Unlike what the name implies, the Australian Shepherd (otherwise known as the Aussie) was not actually produced in Australia originally. Rather, the breed grew right here on American soil, on ranches and farms.
As early as the 1800’s, the Australian Shepherd was used as working class, and more specifically herding, dogs in the Western United States. Then, after World War I, the Australian Shepherd’s popularity grew in western and cowboy culture, and was often used in entertainment alongside riders. This shift from farm and ranch work to entertainment saw the dog’s appearance in rodeos, horse riding shows and competitions, and many Disney movies.
Although this breed shares many characteristics with the English Shepherd and Border Collie, little is known about from what breed of dog they originated.
Australian Shepherds are generally medium in size and of a solid build. Females are usually a bit smaller, measuring between 18 and 21 inches and weighing about 30 to 45 pounds. Males, on the other and, usually measure between 20 and 23 inches and weigh between 50 and 65 pounds.
Australian Shepherd tails can vary greatly. For instance, some are born with very small bobbed tails. Other may have full length tails, while several others yet may have medium length tails with partial bobs that appear stubby. Where docking (cutting) the tails is still allowed, natural bobs or docked tails are preferred. However, in some places where docking is illegal, such as several countries in Europe, any natural form is accepted. No one tail length is naturally more common than another. It all just depends on genetics.
As for coat, Australian Shepherds usually have medium to long fur. This fur is usually very soft and flowing. Furthermore, the Australian Shepherd is signified by its wide variety of potential colors. Base colors include black, red (sometimes referred to as “liver”), blue merle (made of marbled white, black, and gray), and red merle (made of marbled red, white, and buff).
Many Australian Shepherds also have various markings or points on the face, chest, and/or legs. These markings are usually either copper, tan, or white. Dogs of this breed can either be tricolor or bicolor, with many different potential color combinations. Unfortunately, Australian Shepherds with high amounts of white fur are at further risk to developing deafness or skin cancer, since the skin is more exposed.
Black and blue merle Australian Shepherds will have black noses, eye rims (color patches around the eyes), and lips. On the other hand, red and red merle Australian Shepherds will have liver or brown noses, eye rims, and lips.
Australian Shepherd eye colors, like coat colors, also vary greatly. They can have many different shades of either blue or brown eyes. Furthermore, bicolored or split eyes are common in these dogs. Bicolored eyes occur when one eye is brown and the other is blue. The term “split eyes” refer to individual eyes that are half blue and half brown. Merle eyes can also occur, where a color swirl is present in the eye.
Average litter size of the Australian Shepherd is 7 puppies, although this can range from 3 to 10. These dogs usually live anywhere between 12 and 18 years.
The Australian Shepherd, while not necessarily meant for families, can be good for them. They are protective of livestock, and will act the same way around children. Furthermore, they have been known to form extremely strong bonds with their owners, often following them around wherever they go. This tendency has also earned them the nickname of “velcro dogs”, since they follow people around and form intense bonds with specific people.
These dogs do have a tendency to be quite energetic. They love to work and play and will often create games or “jobs” for themselves if they are feeling bored or neglected. It is not unusual to see these dogs running around a yard or fence for a few laps, chasing after absolutely nothing. Depending upon the specific dog, though, Australian Shepherds can also be calm and reserved. They will sometimes bark, but only as a warning and not obsessively like many other breeds.
Aside from being quite playful, these dogs are also very kind. Again, they form strong bonds with people and are very protective. Interestingly enough, the Australian Shepherd has also been known to “smile” by baring its teeth. Several other breeds of dogs can do this, although it is not very common.
Because of their intelligence and versatile nature, Australian Shepherds are also very easy to train. They can adapt to new environments and situations. Also, with proper handling, the Australian Shepherd can be trained to perform a variety of jobs and behaviors.
However, the Australian Shepherd has been known to have several behavioral issues if not properly handled or exercised. These dogs need approximately 2 to 3 hours of exercise or work per day to avoid these behaviors. Negative behaviors include, but are not limited to, barking, hyperactivity, destructive behaviors, etc.
This breed is still used as a working class dog in many areas, especially on farms and ranches. Again, they are very good at herding and protecting livestock. They are often used with both traditional and non-traditional livestock, such as ducks, geese, and commercial rabbits. They also serve as excellent guard dogs to the owners and properties.
Australian Shepherds are also often used in search and rescue, disaster, and detection situations. Since they are both highly intelligent and protective of people, these dogs excel in situations like this. They are very good at finding and consoling injured people.
Speaking of consoling, Australian Shepherds have been very successful as therapy dogs. They are often taken to visit rehabilitation centers, hospitals, nursing homes, retirement homes, and more. These dogs are also used as guide dogs or with other services.
Aside from all of this, Australian Shepherds have been successful in dog sports and competitions, such as dog agility, flyball, and frisbee. They also make great companion animals or family pets, although these uses are less common than others.
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