Athletic, devoted, and smart, smart, smart: it’s the Australian shepherd! Aussies are a working breed originally developed for sheep herding. These days, they’re still put to work on ranches all around the world, but they’re also beloved companion dogs. They’re loyal companions with a lot of love and affection to give…so long as they get enough exercise.
In this in-depth breed profile, we’ll cover all things Aussie, from their big personality and grooming needs to their ideal family (hint: they need a lot of exercise). Read on to discover whether the Australian shepherd is the right dog for you.
- Origin: Spain
- Weight: 40-65 pounds
- Lifespan: 13-15 years
- Breed group: Herding group
- Activity level:
- Barking/howling level:
- Good with cats:
- Easy to groom:
- Easy to train:
Standard Australian shepherds are a medium-sized, solidly built breed, with adults weighing between 40-65 pounds. They’re built rather low to the ground–remember, they were bred to run around herds of sheep!–and have high-set, forward-flopping ears. The Aussie coat is thick and rugged, and comes in a few different colors or patterns. You may meet an all-black Aussie, one with red fur (called “liver”), or the commonly-pictured “blue merle” which has a mottled black, gray, and white coat. Aussies also frequently have blue eyes, or one blue eye and one brown eye.
One common canine feature you won’t find on an Aussie: a full-length tail. In the past, their tails were docked after birth, meaning a portion of their natural tail was surgically removed. However, over time, selective breeding led to naturally bobbed tails. These days, tail docking is considered an inhumane practice, as explained by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
As a herding breed, Aussies love to keep busy, and are built to run all day long. They’re quick, agile, and have a ton of stamina. If you’re a dog sport enthusiast, an Australian shepherd is a ton of fun on the agility course!
Australian shepherds are also one of the smartest dog breeds around. In fact, the AKC warns that Aussies are “capable of hoodwinking an unsuspecting novice owner.” In other words, this is one dog who needs to be kept busy! But on top of all that, Australian shepherds are truly loyal to their people(though they can be reserved with strangers).
Have we mentioned Aussies have a lot of energy?! These busy dogs need access to space for exercise, and they’re right at home on a ranch. But that doesn’t mean they have to live on a farm. In fact, many Aussies happily live in city apartments so long as they have plenty of enrichment like puzzle feeders, games, and access to outdoor space to run around.
Plan on at least an hour of exercise daily, and that doesn’t mean leisurely neighborhood walks. Dog sports like agility and flyball are a great way to entertain your Australian shepherd and strengthen your bond. If you have kitties or kiddos at home, proceed with caution: Aussies can be amazing family dogs and get along with other pets, but they can also have a high herding instinct that leads to nipping at heels.
Aussies love their people, and you don’t have to be a rancher to get along. The ideal Australian shepherd owner is as devoted to their dog as their dog is to them. It helps to be active and energetic, ready to meet your Aussie’s daily exercise needs, and have plenty of time to spend on training and companionship. Australian shepherds are deeply devoted dogs, but they can be protective of their people, and may be wary of strangers.The ideal human for an Australian shepherd is someone who understands their needs and is committed to helping them thrive.
Australian shepherds are smart, driven, and love a job to do. Training isn’t just a good idea, it’s essential to maintaining their mental health. The good news is, Aussies love to learn! Training is a key part of building a relationship with your Aussie.
If you get an Australian shepherd puppy, join a group puppy class as soon as they’re old enough. The socialization and training foundation will set you up for success. And if you adopt an adult Aussie, group obedience classes are still a great way to work on socialization and nail the basics.
Once your Australian shepherd has the basics down (it won’t take long), you can train them to do tricks and tasks like cleaning up toys or bringing you your slippers. Whatever kind of training you’re doing, start out in quiet, distraction-free environments, and be consistent. It helps to exercise them beforehand, and stick to short, focused training sessions with lots of positive reinforcement.
Australian shepherds have a double-layer, waterproof coat that can pick up debris while they’re running around, so be prepared to do some combing! In general, once- or twice-weekly brushing sessions will keep their coat in good shape. During seasonal shedding seasons (spring and fall), you can help remove dead fur with an undercoat rake. Aussies only need occasional baths if they’ve gotten into something extra-dirty. Otherwise, regular brushing, nail clipping, and teeth brushing is enough to keep the well groomed.
Australian shepherds are a hardy breed, and generally stay pretty healthy. However, there are some health problems more common to Aussies. They can be prone to hip dysplasia, a genetic malformation of the hip socket that leads to inflammation and arthritis. Aussies can also develop eye problems, including cataracts, and may be more prone to epilepsy. In general, preventative veterinary care, a high-quality diet, and regular exercise will help keep your Aussie healthy. The AKC recommends annual hip, elbow, and eye evaluations, as well as regular ear checks and teeth cleanings. A healthy Australian shepherd will typically live for 12-15 years.
You may have assumed that Australian shepherds originated in Australia. However, although they came to the American west by way of Australia, the breeds’ true origins lie in Europe.
According to the AKC, the breed originated near the Pyrenees Mountains, where the Basque people lived and shepherded with an ancient breed of sheepdog now called the Pyrenean Shepherd. In the early 1900’s, a large population of Basques emigrated to Australia with their sheepdogs alongside them. In Australia, the Basque sheepdogs were cross-bred with collies and border collies. When many of those same shepherds and their dogs headed to the American west, Americans started referring to the dogs as “Australian shepherds.”
The Australian shepherd as we know it was refined over the early 20th century, and became popular after WWII when they were featured in rodeos, horse shows, television, and film.
Finding an Aussie puppy or adult dog can be as easy as an internet search, but be careful of puppy mills and internet scams. The best place to start is with animal shelters and breed-specific rescue groups, as Australian shepherds often become available from individuals rehoming dogs that they can no longer look after.
Australian Shepherd Rescues
According to the AKC, most breed rescues report that a majority of their rescue dogs come from individual owner surrender, with the most common reasons being a change in lifestyle or the breed not being right for the owner. Aussies often end up in rescue because owners become overwhelmed by the amount of exercise and activity they need, but adult Aussies can be an amazing addition to your family!
The Aussie Rescue & Placement Helpline (ARPH) is a not-for-profit organization run by volunteers. Visit their website to search for available Aussies by geographic region and learn more about this amazing breed!
Australian Shepherd Breeders
If it’s important to you to have a puppy, remember to do your research. Talk to breeders in person, and check their credentials and reputation before committing. It’s also a great idea to meet the puppy parents and any offspring they’ve already had, if possible. Observing their personalities can help you determine if a puppy from that breeder would be right for you.
Be sure to ask the breeder about genetic health testing for common issues like hip dysplasia and cataracts. Responsible breeders will offer a written contract, and guarantee a home for dogs they breed if the owner becomes unable to care for them.
Knowing what you’re in for when you get an Australian shepherd is an important step in being a responsible pet owner. Whether you find a responsible breeder or are planning on adopting, prepare yourself for an energetic, brainy, busy companion.
Want more Aussie in your life? We’ve got you covered, from gifts for Australian shepherd fans, to food and gear reviews:
- Shop Australian Shepherd Totes, Mugs and More on the Rover Store
- Australian Shepherd Puppies: The Ultimate Guide for New Dog Owners
- 7 Things Only Australian Shepherd Owners Understand
- 13 Best Gifts for Australian Shepherd Lovers
- The 112 Most Popular Australian Shepherd Names of 2019
- 8 Best Dog Harnesses for Australian Shepherds
- 11 Best Dog Foods for Australian Shepherds
- Australian Shepherd Grooming: The Essential Guide with Pictures of Haircut Styles