Australian Shepherds can easily be described as the jack of all trades—they are smart, loyal, friendly, and intelligent, and they can be taught to do agility, herd, and be a therapy or service dog. With such an impressive resumé, it is no wonder that this breed remains a top choice for so many people.
Checking off the list for what most people look for in a dog, Australian Shepherds (nicknamed Aussies) can make for a wonderful addition to a small household of one or a large household of six or more. These dogs can adapt well to an apartment or household life, as long as they receive a proper amount of daily exercise, mental stimulation, and playtime. Even though these dogs can acclimate well to a wide range of living environments and family size, they may not be the best choice for first-time dog parents.
Being a medium-sized dog, Australian Shepherds, on average, weigh between 40-65 pounds and stand 18-23 inches in height. Their expected lifespan is 12-15 years.
These dogs have a medium to long length coat that can be both straight and have a slight wave. Their water-resistant coat can come in the colors of blue or red merle, red, tri-color, and black. Their eye color can be green, blue, hazel, amber, or brown. Many dogs of this breed can even have two different colored eyes (i.e., one brown and one blue) or have a split eye where there are two colors present on just one iris.
Aussies are athletically-built, diligent members of the herding group. They adore having a job to do and even-more-so love being by their pet parents’ side.
Upon examining their past, the name ‘Australian Shepherd’ can be misleading. This breed is, in fact, not from Australia, but instead from the American West. Ancestors of the Aussie include various types of Collies and Shepherds, some of which came to America from Australia, thus creating a possibility as to from where their name originates.
These dogs were bred to be an intelligent, hard-working dog that could help herd livestock out on ranches—which explains their popularity throughout the western region of the United States.
Post-WWII, rodeos, horseback riding, and Western television shows and movies began to gain more popularity. In practically no time, the popularity of Aussies increased, and many Americans wanted their own trusty dog, just like the ones they saw in Hollywood films.
Throughout the second half of the 20th century, the popularity of Australian Shepherds continued to grow. Their presence became much more common in households and apartments, rather than just farms and ranches. At the turn of the century, these dogs continued to be a favorite among Americans, largely because of their versatility. Throughout the years, people have discovered that in addition to being a great family dog, Aussies also do well with herding, agility, various sports, and being service dogs.
Particular dog breeds gaining popularity from pop-culture or media is a common theme that has continued for decades. Just as Aussies became popular after the release of Western media, Dalmatians became famous following the release of 101 Dalmatians and Golden Retrievers following the release of Air Bud. More recent examples include the surge in popularity for Corgis (Queen Elizabeth’s favorite), and French Bulldogs (due to many celebrities having this breed). Even Game of Thrones has increased the interest in the hybrid breed of Wolfdogs.
Besides being adorable and fluffy, perhaps the next most obvious trait among Australian Shepherds is that they are athletic and have loads of energy.
Before adopting an Australian Shepherd, it is vital that individuals understand exactly just how much energy this breed has. For some, having a spirited pup is perfect, but for others, this characteristic could be an absolute nightmare. As most pet parents know, when a dog becomes bored or is not able to properly release their pent-up energy, they will become destructive and most likely develop poor habits.
One of the best ways to keep your Aussie happy and healthy is to provide them with a proper amount of exercise and entertainment. On average, your Aussie will need about one to two hours of exercise every day. This exercise can come in the form of walking, running, hiking, swimming, or playing fetch.
Before participating in heavy running or long hikes, it is best to wait until your dog is nearly done growing, typically around their one or two year birthday. Vigorous exercise places stress on their joints and bones, and if this occurs before those are fully developed, this could cause growth issues or health problems in the future.
Pet parents have found that agility is also a wonderful outlet for their dog’s energy. If this is something you would be interested in, try looking into local classes offered in your area. Another class that Aussie parents have found worth-while is herding classes. These dogs are natural-born herders, so although they will most likely catch on quickly, they will still need some instruction on how to work with various livestock properly.
Giving your dog an outlet for their energy and their herding instinct is a great opportunity to provide exercise, while also providing training simultaneously. Just take note, there is a good chance that your Aussie will still try to herd you, your children, or your car. Because of this instinct, it is important to always have your dog on a leash or in a fenced-in area when they are outside.
It is also essential to teach your Aussie that nipping while herding is not something you want them to do. Due to this natural habit, be sure to monitor interactions that your dog has with other animals and with children, especially ones of a younger age.
Before adding an Australian Shepherd to your family, you may find that you still have unanswered questions about these dogs. Some common questions that other pet parents have asked include:
Yes, Aussies do have tails, but their tail length can vary. Many dogs of this breed are born with a naturally bobbed tail, which, when combined with a longer, thicker coat, oftentimes creates the illusion that there is no tail when in reality their tail is just lost in all the fluff.
However, some Australian Shepherds are born with a longer tail. Decades ago, many people chose to dock their dog’s tail because otherwise, the longer tail would get in the way while they were herding animals.
Docking a dog’s tail is a cosmetic alteration that many people now steer away from. Many organizations, such as our strategic partner The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®), believe that such cosmetic changes are unnecessary. Due to elective cosmetic procedures, such as tail docking and ear cropping, not being aligned with the ASPCA’s humane standards, they are not covered by the ASPCA Pet Health Insurance program.
There isn’t necessarily a direct answer to this question, since vocalization differs from dog to dog based on many factors, including their personality, living environment, and training history. On average, though, Australian Shepherds tend to bark when someone comes to your door, is on your property, or when they see other animals. Although it may take some time, you can train your dog to not bark at things that are common, such as people, dogs, or cars that are simply passing by.
