Australian Shepherd Hard Working Herding Dog and Friend to The CowboyHome » Dog Breeds » Australian Shepherd
The Australian Shepherd comes from herding sheep out west in the 1800s. But it has a lot to offer the right owners even if not being used as a working dog.
|Here is the Australian Shepherd at a Glance|
|Other Names||Aussie Shepherd, Australian Sheepdog, Australischer Schaferhund|
|Origin||USA (not Australia!)|
|Average size||Medium to large|
|Average weight||40 to 65 pounds|
|Average height||18 to 23 inches|
|Life span||12 to 15 years|
|Coat type||Medium, water-resistant|
|Color||Black, Merle, Red|
|Popularity||Fairly popular - 17th most popular according to AKC|
|Intelligence||Excellent – it is a very intelligent dog|
|Tolerance to heat||Very good – its coat means it has very good protection from hot weather conditons|
|Tolerance to cold||Very good – its coat means it has very good protection from cold conditions|
|Shedding||Average to high – During the year it sheds an average amount but it has seasonal blow outs where there is a lot of hair|
|Drooling||Low – It is not a dog that has problems with drooling|
|Obesity||Above average – It can be prone to obesity so food and treats need to be controlled and it needs regular exercise|
|Grooming/brushing||Moderate to high – It will need brushing daily and a lot of hair clean up to do during seasonal shedding|
|Barking||Occasional to frequent barker|
|Exercise needs||Very high – Used to being a working dog so needs a lot of physical and mental stimulation|
|Trainability||Easy to train but needs a firm owner ideally with some experience|
|Friendliness||Very good – this is a friendly and social dog|
|Good first dog||Moderate – there are other easier dogs to look after and care for if this is your first dog|
|Good family pet||Excellent – this dog would be a great dog for a family|
|Good with children||Very good – it is affectionate and playful with children|
|Good with other dogs||Excellent – When socialized and trained it is excellent with other dogs|
|Good with other pets||Good – with socialization it can be good with other pets but does have a fairly high prey drive so likes to chase small animals|
|Good with strangers||Good – it is initially wary but with introduction can be fine|
|Good apartment dog||Not at all, too large and too energetic for small living quarters|
|Handles alone time well||Moderate only – it does not like being left alone for long periods and may act out with destructive behavior if it is|
|Health issues||Moderate – it does have several issues some of which are very serious, and there are a lot of problems that could happen with its eyes|
|Medical expenses||$485 a year for basics like a check up with the vet, flea prevention and includes pet insurance|
|Food expenses||$275 a year for treats and food though this could increase with more high end brands|
|Miscellaneous expenses||$125 a year for toys, license and other misc items|
|Average annual expense||$885|
|Cost to purchase||$900|
|Biting Statistics||Attacks Causing Bodily Harm: 11 Maimings: 5 Deaths: 0 Child Victims: 7|
The Australian Shepherd's Beginnings
The Australian Shepherd is not from Australia as one might understandably presume from its name. In fact it is an American born breed of dog, originally developed in the west in the 1800s by farmers and ranchers to be a work dog and herd livestock. With the California Gold Rush of 1849 there was a huge migration of people to the west coast which meant demand for wool and mutton shot up. This meant the need for great herding dogs also went up.
Breeders focused on its working attributes wanting a dog with great herding ability who was also intelligent, versatile and very hard working. It would also need to act as guard dog and be able to handle the climate out there. They wanted a dog who was fast, had lots of energy be able to be independent but still be obedient. The Australian Shepherd has been known by several names over the years. The Australian part may come from the Australian sheep it was used to herd, or that its coloring looked like Australian dogs (blue merle).
New Lease on Life
After World War II the Australian Shepherd regained popularity with western fans, horse shows, rodeos and so on. They could be found in western movies and TV shows like Stub: The Greatest Cowdog in the West or Run Appaloosa Run. Later roles came in Flight of the Navigator, the Famous Five movies and Flash Forward. In the 1950s the Australian Shepherd Club if America was formed.
