8 Key Points To Know About The Australian Shepherd
By Sviat Oleksiv | Updated on Mar 27, 2022
The Australian shepherd is a widely beloved and popular pet breed today but is that reputation justified? Furthermore, what even is an Australian shepherd? There seem to be a lot of shepherd-type dogs coming from the land down under and many of them are quite different from each other. So, let’s shed some light on this curious breed by going over the 8 key points to know about the Australian shepherd.
What should you consider before getting an Australian shepherd?
Right away, it’s clear from its name that this is a shepherd breed. This comes with quite a lot of implications – intelligence, trainability, an abundance of energy, and a social and friendly personality. Yet, no two shepherd breeds are alike and the Aussie certainly has quite a few unique traits too.
1. There isn’t anything truly Australian in this breed – not even its origin
Australian shepherds’ name is the definition of “a matter of opinion”. See, this breed is named that way by American breeders and kennel clubs because it arrived in the US from Australia. However, from the point of view of Australian breeders and kennel clubs, this breed is actually called the Spanish shepherd.
Why? Well, clearly, because it came to Australia from Spain. And, unlike a few other Australian dog breeds that eventually got mixed with the native Dingo dogs, the Australian shepherd never went through such crossings. So, there is literally nothing Australian in this breed – it’s a purebred Spanish shepherd that took the roundabout way to the US and back to Europe.
So, is it “unfair” to keep calling this breed the “Australian shepherd”? Well, yes and no. Why this is categorically a Spanish shepherd breed, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s widely used for herding in Australia – much more so than it is in Spain, in fact.
Australia does have a large cattle industry, after all, which is why the continent country also has numerous shepherd dog breeds in wide use. And the Australian shepherd is indeed one of the most popular and commonly used ones in the southern country. So, from that point of view, it can be said that the breed has earned to be called The Australian Shepherd.
And, if you’re curious, some of the other names you can see this breed under include Pastor dogs, Bob-tails, because of their short tails, as well as New Mexican shepherds and California shepherds, because of their wide subsequent use in the US too. You can also see some people calling these dogs Blue Heelers, however, that’d be incorrect because the Blue Heeler is an entirely separate breed – it’s a type of Australian cattle dog that’s a mix of several British shepherds breeds with local Australian Dingo dogs.
2. As gorgeous as their coats are, you should prepare for lots of shedding
Australian shepherds can come in numerous color combinations, usually a tri-color and sometimes a bi-color. These include various mixes of red merle, black tri-color, and blue merle, all of which are pretty extraordinary to look at.
Yet, for all their beauty, Australian shepherds’ coats come with a major downside – lots and lots of shedding. Now, are they shedding more than some of the most notorious super-shedder breeds such as Huskies, Golden Retrievers, and German Shedders? We’re not certain, these things aren’t exactly an exact science. However, it’s worth noting that Australian shepherd breeders have a saying – “Australian shepherds shed twice a year – six months in the spring and six months in the autumn”.
That, combined with the fact that the breed’s color coat is moderately long, means that you’re going to need to brush your dog almost daily. Frequent baths are also recommended as well as generally good grooming practices such as hair trims, de-matting, nail clipping, eye and ear cleanings, dental hygiene, and so on.
3. Heterochromia or different-colored eyes syndrome is especially common in this breed
While we’re on the topic of the Australian shepherd’s appearance, it’d be amiss to skip a pretty obvious point – the breed’s predisposition to heterochromia. The condition is widely known as having different-colored eyes. This is something Huskies are very well-known for but it’s actually even more common in Australian shepherds.
The breed’s eyes can come in various colors too, which further enhances the heterochromia. You can see Australian shepherds with hazel, blue, brown, green, or amber eyes. And, what’s best is that this heterochromia is harmless in and of itself.
So, if you’ve never seen such a dog and you’re wondering how exactly they look, we’d also mention that the **Native Americans used to view these dogs as sacred **once they started entering North America. That was exactly because of the heterochromia – many Native American tribes called these dogs “Ghost eyes” as none of the North American dog breeds at the time experienced heterochromia to such a widespread degree.
4. Aussie shepherds are exceptionally smart – even for a shepherd!
All shepherd breeds are smart – this is a widely accepted constant of dog breeding. Of course, not all shepherd breeds are created equal, nor were they bred or trained for exactly the same task. Many shepherd breeds focused more on guarding than actual shepherding which informed their breeding quite a bit.
Still, the Aussie shepherd is indeed one of the smartest shepherd breeds out there. Most rankings still place the Border Collie at the top but there’s no denying that the Aussie is up there too. This breed has everything you’d want from a dog in terms of intelligence – problem-solving, creative thinking, memory, and, of course, obedience.
That last part is crucial as a lot of breeds are smart but don’t have the people-pleasing instincts to make a loyal and obedient dog. Not the Aussie – with some basic obedience training early on, this breed makes for an excellent pet and working dog.
5. This breed is an Aussie-of-all-trades
Speaking of work, the Aussie is much more than just a shepherd too. Like many other Australian breeds, this shepherd has been used and bred for a wide variety of tasks such as seeing eyes and hearing dogs, search and rescue dogs, drug-sniffing dogs, and more. Still, due to their social and mild-mannered nature, they were never used for hunting or guard duty.
6. Naturally, this shepherd is also exceptionally social and friendly with everyone it encounters
Yes, as we alluded to above, and as it’s clear from its shepherd profile, the Aussie is an exceptionally social and friendly dog. This doesn’t mean that these dogs don’t need socialization – all dog breeds need that early on.
However, what’s key here is that even just a little bit of basic socialization early in the dog’s life is enough for it to start getting along with everyone around them, including guests, strangers, kids, other dogs, and even other pets such as cats.
7. This breed also requires a lot of exercise and outdoor time
Another given with this breed is the fact that they need a lot of exercise. This is definitely not an apartment dog breed unless you’re ready to spend hours of every day out with your pooch. Instead, the Aussie shepherd does well with a couple of 40-minute jogs to and in the dog park and a couple of hours in the yard on top of that.
Of course, even though these dogs don’t have much of a prey drive, it’s still important to make sure that your yard is properly fenced to prevent escapes.
8. Australian shepherds are a very healthy breed so there are only a few issues to keep in mind
Thanks to the responsible breeding practices of the Australian and American breeders, the Aussie shepherd breed has been kept in a very good health. So, as long as you get your dog from a reputable breeder and not a puppy mill (aka pet stores), you’ll almost certainly get a pretty healthy pup. Asking for a health certificate is still a must, of course. And, if you’re adopting, you can still ask for an extensive health check.
Granted, even if you get a perfectly healthy pup you’ll still need to watch out for stuff such as Hip and Elbow Dysplasia, Cataracts, Autoimmune disease, and other general canine conditions. Look out for those and your Aussie pet will easily surpass the breed average of 13 to 15 years.
All this should emphasize just how awesome of a pet breed the Australian shepherd is. Sure, it’s a bit too energetic for everyone’s taste and not all pet owners like super-shedders like the Aussie. However, if neither of those is a concern for you, this breed can make for a truly phenomenal pet for your family.
Social, friendly, playful, and gentle, Aussies are smart, trainable, and healthy. Their multi-colored coats are gorgeous to look at and often accented with heterochromatic eyes too. All of these are the exact qualities most people look for in a dog and rightly so.