That being said, if an Australian Shepherd is not properly socialized, if they don’t receive enough exercise, or if they become overly bored, then their tendency for barking will increase.
No, Aussies are not a hypoallergenic dog breed. In fact, they have a decent amount of hair, which they enjoy shedding all over the house. So people with allergies should definitely steer clear of this breed.
One of the many reasons that people have adored Aussies for so many years is that these dogs are extremely trainable, meaning that they are intelligent, fast-learners, and naturally want to please their parents. As a bonus, there are an infinite amount of benefits that come from training your dog, including mental stimulation, additional exercise, better behavior, and a strengthened bond with their pet parent.
Always looking for a new opportunity to learn, Australian Shepherds can be trained to do countless activities. Herding is an activity that comes naturally to this breed, and agility is also like second nature. Enrolling your dog in a herding or agility class is a great opportunity for socialization and an outlet for their extra energy. Aussies also have a love and natural knack for catching flying disks or balls from the air.
When it comes to training your pup, the sky is the limit—don’t be afraid to get creative. While it may take some time, a little bit of patience and repetition, and a good bit of treats, chances are your four-legged friend will catch on to practically any trick or command you toss their way. It’s recommended that training begins on the very day you bring your dog home and that you remain consistent with your command words and hand motions. Commands such as sit, down, paw, stay, and come are great starters.
Whenever you sense that your dog is ready to learn more, other wonderful choices include, drop it, leave it, heel, off, and place. More advanced commands and tricks you can teach your dog include over, under, bow, play dead, turn left, turn right, and back up. Beginning training as early as you can (even if you adopt an older dog) is essential. This will allow your dog to develop good manners and to learn the rules of the house. Especially if you are adopting a puppy who is not able to get their energy out through excessive exercise, training will help work your dog without putting much stress or pressure on their joints and bones.
Another excellent type of training that is recommended you include on your list is crate training. Especially when your dog is new to your home, a crate can provide a safe haven, and a special place that your dog knows is specifically theirs. Many dogs come to view their crate as a den, which can be a place that they retreat to when they need a break from playing with kids, want a peaceful place to rest, or to hide from a scary storm.
In addition to providing your dog with a safe spot, crates can also help keep your dog safe. When left alone or unattended for an extended amount of time, dogs oftentimes begin chewing on shoes or furniture, have accidents in the house, or ingest something that really should not be ingested. As your dog matures, you may find that they can be trusted outside of their crate for longer periods of time, but until then, reward them with a treat or bone every time they go in their crate and remember to never put your dog in their crate as a punishment.
Australian Shepherds are actually so well known for being great learners and listeners, their resumes even include filling all sorts of professional roles. For years, Aussies have been used as service and therapy dogs, search and rescue dogs, and detection/sniffer dogs.
With medium to long hair, Aussies have a thick coat that will require frequent brushing. Getting in the habit of brushing your dog either every day or every other day will help keep their coat clean and keep less hair out of your house. These dogs shed a moderate amount, but they will have two big sheds a year, once in the spring and again in the fall.
Besides a good brushing, Australian Shepherds will also need their ears regularly checked for any redness or bad odors, which could be a sign of infection. Talk to your veterinarian about recommended ear-cleaning solutions and remember to never use cotton swabs on your dog’s ears, since they could accidentally cause injury.
Some dogs also have the tendency to have a build-up of eye goop in the corner of their eyes. To clean this, simply use a damp cloth and gently wipe away from the eye. Use a different part of the cloth to clean the other eye, in order to avoid spreading any type of eye infection.
Your dog’s nails will also need a regular nail clipping, which oftentimes lines up with when they will need a bath. You will know that it is time to trim your dog’s nails when you can begin hearing them click on the floor.
As for the bath, you can use your best judgment—some dogs do well with one bath a month, while others can wait for a bimonthly bath. However, you may have the dog that finds every mud puddle in existence, so a weekly rinse off might be mandatory. No matter if you choose to wash your dog on your own instead of taking them to a groomer’s, it’s important not to use human shampoo or soap since it could affect your dog’s skin.
Australian Shepherds are a fairly healthy breed, but just like any other dog, Aussies are still prone to developing a few health issues. According to our claims data*, the top five health problems that affect this breed include:
Just because Aussies are more prone to developing these health issues, that is not a guarantee that your dog will experience any or all of these problems.
When it comes to their health, another important item to keep in mind is your dog’s parents. In merle-to-merle breeding, the puppies will have an increased chance of being born blind or deaf—these puppies are typically identifiable because they will have more white in their coat.
While specially-abled dogs can still make for a wonderful addition to many families, they may not be the perfect fit for all families. Dogs with certain conditions such as blindness or deafness may require extra care and attention, more expensive medical-related bills, and specific training.
Before adopting a new dog, it is always recommended to familiarize yourself with the overall health of the dog breed you are looking into. When doing further research into what health issues often affect Australian Shepherds, some of the most common questions pet parents want answered include:
When it comes to their health, a few items to keep an eye out for include hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia, epilepsy, and eye diseases such as Progressive Retinal Atrophy and Collie Eye Anomaly. If you suspect that your dog has any of these conditions, your veterinarian can run tests to help diagnose what exactly your dog has.
Just like humans, for dogs, there is a long list of types of cancer that they can develop. However, Australian Shepherds do not have an increased likelihood of developing any one type in particular.
When it comes to your dog’s overall health, one of the best things you can do for them is to schedule annual veterinarian checkups. These appointments will allow your veterinarian to keep a better eye on your dog’s health, and in the instance that there is a problem, regular checkups mean an increased chance of catching and treating the problem early on.
*Internal Claims Data, 2019
The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.