In 1975 the ASCA developed a breed standard for the Australian Shepherd and in 1991 the American Kennel Club recognized it as a breed. There was some controversy at this time as many in the ASCA felt the AKC focused too much on conforming and looks and not enough on ability and performance. This caused a separate club to form called the United States Australian Shepherd Association who joined the AKC while the ASCA did not.
Two smaller versions of this dog have emerged over the years. The Miniature Australian Shepherd, which was then renamed the Miniature American Shepherd and was recognized by the AKC as a new breed in 2012. There is also an even smaller dog called a Toy Australian Shepherd. As smaller dogs are used to breed the size down the AKC also considers this dog a separate breed.
Today it is still a clever, energetic and hard working dog loved by many and kept as a working dog, family dog and show dog. It is successful in various areas such as drug detection, agility, police work, guarding, herding, competitive obedience, search and rescue and retrieving. It is now ranked as America's 17th most popular dog by the AKC.
The Dog You See Today
The Australian Shepherd weighs between 40 to 65 pounds, males typically being 50 to 65 pounds and females 40 to 55 pounds. They stand 18 to 23 inches tall and are a little longer than they are tall. It has a coat that is medium in length, water-resistant and wavy or straight. Ones that live in colder regions tend to have a more thicker undercoat than those living in warmer areas. Around the ears and head is shorter hair and there can be fringe or feathering at the back of the forelegs and britches. The neck and chest has more hair that is longer particularly the males.
Colors include red merle, red, blue merle, black and tri colored which is black, tan and white. A merle coat is one that has a light background with dark blotches. Red merle is red patches with a beige base and blue merle is black patches and a grey base. If the dog is a blue merle or is black it has black lips, eye rims and noses. If it is red or red merle it has brown or liver lips, eye rims and noses.
Eye color for this breed can vary quite a bit indeed they once had the nickname ghost eye. It can have browns of different shades, blues or even different colored eyes. Merle Australian Shepherds can also have something called split eyes where half of the same eye is brown and the other half is blue. There can also be swirled colors.
Its tail can be long and full, naturally bobbed or even partially bobbed. Docking has been done in the past, though in some countries that practice is now not allowed.
The Inner Australian Shepherd
The Aussie was bred to be independent and bold and is still that way today. It requires an owner who can be dominant and give confident and firm leadership. It is a loyal dog with its family but more wary of strangers. It tends to bond more closely with one or two people in the family.
It is energetic and will need a lot of time exercising if it is not used as a working dog. It can be loving to those it knows but otherwise is reserved. It is protective and is likely to bark if people approach the property. It is clever and loves to learn and play. It also likes to receive attention and if it is not getting enough attention or stimulation it can become hyperactive and have unwanted destructive behavior like digging and scratching.Advertisement
It likes to be close to its family and can adapt to different situations. It is still a great herding dog and may try to herd the family if it is not a working dog. It can be high spirited which is not always easy to control.
Living with an Australian Shepherd
Early training and socialization are very important. It will likely nip at heels to herd people and other pets and training can curb this. As this dog needs a lot of mental as well as physical stimulation training is a good way to keep it mentally challenged.
Use positive training methods, praise it, offer treats and rewards to encourage it. Its owner will need to be firm and be able to stay in control, as this dog needs a strong leader. For that reason it is not suited to a first time owner.
Some lines have shyness or timidity in them and it is important to either avoid breeding those lines or to make sure part of the early socialization is to balance that.
How active are they?
There are varying tips on how much exercise an Australian Shepherd needs daily. The minimum is an hour a day of good hard exercise, but some owners say their dogs need at least 2 hours a day. Remember it was bred to be athletic and have a lot of stamina. It needs owners who are very active. This is not a dog for people who like to relax on the couch most evenings and weekends. It will happily join its owner biking, hiking, jogging and so on.
It is too large and active to be an apartment dog. It needs a yard to play in and that yard needs to be fenced properly as the Aussie will otherwise jump over it or dig beneath it to get out. Take it to a dog park where it can play with you now and then too.
When it is still a puppy make sure it is not over exercised. Puppies need to take more care as they are still developing their skeleton. Avoid hard surfaces up to one year of age where possible.
