Key Breed Facts
Intelligence / Trainability
Children and Other Pets
Caring for a Australian Shepherd
Average Cost to keep/care for a Australian Shepherd
Breed Specific Buying Advice
You'd be forgiven for thinking an Australian Shepherd is native to Australia when in fact the breed hails from the Basque region of Spain. It was from here that these dogs found their way over to America where careful selective breeding produced the dogs we see today. In the States, the Aussie or Little Blue Dog as they are often called, remains among the most popular choices of working dogs and family pets.
Aussies have also gained popularity as companion dogs and family pets in other parts of the world which is understandable thanks to their intelligence and quick natures. With this said, the Aussie is not the best choice for first-time dog owners because they are high-energy characters that need to be correctly trained and then kept busy or they can start to show a more dominant and unruly side of their nature making them harder to manage and handle.
As previously mentioned, the Australian Shepherd originates from Spain where they were used as working dogs by Basque shepherds. With this said, the breed was mainly developed in the United States. Aussies were first taken over to Australia by shepherds who emigrated there at the end of the nineteenth century. These "blue dogs" were then taken to the Americas where they were given the name Australian Shepherds.
However, other people believe that the breed first appeared in the United States when dogs were taken over there by European immigrants. With this said, their ancestry is a bit of a mystery, but the dogs bought over to Australia from Spain were no doubt crossed with Australian working dogs. At the time, they earned themselves the reputation for being devoted dogs that boasted a higher than average intelligence in the working environment and very capable of doing their job without the need for the shepherd to be around.
The breed only arrived in the UK in the mid-1980s when dogs were imported to the country by Mr., & Mrs. Jueckstock and over the years these attractive dogs have gained popularity both as working dogs, family pets and companion dogs. Over more recent times, they have been trained as Guide Dogs for the Blind, Search and Rescue dogs as well as being trained to help handicapped people. A lot of Aussies are used as therapy dogs in nursing homes and hospitals which goes to show just how versatile and intelligent they are.
Height at the withers: Males 51 - 58 cm, Females 46 - 53 cm
Average weight: Males 23 - 29 kg, Females 14 - 20 kg
The Australian Shepherd is a well-proportioned and nicely balanced dog that boasts being slightly longer than they are tall. They are medium in size and well-muscled with a keen and alert look. There is a distinct difference in female and male dogs with both having well defined physical traits.
Their heads are clean cut and well-proportioned in relation to their body. Heads are slightly rounded and boast a well-defined stop. Their eyes are almond shaped, brown, blue or amber in colour with flecks or marbling in them depending on a dog’s coat colour.
Ears are triangular in shape with slightly rounded tips and set high on a dog's head. Dogs hold their ears either upright or semi-erect and they often drop forwards or to one side when dogs are working or alert. These dogs boast a strong jaw line with a perfect scissor bite where their upper teeth neatly overlap their lower ones. Their necks are moderately long and dogs hold them slightly arched which adds to their proud, alert look.
Their forequarters are muscular with long, flat, well-laid-back shoulder blades and nice strong, straight legs. Their body is strong and muscular with a level topline and deep chest. Ribs are well sprung and loins broad and strong looking with a moderately sloping croup.
Their hindquarters are nicely proportioned in relation to their rest of their body and they boast strong looking back legs. Feet are oval in shape and compact with nicely arched toes and well-padded pads. Their tails are moderate in length with a slight amount of feathering. Dogs can be born with a naturally bobbed tail which is allowed as a breed standard.
When it comes to their coat, the Australian Shepherd boasts one that is medium in length which can be either slightly wavy or straight. Their coats are extremely weather-resistant all thanks to a dense undercoat. The hair on their head, front legs, ears and lower legs is short with the back of their legs boasting a moderate amount of feathering. Males have more of a mane than their female counterparts. When it comes to coat colours, the accepted colours for Kennel Club registration for the Australian Shepherd are as follows:
All the above colours can have or not have tan points, but any white must not be too dominant a colour on a dog's head. Other areas where white markings are allowed in a dog's coat are as follows:
The 4-basic accepted colours through the Australian Shepherd Breed Club are as follows:
Aussies can have or not have white and copper trims in their coats.
