Australian Shepherd: Training, Health Care and Breed Information

The name “Australian Shepherd” isn’t really accurate – that’s what the breed is called, but the Australian Shepherd is an all-American dog, bred in the old western frontier. They make excellent house dogs, and are one of the best dog breeds for children.

But before they became house dogs, Australian Shepherd training produced loyal herders and work dogs. The loyalty, stamina and brain-power that made them so well-suited for that role is just as evident, as their striking beauty.

Jump to: Breed History, Appearance, Temperament, Health Issues, or Australian Shepherd training.

Breed History – Australian Shepherd

The Australian Shepherd went through a lot of breeding phases in the old west, as the various sheep farmers who kept the Australian Shepherd were trying to breed a better and better work dog. It’s impossible to say which breeds went into the blood and in what portions; but you can see a strong Collie influence in the markings and the shape of the face.

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In short, like America itself, the Australian Shepherd is a big melting pot of good qualities.

In the mid-1900s, the Australian Shepherd’s beauty and charm caught the attention of Walt Disney Studios, and about that time the breed was finally made standard.

Appearance – Australian Shepherd

Today, there are two lineages an Australian Shepherd puppy can descend from. Show dogs were bred for body bulk, longer fur and a uniform pattern of coat coloration. Working dogs were bred for stamina and speed, being slightly thinner and less “poofy.”

The color patterns on the Australian Shepherd’s coat are quite varied, but tend to be either all black, all copper, merle, or some combination of these with white trimmings, or some combination of those colors plus red. Their eye colors are just as varied.

An adult Australian Shepherd will grow to just under two feet tall, females a few inches shorter than that. Males will weigh about 55-70 pounds, females about 35-55 pounds. Their tales are usually docked after birth.

Social Temperament – Australian Shepherd

The only major problem reported by Australian Shepherd puppy owners is that the herding instinct is very, very strong. They will therefore try to herd children and other animals in the house, or even the adults. With thorough puppy socialization, this becomes less of a problem, but there remains the issue that a working dog breed must have something to do that he feels is productive. Without that, Australian Shepherds are prone to destructive behaviors.

If you give your Australian Shepherd training, and use the training on a regular basis, you can easily make your Aussie feel as though he’s being useful. So long as you keep that up, and keep him “in the loop” with the family socially, you and your Australian Shepherd will do fine. And, the Australian Shepherd remains an excellent farm hand to this day, and is happy to learn cool dog tricks or agility sports.

Another socialization note is that dog breeds designed for herding tend to distrust strangers. The Australian Shepherd will latch on to your whole family, but you must show the dog that each new stranger is a welcome guest.

Unique Health Problems – Australian Shepherd

There are fairly few problems specific to this breed, although they are serious. There are some serious genetic conditions, that you need to have tested early in your Australian Shepherd puppy’s life, because they can be life-threatening. If you buy from a reputable Australian Shepherd breeder, your risk of genetic problems are greatly reduced, but you can test for them anyway.

The main genetic problem in Australian Shepherds is that they can die from normal dog medications such as diarrhea medications and heartworm meds. The other big one is that albino (all-white) Australian Shepherd puppies have a long list of ailments and are generally not expected to live happy, long or healthy lives. Any breeder trying to sell all-white Australian Shepherd puppies, is either inexperienced, na├»ve, or dishonest, because it’s fairly simple to avoid breeding an albino pup.

Aside from this, Australian Shepherds are prone to both epilepsy and cataracts, like so many dogs.

Australian Shepherd Training

Like all working dogs, the Australian Shepherd is very well-suited for all kinds of training, including advanced obedience training, agility sports, various work roles, and more.

These are the things you’ll need to know when you’re working on Australian Shepherd training:

  • Follow my advice on how to discourage problem behaviors. Keep in mind that you will need to discourage the herding instincts starting from day one for best results.
  • The Australian Shepherd is quite social within its pack, but you’ll need to provide any breed of dog with good socialization training. The Aussie will need to meet a variety of people to reduce its suspicions of outsiders.
  • Obedience training will be a breeze, especially once you establish yourself as a firm, friendly, and forgiving alpha leader.
  • My section on obedience training (linked above) has a list of commands you should teach every dog in order to fully establish real obedience – but the “come” command is a life-saver with herding dogs like the Australian Shepherd.
  • You may want to altogether avoid letting your Australian Shepherd off-leash, but if he’s very obedient about the “come” command then you can let him off-leash with care.
  • Learn how to avoid the problem behavior of chewing on things before you bring an Australian Shepherd puppy home.
  • Don’t leave your Australian Shepherd home alone for long periods – this is bad for their mental health, as separation anxiety is a common problem with any dog as smart and social as this.

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