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Beloved both as a family pet and a working dog, Australian Shepherds (affectionately known as Aussies) are a popular breed. Their merle coats and gorgeous eyes make them stand out at first look. However, the Australian Shepherd Club of America has always focused on the breed's personality and abilities over appearances.
"Intelligent and loyal, they make great companions and working dogs—as long as you can keep up with them!"
Breed of The Month: Australian Shepherd
History and Background
Despite its name, the Australian Shepherd hails from the USA, not Australian. According to the lore, this breed descends from herding dogs that traveled from New Zealand to the US with Merino sheep herds. Some believe that the Australian Shepherd's ancestors go even further back to the Basque region of Europe! It's easy to see why others think Aussies came from a collie mix, especially when you're talking about a fluffier dog.
Regardless of the breed's origins, Australian Shepherds have quickly become a popular breed in the United States—17th according to the AKC—and across the world! That's impressive when you consider Aussies have only been recognized by the AKC relatively recently (1993).
Aussies might be the perfect breed with its medium size and coat. They measure 20 (female) to 22 (male) inches tall and have a weight range between 40 and 65.
Every Australian Shepherd has a coat as unique as its personality. Aussies come in red merle, red, blue merle, black, red, and blue, each of which may include tan and/or white. Their splotchy coats, which feather out from their legs and frame their faces with a mane, are one of their most identifiable features.
That distinct coloring also extends to their eyes, which can have any combination of blue, brown, hazel, amber or green. Each eye can have split or swirled colors, too. Aussies are one of the few dog breeds that commonly have two different colored eyes, which is called heterochromia. Put it together with their naturally floppy ears, and it's hard not to fall in love with Australian Shepherds.
You may also love the look of Aussies but prefer a smaller option. In that case, you can always consider the Miniature Australian Shepherd, which grows between 13 (female) and 18 (male) inches and weighs 40 pounds maximum. The Toy Australian Shepherd is even smaller—they've got a full size of just 14 inches! But that small stature still fits all the friendliness and intelligence over the larger breed.
Personality and Temperament
Perhaps Australian Shepherds are popular because the breed is a great compromise. These dogs have enough energy to join you and your family on your adventures, become working dogs, or learn commands. Still, their personalities are surprisingly chill despite their independent and bold natures.
Homeowners love Australian Shepherds because they're not as likely to dig as other breeds, and their social tendencies make them great family dogs. These pups are loyal to their owners, albeit a bit wary of strangers. Still, this makes the breed a good protector, as is often the case with herding breeds.
If you're looking for a dog that will be part of your family, you almost can't go wrong with an Australian Shepherd. They love kids and get along well with other pets. They're playful and not known for being aggressive. Best of all, this breed has a lifespan between 10 and 12 years on average, so you'll have plenty of time to spend with your dog.
Caring For Your Aussie
Not every home is the right for an Australian Shepherd. They're too energetic to be comfortable in an apartment and can become hyperactive or even destructive if they do not receive enough attention or exercise. They do best with a large enclosed yard or space to roam free in the country.
A diet with moderate fat content ensures the Aussie double coat remains healthy, while a high-protein diet keeps muscles strong. Aussies need more calories than less active breeds.
Herding dogs like Aussies need at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. Working dogs naturally burn off steam, and family pets can join walks/hikes and runs, tussle in the backyard, or play Frisbee. You can also consider agility and obedience activities, which intelligent Aussies love!
If you cannot train your Australian Shepherd and assert dominance, it can become unruly. That's the risk when any intelligent breed becomes bored, and the Aussie is undoubtedly clever. However, if you're dedicated, you can tap into your Aussie's natural intelligence and strengthen your bond through training.
Start by socializing your Aussie pup starting around 8 weeks old. Crate training your Aussie helps with sleep and when you're not home. Start with basic commands such as "Sit" or "Shake" before moving onto more complex commands that are broken up into smaller parts.
That medium coat allows Aussies to be equally comfortable in both hot and cold climates, and it requires only a moderate amount of grooming for most of the year. As long as you brush your dog weekly and prepare for seasonal blowouts, you won't need to deal with matted fur. Nevertheless, potential owners who cannot dedicate the time to weekly brushing (and more as the seasons change) may want to look at a different breed.
Aussies are generally healthy dogs. However, like any breed, they can develop certain health issues. Common problems include hip and elbow dysplasia, heart disease, deafness, allergies, epilepsy, osteochondritis dissecans, sensitivity to drugs, and eye problems. The breed can also become infected by Collie nose, a type of immune reaction.
Fun Facts About the Australian Shepherd Dog
Hyper Hank gained fame in the 1970s for his frisbee skills.
Australian Shepherds to Follow
For those who love the breed but may not have room in their hearts or homes, you can get your doggie fix online. Several Aussies have become "Instagram famous!"
Oliver the Aussie hails from Portland, and his family snaps beautiful photos of him, often surrounded by nature.
Nova Mae loves to swim as much as she loves to pose for photos, which show off her stunning blue and brown eyes!
An Aussie named Secret (and her owner Mary) may have more followers than any other Australian Shepherd on Instagram. With the dog's golden eyes and owner's bold red hair, it's easy to see why they have so many fans!
What to Expect When Owning An Aussie
Whether you want a dog that can herd, keep up with your active lifestyle, or complete your family, Australian Shepherds are a great choice. They'll keep you on your toes, but if you keep them stimulated, they're a great addition to any home! Nevertheless, if you've never owned a dog before, you may want to consider a more relaxed breed.
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