When an Australian Shepherd moves, they do so with a smooth, free, easy and agile gait taking long strides and covering a lot of ground when they do. Dogs keep a nice level topline when they are on the move and their front and back legs remain straight and true.
The Kennel Club frowns on any exaggerations or departures from the breed standard and would judge the faults on how much they affect a dog's overall health and wellbeing as well as their ability to perform.
Males should have both testicles fully descended into their scrotums and it is worth noting that a dog can be a little lighter or heavier as well as slightly taller or shorter than set out in the Kennel Club breed standard which is only given as a guideline.
The Australian Shepherd is an intelligent dog bred to work and as such their instinct to herd, guard and protect remains strong even in a home environment. They boast a tremendous amount of energy and stamina which means they are not the best choice for people who lead more sedentary lives. However, for people who spend most of their day outdoors, the Australian Shepherd would fit in well with their life style. These are extremely high energy dogs that need to be kept busy or boredom would soon set in which can lead to Aussies developing some serious behavioural issues.
They are known for their loyal and attentive natures and are always ready to turn on a sixpence when they need to which is why they are so highly prized as working and herding dogs. They are also known for their calm and even dispositions although like many other herding dogs, the Australian Shepherd can be reserved when they first meet anyone. It takes them a while to get to know strangers which is something that’s very typical of this type of dog.
Their training and socialisation needs to start early in a dog's life for them to grow up to be obedient, well-rounded characters. Aussies can be quite demanding which in short means they don't like to be left to their own devices even for short lengths of time. Once they have formed a bond with an owner, they will follow them wherever they go and this includes from room to room, not liking to be away from the person they have formed a strong bond with.
They are also known to be extremely territorial and will protect things in their environment which can at times get out of control if a dog is not trained correctly from the word go. This is another reason why Aussies are not the best choice for first time owners who may not have enough experience on how to handle and manage these dogs. However, for people who are used to handling such intelligent, high-energy dogs, the Aussie is highly trainable because they thrive on pleasing their owners. These dogs need to know their place in the pack and who is alpha dog in a household.
Aussies excel at all sorts of canine sporting activities which includes things like Flyball, trailing and agility all of which are activities they really enjoy taking part in. However, thanks to their calm and loyal natures, these dogs are often used as assistance dogs for the disabled and are often valued members of search and rescue teams.
They are not the best choice for first time dog owners because they need to be socialised, handled and trained by people who are familiar with the needs of such an intelligent and high-energy dog. Failing to train an Aussie early enough could result in them being dominant and harder to live with which can make life for owners and their canine companions difficult.
The Australian Shepherd was bred to herd large flocks which is a trait that is deeply embedded in a dog's psyche. As such, even in a home environment, the need to herd remains very strong. With this said, they are always quick off the mark to herd anything that moves which can be interrupted as them having a strong prey drive when they meet any other animals which includes smaller pets.
Aussies have a very playful and fun-loving side to their natures and like to entertain and be entertained. They are known to be a little mischievous when the mood takes them and being so clever, an Aussie quickly learns what pleases an owner and how to get their own way which is one of the reasons they are not a good choice for novice dog owners.
An Australian Shepherd is an active, energetic dog that needs lots of exercise and mental stimulation. With this said, they are not quite as manic as some other collie-type breeds, they are better suited to people who have secure, well-fenced back gardens a dog can safely roam in whenever possible. In short, they are not well suited to living in an apartment.
Australian Shepherds form strong ties with their families and dogs are never very happy when they find themselves left on their own for longer periods of time. They are better suited to people who either work from home or in households where one person stays at home when everyone else is out so they are never alone for any length of time which could see a dog suffering from separation anxiety. This can lead to them being destructive around the home which is a dog's way of relieving any stress they are feeling and a way to keep themselves entertained.
Some Aussies like the sound of their own voices a little too much which is something that needs to be gently nipped in the bud when a dog is still young being careful not to frighten them. Others will only bark when there are strangers about or when something they don't like is going on in their surroundings or when they want to get an owner's attention.
Most Aussies love swimming and will take to the water whenever they can more especially when the weather is hot. However, if anyone who owns a dog that does not like water should never force them to go in because it would just end up scaring them. With this said, care should always be taken when walking an Aussie off the lead anywhere near more dangerous watercourses just in case a dog decides to leap in and then needs rescuing because they cannot get out of the water on their own. It is also important to thoroughly dry off a dog's coat when they've been swimming because they are so prone to suffering from skin allergies.
