Australian Shepherds: Except They’re Not Actually Australian
This medium-sized cuddly fluffy ball known as the Australian Shepherd is also a big furball of energy that knows how to balance work and fun. Originally bred as working dogs, they live to entertain and serve you as their pet parent. If you’re looking forward to adding an Aussie to your fur family, get ready for butt loads of fun and affection from this gorgeous pup!
What is an Australian Shepherd?
Australian Shepherds, also known as Aussie or Spanish Shepherd, are among the most popular dog breeds in the United States. For years, they haven’t left the top 20 list of the most popular dog breeds. Based on American Kennel Club, the Australian Shepherd earned the number 12 spot for the Most Popular Dog Breeds in 2021.
They belong to a certain group of breeds called Shepherds, essentially herding dogs. Something to remember, all Shepherd dogs are herding dogs, but not all herding dogs are Shepherds. The Shepherd dog breed only refers to a specific category of dogs that herd or drive sheep. Some examples of these herding breeds are Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, German Shepherds, etc.
Of course, this is also not to confuse a Shepherd with a Sheepdog. Sheepdogs are dogs mainly responsible for raising sheep, among its other duties of moving, driving, and guarding sheep.
You might also be interested in: 15 Cutest Australian Shepherd Mixes
Origin of the Australian Shepherd
It’s easy to assume that Australian Shepherds originated from Australia, but despite their name, some people believe that the breed originated from the Basque region of Spain. According to AKC, the Australian Shepherd originated near the Pyrenees Mountains, where they were believed to be a part of the bloodline of the Pyrenean Shepherd, one of the dogs of the Basque Shepherds.
During the mid-19th century, the Basque Shepherds, along with their dogs, sailed to Australia first then eventually immigrated to the western United States to work for ranchers and farmers. That’s where the assumption that Australian Shepherds originated in Australia came from.
Aussies since then became popular in the American West and became a big part of cowboy culture. They were sensationalized in the West to participate in rodeo shows, perform tricks, and showcase their herding skills. While others continued their legacy as a working breed and still served as herding breeds, they also took part in other lines of work such as guide dogs, service dogs, therapy dogs, police dogs, and search and rescue dogs.
In 1993, AKC officially recognized the Australian Shepherd as part of the Herding Group.
What Was the Australian Shepherd Bred for?
The Australian Shepherd was originally bred as a herding dog. Their intelligence, versatility, and trainability make them good working dogs in general, which is why they also excel in other jobs. Aussies are used to working with people and are usually friendly, making them an ideal family pet.
What Does an Australian Shepherd Look Like?
Australian Shepherds typically are medium-sized dogs with a lean build featuring lush, medium-length fur that comes in various coat colors and markings. In this part, we’ll take a closer look at the Australian Shepherd and talk about their physical appearance.
First on the list is the coat. Aussies are double-coated breeds. They have the weather-resistant topcoat or outer layer and the undercoat or inner layer, which provides insulation. An Australian Shepherd’s double coat enables them to adapt well to any environment or temperature.
Meanwhile, for their coat colors, the four standard colors of the Australian Shepherd recognized by the AKC are:
This coat color can still be divided into three: Solid Black, Black Bicolor, and Black Tricolor.
Solid colors in Australian Shepherds are typically uncommon, so a solid black colored Aussie would be a rare find.
Next is the Black Bicolored Aussie, also known as the black and white Australian Shepherd. Its most dominant color is black, while the white color occupies a part of their face, down their neck, chest, and paws.
Among these three, the most popular one is the Black Tricolor. Black is the most prominent one, with a mix of white and tan markings. You will often see the white markings along their muzzle, chest, paws, and stomach. While tan markings cover their eyes, cheeks, and legs.
Australian Shepherds can also come with a red coat color, divided into three sub colors: Solid Red, Red Bicolor, and Red Tricolor.
A Solid Red Aussie is very hard to come by. The redness of their coat also has different shades, varying from lightest to darkest.
The Red Bicolored Aussie is usually just the mix of red and white coat colors. You can find the white markings mostly on their face, legs, chest, and the back of the neck. Meanwhile, the rest of their body is in red.
