Australian Shepherds are a very distinct breed of dog that combines a beautiful and unique coat with an excellent working dog disposition. The Australian Shepherd is not a large sized dog; typically they weigh about 40 and 60 pounds and are less than 23 inches at the shoulder. Males tend to be heavier and taller than the females, although the difference in size is not always noticeable. There is a noticeable male and female appearance, with females more feminine and finer boned than males.
The Australian Shepherd has a typical collie type body with a longer, lean ribcage and frame and a deep, solid chest with well developed moderately long legs. The overall impression is a dog of considerable athletic ability and endurance without any excess bulk or weight. The legs are well positioned to the outside of the body and are straight and well conformed. The hindquarters are slightly lower than the shoulders and are well bent at the hocks to provide excellent ability to change directions rapidly and to also dart and weave as needed to herd cattle or livestock.
The face is that of a herding dog with a longer, tapered muzzle, alert, intelligent looking eyes and pricked ears. The eyes can come in a wide array of colors from dark to light brown, blue flecked, solid blue or amber flecks or solid coloration. Eyes may be different colors, which are know as bi-eyed or marble eyed. The neck is moderately long and is covered by thicker and longer ruff. The tail is always very short, either when left natural or when docked.
The Australian Shepherd has a thick double coat that consists of a wooly inner coat covered by a longer, wavy to straight waterproof outer coat. In very warm climates the inner coat is light, but in colder or damper climates it will be thicker and denser. The hair on the face and legs is short, however longer feathering will be found on the back sides of the front and hind legs. The coat colors can range from tri-color of black, tan or red and white through to solid black, solid red or blue or red merle colors. White markings are common on the chest, face and feet.
Although this dog is called the Australian Shepherd, this name is actually very inaccurate. This dog has never been from Australia. In fact, it was bred in North America. Historians believe that they were bred from dogs that were originally from England and Scotland. Although it is hard to tell the exact makeup of this breed, people speculate that dogs such as the English shepherd, Cumberland sheepdog, and Welsh Sheepdog are a part of its ancestry, along with others.
The Australian Shepherd has a true working dog personality and needs to be activity involved in the family to be happy and content. They are generally excellent dogs with children, especially when raised from puppies in a family. The Australian Shepherd is a natural herding dog and will often attempt to herd kids, pets and other animals, so early training is important to prevent nipping from becoming a habit. They are good with cats provided they have been socialization, and they are not typically dog aggressive.
The Aussie is a devoted family dog and will be a natural watchdog although they don't have the temperament to be a guard dog. They love to be with people but are independent enough to handle being alone in the day. Provide them with lots of toys to play with to avoid boredom and plenty of space to exercise.
As with any type of dog, there are some health conditions that may be found in the Australian Shepherd. Careful checking into the breeding lines can eliminate the frequency of these conditions. The more common health concerns include
[-]Collie Eye Anomaly, also known as CEA[/-]
As with all collie types and breeds eye concerns are prevalent. Always ask for a vet certification for eye test on the parent dogs. Merle Australian Shepherds are more likely to have blindness and deafness as a result of a color linked genetic condition with the merle coat and is typically only seen if both parents are merle colored Aussies.
The thick double coat of the Aussie will shed an average amount year round and very heavily in the spring and fall when the full inner coat is shed. Groom at least once a week with a pin brush or grooming rake, being sure to get all mats and tangles out of the inner coat. The coat has natural waterproofing oil to the outer hair and bathing will strip this oil, making the coat brittle and dry looking. Only bathe when absolutely necessary to avoid drying and damaging the coat.
Since Australian Shepherds were bred to be working dogs, they need a lot of regular exercise. They also need exercise to avoid becoming bored and destructive in the house when left alone. While they will self-exercise in a large fenced yard, however they are typically very sedate in the house so do need to be outside for several hours per day if at all possible. At least one or two long, brisk walks per day are a must for this breed, even with outside time.
In addition to just spending time outside these dogs need to be mentally challenged in their exercise. They are excellent obedience, agility and competitive type dogs, excelling at working dog type events. Even if you are not planning on competing with your dog, including training with routine exercise provides both physical and mental stimulation that this breed requires.
Training the Australian Shepherd needs to be a consistent, firm yet challenge. They are very sensitive to changes in the owner’s voice and should never be punished; rather positive rewards and training methods work best with this breed. They are very intelligent and will often seem to sense what the owner will request before the command is given. The Australian Shepherd is a naturally clean dog and will literally housetrain them when given the opportunity to get outside when needed.