Bred to work on a ranch, Australian Shepherd Dogs are high-spirited working dogs that love to play.
A mature adult male will weigh between 55 to 70 lbs, and female will weigh 35 to 55 lbs. Males will grow to a height of 20 to 23 inches, whereas females will grow to between 18 and 21 inches high.
Although it carries the country of Australia in its name, it is not from Australia. In fact, the Australian Shepherd Dog, or Aussie, was mostly developed in the United States for working on ranches. It may have been brought from the Basque country in Europe by the Basques, who settled for a short time in Australia before moving on to the United States. These dogs were very good at herding and working in high altitudes, and at the time farmers and ranchers weren’t so worried about looks as about practicality. So they would interbreed many different breeds that they thought would work well together. The Australian Shepherd most likely has an ancestry of Collie and other shepherding dogs. These would have been imported to the USA from Europe and Australia.
Australian Shepherds are very lively and intelligent, since they were bred to herd sheep and work on ranches. They have a strong herding instinct and do well with an owner that can give them a lot of attention. They are generally friendly, but can be somewhat wary around strangers. Possessing the helpful combination of intelligence and hard work, Aussies are often used for tasks such as search and rescue, police dogs, and seeing-eye dogs.
Australian Shepherds can move very quickly and gracefully. They have muscular bodies, with a weather proof coat, and they love attention and games like Frisbee or running after balls.
These dogs have a tendency to get bored, so energy that is not channelled into something can turn destructive. This can result in chewing whatever they can find around the house, or digging in the garden. They won’t do well in an apartment since they need a lot of space to run around in. The best type of owner is one who likes outdoor activity and is happy to take their dog everywhere they go.
Their intelligence and eagerness to please their owner makes them easy to train. But they may herd pets or children if they are not given good boundaries.
Australian Shepherds are very friendly with their human families and love company. On the flipside, this means that they don’t like being alone. Their strong herding instinct can mean that they are inclined to chase whatever is moving, and may also nip at other animals. They will usually be cautious and reserved around strangers.
Their coats will need brushing at least once a week to keep it glossy and prevent matting. Use a slicker or pin brush to remove the tangles. They usually shed their coat in the spring, when their winter coat comes off. Their hair will need regular trimming, but how often you do it is up to you. Shorter hair will result in fewer tangles.
Since they have both a long and a short coat they really need to be bathed every 3 months, though they can be bathed when dirty. But this shouldn’t be done too often as it will dry out their skin. Brush their hair first, and then put them in a bath with water, wet them and shampoo them. They should then be rinsed well and towelled dry.
Nails should be clipped regularly, and you can use treats to help make it a more positive experience. Ears should be checked and cleaned regularly to prevent wax build up, and teeth should ideally be brushed at least once a week.
The Australian Shepherd can be trained to do many things since they are highly intelligent and bred to be a working dog. They can easily be rewarded with a treat or some praise, as they are eager to please and happy to take commands. They should be trained early on so that their herding instinct doesn’t take over when children or other pets are around.
Give them enough exercise and stimulation, and your job will be a lot easier. Otherwise they might have too much energy to calm down and listen to what you’re telling them to do. Also be aware that they are good at thinking for themselves, so some dogs may be more of a challenge to work with than others.
With a high amount of energy, these dogs should not be left at home by themselves all day. They need about 2 to 3 hours a day of exercise or play, so you would only want to look at getting one of these if you have the time to input into them. They are playful and do well with sports and games. If you are the type of person who goes out hiking and swimming or jogging regularly and doesn’t mind taking his dog then you should be fine. They should be walked on a leash so that they don’t chase cars, animals or children.
High quality dog food should be fine for the Aussie, and treats are good for rewards. But be careful that you don’t over-feed him with treats, as he may become overweight. You also have a choice of moist food, raw food and prepared raw food depending on your preference.
Puppies that are 6 to 10 weeks old will need three feedings a day. They can be fed with dog food that is softened by pouring boiling water over it. You can then add some canned dog food and cottage cheese. Once they get to three months old, the feedings can be slowly reduced to two a day. It can be softened less, and the canned food gradually withdrawn. Keep the cottage cheese going till they are five months old. If the puppy gets growing pains then he might need to be switched to a lower protein diet.
Some Australian Shepherds do get food allergies – for instance, sometimes there may be a wheat or gluten allergy. You may become aware of this if they are itching without another obvious reason. Many vets recommend that you try changing the feed gradually to see if it helps. Occasionally apparent problems that look like allergies may even be solved through more exercise and occupation, as documented by this Aussie owner.
1 ½ to 2 ½ cups of dry food today is a good amount for an adult. But if he’s getting less exercise then this might need to be reduced, and the amount will also depend on his size and metabolism. You can regulate portion sizes, but this can cause problems with bloat, gorging or stealing food. On the other hand, if they are allowed to feed freely with small amounts it can reduce boredom and maintain a healthy weight. But you will need to watch out if there is more than one dog present, as one may be quieter and less dominant and eat less than he or she needs. Also it is difficult with free feeding to know how much they are eating.
Common Health Concerns
There are certain genetic diseases that may affect Australian Shepherds – such as hip dysplasia, epilepsy and cataracts. However a good breeder should check for these in the parents to try and prevent them being an issue. It may be a good idea to have a hip, elbow and eye examination to detect any of these health issues early on. Australian Shepherd Dogs are generally very healthy, and most of the diseases that affect them are minor.
It has been estimated from a survey that 6% of Aussies have hip problems, and there may be more that have not been reported. Hip Dysplasia arises from a combination of genetics and environmental causes. In Hip Dysplasia, the thigh bone doesn’t fit exactly into the hip joint. This won’t show straight away, but with use, the cartilage will wear away causing inflammation and arthritis. It can be corrected surgically, but the procedure isn’t cheap.
Many Australian Shepherds also have a gene that makes them resistant to multiple drugs. It is best to get a simple cheek swab done to test for this before giving them even standard medications. This will help prevent drug reactions which can be severe and even lethal.
Australian Shepherds are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Australian Shepherds in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don’t see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward an Australian Shepherd rescue.