Australian Shepherds are not natural watchdogs although this is not to say a dog would not be quick off the mark to let an owner know when there are strangers about although they would rarely do this aggressively. With this said, they tend to keep their distance while keeping an eye on things which in short means, they are not the best "guard" dogs.
The Australian Shepherd is an intelligent dog, but not the best choice for first time owners because they need to be correctly trained and handled from a young age to ensure they know their place in a pack. If Aussies are not given the right sort of direction, they can quickly become unruly, dominant and hard to manage dogs. An Australian Shepherd needs to find things "challenging" for them to be truly happy in a home environment. It is also worth noting that Aussies often find their own way of doing things which is not always the way an owner wants them to do.
If this happens, it's important to seek help because the longer a dog displays this type of behaviour, the harder and longer it can be to correct. Enrolling a dog into training class is one solution that tends to work well because there's nothing Aussies like more than when they have something to do. With the right training and handling, the Aussie is a wonderful, loyal and obedient dog that is a pleasure to be around and own.
Aussie puppies, like all puppies, are incredibly cute and it is all too easy to spoil them when they first arrive in their new homes. Australian Shepherd puppies are not only very sweet looking, but they are extremely smart too and as such they quickly pick new things up which includes the good and the bad. As such, as soon as a puppy is settled, owners need to start out as they mean to go on which means laying down ground rules and boundaries. This helps an intelligent puppy understand what is expected of them and what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. It also helps establish a pecking order and who is the alpha dog in a household. The first commands a puppy should be taught are as follows:
Aussies although high-energy dogs, do make good family pets. However, their strong urge to herd anything that moves or which takes their fancy means they can start herding the kids and any other pets that share their environment. With this said, it's always a good idea to keep an eye on children and other pets when they are around an Aussie to make sure things stay friendly and calm.
If Aussies grow up with other pets in a household, they generally get on well with them and this includes family cats. However, when introducing an Australian Shepherd to new pets and other dogs, this needs to be slowly and carefully to make sure their first encounter goes smoothly.
For further advice please read our article on Keeping Children Safe around Dogs.
The average life expectancy of an Australian Shepherd Dog is between 13 to 15 years when properly cared for and fed an appropriate good quality diet to suit their ages.
With this said, like many other pure breeds, the Aussie is known to suffer from certain hereditary health issues which are worth knowing about if you have decided to share your home with one of these high energy, intelligent dogs. The health issues most commonly seen in the breed include the following:
Aussie puppies would have been given their initial vaccinations before being sold, but it is up to their new owners to make sure they have their follow-up shots in a timely manner with the vaccination schedule for puppies being as follows:
There has been a lot of discussion about the need for dogs to have boosters. As such, it's best to talk to a vet before making a final decision on whether a dog should continue to have annual vaccinations which are known as boosters.
A lot of vets these days recommend waiting until dogs are slightly older before spaying and neutering them which means they are more mature before undergoing the procedures. As such they advise neutering males and spaying females when they are between the ages of 6 to 9 months old and sometimes even when a dog is 12 months old.
Other vets recommend spaying and neutering dogs when they are 6 months old, but never any earlier unless for medical reasons. With this said, many breeds are different and it is always advisable to discuss things with a vet and then follow their advice on when a dog should be spayed or neutered.
Like other breeds, Aussies can gain weight after they have been spayed or neutered and it's important to keep an eye on a dog's waistline just in case they do. If a dog starts to put on weight it's important to adjust their daily calorie intake and to up the amount of exercise they are given. Older dogs too are more prone to gaining weight and again it's essential they be fed and exercised accordingly because obesity can shorten a dog's life by several years. The reason being that it puts a lot of extra strain on a dog's internal organs including the heart which could prove fatal.
Aussies are prone to suffering from allergies and other skin issues which means it's important for a dog to see a vet sooner rather than later if one flares up. Allergies can be notoriously hard to clear up and finding the triggers can be challenging. With this said, a vet would be able to make a dog with an allergy more comfortable while they try to find out the triggers which could include the following:
All responsible Australian Shepherd breeders would ensure that their stud dogs are tested for known hereditary and congenital health issues known to affect the breed by using the following schemes:
All responsible breeders would never breed from a female under 2-years old because they are not ready to have a litter since they are neither mentally or physically ready.
