Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherd

The affectionate, clever Australian Shepherd makes a loving family dog for experienced dog owners. They are friendly and loving with their family, but have an extremely high energy level and require vigorous exercise every day to wear them out. They are often nicknamed 'velcro dogs' because of their tendency to stick beside their favored person. They desire lots of attention and dislike being left alone for long periods. The diligent Aussie likes to problem-solve and will find jobs to do around the home—often herding children or other pets. They are always alert and may respond to guests with an alarm bark, but are generally friendly—though reserved—with new people. Overall, Aussies are intelligent companions that are exceptionally responsive to training.


Other Names

Australian Shepherds are also known as Aussies.


Australian Shepherd Mixes

Australian Shepherd mixes may be available in shelters and rescues. While Aussie mixes may display some of the physical traits and temperament of the Australian Shepherd, characteristics of the other breeds in the dog's family tree will likely also be present. Herding behaviors are almost always present in any Australian Shepherd mix, though they may be less prominent. Most shelters do not perform DNA testing on the animals they care for—breed is often determined based on physical characteristics, as well as information provided at the dog's surrender.


To adopt an Australian Shepherd mix or AKC registered Aussie, get in touch with local shelters and rescues as they often maintain waiting lists for specific requests. While an Australian Shepherd mix adopted from a shelter may share physical characteristics of the breed, their genetic history is often unknown and their temperament may not match the breed standard. Shelters and rescues attempt to determine each dog's personality through a series of evaluations—even if the dog's temperament may not follow the breed standard, you can get the dog that suits your home.


Common Australian Shepherd mixes include Husky, Labrador Retriever, and Border Collie.

Physical Description

Coat

The Aussie's medium-length, weather-resistant coat may be straight or wavy. Feathering is present at the backs of the forelegs, but legs, head, and ears have a shorter, smooth coat. Merle coloring is the most well-known in the breed, but there are a total of four colors with three marking styles associated with the breed.


Height

Average Height: 18-23 inches


Weight

Male: 55-70 pounds

Female: 35-55 pounds

Breed Standard & History

The loyal Australian Shepherd is a hardworking herding dog, with a solid build and plenty of stamina. The agile Aussie shows an attentive and good nature, never shy or aggressive. High-set, moderately-sized triangular ears shouldn't hang or prick upward. The medium-texture, medium-length coat is weather resistant and may be blue merle, black, red merle, red, or tan. Liver or black pigmentation is visible on the nose and around the eyes, relative to coat color. The docked or naturally-bobbed tail shouldn't exceed four inches in length. A smooth, easy gait shows graceful movement even while working. – AKC Breed Standards


While the breed is called the 'Australian Shepherd,' development of the Aussie likely began with dogs in in the Pyrenees Mountains, then continued in North America. The origins are unclear, but popular herding breeds used by the Basques in Spain are credited as the start of the Aussie's bloodline.


Ranchers favored the Australian Shepherd for its intelligence, strong herding instincts, and adaptability. The breed was well-suited to the Rocky Mountains due to their tolerance for the altitude and climate. Aussies were regularly employed as a stockdog throughout the American West.


Aussies were used as messenger dogs throughout World War II, are known for their work as farm dogs, and have appeared in numerous movies and TV shows thanks to their easygoing attitude and trainability.


While the Aussie has been in development since the 19th century, the original dogs don't resemble current breed standard. Many names have been used for this breed, including Spanish Shepherd, Pastor Dog, Bob-Tail, New Mexican Shepherd, and California Shepherd. The Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) was established in 1957, the breed standard was written in the 1970s, and the breed was officially recognized by the AKC in 1991.


AKC Breed Category

Herding Group

Personality

General Temperament

The intelligent, alert Australian Shepherd is always looking for a job to do. They are energetic and hardworking, but also affectionate family dogs. Aussies are smart and eager to learn. They enjoy mentally stimulating activities in addition to physically active adventures. The high-spirited nature of the Australian Shepherd makes them a delight to be around, but the breed needs plenty of exercise in order to prevent destructive behaviors. While adaptable, the loyal and devoted Australian Shepherd does best with its people nearby. They are often demanding of attention and they do not like to be left alone.


