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Despite the rather misleading name, the Australian Shepherd was actually developed as a breed in the Basque region of Spain and later refined in the US, where it remains a very popular breed of working dog.
When people from the Basque region of Spain first immigrated to the new world of Australia in the 1800's, they took with them a stylish yet hardy working sheep dog. It is thought that interbreeding with local sheep dogs took place there, selecting for traits suitable for the sometimes harsh environments and the very large flocks of Merino sheep. Fast forwards to the 1900's when the descendents of the Australian settlers moved onto America, their dogs went with them and there made their mark on America by interbreeding again with the local working dogs there. Here, they developed a versatility to work with many different types of stock and the already successful partnership between farmers and this breed became even more solid. As such, they remain to this day a dog of many talents, able to interpret the body language of all stock species and the needs of their handler very well.
They were imported into the UK in the early 1980's and since then have gained in popularity with the owners club going from strength to strength, with many of the dogs resident in the UK having a lineage traceable back to the American strains of this breed.
Average height to withers: Males generally between 20-23 inches with females smaller between 18-21 inches.
Average weight: Males between 23-29 kg in weight, with females ranging between 18-25kg when mature.
A member of the pastoral group of dogs, the Australian Shepherd is a well balanced medium size dog with a robust, well proportioned body for an active life in the field. The overall length of this breed is slightly longer than the height of the head with a solid and even topline, sloping to the hindquarters and to a well feathered tail which continues the line. The tail should not be curled.
The coat is overall a medium length, and can be curled or straight. It has a weather resistant undercoat to protect it from the elements while working and has moderate feathering on the legs and chest, with males displaying more than females.
The coat colours are merles in blue, black or red and may have a prominent amount of white hair also, usually on the chest, legs and face. Because of the merle colouration, a large proportion of this breed can display eye colour which can vary from deep brown to light amber, and occasional differences in eye colour occur, such as one or both being blue. This is a characteristic, called hetrochromia, is either a lack or excess of melanin and is harmless. The ears are set high on the head in a triangular shape and when paying attention to something can fall to one side commonly called a 'rose' ear.
The working nature of Australian Shepherds makes them a demanding dog to own as a pet, and one in which the owner must be someone who can invest time and energy in the dog and who likes to walk and play. If the owner is prepared for this and understands the needs of their dog, they will get a lot more out of their pet. This is an active, lithe dog whose physical needs must be catered for.
'Aussies' as they are fondly called, were bred to be a working/ herding dog and this instinct to work is one which the domestic owner will neglect at their own peril; however, when their desire to work is acted on coupled with the correct training and stimulation, they can thrive as a pet. However, they have a tendency to develop destructive behaviours if their needs are not met and are prolific chewers and can be prone to separation anxiety. As a dog that likes to have a 'job' it can excel at canine sports such as flyball, agility and trailing and due to its relatively calm disposition, it can make a fabulous service dog, for example, as an assistance dog for disabled people or as a search and rescue dog where they are often valued members of the team.
They can be even tempered and are more suited to life as a pet than its relation the Border Collie, being more tolerant of children especially when coupled with early socialisation to them, but however well trained and socialised, the strong herding instincts may still drive this dog to herd people and other animals and pets, so supervision is recommended, as with all dogs and children.
While, in a working situation, they can display some aggression, mainly directed in the form of nips at the heels of its flock, the Aussie is exceptionally gentle with people, although it can be wary of strangers.
In good health, The Australian Shepherd has a life expectancy of up to 15 years of age. Like its many other working sheep dog breeds, it can be prone to hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia (HD) can affect all breeds of dog but is more prevalent in some breeds than others. It is caused by the abnormal formation of the hip ball and socket joint. Normally the ball would form a pivot point in the socket; however, some dogs are born with a genetic predisposition for HD. This means that at birth their hips are normal but as they grow, the hip joint does not grow correctly and as a result the ball no longer fits as it should. After the age of a year or so, the owner can opt to have their dog 'hip scored'. Hip scoring is a method used by vets to determine the degree of HD in dogs and involves the vet assessing a number of criteria during a diagnostic examination. If the dog is then found to have a high probability of HD, remedial action can be taken.
In addition, the gene for the merle colouration can make them more prone to deafness, so early testing for this is required. Some dogs of this breed a more sensitive to some veterinary medicines and this is something that the owner should seek clarification on from their vet.
With its moderately long coat, this breed will benefit from a good grooming at least once a week, especially when it is shedding to prevent a build up of dead hair. It is best to avoid over bathing. The main time investment from its owner comes in the form of the exercise it requires. This is not a breed that lends itself to a sedentary lifestyle, and it will require at least 2 good walks and runs per day. Any less and it may become unmanageable due to sheer boredom. The owner needs to provide mental stimulation, as it is a very intelligent dog breed and would do well with obedience trails and such like.