Lastly, the Red Tricolor is mainly red and white with copper highlights on the face or legs.
We also have the Blue Merle Australian Shepherd, further divided into Blue Merle, Blue Merle Bicolor, and Blue Merle Tricolor. Also known as dapple, Merle coat is a unique coat pattern in dogs. Merle is an overlay of random patches in the body that are usually a mix of light and dark shades.
In a Blue Merle Aussie, you will see random black spots or patches with a hint of a lighter shade, typically gray, in their body. The mix of the black and gray patches kind of looks like a blue when you’re looking at it from far away, hence the name Blue Merle.
The Blue Merle Bicolored Aussie has the Blue Merle pattern as its base color and a secondary color of either white or tan. You can locate the white or tan markings in the dog’s chest to the stomach and the forelegs.
Also a popular look on the Australian Shepherd, the Blue Merle Tricolor is a mixture of Blue Merle, White, and Tan color. They have one of the most gorgeous coat colors in an Australian Shepherd. A Blue Merle Tricolored Aussie can have brown or blue eyes, with some even matching the merle pattern of their coat to their eyes.
The last type of coat color is the Red Merle, which like the rest, has three sub colors: Red Merle, Red Merle Bicolor, and Red Merle Tricolor.
Similarly, with the Blue Merle Aussie, the Red Merle Aussie also has the dapple pattern, this time with a darker and lighter shade of red, which comes off looking like a sandstone color. This type of Aussie tends to also have the merle pattern in their eyes.
Red Merle Bicolord Aussies can have white patches on their face, legs, and neck. Sometimes the white trims overlay the base Red Merle color, creating a unique pattern.
Following the Blue Merle Tricolored Aussie, the Red Merle Tricolored Aussie features a Red Merle as the base coat with white and tan markings. Typically, you can find white trims on their face, chest, legs, and stomach, while the tan highlights can be found on the top or under their eyes and on the end of the paws.
Another eccentric feature of the Australian Shepherd is their eyes. An Aussie’s eye depends entirely on their genetics. Their eyes can vary from brown, amber, hazel, gold, blue, or sometimes marble, mostly Australian Shepherds with merle coats. Australian Shepherds with “split eyes” are also a possible occurrence in this breed. Split eyes are when they have two different colored eyes, typically one blue and the other brown.
Naturally, Australian Shepherds have button ear shapes. It’s also characterized as half-erect or half-floppy ears.
Aussies are born with short or bobbed tails. However, Australian Shepherds with a slightly longer tail undergo tail docking, the process of which a part of their tail is surgically removed. Many now frown upon this procedure, but it still has advantages, especially for a working breed like the Aussie. Having a short or docked tail prevents injuries like when accidentally pulled by a child or a person.
How Big Does a Full Grown Australian Shepherd Get?
The standard male Australian Shepherd can grow between 20 to 23 inches tall (51–58 cm), while a female Australian Shepherd stands slightly shorter between 18 to 21 inches (46–54 cm). Meanwhile, the average weight of a full-grown male Aussie range between 50 and 65 pounds (23–29 kg) and about 40 to 55 pounds (18–25 kg) for a full-grown female Aussie.
How to Take Care of an Australian Shepherd?
Australian Shepherds are energetic and intelligent breeds that require a lot of exercise and mental stimulation. In short, they can be high maintenance and you might need to step up your game to keep your Aussie entertained and happy.
Again, Aussies have high energy levels. They love having something to do, whether it’s work, exercise, puzzles, dog sports, or training. An active breed like them needs vigorous exercise daily or, better yet, let them participate in dog sports like dog agility, frisbee, dock diving, or obedience.
Since the Aussie is known for its strong herding instinct might as well maximize their skills and give them a job like sheep herding children or herding livestock. Their natural herding instincts would be useful if you let them compete in sheepdog trials.
Maintain your Aussie’s lush and beautiful coat by brushing them weekly. However, during their shedding season of spring and fall, you must remove any signs of dead hair using an undercoat rake. Aussies are quite the outdoorsy type, so they may get down and dirty from time to time, and they will need to be bathed occasionally. Meanwhile, the rest of their grooming needs, like brushing the teeth, trimming the nails, and cleaning the ears, all need to be done regularly.