Family Life

Are Australian Shepherds Good with Kids? Herding instincts may give way to nipping at the heels or hands of children in order to herd them, but the Aussie is generally well-behaved and affectionate with children. Proper socialization and training, as well as plenty of exercise or a job to do, may help minimize nipping behaviors. Nipping should be immediately redirected in order to discourage the behavior.


Are Australian Shepherds Good with Other Pets? If bored, Aussies may try to herd cats or other pets in the household, but they tend to get along well with household pets if properly socialized. Working line Australian Shepherds are fantastic herding dogs and will work diligently to tend livestock. While confirmation line Aussies may possess the instinct to herd, they may be less biddable.


Protective

Australian Shepherds are alert and loyal, and may exhibit some guarding behaviors. They are known to bark at perceived threats—from a stranger at the door to the neighbor's cat, though their guarding behavior doesn't usually extend past an alert.


Energy Levels

High-energy Australian Shepherds require plenty of exercise—for body and mind. Without enough exercise and mental stimulation, an Aussie may become bored which may lead to destructive or snippy behavior. The tireless Aussie is a herding dog that was bred to work—if they're not given a job to do they will find one. A bored Aussie may dig, bark, or pace.


Specific Concerns

  • Recommended for experienced dog owners, not an ideal first-time pet
  • Needs plenty of exercise and activity to prevent destructive behaviors
  • May nip children and pets in an attempt to herd them
  • Known to alarm bark
  • Propensity to wander
  • Dislikes being left alone, needs regular companionship
  • Herding instinct may result in a high prey drive and considerable mouthiness

Requirements

Indoor

Aussies were originally working dogs, but they are social and thrive when they can spend time with their owners. An Australian Shepherd will follow her people from room to room just to be near them. Plenty of exercise is necessary to prevent destructive behaviors. If properly exercised and given enough mental stimulation and attention, the Australian Shepherd can even live in a city apartment.


Outdoor

While the breed was developed as a ranch dog, an Australian Shepherd is happiest when she is with her family. Aussies have a desire to chase—cats, squirrels, cars, children—and shouldn't be left to their own devices outside. They're also a highly intelligent breed that will find a job to do if left alone. An Aussie will figure out how to scale a fence if something looks interesting on the other side. Australian Shepherds are comfortable in a variety of weather conditions, but shouldn't be expected to stay outdoors without company and supervision.


Exercise

At least two to three hours of exercise—physical and mental—is necessary to keep the Australian Shepherd happy and healthy. Without enough activity, the Aussie can become high-strung, destructive, or snappy. As a working breed, they've got plenty of energy to burn, and they need your help to do it. Agility, hiking, running, and games of fetch are all perfect Aussie activities.


Endurance

The stamina of the Australian Shepherd is nothing short of impressive. The Aussie was developed as an industrious farm dog. It is difficult to run the energy out of an Aussie as their high endurance keeps them going long after you've tired out.


Activity distance rating

  • Running Miles: The energetic Australian Shepherd may have the stamina for a four- to six-mile run if she is in good health and has worked up to the distance.
  • Hiking Miles: Aussies love the trail and are always looking for logs to cross and rocks to climb. Well-conditioned Australian Shepherds may enjoy hiking up to 15 miles. The breed can be wary of strangers so proper socialization is important before taking an Aussie to the trail.


Food

The general recommendation for how much high-quality dry dog food (based on average weight and activity level) to feed an Australian Shepherd is 2 ½ to 4 cups of food per day given in two meals.


Food guarding behaviors are not common in the Aussie, but children should never be allowed to touch or remove food while any dog is eating.


