AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD

The Australian Shepherd, also known as the “Aussie”, is a shepherd dog whose ancestors originate from the Pyrenees! This skilful, energetic dog is the ideal companion for an active and generous owner who lives in the countryside. A medium-sized dog, perfect for families with children, the Australian Shepherd needs a good amount of exercise to thrive.

A Brief History

Contrary to what the name suggests, Australian Shepherds did not originate in Australia: they actually come from the United States! Many theories claim that Australian Shepherds have ancestry in the Basque region of Spain where they were used by shepherds, who then emigrated to the United States. American farmers developed the breed at the start of the 20th century to work as sheepdogs. They were particularly used in the Rocky Mountains, and subsequently bred by breeders in Colorado to attract wealthy shepherds from California.

So, why is this dog breed called the Australian Shepherd and not the American Shepherd? While the facts are unclear, one theory is popular with some specialists, who believe that Australian Shepherd dogs were used to herd flocks of sheep imported from Australia. Others believe the origin of the name has more to do with the dogs' merle colour: many dogs arriving from Australia were blue merle in colour and so the colour, as a whole, came to be associated with the country.

The breed first arrived in the UK in the mid-1980s and has gained popularity for both its qualities as a working dog and as a companion dog for families.

Australian Shepherd Physical Characteristics

Body: The Australian Shepherd is a medium to large-sized dog with a medium build. These dogs very rarely reach a height of 60cm. Slightly longer than they are tall, Australian Shepherds have a well-proportioned musculature. This is a light, agile breed, well-suited to work.

Head: The head is in proportion with the rest of the body. The top of the skull is flat or slightly domed, with a moderate, well-defined stop. Black and blue merle Australian Shepherds have a black nose. Red and red merle Australian Shepherds have a brown nose.

Ears: Triangular in shape, moderate in size, with a slightly rounded tip. The ears droop forward or to one side and are set high on the side of the head. When the dog is alert, the ears are brought forward and held semi-erect.

Eyes: The Australian Shepherd can have either odd-coloured eyes (eyes of different colours) or particoloured eyes (several colours in one eye). The most common eye colours are blue, brown, or amber. The eyes are expressive and almond-shaped.

Tail: The Australian Shepherd's tail is a moderate length of max 10cm.

Coat: The coat is medium in length, slightly wavy or stiff. The Australian Shepherd also has an undercoat, which varies with the seasons. The coat is quite dense, so these doggies tend to lose quite a lot of hair, especially during their moulting periods in spring and autumn.

Colour: The breed standard accepts several coat colours: blue merle, black, red merle, and red, all with or without tan points. There are several accepted variations within these main colours. Black can be tricolour (black, tan, white), bicolour (black and white, black and tan), or solid black. Red can also be tricolour (red, tan, white), bicolour (red and white, red and tan), or solid red. The same goes for blue merle or red merle, which also have tricolour, bicolour, or solid merle variations.

Australian Shepherd Temperament

Australian Shepherds are very well-behaved, calm, and sociable dogs. They are also very intelligent and loyal - the perfect companion dog! These doggies tend to be lively and are natural leaders. Australian Shepherds have lots of energy to spare, while also being very gentle. They get along wonderfully with children and other pets - provided they have been properly educated when young. It should be noted that, while they can get a little rowdy, they're real softies at heart! Australian Shepherds are not at all aggressive and normally get along very well with their peers.

Although not particularly known for barking, they may use their voice to assert themselves in certain situations. Above all, this is a shepherd dog with a strong instinct for protecting its flock. This pooch is full of curiosity and loves to play, but may be shy in front of strangers. On the other hand, they are particularly effusive and playful with their family. Australian Shepherds are not guard dogs by nature but may take it upon themselves to intervene if they feel their family is in danger. Renowned for their intelligence, these doggies are fast learners, provided they are handled with patience and gentleness.

Australian Shepherds are very affectionate and like to develop a close, special bond with their owners. Left alone, they may quickly develop separation anxiety or problematic destructive behaviour.

Australian Shepherd Health Problems

The average life expectancy of an Australian Shepherd is 13 years. Unfortunately, the great popularity of the breed led to the prominence of unscrupulous breeders who neglected the breed’s health. This means that the modern Australian Shepherd is affected by several health problems which any potential owner needs to be aware of.

Australian Shepherds are particularly prone to eye diseases. However, there are screenings available which make it possible to prevent these from developing. If you are purchasing an Australian Shepherd puppy from a breeder, they should provide you with a certificate attesting to the good eye health of the animal. Choose your breeder carefully and be sure to only deal with serious professionals.

Australian Shepherds can also suffer from genetic or congenital disorders, such as deafness, patent ductus arteriosus, and MDR1 (multi-drug resistance mutation), a drug sensitivity caused by a genetic mutation.

Finally, the breed is also prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, a disorder that affects many large and medium-sized dogs.

Ideal Living Conditions for an Australian Shepherd

Let it be said: Australian Shepherds are not built for life in an apartment. As the name suggests, Australian Shepherds are shepherd dogs who need sufficient space to regularly let off steam. These dogs are always on the move and need to be able to run and exercise at will. They like to be outdoors and, as such, quickly feel cramped in an apartment, even if they are being taken out often for long walks. The ideal living environment for this sheepdog is a house in the countryside with a big garden.

The Australian Shepherd is an energetic dog who needs at least one to two hours of intense activity each day. They also need to be stimulated; they're super-intelligent, so you can have a lot of fun playing with them and teaching them tricks! Without all this, your Aussie would quickly sink into boredom and depression. Remember that a pet should not have to adapt to your lifestyle; it's best to select a breed that is already compatible with the way you live.