Generally, any high-quality dog food specific to your dog’s life stage is the ideal diet for them. For an active and healthy breed like the Aussie, they will need a good balance of proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals in their diet. It is preferable to give them dog food with high-quality animal protein from chicken, beef, fish, or pork. Also, a diet infused with healthy fats like Omega-3s and 6s to keep their skin and coat nourished.
Related Review: 7 Best Dog Foods for Australian Shepherds in 2022
1. How much to feed
Your dog’s food intake will depend on their age, size, activity level, and metabolism. As a general guide, however, it’s recommended to feed your adult Aussie about 1.5 to 2.5 cups of dry kibble a day. An Australian Shepherd puppy would require more since at their age they have higher energy needs and burn more calories. You can feed them 1 to 5 cups a day depending on their exact age, weight, and activity level.
2. How often to feed
Feed your adult Australian Shepherd dog twice a day, splitting their 1.5 to 2.5 cups of dry food a day into two meals for the morning and evening. For Australian Shepherd puppies, you can give them three to four meals a day with at least a 5-hour interval in-between meals.
3. Common food allergies
Some dogs can develop food sensitivities because of certain ingredients in their food. Unfortunately, no dog is an exception to this rule. The best way to prevent allergic reactions in dogs is to be aware of the common food allergens present in some dog foods.
As much as protein is good for dogs, sometimes these are the main culprits of food allergies in canines. The most common protein allergens are chicken, beef, pork, or fish. Other food allergens include corn, wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, animal by-products, fillers, and artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.
Watch out for these signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction in dogs:
- Irritated skin like itching, rash, or skin sores
- Skin inflammation
- Hair loss
- Dry and dull coat
- Glassy eyes
- Teary eyes
- Bloodshot eyes
- Chronic ear infection
- Upset stomach or diarrhea
- Coughing or wheezing
- Biting or scratching of their own skin
Are Australian Shepherds Easy to Train?
Training for Australian Shepherds is just a walk in the park. Aussies have a natural inclination to physical and mental stimulation that training is basically part of their blood. The good news for Aussie owners, this breed is highly intelligent, adaptive, and eager to please, so training them won’t be much of a challenge compared to other dogs.
An athletic dog like the Aussie loves spending time outdoors. They are one of the most driven and focused dog breeds and will thrive well in a large and distraction-free environment. Remember that positive reinforcement training goes a long way during training. And this is also one of the best ways to form a strong bond and good relationship with your Aussie.
This dog must have an owner that can match their high energy and satisfy their training needs. Otherwise, an Aussie can develop destructive behaviors without consistent training or mental stimulation. Unfortunately, this is how some Australian Shepherds end up as rescue dogs; their past owners weren’t able to keep up and meet their high energy needs.
Are They Easy to Potty Train?
Yes, Aussies are very easy to potty train, especially an Aussie puppy. Start them at the right age, between 6 to 8 weeks old, because it is during this age that puppies usually have a quicker grasp on learning new things.
What’s the best training method for my Aussie?
Start with the basic and easy training methods such as early socialization, obedience training, crate training, and basic commands.
Early socialization is an integral part of any dog’s life. This determines how your puppy interacts and functions with other people or pets. You can socialize your Aussie with other dogs as early as 7 weeks old and at the latest age, 4 months old. Any older than 4 months will be more challenging but still doable.
Next is obedience training, also known as positive reinforcement training or reward-based training. This training method is unarguably the most effective way of training any pup. With this training, you reward your dog’s good behavior by giving them something they love like feeding them treats, playing games with them, spending time outdoors, or giving them praises and affection from you.
Additionally, you can also use positive reinforcement along with basic command training. Teach your Aussie basic commands such as ‘sit,’ ‘down,’ ‘stay,’ ‘leave it,’ and more. And for every command they do right, you can reward them with a small treat. As much as possible, do not use harsh commands or harsh punishment as these are the worst possible ways to make your puppy learn. It can even result in unpleasant behaviors as they grow up.
