Australian Shepherd Breed Information
Country of origin - United States
Common nicknames - Aussie
Classification and breed standards
FCI:|Group 1 Section 1 #342|Stds
ANKC:|Group 5 - (Working Dogs)|Stds
CKC:|Group 7 - (Herding Dogs)|Stds
The Australian Shepherd is a breed of working dog that was developed in the Western United States in the 19th century from several different breeds. Despite its name, the breed, commonly known as an Aussie, did not in fact originate in Australia.
Like all working breeds, the Aussie has considerable energy and drive and usually needs a job to do. It often excels at dog sports such as frisbee and dog agility.
1. Quick Facts
Australian Shepherd Quick Facts
Weight: | 16-34 kg | 35-75 lb
Height: | 43-58 cm | 18-23 in
Coat: | Double coat
Coat (cont): | Medium length
Activity level: | High
Learning rate: | High
Temperament: | Responsive, active, friendly to owners
Guard dog ability: | Medium-high
Watch-dog ability: | High
Litter size: | 5-8
Life span: | Median 12-13 years
The breed's general appearance varies greatly depending on the particular line's emphasis. As with many working breeds that are also shown in the ring, there are differences of opinion among breeders over what makes an ideal Australian Shepherd. In addition the breed can be split into two distinct lines - working and show dogs. Working dogs tend to have shorter coats, thinner and sometimes smaller whilst the show lines are bred according to breed standard and can have long fur.
2. 1. Size
Males should stand between 21-23 inches. Females should stand between 18-21 inches. Males should weight at 45-75 pounds. Females should weigh at 40-45 pounds. This is the Australian Shepherd Breed Standard on size.
2. 2. Color
The eight colors of Aussies are blue merle (black and gray with white patchwork), red merle (red and beige with white patchwork), black (which may or may not have white legs, a white chest, or a white collar), and red (which may or may not have white legs, a white chest, or a white collar); each of these colors may also have copper points on the eyebrows, cheeks, and/or legs to create four additional combinations. Thus, dogs with copper and white along with the primary color are called tricolor, dogs with white or copper along with the primary color are called bicolor, and dogs with no white or copper are referred to as self-colored. White should not appear on the body of the dog from topmost point of the shoulder blade to the tail except in the merles.
Color variants: Black tricolor, red merle, blue merle, red tricolor.
The wide variation of color combinations comes from the interaction between the a color allele, which is either black (B) dominant or red (b) recessive, and the dominant merle allele (M). Together, these provide four coat-color aspects that can appear in any combination:
Black or Red
Merle or not merle
Self- or tan-pointed
Solid color or trimmed with white
The merle allele, which produces a mingled or patchwork combination of dark and light areas, is the most common coat pattern associated with the breed. This merle (M) is dominant so that affected dogs (Mm) show the pigmentation pattern; however, when two merles are bred, there is a statistical risk that 25% of the offspring will end up with the two copies of the merle gene (homozygous). These dogs usually have a mostly white coat and blue irises, and are often deaf and/or blind. In this case, the deafness and blindness are linked to having two copies of the merle gene, which disrupts pigmentation and produces these health defects.
2. 3. Eyes
There is also great variety in the Aussie's eye color. An early nickname for the breed was "ghost-eye dog". Aussie eyes may be green, hazel, amber, brown, or blue; they may have two different colored eyes, or even have bicolored or "split eyes" (for example, a half-brown, half-blue eye), which appear to be linked to the merle coloration. Merled eyes occur as well, where one color is mixed in and swirled with another. Any combination of eye color is acceptable in the breed standard, so long as the eyes are healthy. In general, however, black Aussies (self, bi-color or tri-color) tend to have brown eyes, while red (self, bi-color or tri-color) Aussies tend to have amber eyes. Though these Aussies may also carry the blue eyed gene.
2. 4. Tail
A hallmark of the breed is a short bobbed or docked tail in countries where docking is permitted. Some Aussies are born with naturally short bobbed tails, others with full long tails, and others with natural partial bobs, where the tail is midlength and appears stubby. Breeders have historically docked the tails when the puppies are born. Even without a tail, the wagging movement of the hind end still occurs.
Some Australian Shepherd breeders opt to keep the tail on the dog for the natural look, which can still be shown in the breed ring.
The Australian Shepherd is unique with regard to its temperament. There are two distinct types of personality to look for depending on the lines, as well as many shades within these two types.
Generally the breed is an energetic dog that requires exercise and enjoys working, whether it is learning and practicing tricks, competing in dog agility, or any other physically and mentally involving activity. Other aussies would rather be with their humans and enjoying being couch potatoes. It is usually a sweet and affectionate dog who is faithful to its owners and should be good with children. Most australian shepherds make wonderful family dogs.
Dogs with strong working instinct may show more reserved, guarding behaviors along with a tendency to chase or nip at running children or strangers if not properly trained. Its protective instinct and behaviors can be frightening to children, strangers, and small animals. Those bred for a more family-oriented temperament are more friendly and affectionate with strangers and generally more reliable around children. Because the breed was developed to serve on the ranch, a job which includes being protective of its property, it sometimes can be annoying with its inclination to bark warnings about neighborhood activity, but it is not generally an obsessively barking dog.
The Aussie is intelligent, learns quickly, and loves to play. This means that a bored, neglected, unexercised Aussie will invent its own games, activities, and jobs, which to a busy owner might appear to be hyperactivity in the house (for example, an Aussie may go from being at rest to running at top speed for several 'laps' around the house before returning to rest, all apparently for no purpose) around fragile furnishings or involve the destruction of yard and property. Without something to amuse them, Aussies often turn destructive. Aussies also do best with plenty of human companionship: they are often called "velcro" for their strong desire to always be near their owners and for their tendency to form intense, devoted bonds with select people.
