Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole. – Roger Caras
Despite his name, the Australian Shepherd or “Aussie” has a mysterious past. It is generally thought that he originally came from the Basque regions of Spain and Andorra and accompanied his masters to Australia and then to the United States.
Perhaps due to the lack of solid information on the breed’s history, the Aussie has had many names, including the Spanish Shepherd, Pastor Dog, Bob-Tail, New Mexican Shepherd, California Shepherd, and Austrian Shepherd. Some believe the dog was named for the imported sheep her herded. Many of the Australian sheep were blue merle and the word “Australian” was applied to any dog with that coat colour.
Adding to the mystery, recent scientific evidence has discovered that the Aussie’s family tree includes American dogs that originally came over the Bering Land Bridge.
The dog we know today was developed as a working dog, primarily to herd livestock, on the farms and ranches of the western United states in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Australian Shepherds have been the stars of several films showcasing their abilities including Run Appaloosa Run, Stub: The Greatest Cowdog in the West, Flight of the Navigator, and Famous Five. An Australian shepherd was also featured on TV in the series Flash Forward.
Photos displayed courtesy of Angela Slauenwhite and Collin Veinot, Novacoast, Nova Scotia
The Australian Shepherd is an attractive medium-sized dog approximately 23 inches (58.4 cm) tall at the shoulder. He has highly individual coat and eye colours and a natural (or docked) bobtail. This variety in looks results from the breed being developed over the years for his working ability, rather than his appearance.
The double coat is moderately long, straight or slightly wavy and is weather resistant. The undercoat thickness depends upon the climate. The Aussie may be solid black, solid red, blue merle or red (liver) merle, all of which may be with or without white markings and/or tan (copper) points.
Aussies have expressive eyes of brown, blue, amber, or any variation or combination including flecks and marbling. They may have one blue eye or one that is half blue and half brown.
Not only is the Aussie an intelligent, versatile working dog with strong herding and guarding instincts, he is also an exceptional companion. In fact, these dogs do best with plenty of human contact and attention. They have been called “Velcro dogs” for their strong desire and tendency to stick to their people, forming intense bonds with their owners. This is a dependable, tireless worker devoted to his master, though reserved toward strangers. A loyal, attentive and animated dog, he is a wonderful family pet. As a dog with a strong protective instinct, he will make a good watch dog, barking to alert to the presence of strangers or unusual activity.
This breed does best in a rural or semi-rural environment where he has lots of outdoor activities into which to channel his energy. This is a dog who enjoys working and playing and other activities such as learning and practicing tricks, competing in dog agility or other sports, or engaging in any other activity that challenges him physically or mentally. His great stamina has been used in search and rescue with great effect. He is very active so daily exercise – as much as two to three hours a day – is mandatory for him to keep in shape.
As with many dogs who are bred for work, Aussies do not take well to boredom, neglect, or lack of exercise. Being intelligent and well able to think for themselves, they are perfectly capable of creating their own amusement, indulging in destructive or other unacceptable activities.
An attentive and responsive dog, obedience training comes easy to him. He is obedient but can be stubborn and and obstinate and will respond best to a patient owner who uses consistent training methods. He will benefit from early training and socialization as he is is high spirited in nature.