Caring for the Australian Shepherd
The Aussie has moderate to high grooming requirements mostly due to its year round shedding coat that also will blow out its coat around Spring time. It will need brushing daily to keep up with loose hair. You can still expect to have hair around the home. If tangling is an issue use some diluted hair conditioner on then brush. Make sure you are brushing down to the skin to distribute its natural oils around its body giving it a healthy shine. If needed there are undercoat rakes you can use to help with taking out excess hair.
When its coat is maintained well bathing should only be done as it is needed. Avoid doing it too frequently as it damages the natural oils in its skin. Use a dog shampoo only. You will also need to wipe clean and check the ears once a week, brush its teeth at least twice a week and have its nails clipped if they are not worn down naturally. If there is anything you do not feel able to do take it to a professional groomer.
It will need to be fed at least 2 to 3 cups of good quality dry dog food a day, divided into at least two meals. Depending on its metabolism, size, activity and health it may need more.
Kids and other pets
The Australian Shepherd can get on very well with children and other pets. Early socialization will help as will training to teach it not to nip at the kid's heels in its attempts to herd them. It is a good idea to supervise when younger children are around in case they get knocked over and to make sure the child does not inadvertently hurt the Aussie with ear or tail pulling for example.
With other pets the herding can cause friction, especially with cats! Keep an eye on their interactions until you have the nipping and herding under control. Some Aussies can have problems with other dogs sue to dominance issues, while others get along fine.
What Might Go Wrong?
It is in general quite a healthy dog but there are some issues it can be prone to including Joint Dysplasia, Deafness, Eye problems, Allergies, Epilepsy, OCD, Cancer, Collie nose and Drug sensitivity. When purchasing an Australian Shepherd ask for parental health clearances for both parents to try and minimize the chances of having a sickly dog.
When looking at reports on dogs attacking people over the last 34 years the Australian Shepherd can be found to be linked to 11 attacks that did bodily harm, meaning the victims needed emergency medical attention. 5 of those were maimings, meaning the victims suffered from disfigurement, permanent scarring or loss of limb. There were at least 7 child victims. This puts in the top 30% of dog attacks. This means over 34 years there is an average of 1 attack every 3 years. Compared to other breed there is no need to exercise extreme caution with this dog.
Any dog can become aggressive no matter its size and can attack. It is important when buying a dog that get one that suits your lifestyle and is one you can care for properly. Well raised dogs need to be socialized, trained, exercised, fed and loved. Dogs that are not having their needs met can become aggressive.
Your Pup’s Price Tag
The going price for an Australian Shepherd puppy today is about $900, though it can range from $150 if you get one from a rescue up to $3000 from a top breeder.
At the same time as getting your puppy you are going to need to spend some money on initial costs like blood tests, deworming, shots, micro-chipping, neutering or spaying, leash and collar and crate. These come to at least $450.
Obedience training is something all dogs should undertake and the Aussie is no exception. Its initial training will start at $120 but if you opt to extend that then those costs will rise. Due to its background getting advanced training and skills training is certainly something this dog would enjoy and benefit from. Costs also depend on whether you do the work yourself or use a professional trainer or school.
Other non-medical annual costs will be food and treats, toys, license and miscellaneous items. How much food and dog treats cost depends on the quality you opt for but this will be at least $275 a year. The toys will be another $40 at least and the license $20.
Yearly medical costs for a vet check up, vaccinations, flea prevention, pet insurance and heartworm prevention come to at least $485.
Overall you can expect your Aussie to cost you in excess of $885 a year.
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The Australian Shepherd is more of a working dog than a family dog. It likes to be active for long hours and needs plenty of mental stimulation too. It can be successful as a family dog as long as it gets lots of attention and is well trained and socialized. It has strong herding instincts and without training and socialization to control it, it can resort to nipping at the heels of people, children and pets to herd them.
It is a very devoted dog and with the right active owner has a lot to offer in terms of loyalty, affection and companionship. Just be sure you are very firm about being its pack leader.