Despite his name, the Australian Shepherd originated in the western U.S., not Australia, around the time of the Gold Rush in the 1840s. Originally bred to herd livestock, he remains a working dog breed at heart; the Aussie, as he’s nicknamed, is happiest when he has a job to do. He can be a wonderful family companion if his intelligence and energy are channeled into dog sports or activities.
The Australian Shepherd was actually developed in America, but there are many debates over the origins of the foundation stock. It is believed dogs travelled over with flocks of Merino sheep and the Basque shepherds who tended them. Some contend they came to Australia from Spain when the first Merino sheep arrived, and then travelled on to America. Others believe they were Australian Sheepdogs derived from the Smithfield and some type of Collie – possibly the German Coolie or its ancestor. The name came about because of the perceived link with this country and the herding of Australian Merino sheep.
In Australia the breed is in its infancy, only having been introduced in 1990. Australian Shepherds were fully recognised by the Australian National Kennel Council on January 1, 1994. Since then, the dog has gained considerably in popularity, competing successfully in conformation, obedience and agility.
The Australian shepherd is a medium-sized breed of solid build. They can be anywhere from 30–65 pounds (14–29 kg) and anywhere from 17–26 inches (43–66 cm) in height. The ASCA standard calls for the Australian shepherd to stand between 18–23 inches (46–58 cm) at the withers, females being 18–21 inches (46–53 cm) and males measuring 20–23 inches (51–58 cm); however, quality is not to be sacrificed in favor of size.
The Australian Shepherd is good-natured with an even disposition. It may be somewhat reserved when meeting people for the first time, but there should never be any display of shyness or aggression. This breed is primarily a working dog with strong herding and guarding instincts. It is very agile and works with style and enthusiasm. Although not couch potatoes, some are quite content to be lap dogs. Extremely intelligent and devoted to their families, they are quick to learn and very easy to train.
Australian Shepherds are herding dogs and many consider kids part of their “flock,” so you’ll need to teach your Aussie that chasing and nipping at kids to herd them isn’t allowed. Once they learn this lesson, Aussies make wonderful companions for families with kids.
They can get along with other pets, too, although they may try to herd them. This may not go over too well, especially with cats. Keep an eye on your Aussie when other pets are around until he learns that they’re not members of his flock.