Australian Shepherds are perfectly capable of living with other animals. They lack a hunting instinct and are more likely to view other family members as a flock to watch over. Nevertheless, it’s important to socialise your dog properly from an early age.

Australian Shepherd Training

Australian Shepherds have a reputation for being intelligent and easy to train. Considered one of the smartest breeds in the world, they are perfect for a first adoption. However, this does not exempt you from providing your new pooch with proper training and extensive socialisation from an early age. Like all dogs, the Australian Shepherd needs a well-defined structure in order to evolve properly within the family.

Please note: The Australian Shepherd is a sensitive breed and very affected by violence of any kind. Be patient with your furry friend and try to never raise your voice at them. Opt for positive dog training, which favours rewards over punishment. Underneath their good-natured exterior, Australian Shepherds have a strong will. As such, it's important to establish yourself as the boss right from the start.

Diet: What to Feed Your Australian Shepherd

Your Australian Shepherd's diet has an obvious impact on their health. Quality dog food will be much more beneficial in the long term than cheap food found in supermarkets. Australian Shepherds expend an enormous amount of energy and their diet must therefore be able to sustain them. Choose foods that are rich in animal protein - remember that dogs are opportunistic carnivores!

There are several types of dog food to choose from: dry food, wet food, homemade dog food, a BARF diet, etc. They all have their pros and cons. However, dry dog food (or kibble), is generally recommended by professionals as the preferred diet for your Australian Shepherd. An Australian Shepherd needs between 280 and 400g of dry dog food per day, to be adjusted according to their age, health condition, and caloric expenditure.

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Caring for Your Australian Shepherd

  • Australian Shepherd price: between £500 and £900

  • Vaccines: between £30 to £60 for the first injection series, plus annual boosters

  • Dog food: from around £50 per month for quality dog food

  • Monthly budget: minimum £65 per month

Like all dogs, the Australian Shepherd requires maintenance and care. Their coat needs to be brushed at least twice a week. During moulting periods (spring and autumn), these doggies lose their hair in abundance. To prevent a build-up of dead hairs, brush your pooch every day during these periods, using a suitable brush. Your Australian Shepherd's fur does not need to be washed very often. Combined with regular brushing, one or two baths per year will be more than enough.

Make sure to inspect their ears regularly, especially after long walks in the woods or the countryside. The Australian Shepherd's floppy ears are an attractive place for parasites to lodge and burrow. Clean the ears carefully to remove wax and avoid hearing problems.

Your dog's teeth are a part of the anatomy which is too often neglected; the teeth need to be well looked after and cleaned regularly. Oral health has a direct impact on the general health of your dog. Accustom your Australian Shepherd puppy to having their teeth brushed from a young age, and make sure to brush them regularly throughout their life. You can also use chew bones to help get rid of tartar.

Nail trimming is a necessary part of caring for your Australian Shepherd. If you're concerned about doing it yourself, you can ask your vet to do it for you.

Australian Shepherd Sleeping Habits

Rest is essential for any dog, and even more so for an Australian Shepherd, whose energy expenditure requirements are enormous. You must therefore be able to guarantee your dog quality sleep. For an Australian Shepherd puppy, good sleep is all the more important, as rest is synonymous with growth.

Australian Shepherds are quite capable of sleeping outdoors, provided, of course, that they have a kennel adapted to their needs. Inside, their sleeping area must meet a few criteria (calm, clean, quiet, etc.). Your choice of dog basket is very important because, lest we forget, a sleepless dog = a sleepless master!

Set up well-defined routines and don't give in to those puppy dog eyes and let your dog sleep with you! As soon as you bring your new dog home, teach your Australian Shepherd puppy to sleep alone so that they don't develop too much of an attachment to you. Be patient and firm; your dog will quickly learn to understand what you expect from them, thanks to their formidable character and great intelligence.

Games and Physical Activities for Your Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherds are full of energy. They need to exert themselves properly to feel good both mentally and physically; an inactive Australian Shepherd is an Australian Shepherd who, in time, will wither away and develop problematic or aggressive behaviours.

Versatile with inexhaustible stamina, these doggies can run for hours in the great outdoors. As such, an Australian Shepherd is an ideal companion for an athletic owner who loves to hike or run. Australian Shepherds are perfectly suited to canine activities and are particularly good at agility. Highly intelligent, Australian Shepherds also enjoy tracking activities and puzzle games.

Keep in mind that Australian Shepherds do not do well with inactivity or a sedentary lifestyle. This working dog needs regular physical activity and movement to feel useful and enjoy good mental equilibrium. Take your Australian Shepherd for long walks each day, ideally in the forest or countryside.

Pet Insurance: Protecting Your Australian Shepherd

Taking out a pet insurance policy for your Australian Shepherd helps to cover you in the event of an accident. Even if your dog is obedient and gentle by nature, accidents can happen quickly, and you would be held responsible for any damage or harm caused to a third party by your dog.

Likewise, a comprehensive pet insurance policy will cover your pooch in the event of any illness. Unfortunately, Australian Shepherds are not infallible; the breed is prone to certain health problems, some of which are very serious. In the UK, vets fees are not regulated, and veterinary bills can climb to several hundred or even thousands of pounds. With pet health insurance, you can rest assured that unforeseen expenses will be taken care of, which eliminates the shock of nasty surprises.

Australian Shepherd Size and Weight

The Australian Shepherd is a medium to large-sized dog. Males are generally slightly larger than females: between 51 and 58cm at the withers for males and between 46 and 53cm at the withers for females. Your dog's weight will also vary depending on the sex of the animal: 25 to 34kg for males, 19 to 26kg for females. Of medium build, the Australian Shepherd has a well-developed musculature and an agile, smooth gait.

The Kennel Club classifies Australian Shepherds in The Pastoral Group, which consists of herding dogs associated with working cattle and sheep.