Australian Shepherd Temperament
It’s already well-known that the Australian Shepherd is a hardworking, intelligent, and active dog. Coming from the Aussie’s long history as a herding dog, they are bred solely to work jobs. They are the happiest when given responsibilities. However, those are not the only notable characteristics of the breed. The Australian Shepherd also makes a lovely family companion as they can be playful, affectionate, and are good-natured dogs.
Does this breed do well with children?
The answer to this is quite a balance between ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ Yes, because Aussies have an easygoing and friendly personality that interacting and playing with children is an enjoyable experience for both parties. Since Aussies and children are both energetic and playful, this makes them a good match, and they can keep up with each other well.
Simultaneously, no, because of the Australian Shepherd’s natural herding instincts. Herding dogs like the Aussie tend to practice their herding skills in children, which can become problematic. Your Aussie may chase or nip at the children’s feet as part of their herding strategy.
The way to prevent this is to teach your Aussies that chasing, nipping, or herding children, in general, is unacceptable behavior and will not be tolerated. At the same time, you should also teach the children how to act appropriately with your Aussie. This means no tail pulling, ear-biting, or any behavior of that kind.
In any case, you should not leave your Aussie with any kids unsupervised. Always keep an eye on both parties to prevent and avoid accidental injuries for both of their safety.
Does it do well with other pets?
Like with children, the Aussie’s behavior towards other pets can vary. Some Aussies can be friendly, affectionate, and form a quick bond with other dogs, while some can be slightly reserved. Generally, Australian Shepherds are good companions, but still, like with children, they may have the drive to herd other dogs or pets, which won’t be a pleasant experience for anyone.
As much as possible, if you’re planning on getting an Aussie and you already have another dog or pet, or vice versa, socialize them early to avoid future complications like herding incidents between your two pets.
Are Australian Shepherds aggressive?
Australian Shepherds are not naturally aggressive. Although, they also have a loyal nature that can make them protective or territorial of their dog owners. They may get defensive towards strangers or other animals at times. Still, any dog has the tendency to develop aggressive behavior if provoked, threatened, or didn’t receive proper training.
What Environment Is Ideal for an Australian Shepherd?
Aussies appreciate the great outdoors, but this breed can adapt to almost any environment. They can live in city apartments or houses with an adequately-spaced yard where they can enjoy outdoor exercises or activities with you. They don’t necessarily need a big ranch to be happy. As long as they have you as a company and an outdoor space where they can do their thing, I highly doubt they will complain.
They can also adapt well in hot or cold, courtesy of their double coat. Still, everything has a limit. Colder temperatures are okay if it doesn’t go below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0° C). For warmer temperatures, anything over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32° C) is a no-no.
What Is the Average Life Span of Australian Shepherds
The Australian Shepherd has a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years. A big factor affecting their life expectancy is health problems, with cancer being the most common cause of death in Australian Shepherds.
If you want your Aussie to live a long, healthy, and happy life, the best way to do this is to give them a complete and nutritionally balanced diet, exercise, and visit the vet regularly.
Australian Shepherd Common Health Issues
Australian Shepherds are generally healthy dogs, and you would barely expect this breed to suffer from illnesses. However, this doesn’t mean they’re completely immune. Certain health issues, primarily genetic health problems, can affect this breed. As their pet parent, you have to be aware of these.
Here are the common Australian Shepherd health problems you should know about.
Nasal Solar Dermatitis
Nasal Solar Dermatitis is a congenital disease that occurs because of sensitivity to sunlight. Breeds like the Australian Shepherd, Collie, Shetland Sheepdog, and German Shepherd are most susceptible to this condition. The cause of this disease is still unknown, but exposure to the sun is one of the driving factors why dogs develop Nasal Solar Dermatitis.
The signs and symptoms of this condition include the following:
- Ulceration or swelling of the non-pigmented area of the nose
- Inflammation of the nose bridge
- Peeling, scaling, or bleeding on the nose
- Skin irritation or lesions
- Abnormal cell development (tumors)
- Inflammation in the eyes
Hip Dysplasia is a common joint disease in dogs, mostly targeting large breeds. Unfortunately, Aussies are also prone to this condition. This condition is defined by the abnormal development of the hip joints. Hip Dysplasia occurs when the hip ball is displaced from the socket, causing pain and discomfort on the dog’s affected leg. If left untreated, it can lead to joint inflammation and eventually arthritis.
