Thursday, July 4, 2013


You might be wondering why I am writing about Aussies on an American holiday like the Fourth of July.  Well, it's because the Australian Shepherd breed was actually developed in America.  Nobody knows for sure why they are called "Australian" shepherds, but of course there are several theories.

Some people say the breed started with some Spanish dogs used by Basque sheep herders in the Pyrenees Mountains.  When the shepherds emigrated to Australia and later to America, they took along their Merino sheep and the dogs that herded them.  After the dogs got to the western U.S., the ranchers there started using them to herd their own sheep and cattle.  And they probably crossed the Spanish dogs with collie stock.  Aussies were seen in the U.S. by as early as the 1800s.

Another version of this theory is that during the California Gold Rush in 1849, lots of people brought sheep and herding dogs to the West Coast in ships, and some of these came from Australia.  Since the dogs came from Australia to herd Australian sheep, they were called Australian shepherds.  Many of these dogs likely had merle coloring, so maybe any dog with that kind of marking was called "Australian."

Okay, then there is the scientific theory, which says that the breed never went anywhere near Australia or Spain either.  Scientists think its ancestors were American Dogs that came across the Bering Land Bridge a really, really long time ago.  Then the settlers in the western part of the country bred and trained the dogs to herd cattle and sheep.

Anyway, one reason why Aussies make such good herding dogs is that they are easy to train.  Another reason is that they are not much bothered by higher altitudes in the Rockies.  Other names this breed has been called in the past are Pastor Dog, Blue Heeler, Spanish Shepherd, Bob-Tail, New Mexican Shepherd, and California Shepherd.  Nowadays, working Aussies are used for several things besides herding, including retrieving, guarding, police work, narcotics detection, and search and rescue.

When ranchers started breeding Australian shepherds, they were just trying to get the best dogs to do the jobs they wanted them to do.  Later on, a breed standard was developed by people who wanted to show Aussies for conformation.  The standard says that male dogs should be 20"-23" tall, and weigh 50-60 pounds.  Females should be 18"-21" tall and weigh 40-55 pounds.  Eye color can be any variation of brown, blue, or amber, and might have flecks and marbling.

Photo by Bonnie van den Born
The Aussie's coat is a moderate length, has a medium texture, and is weather resistant.  There is an undercoat, but how thick it is depends on the climate.  The colors can be black, red, bue merle (marbled black, white, and gray) and red merle (marbled red, white, and buff).  Also, there can be white or tan markings on the face, chest, and legs.  If two merle Aussies are bred to each other, there is a chance that 75% of the puppies will be mostly white and have blue eyes.  Which means they may be deaf, blind, or both.

Some Aussies are born with a naturally bobbed tail, but in other cases, their tail is full-length or about half the regular length.  In the U.S., Aussie breeders usually dock puppies' tails, but this is not done in Europe and some other countries.

Australian shepherds were bred to do a job, so they have lots of energy and might get bored and destructive if they don't get enough exercise.  They do well with agility, flyball, obedience, performing tricks, or in herding competitions.

As long as they get plenty of exercise, Aussies are great family dogs.  They like kids, are devoted to their humans, and they make good guard dogs without barking in an obsessive way.  They love to play and generally get along fine with other dogs.

Health issues for Aussies can include epilepsy and various eye problems.  Their average lifespan is between 12 and 15 years old.

Miniature Aussie
Lately, people have been developing a miniature version of the Australian Shepherd.  Except they decided to call it the Miniature American Shepherd.  Dogs in this category are 14" to 18" tall.  The breed was accepted in the AKC miscellaneous class in June 2012.  Besides that, there is now a toy Australian shepherd which is shorter than 14" tall and weighs 12 to 15 pounds.  Some people think of these smaller dogs as separate breeds, and others think of them as just downsized versions of the Australian shepherd breed.  So far, nobody knows if any health problems that will happen because of making smaller Aussies.

So anyway, that is the story of an all-American dog breed with a foreign name.  I have to go rest up now in case the fireworks keep me awake tonight!

1 comment:

  1. Dogs that look deformed are often breeds that don’t have any more working lines and the show line breeders completely took over. Working lines in breeds are healthy and look similar to their ancestors. For example many show line German Shepherds are very different from working line and Czech German Shepherds that I think they should eventually be considered different breeds. If you want to preserve a breed and keep dogs looking like dogs, the working lines have to be preserved. Looking for large dog breeds for families Wondering what large dog breeds are good with kids or would be good for apartments Find out here A complete list of large dog breeds