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