The common signs and symptoms of Hip Dysplasia are:
- Reluctance to running, jumping, or climbing the stairs
- Lameness in the rear leg
- Bunny hopping
- Decrease in activity levels
- Difficulty standing or lying down
- Limited range of motion
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder listed as one of the most common inherited diseases in Australian Shepherds. This disorder is scary for a pet owner to encounter because it also causes seizures in dogs. Today, there are no existing screen tests in epilepsy for canines to see if they inherited the condition, making it even more alarming.
The most common type of epilepsy that most dogs suffer from is Idiopathic Epilepsy, meaning the cause of epilepsy is unknown. Epilepsy can develop between 1 to 4 years of age in dogs.
Watch out for these obvious signs and symptoms of epilepsy:
- Muscle twitching
- Loss of consciousness
- Tongue chewing
- Foaming at the mouth
Hypothyroidism occurs due to the thyroid’s underactive glands, which results in the lack of production of the thyroid hormone, thyroxine. Thyroxine is the hormone responsible for regulating your dog’s metabolic rate. Without the balanced levels of thyroxine in the body, your dog’s metabolism, along with other processes in the body, slows down, affecting the body’s performance.
Dogs with hypothyroidism will show the following signs and symptoms:
- Weight gain
- Lethargy or fatigue
- Chronic skin and ear infections
- Hair loss
- Excessive shedding
- Dry, dull coat
- Increase in dark pigmentation of the skin
- Low activity level
- Cold intolerance
MDR1-Related Drug Sensitivity
Aussies with the multidrug resistance mutation 1 or MDR1 gene mutation experience permanent effects of drugs that enter their body due to defective glycoproteins. The MDR1 gene mutation is the leading cause of defective glycoproteins. It intensifies the effects of the drugs instead of filtering them, resulting in brain damage, severe physical disability, and death.
The medications that are not allowed for Aussies with MDR1-Related Drug Sensitivity include:
The Australian Shepherd is also prone to certain eye issues such as:
- Cataracts – Cataract is an inherited disease that can cause vision impairment and blindness. This occurs when a clump forms in the eye, making it look ‘cloudy.’ The cloudy film blocks the light from entering the eye, which causes blurred or impaired vision.
- Collie Eye Anomaly – CEA, also known as collie eye defect, is a congenital genetic disease that causes eye defects, including choroidal issues, retinal detachment, retinal folds, and underdeveloped blood vessels in the eye.
- Distichiasis – Distichiasis is a condition characterized by the growth of eyelashes in an unusual place in the eyelids. Usually, the hairs grow inside the eyelid, scratching the eyeball and causing irritation.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) – PRA is another inherited disease common in Aussies. This occurs due to the degeneration or breaking down of the photoreceptor cells in the eye, leading to partial blindness and eventually complete nighttime and daytime vision loss.
Another sad reality for the Australian Shepherds is their susceptibility to certain types of cancer, mainly hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma.
- Hemangiosarcoma – is also known as blood vessel cancer. This type of cancer develops in the tissue of the organs, mostly in the liver, spleen, heart, and other parts of the body.
- Lymphoma – is a cancer of the white blood cells that can occur in the lymph nodes, spleen, or bone marrow.
The most common form of treatment for cancer is radiation and chemotherapy. However, some dog parents have found a natural alternative that includes CBD. This treatment uses CBD in the forms of CBD oils, CBD treats, or CBD supplements to alleviate symptoms of cancer and relieve pain caused by radiation or chemotherapy.
If you are interested to know more about CBD and its health benefits to treat cancer, check out this informative article from us: CBD Oil for Dogs With Cancer – Can CBD Really Help?
How Much Does an Australian Shepherd Cost?
The price of an Australian Shepherd ranges from $600 to $1800, depending on the age, pedigree, coat color, location, breeder’s reputation, and more. Typically, puppies have a higher price point, while an adult dog will cost you less. If you don’t have the time to train a dog, getting an older one is a good choice, and the expenses will be lighter for you.