The Australian Shepherd has a reputation as a highly intelligent and versatile stock dog with a range of working styles. While improperly trained or frustrated Aussies may exhibit excessive running and barking, a good working Aussie is quick, thoughtful, and easy with its stock. The ability for the breed to adapt to the situation and think for itself makes it an excellent all-around worker. For this reason the Aussie is often chosen to work unusual livestock such as ducks, geese, and commercially raised rabbits.
4. 1. Mortality
Results of a 1998 internet survey with a sample size of 614 Australian Shepherds indicated a median longevity of about 12.5 years, but also that longevity may be declining. A 2004 UK survey found a much shorter median longevity of 9 years, but their sample size was low (22 deceased dogs).
The median life spans for breeds similar in size to Australian Shepherds are mostly between 11 and 13 yrs, so, assuming the results of the UK study are not representation of the population there, Aussies appear to have a typical life span for a breed their size. Leading causes of death in the UK survey were cancer (32%), "combinations" (18%), and old age (14%).
4. 2. Morbidity
Based on a sample of 48 still-living dogs, the most common health issues noted by owners were eye problems (red eye, epiphora, conjunctivitis, and cataracts). Dermatologic and respiratory problems also ranked high.
Collie eye anomaly (CEA) and cataracts are considered major health concerns in Aussies. Other conditions of note include iris coloboma, canine hip dysplasia (CHD), Pelger-Huet syndrome, hypothyroidism, and nasal solar dermatitis .A veterinarian should test your Australian Shepherd's hips, eyes, thyroid and DNA (to check for CEA). The Australian Shepherd (as well as Collies, German Shepherds and many other herding dogs) are susceptible to toxicity from common heartworm preventatives (anti-parasitics) and other drugs. This is caused by a genetic mutation of the MDR1 gene. The most common toxicity is from the heartworm medicine Ivermectin found in products such as Heartgard. (Only at doses 100x the recommended. Most dogs do not have problems with Ivermectin.) A test is available to determine if a particular dog carries the mutated gene. Read here for more information.
4. 3. Double Merle
Double merling,also known as lethal white, occurs when two merle dogs mate. Double merles are mostly white, and have blue eyes that usually have serious disorders.Some are born with no eyes at all.Not all have eye problems,but all will have hearing problems. Only irresponsible or uninformed breeders will allow two merles to breed and produce double merles.
The Australian Shepherd's history is vague, as is the reason for its misleading name. It is believed by some that the breed actually originated in Spain and was used there by Basque farmers. What is known is that it developed in western North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Breeds as we know them today did not exist before Victorian times, but local variations of the ancestors of different breeds that we know today came into America along with their owners and livestock. Included are some that are now extinct or that have merged into other breeds. These probably included the English Shepherd, Kelpie, Dorset Blue Shag, Cumberland Sheepdog, Scottish Collie, Glenwherry Collie, Australian Cattle Dog, Welsh Sheepdog (which still includes a blue merle variety) and Bouvier des Flandres, as well as dogs from Germany and Spain. For many centuries, shepherds had more interest in dogs who performed well when helping to manage flocks of sheep than they had in the specific appearance of the dogs. As a result, over time, shepherds interbred dogs that they believed would produce better workers for the given climate and landscape. In the eastern U.S., Terrain and weather conditions were similar to that of Europe, however, so the existing imported breeds and their offspring worked well there.
However, in the American West, conditions were quite different. In the primarily arid and semiarid areas inhabited sparsely by early Spanish settlers, temperatures reached extremes of hot and cold, and fields varied in altitude from sea level into the higher, rougher Sierra Nevada and similar mountain ranges.The ranchers in these areas often pasture livestock on remote ranges without attention for months at a time. They prefer aggressive herding dogs that can be taken to remote pastures and work unfamiliar cattle that are not accustomed to the dogs.
With the 1849 California Gold Rush, a massive migration occurred into to the west coast, and along with easterners came flocks of sheep and their eastern herding dogs; from the southwest came people and their dogs of Spanish descent. But it was just as effective to bring sheep in by ship, and in they came, including flocks from Australia and other regions, along with shepherds and their own herding breeds.
Ancestors of the Australian Shepherd breed may have come from the landrace of farm shepherds in North America. Although dogs from all over Europe added to the mix, the greatest portion were from the UK.
Dogs from Australia had already begun to be selected and bred for climates and terrains that were often similar to California.
As shepherds selected dogs who could handle stock in harsh storms, high arid heat, and chilling cold, and who could think on their own in challenging terrain, reacting instantly to the movement of sheep and to their handlers' commands, the type that became known as the Australian Shepherd was born.
It is not clear where the name "Australian" came from, although it is possible that many of the dogs coming from Australia were blue merle and, somehow, the adjective "Australian" became associated with any dogs of that coat color.
5. 1. Recent history
Selective breeding for many generations focused on aspects of the dog that enabled it to function as an effective stockdog in the American west. It had to handle severe weather; have plenty of speed, athleticism, energy, and endurance; and be intelligent, flexible, and independent while remaining obedient. The Australian Shepherd remained more of a type than a breed until the 1950s, when they became popular as performing dogs in rodeos. Their stunts and skills earned them places in several Disney films, including Run Appaloosa Run and Stub: The Greatest Cowdog in the West.
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