Despite its name, the Australian Shepherd, or Aussie, actually owes its lineage to Europe and the United States. Today, the Australian Shepherd is the 17th most popular dog in the United States among the American Kennel Club’s 193 recognized breeds. Strikingly beautiful and with seemingly endless quantities of energy, Australian Shepherds have a long history as herding dogs on the farms of Basque, near France and Spain. While the Australian Shepherd is still commonly used as a herder on farms, this intelligent breed serves in many other useful roles, including being a common therapy dog and participating in search and rescue missions.
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Australian Shepherd Appearance
A medium-sized dog breed, the female Australian Shepherd reaches full adult height around 18-21 inches and weighs roughly 40-55 pounds, while males are 20-23 inches tall and weigh between 50 and 65 pounds. The Australian Shepherd’s coat is a medium length and tends to be somewhat coarse. Australian Shepherds have a distinctive color pattern consisting of either black, blue merle, red, or red merle, in addition to its standard white markings, tan points, or a combination of both.
Australian Shepherds are fit and muscular and have a tail that is naturally bobbed or docked. Its head is proportionally sized to fit the rest of its body, and has triangular, rose ears or medium length. Australian Shepherds share many qualities with Border Collies and are often mislabeled as such. Overall, the Australian Shepherd is a well-built and solidly medium dog with a chest that is deep, but not wide.
A herding dog by nature, Australian Shepherds are extremely intelligent and is at its best when challenged with tasks that are both physically and intellectually challenging. The breed has a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years, and enjoys spending most of its time around its family.
The Australian Shepherd is highly adaptable, and enjoys being purposeful and working in some capacity. Giving the Australian Shepherd an analytical challenge and the opportunity to exercise its problem-solving skills will help ensure this breeds continued happiness.
A rich heritage of herding combined with its sharp intellect and alertness make the Australian Shepherd an excellent watchdog. The Australian Shepherd will not hesitate to bark if it seeks danger or wants to call attention to itself. Consequently, Aussies may be quite unwelcoming to unfamiliar faces and may exhibit signs of aggression toward strangers. The Australian Shepherd is, however, eternally loyal to its family. Aussies are excellent companions for anyone and will protect all members of the family. Aussies will almost always take kindly to other dogs, cats, and livestock that are part of the family, but may try to chase and nip at wild animals or the neighbor’s cats.
Aussies are also extremely energetic and enjoy spending time with their families, particularly when it involves an adventure. This social dog breed may have separation anxiety and will be ever-grateful to accompany its owner in just about everything he or she does, be it running on the beach or hitting the trails for a bike ride.
Caring for an Australian Shepherd
Australian Shepherds are wildly intelligent and possess plenty of energy. Knowing how to care for an Australian Shepherd is essential, as some owners fail to understand the particular needs of this special breed.
As an active breed that spends most of its day walking or running, the Australian Shepherd’s fast-moving metabolism demands an appropriate diet to fuel its endless supply of energy. Owners should take into consideration the age of an Australian Shepherd when selecting the right food, since younger, middle-aged, and senior dogs all have varied nutritional needs. Whether opting for dry dog food, wet dog food, or customized meals prepared at home, owners should speak to their veterinarian to make sure their Australian Shepherd is getting the adequate nutrition it needs to live a happy, healthy, active lifestyle.
Australian Shepherds need a lot of exercise—there is simply no way around it. The good news is that Aussies are content to participate in almost any form of exercise, and especially love interacting with their owners. While allowing the Aussie to claim its rightful place on the farm as a herder of livestock, this may not always be realistic. If the Aussie is not working, it will be content to participate in any variety of canine challenges, running, hiking, or chasing. For busy owners who don’t have much time to spare, automatic fetch machines and an electronic dog door can prove to be helpful, time-saving purchases.
The Australian Shepherd is both intelligent and loves to please its owner, making it a very trainable dog. It’s important to begin training at a young age, to be patient and consistent with the Aussie, and to provide it with plenty of mentally stimulating exercises. Though the Aussie does learn quickly and can be quite obedient once trained, it can exhibit some bad behavior if training is neglected, or if the dog isn’t provided with the exercise it needs. If owners don’t offer a proper outlet for the Aussie’s abundant energies, it should come as no surprise if this breed acts out or gets destructive.
The Australian Shepherd is a relatively healthy breed overall, though there some health concerns owners should be aware of. Anyone with an Australian Shepherd, or any dog, should bring their dog to a veterinarian at least once per year for a checkup, in addition to monitoring its overall health, including cleaning its ears and teeth. Using a non-irritating ear-cleaning solution for dogs and toothpaste for dogs will help keep up with its grooming needs.
Aussies are susceptible to several health concerns in particular, and preventive health tests which should be ordered for an Aussie include a hip and elbow evaluation, and an eye exam. Since Australian Shepherds may be more susceptible to epilepsy, cataracts, and hip dysplasia, symptoms of any one of these conditions should be communicated to a veterinarian immediately.
Studies have also revealed that cancer is a significant risk in Australian Shepherds, and is the leading cause of death in the breed. Other health concerns to take into consideration include hereditary cataracts and Collie eye anomaly, both of which can cause visual impairments and blindness in Australian Shepherds.
Finally, Australian Shepherds may be highly sensitive to various drugs, an important detail to note and share with the dog’s veterinarian, particularly prior to administering any drug to the dog.
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