they quickly became crowd favorites due to their energetic displays and striking appearance.

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