The Best Qualities of The Australian Shepherd Dog
Despite his name, this pooch is no Aussie.
Instead, he's born and bred in the good ol' U.S. of A, where 19th century ranchers made good use of his formidable abilities as a sheep herder.
Since then, the "Aussie" has grown into a lively, lovely dog who currently ranks as America's 17th most popular breed.
A Basic Overview of the Australian Shepherd
Aussies have some of the most distinctive eyes in the dog world. Usually, they're blue, but they can also be brown or multicolored. Because their pupils are significantly smaller than their irises, this gives the dogs an otherworldly look, leading some people to call them "ghost eye."
These dogs have a medium, stocky build. Their coats are noticeably bushier around the neck, chest, thighs and upper legs. They can be red/liver merle, blue merle, solid red/liver or solid black. Males can stand up to 58 cm (23 in) and weigh up to 23 kg (50 lb).
Like all working breeds, Aussies can't stay still for long. They need at least half an hour of physical exercise every day, as well as other activities to keep them mentally stimulated.
Aussies are generally a healthy breed. They can live for up to 13 years, as long as they come from a good lineage, and are given a balanced diet and lots of exercise. If you're an honest-to-goodness health buff, you'll be a great fit for an Aussie.
What is the Personality of the Australian Shepherd?
Being a shepherd, the Aussie is a natural leader. He's used to being the boss, so it'll take him a while to get used to being bossed around for a change. He needs a firm but gentle hand to keep his domineering tendencies from getting the better of him.
Aussies can be skittish around strangers. Though a well-socialized Aussie isn't aggressive, he can be quite vocal about whether he likes visitors or not. If you want him to be more comfortable with people other than your family, you need to expose him to as many types of folks as possible.
On the plus side, the Aussie is loving and loyal towards his "pack" Just as he looks after his sheep to make sure no wolves get to them, he'll look after you to make sure you don't get anywhere near undesirable strangers.
Keep in mind that different Aussies have different personalities, depending on where they come from, and how well they were trained and treated growing up. If you want your Aussie to have the best possible personality, look into whether he (and/or his parents) have a history of behavioral issues, and always buy from a reputable breeder near you.
History and Background of the Australian Shepherd
As we said earlier, the Aussie isn't actually an Aussie. Instead, it's believed he was brought by Basque immigrants to the U.S. via Australia (hence his name). His exact origins are still being debated, though.
What isn't debated is the fact that the breed blossomed in America. Thanks to ranchers in the western U.S. who further developed the breed, the Australian Shepherd became legendary for his exceptional sheep-herding abilities.
Soon, the Aussie's combination of athleticism, intelligence and loyalty endeared him to dog lovers all over the country. Companies like Disney also made use of the Aussie, starring him in films like "Stub: The Greatest Cowdog in the West" and "Run Appaloosa Run."
Are Australian Shepherds Playful and Fun?
With those striking eyes, it's easy to imagine an Aussie having thoughts like "What on earth is that?" or "Did you just call me Doug?" So it's no surprise that people are making hundreds of funny Internet memes based off the Aussie's face.
Also, Aussies can hold conversations (or at least the doggie version of it), pout like an international chart-topping superstar and rock a baseball cap like the boss he is.
Anthropomorphisms aside, Aussies are just fun to be around. They need to love and be loved, and won't hesitate to drag you into any shenanigans they cook up. If you want a dog whose middle name is "playful" and whose last name is "fun," the Aussie might be the best choice for you.
How Much Exercise Does an Australian Shepherd Need?
The Aussie is happiest in large open spaces where he can burn off his considerable amounts of energy. If you don't have a large backyard, or you live in a cramped city, you can still have a happy, healthy Aussie as long as you're able to meet his exercise requirements.
At the minimum, an Aussie should be exercised between 30 to 60 minutes a day. His routine should include high-intensity activities like catching Frisbees, flyball and agility exercises. Also, engage him in exercises that hone his herding instincts, sharpen his mind, and keep him from taking out his boredom on your sofa.
If daily walks are your most practical option, make sure your Aussie gets at least 45 minutes of brisk walking per session, and at least one session per day. You can also take him with you whenever you're jogging. He'll appreciate the chance to let off some steam, not to mention be with the person he loves best (read: you). And hey, it's fun to burn calories with a cute and furry friend!
What are the Grooming Needs of the Australian Shepherd?
There's a joke that Australian Shepherds shed twice a year: 6 months in the spring, and 6 months in the fall.
To manage his shedding, and to prevent matting, brush your Aussie's coat at least once a week. Apply dog hair conditioner on a slicker brush, and gently brush towards the roots, not away from them.
Some areas (like the patch behind the ears) are more prone to matting than others. For those, use a stripping comb to untangle any clumps of fur. Luckily, you don't have to look too far to get a stripping comb, since most pet grooming stores offer them.
If he's well-brushed, and hasn't rolled in a puddle of mud lately, an Aussie need not be bathed more than a few times a year. If you do bathe him, take it as an opportunity to inspect him for any signs of infection and disease. Watch out for redness, bad odor, and anything else that might warrant a vet's attention.
Other grooming basics for an Aussie include brushing his teeth to remove tartar and bacteria, trimming his nails when they get too long, and snipping off bits of hair whenever they get too untidy. In case you're not too confident about your Aussie grooming skills, let the pros do it for you.
Are Australian Shepherds Easy to Train?
As shepherds, Aussies have a take-charge personality that's great for keeping livestock safe, but not-so-great when you're trying to train them.
For example, they're usually wary of strangers, because that's a handy attitude to have when there are wolves lurking around their flock. But if you don't want them to howl and whine whenever Aunt Jane comes around, you need to socialize them as soon as possible.
Socializing means exposing your Aussie to various sights, smells and sounds within a safe environment. For example, if your dog has had a negative experience with a man in army clothes, he's likely to think that anyone who looks like a soldier is a threat. But if you let him engage with men in uniform on a regular basis, and he's had generally positive experiences with the same, he's not likely to be aggressive or skittish towards them.
Also, use positive reinforcement when you're teaching your dog new tricks. Give him treats whenever he does as he's told, and gently nudge him towards the right direction when he doesn't.
When training an Aussie, be patient, consistent and firm. Or, if you're not sure how to train an Aussie, let the pros handle it.
How Much Does an Australian Shepherd Puppy Cost?
Aussie prices depend on several factors, such as the breeder's location, the dog's lineage, papers (or lack thereof), etc. For Aussie puppies with papers (minus show quality and breeding rights), the median price is around $750. For top-quality puppies, prices can be as high as $10,000 or more.
For annual upkeep, it's safe to budget $500 to $2,000 for the first year, and $500 to $1,000 for every year after that. These are ballpark numbers for vet checkups, supplies, food, grooming, training, deworming, and similar expenses. If you want to be really sure, check with your local breeder about the actual costs of owning an Australian Shepherd in your area.
No doubt about it: The Australian Shepherd is one of the show stoppers of the dog world. If you've ever been lucky enough to see and/or care for one of these pooches, let us know in the comments below!