You can also get an Aussie rescue from your local rescue group or shelter, costing less than $600, most likely between $0 to $300. Purebred Aussies in animal shelters are harder to find, and you will most likely end up with a hybrid.
If you want to buy a puppy from a reputable breeder, expect that it will cost you more, typically between $800 to $1800. Do not fall for breeders that sell puppies at a lesser price point as they most likely are a product of puppy mills. Speaking of selling puppies, take a look at the top websites where puppies are sold online.
You should consider additional expenses, including pet insurance, vet visits, medications, grooming, supplies, pet accessories, dog foods, etc. At best, expect to spend at least $150 a month ($1800 a year) when taking care of a puppy. This is to prepare you for future and possible expenses.
Other Similar Dog Breeds
Aussies are a fun breed to have around. But, let’s be realistic, not all people are perfectly compatible with the Australian Shepherd dog breed, just like any other dog breed. If you are looking for alternative options, here are other breeds that share some of the characteristics and temperament of the Aussie.
|Other Dog Breeds||Similarities||Differences|
|Border Collies||herding dog, active, intelligent, adapts well, energetic||coat color, drop ears, bushy and long tail|
|Australian Cattle Dogs||energetic, hard-working, intelligent, loves exercises and jobs to do||pointy ears, heavy build|
|Poodles||smart, high exercise needs, easily trainable, playful||minimal shedding, low prey drive, friendly to strangers|
|Papillon||loves plenty of stimulation, feathered coat, friendly, energetic, intelligent||minimal shedding, loud, not very sensitive, friendly to strangers|
|Shetland Sheepdogs||requires a lot of exercise, rough coat, energetic, playful, intelligent||smaller in size, good for small space living, friendlier to other dogs or people, long coat|
|Miniature Australian Shepherd||energetic, double coat, high exercise needs, intelligent||shorter legs, smaller in size, adapts well in indoor or small space|
|Leonberger||stocky, solid build, affectionate, energetic, friendly||heavier, giant-sized, heavy shedder|
Tips on Finding the Right Breeder
Buying an Aussie puppy should be something you need to think carefully about. If you want to get the best quality puppy without the risk of getting one with health issues, you need to do your own research about reputable breeders in your area.
The United States Australian Shepherd Association, AKC Parent Club representative, highly recommends Australian Shepherd breeders perform health screening tests. These include tests for cataracts, hypothyroidism, collie eye anomaly (CEA), certain types of cancer, hip dysplasia, and epilepsy.
Signs to Look For in a Responsible Breeder
Here are the other qualifications of a responsible breeder that you should look for.
- The breeder is part of parent breed clubs (i.e. Australian Shepherd Club of America or National Breed Club)
- Extensive breeding background
- Shows genuine concern for animals
- Creates a high-quality living environment for dogs
- Shows transparency about the history of the dogs
- Provides necessary documents such as Hip Certification, Genetic Testing, Registration, and Bloodline
- Open to answering questions
- Implements health clearances to ensure puppy’s health is in good condition
- Schedules a visit or video call to see the puppy
- They make sure that the puppy will live in a good home with good fur parents
What to Avoid When Looking for a Breeder
Pet breeding is a business, and like any other industry, there are breeders out there that exist to take advantage of unsuspecting fur parents. Watch out for these types of breeders when looking for a puppy.
- Backyard breeders and puppy mills… enough said
- They sell two to three litters of puppies at the same time
- Making false undocumented claims about the dog’s character
- Defensive when asked about their breeding practices
- Doesn’t allow visits
- If visits are allowed, the place where the puppies are bred doesn’t satisfy comfortable living conditions
- No pedigree information and registration documents available
- No medical history provided
If the Aussie’s striking and gorgeous features are not enough to convince you to adopt or get one, their fun and loving personality might. This hardworking breed can offer a lot, not just in the physical aspect but also in the intellectual and dog parent care aspect. An Australian Shepherd will keep you accompanied in your daily activities. The best part is they will shower you with hugs and kisses to make you happy. If you’re interested in having someone that can match your high energy, the Aussie can’t be more perfect for you!