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The Australian Shepherd — or Aussie — is one of the most recognized dog breeds in the world for its intelligence. Hailed as one of the smartest dog breeds, they were originally bred as working dogs. This breed thrives when they have a job that stimulates their minds. These pets are hardworking animals and make excellent therapy and emotional support dogs.
Australian Shepherds are known for their high energy, intelligence, and loyalty. They enjoy spending quality time with their human companions and are easy to train but require lots of mental and physical stimulation to keep them happy and healthy. Wondering if the Australian Shepherd is the right dog for you? Keep reading to learn more about this special dog breed.
- History & Origin Of Australian Shepherds
- Physical Attributes Of Australian Shepherds
- Behavioral Characteristics Of Australian Shepherds
- Caring For Australian Shepherds
- Health Of Australian Shepherds
- Australian Shepherd FAQs
- Final Notes
History & Origin Of Australian Shepherds
It may come as a shock, but Australian Shepherds aren't Australian. In fact, these dogs are the only livestock working breeds developed in America.1 Instead, Australian Shepherds likely come from Spain, where they worked alongside Basque shepherds who took their dogs with them to Australia and the US.1 That said, the modern-day breed was developed in the US.
The breed was originally developed in the western US by livestock producers who put their dogs to work on farms.1 Many of these dogs excelled as cattle dogs, making them ideal for various tasks on a ranch.
While Australian Shepherds are known for their herding abilities, they became popular because they frequently appeared in rodeos to herd bulls and perform tricks.2
Bred for ranch work, Australian Shepherds are highly intelligent and easy to train. Because they worked alongside their human companions throughout their history, they developed companionship, unlike many other dog breeds. Many of these dogs still work on ranches and farms, but they've become family dogs or work as Search and Rescue and service dogs.
Physical Attributes Of Australian Shepherds
- Height: 18-23 inches
- Weight: 40-65 pounds
- Life expectancy: 12-15 years
All Australian Shepherds have the same general temperaments and personalities regardless of size. These dogs are unique because they often have two different colored eyes, usually a combination of blue, hazel, green, and brown.2 In addition, many have short tails because ranchers often bred dogs with shorter tails because they're safer for herding.
Australian Shepherds have a straight, medium-length double coat that ranges in colors from black to red, blue, and tan, with or without white. In addition, they have a solid build and forward-flopping ears.
Behavioral Characteristics Of Australian Shepherds
Australian Shepherds are not overly affectionate dogs but thrive on companionship and do well with young children. Since they're a working breed, they tend to be playful and high-energy but not overly friendly with strangers or other dogs.3
These dogs must be kept busy to prevent undesirable behaviors, but they make great family pets as long as you can satisfy their physical and mental stimulation needs. However, they won't be happy in a small apartment.
Since these dogs were originally bred to herd cattle, they prefer tons of outdoor space to run free.
These dogs have a lot of energy and need ample space outside. However, that doesn't mean they need to live on a ranch. Instead, they'll be happy with a spacious fenced-in yard.
Keep in mind that the temperament and personality of your Australian Shepherd dog will depend on various factors, such as past experiences, upbringing, and genetic factors. Mental stimulation is crucial for any dog, but since Australian Shepherds are smart and job-oriented, they need more than the average dog.
Australian Shepherds are not couch potatoes.1 Since they were bred for herding, they still have the instinct, even if they're no longer living on a ranch, so they may try to herd other pets and people.1 Additionally, since these dogs are used to wide-open spaces and being able to run freely, they need lots of physical exercise to prevent destructive behaviors like digging and chewing.1
They're friendly dogs, but Aussies are more cautious around strangers, so you should never try to force encounters.1 Instead, let your dog decide if and when they want to approach someone or another animal.
These dogs can be protective of their family, and poorly socialized Australian Shepherd puppies can become aggressive without the necessary training at a young age.1
For these reasons and more, this breed is not ideal for first-time pet parents because they require extensive training and will need daily exercise and mental stimulation. Since your dog will have a strong work ethic, they're typically best for active pet parents who can keep up with them.
Caring For Australian Shepherds
If you can provide your Australian Shepherd with a job or another form of mental stimulation and daily exercise, they'll be a loving family member. However, since these dogs were bred to work and have such a strong work ethic, they won't be happy living in a sedentary household. Instead, they need a pet parent who can provide enough space to let them roam the yard and run free. Caring for an Australian Shepherd is easy once you determine they're the right breed for you.
Australian Shepherds are high-energy, athletic dogs that require lots of exercise on a daily basis.3 Your dog should have a large fenced-in yard where they can run throughout the day.
However, your dog will also enjoy going for a long walk or hike with you to help eliminate some of their excess energy. These dogs are some of the best running partners and can keep you motivated because they don't tire easily. Aussies have such a strong work ethic that they prefer a job for mental and physical stimulation. Therefore, don't be surprised if you find them herding children or other pets in the household.
Since Australian Shepherds need exercise and mental stimulation, some of their best activities include obedience training, agility training, herding, swimming, and dock diving.3
Without proper exercise, Australian Shepherds can easily get bored. So don't be surprised if you see them engage in the zoomies occasionally to release some of their pent-up energy.