The Kennel Club accepts registration of "naturally bobbed tails" because it helps identify which lines carry the gene responsible. A letter from a qualified vet must accompany the request for registration.
The Kennel Club no longer accepts Australian Shepherd puppies whelped from merle parents because of the health risks associated with the merle gene which affects a dog's sight and their vision.
It is mandatory for all KC Assured Breeders to have their dogs tested using the following schemes:
The Kennel Club also strongly recommends that all breeders use the following schemes on stud dogs and puppies:
As with any other breed, Australian Shepherds need to be groomed on a regular basis to make sure their coats and skin are kept in top condition. They also need to be given regular daily exercise to ensure they remain fit and healthy. On top of this, they need to be fed good quality well-balanced diet making sure it is one that meets all their nutritional needs throughout their lives.
Aussie puppies are boisterous and full of life which means it's essential for homes and gardens to be puppy-proofed well in advance of their arrival. A responsible breeder would have well socialised their puppies which always leads to more outgoing, confident and friendly dogs right from the word go. With this said, any puppy is going to feel vulnerable when they leave their mother and littermates which must be taken into account. The longer a puppy can remain with their mother, the better although it should never be for too long either.
It's best to pick a puppy up when people are going to be around for the first week or so which is the time needed for a puppy to settle in. Puppy-proofing the home and garden means putting away any tools and other implements that a boisterous puppy might injure themselves on. Electric wires and cables must be put out of their reach because puppies love chewing on things. Toxic plants should be removed from flowerbeds and the home too.
Puppies need to sleep a lot to grow and develop as they should which means setting up a quiet area that's not too out of the way means they can retreat to it when they want to nap and it's important not to disturb them when they are sleeping. It's also a good idea to keep "playtime" nice and calm inside the house and to have a more active "playtime" outside in the garden which means puppies quickly learn to be less boisterous when they are inside.
The documentation a breeder provides for a puppy must have all the details of their worming date and the product used as well as the information relating to their microchip. It is essential for puppies to be wormed again keeping to a schedule which is as follows:
There are certain items that new owners need to already have in the home prior to bringing a new puppy home. It's often a good idea to restrict how much space a puppy plays in more especially when you can't keep an eye on what they get up to bearing in mind that puppies are often quite boisterous which means investing in puppy gates or a large enough playpen that allows a puppy the room to express themselves while keeping them safe too. The items needed are therefore, as follows:
All puppies are sensitive to noise including Australian Shepherd puppies. It's important to keep the noise levels down when a new puppy arrives in the home. TVs and music should not be played too loud which could end up stressing a small puppy out which could end up making them timid and shy.
As previously mentioned, Aussie puppies would have been given their first vaccinations by the breeders, but they must have their follow up shots which is up to their new owners to organise. The vaccination schedule for puppies is as follows:
When it comes to boosters, it's best to discuss these with a vet because there is a lot of debate about whether a dog really needs them after a certain time. However, if a dog ever needed to go into kennels, their vaccinations would need to be fully up to date.
Older Aussies need lots of special care because as they reach their golden years, they are more at risk of developing certain health concerns. Physically, a dog's muzzle may start to go grey, but there will be other noticeable changes too which includes the following:
Older dogs change mentally too which means their response time tends to be slower as such they develop the following:
Living with an Aussie in their golden years means taking on a few more responsibilities, but these are easily managed and should include taking a look at their diet, the amount of exercise they are given, how often their dog beds need changing and keeping an eye on the condition of their teeth.
Older Australian Shepherds should be fed a good quality diet that meets their needs at this stage of their lives all the while keeping a close eye on a dog's weight. A rough feeding guide for older dogs as follows bearing in mind they should be fed highly digestible food that does not contain any additives:
Older Aussies don't need to be given the same amount of daily exercise as a younger dog, but they still need the right amount of physical activity to maintain muscle tone and to prevent a dog from putting on too much weight. All dogs need access to fresh clean water and this is especially true of older dogs when they reach their golden years because they are more at risk of developing kidney disorders.
