The Australian Shepherd Dog: A True Western Hero

australian shepherdDespite what the name implies, the Australian Shepherd is not from “down under.” Also known as the “Aussie,” this breed’s genetic makeup consists of genes from the herding dogs of Britain, Scotland, Spain and Australia. In the 1800s, an influx of European shepherds immigrated to the United States, the majority of them Australian. These shepherds brought with them their flocks and their herding dogs. Western ranchers recognized that the herding dogs of Australian sheep herders were more intelligent and robust than their native herding dogs, so the ranchers then bred their native dogs with the immigrant dogs. The breed became popular after World War I as they were introduced to the general public through rodeos and horse shows. In 1957, the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) was founded after the breed was not recognized by the popular pedigree registry association, The American Kennel Club (AKC). Later, advocates of the Aussie who still sought AKC recognition formed the United States Australian Shepherd Association. Their arduous work paid off, and in 1993, the AKC formally accepted the Australian Shepherd into its registry.

Working Dogs

Bred to herd livestock and to work as farm and ranch dogs, Aussies did not disappoint, performing well in the harsh Western frontier. The breed was held in high esteem by ranchers, cowboys, and shepherds in that the dogs were able to work efficiently from sunup to sundown. Snowstorms, scorching heat, nor torrential rains deterred the Aussie from herding any type of livestock. After ranching and shepherding began to wane around the 1950s, putting on rodeo competitions became a means for cowboys to supplement their income. Cowboys trained their herd dogs to perform tricks that would entertain the rodeo crowds, catapulting the Aussie to instant stardom. Disney even produced a few movies during the 1950s and 1960s headlining two popular rodeo Aussies, Stub and Shorty. Nowadays, Aussies are primarily kept as pets and show dogs.

Australian Shepherd Breed Description and Measurements

On average the Australian Shepherd is a medium-sized dog. Male dogs range between 20-21 inches tall and weigh about 50-65 pounds. Female dogs average 18-21 inches in height and 40-55 pounds in weight. The Aussie’s base coat comes in red or blue merle, as well as black or red. White or copper patches may appear on the face, chest, or feet. To avoid excessive shedding, the coat is best groomed with a bristle brush. Most Aussies have long, bushy tails. Whether the tail is docked or kept bushy depends on if the Aussie is trained as a show dog, working dog, or pet. Working dogs will typically have their tails docked to 4 inches in length; show dogs and pets keep their bushy tails. Aussie’s have sturdy, balanced frames and are more long than tall, with domed heads, triangular ears, medium sized muzzles, and almond shaped eyes; eye color may be coffee brown, amber, or blue.

Australian Shepherd Temperament

Naturally reserved, Aussie’s may initially appear withdrawn around new people; however, the dog will eventually relax and become more sociable. They are extremely loyal to their caretakers and are excellent guard dogs, barking when sensing danger. This breed needs plenty of exercise in order to stay in good health. If Aussies do not receive adequate exercise, they become unruly. However, overall these dogs are even-tempered, playful, loyal, protective, clever, and easy to train.


Some common health problems that may arise when an Aussie gets up in age are cataracts, hip issues (dysplasia), and thyroid problems (hypothyroidism). Also, the merle coloration gene carries blind and deaf factors if two merle breeds are crossed. This breed is highly sensitive to developing heart-worm, and herding Aussies often carry the MDR1 anemia gene. However, with the proper testing and care, healthy male and female Aussies enjoy life spans of 12 to 15 years. Likewise, healthy females can birth an average of 7 puppies per litter.

Australian Shepherd Clubs and Kennel Affiliations

Thanks to the efforts of The ASCA®, numerous dog clubs and kennels have recognized the Aussie as a pedigree.

•The ASCA® is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1957. This organization is dedicated to registering Aussie pedigrees and providing certifications and titles to dogs who participate in the organization’s merit programs and competitions. ASCA® is affiliated with over 100 dog clubs internationally.

•Considered the largest dog competition registry in the world, The United Kennel Club (UKC) was formed in 1898. UKC events are based on awarding merits to dogs that fit the UKC’s vision of the “total dog:” beautiful, skilled, obedient, and intelligent.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) is the most recognized kennel club in the world. Established in 1884, the AKC registers and promotes events for pedigrees. Three of the club’s popular events are The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the National Dog Show, and the Eukanuba Championship.

Australian Shepherd Articles

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