Alone Time

Aussies are people-oriented dogs who tend to follow their family from room to room just to be near them. They require plenty of attention. Being left alone for too long may cause the intelligent, energetic Australian Shepherd to create her own fun—often through destructive behaviors or barking. While an Aussie may be left home alone for four to six hours at a time, crate training may be necessary for the dog's safety.

Health and Grooming

Life Expectancy

13-15 years


Grooming

Aussies have medium-length coats that shed heavily, with more shedding seasonally. Bathing as necessary and daily to weekly brushing can help reduce matting and shedding. More involved grooming may be necessary every four to six weeks. A sanitary trim of the tail and britches can prevent dirty, matted fur, though regular brushing is often enough. Shaving an Aussie is not recommended.


Trimming nails regularly will help prevent painful splitting, cracking, or a broken nail. Checking and cleaning an Australian Shepherd's ears regularly can help prevent ear infections.


Common Health Issues

Though the Australian Shepherd is a relatively healthy breed, they can be prone to breed-specific health concerns, such as:


  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Cataracts
  • Collie eye anomaly (CEA)
  • Iris colobomas, especially in merle-colored Aussies
  • Epilepsy
  • MDR1 gene mutation (multidrug sensitivity)

You can minimize serious health concerns in an Australian Shepherd by purchasing her from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.

Trainability

Basics

Basic training comes easily to the Australian Shepherd. The Aussie is one of the most intelligent dog breeds and will pick up on basic manners and commands quickly. They often try to outsmart their owners, however, so a firm handler and the use of positive reinforcement techniques are necessary. The brainy Aussie tends to have a comical streak—especially during training. Often, the joke is on you.


Advanced Training

Advanced tricks and agility training are perfect for the athletic, high-energy Australian Shepherd. Aussies excel at agility and can learn impressive tricks. Competitive obedience is an area in which the clever Aussie shines. Advanced training gives the Australian Shepherd the mental exercise necessary to keep them happy.


The Aussie loves having a job to do and will often seek out their own work if not given a task. Teaching an Aussie to pick up her own toys around the house is an easy trick—and a time-saver for you. They may also enjoy working alongside you outdoors, gathering sticks in the yard or herding on a farm.


Australian Shepherds are often used as police dogs, in narcotics detection, or search and rescue. They are often trained as service dogs.


Sporting Dog Training

The Australian Shepherd has endless energy that is well spent accompanying her owner as a hunting dog. They often learn to flush with little effort. Taking the Australian Shepherd's love of fetch to the next level can create an admirable retriever, though without proper training she may lack the desirable soft mouth and may not always return what she's retrieved. Her thick coat may gather burrs and dirt while hunting; extra grooming will prevent matting.

Breed FAQ

Here are a few commonly asked questions about Australian Shepherds.

Explore Other Breeds

While the Australian Shepherd and Australian Cattle Dog—also called the Blue Heeler—are both admirable herding dogs, they are two distinct breeds developed in different parts of the world. The Australian Shepherd is an American-developed dog with herding ancestors from the areas surrounding Spain, while the Blue Heeler has Australian origins. The Australian Cattle Dog's ancestry includes the Dingo, Dalmatian, and Bull Terrier.

The Australian Shepherd's origin is unclear, but they were not developed in Australia. The breed is thought to share ancestry with herding dogs from Spain's Basque region, and the breed as registered today was developed entirely in North America. Some speculate that the name came from the breed's use in herding sheep imported from Australia, but even that theory is unproven.

The Miniature Australian Shepherd is a separate breed registered by the AKC, though the registry lists the breed as a "Miniature American Shepherd." The Miniature Aussie was developed by breeding smaller-sized Australian Shepherds.


A Teacup or Toy Australian Shepherd is not recognized by the AKC, though they developed by breeding Australian Shepherds with smaller dogs, and they share many of the same characteristics. Because there is no breed standard for the Teacup and Toy varieties, there may be differences in temperament or health.