Australian Shepherds don't require any special diets. Like all dogs, they thrive on high-quality commercial dog food appropriate for their life stage. This breed isn't prone to weight gain or obesity because they're so active, but you should monitor their calorie consumption to prevent associated health issues. While treats can be useful for training, they should not exceed 10% of your dog's daily caloric intake.
In addition to a healthy diet, you should always ensure your Aussie has access to fresh water. Since they enjoy running around the yard, you may have to fill up their water bowls frequently throughout the day to ensure they stay hydrated, especially during the hot summer months.
Australian Shepherds have a low-maintenance double coat that requires weekly brushing to prevent knots and tangles.3 Additionally, you may want to brush your dog more often during the shedding season to help remove loose fur. While they're not heavy shedders, they do shed, so you can expect to find their fur on furniture and clothing.
In addition to regular brushing, Australian Shepherds tend to spend a lot of time outside, so they're more prone to getting dirty than dogs that spend most of their time indoors.3 However, they only need the occasional bath. Of course, some dogs may need them more frequently, depending on their activities and how often they get dirty.
As part of your Aussie's grooming schedule, don't forget to brush their teeth. Vets recommend brushing your dog's teeth every day to prevent plaque and bacteria buildup that can contribute to gum disease. And, as with any dog, you should trim their nails regularly. How often you'll need to trim your Aussie's nails will depend on how quickly they grow. Training your dog to tolerate nail trims during puppyhood is crucial.
Early training and socialization is important for all dogs, but especially Australian Shepherd puppies. Since these dogs have so much energy, training can help them learn how to behave in certain situations. Training your dog will help them understand how to use all the energy they have.
In addition, since Australian Shepherds form strong bonds with their owners, they may become protective or territorial.3 Training can help reduce undesirable behaviors associated with being an overprotective dog.
These dogs also need companionship and can become destructive if left alone for too long.3 While your dog's overall personality and temperament depend on various factors, training during puppyhood plays a crucial role in how they behave as adults.
Health Of Australian Shepherds
Australian Shepherds are generally healthy dogs. However, this breed is prone to some health issues. Whether you find an Australian Shepherd for sale online or adopt one from a shelter, you should be aware of the following potential health concerns:
- Hip dysplasia: Hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition of the hip joint development which causes deterioration over time, resulting in limping, stiffness, and pain. Since Aussies have high energy levels and enjoy running and jumping, they have an increased risk of injury and pain due to hip dysplasia.
- Eye problems: Australian shepherds are prone to cataracts that can become problematic as they age. With this condition, their eyes can become cloudy and potentially cause decreased vision and blindness.4
- Epilepsy: Australian Shepherds are prone to inherited epilepsy, which can affect them at any age, with episodes beginning as early as only a few months.5 Dogs with epilepsy usually require lifelong management through medication.
Australian Shepherd FAQs
Are Australian Shepherds good pets?
Australian Shepherds are great pets for the right pet parent. They have easy-going temperaments and can make great family pets. However, they're not ideal for some pet parents. If you can't dedicate enough time to training them and ensuring they get enough mental and physical stimulation every day, their boundless energy might be too much for you to handle. For this reason, they require an experienced pet parent with a fenced-in yard.
Do Australian Shepherds bark a lot?
Australian Shepherds are relatively vocal dogs, so training is crucial. They may bark at strangers, sounds, and other animals, especially if they haven't gotten enough mental stimulation and exercise that day. If your Australian Shepherd barks a lot, you can invest time and energy into training them, but overall, providing them with exercise should reduce their barking tendencies.
Can Australian Shepherds be left alone?
Australian Shepherds are relatively independent because they were bred to work. However, because the breed has worked closely with humans since they were developed, they prefer not to be left alone for too long. These dogs can typically be left alone for up to six hours, but they prefer to socialize and spend as much time with their human companions as possible.
Since they can engage in destructive behavior when bored, investing in crate training Australian Shepherd puppies may be well worth it.
Australian Shepherds are fun-loving, energetic, intelligent dogs that are eager to please and love spending time with their families. However, because they typically require a job to be happy, they're not ideal for all pet parents.
In addition, this breed is prone to various health conditions, although they're considered generally healthy. Dutch telemedicine for pets treats all breeds of dogs to help Aussie owners improve their pets' health and happiness. Try Dutch today.
"The Australian Shepherd." ASCA, 30 Aug. 2022, https://asca.org/aussies/about-aussies/the-australian-shepherd/.
Reisen, Jan. "9 Things You Might Not Know about the Australian Shepherd." American Kennel Club, 17 Dec. 2020, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeds/australian-shepherd-facts/.
Latimer, Matt. "Australian Shepherd Dog Breed Information." American Kennel Club, 6 Nov. 2017, https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/australian-shepherd/.
"Canine Cataracts." Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 23 Sept. 2022, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/riney-canine-health-center/health-info/canine-cataracts.
"Canine Epilepsy." Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute, 30 Sept. 2015, https://www.ashgi.org/home-page/genetics-info/epilepsy-other-neurological-issues/epilepsy/canine-epilepsy.