Having moderately long coats, the Aussie needs to be groomed at least once a week to prevent any mats and tangles forming and to keep their skin in good condition. Like other dogs, they shed more during the Spring and then again in the Autumn when more frequent brushing is usually necessary to keep on top of things.
When it comes to bathing, Aussies only need to be bathed a couple of times a year or when it is really necessary. It's important to use a dog specific shampoo or it could trigger a skin allergy flaring up. Over-bathing a dog can have a negative impact on the condition of their skin and coats, stripping all the natural oils out which can lead to dry and flaky skin and once this happens, it can result in sore developing which make a dog’s life very uncomfortable and it opens the door to an infection flaring up.
Aussies are high energy dogs that need to be given a ton of exercise every day. They also need lots of mental stimulation on a daily basis for them to be truly happy, well-rounded characters. The saying a "tired dog is a happy dog", is never truer than when talking about an Australian Shepherd. In short, these dogs are never happier than when they are given a "job" to do and would be extremely unhappy dogs if they are left to their own devices for long periods of time.
Australian Shepherds are renowned for their herding abilities and therefore they excel at canine sporting activities like competitive obedience, agility and Flyball to name but three. When these dogs are not given the right amount of daily exercise it can result in them becoming destructive around the house and they also turn into nervous characters with some dogs becoming unstable too. The Australian Shepherd is definitely not a good choice for first time owners or for people who lead more sedentary lives for these reasons.
Australian Shepherds are not known to the fussy of finicky eaters. However, this does not mean they can be fed a lower quality diet. They are high energy characters that like to be kept busy and as such they really do benefit from being fed a home-made natural diet that contains the right levels of proteins and other valuable nutrients this dog needs to remain healthy.
If you get an Aussie puppy from a breeder, they would give you a feeding schedule and it's important to stick to the same routine, feeding the same type of puppy food to avoid any tummy upsets. You can change a puppy's diet, but this needs to be done very gradually always making sure they don't develop any digestive upsets in the process and if they do, it's best to put them back on their original diet and to discuss things with the vet before attempting to change their diet again.
Puppies need to be fed a highly nutritious, good quality diet for them to develop and grow as they should. As a rough guide, an Aussie puppy can be fed the following amounts every day making sure their meals are evenly spread out throughout the day and it's best to feed them 3 or 4 times a day:
Once a puppy is 12 months old they can be fed adult dog food.
Once fully mature, an adult Australian Shepherd must be fed a good quality diet to ensure their continued good health. As a rough guide, an adult Aussie can be fed the following amounts every day:
If you are looking to buy an Australian Shepherd Dog, you would need to be prepared to pay anything from £500 to over £900 for a well-bred pedigree puppy. The cost of insuring a male 3-year-old Australian Shepherd Dog in northern England would be £22.51 a month for basic cover but for a lifetime policy, this would set you back £42.97 a month (quote as of February 2018). When insurance companies calculate pet insurance, they factor in a few things and this includes where you live in the UK, whether a dog is neutered or spayed, a dog's age and their breed.
When it comes to food costs, you need to buy the best quality food whether wet or dry, to feed your dog throughout their lives making sure it suits the different stages of their lives. This would set you back between £40 - £60 a month. On top of this, you would need to factor in veterinary costs if you want to share your home with an Aussie and this includes their initial vaccinations, their boosters, the cost of neutering or spaying your dog when the time is right and their annual health check visits, all of which could quickly add up to well over a £1000 a year.
As a rough guide, the average cost to keep and care for an Australian Shepherd would be between £90 to £120 a month depending on the level of insurance cover you opt to buy for your dog, but this does not include the initial cost of buying a healthy, well-bred Kennel Club registered pedigree Australian Shepherd puppy.
When visiting and buying any puppy or dog, there are many important things to consider and questions to ask of the breeder/seller. You can read our generic puppy/dog advice here which includes making sure you see the puppy with its mother and to verify that the dog has been wormed and microchipped.
Australian Shepherds are becoming a popular breed both in the UK and elsewhere in the world which means that well-bred puppies can often command a lot of money. As such, with Australian Shepherds there is specific advice, questions and protocols to follow when buying a puppy which are as follows:
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