The Australian Shepherd has been a performance dog at rodeos and been depicted in a few Disney movies. Stub: The Greatest Cow Dog in the West is one Disney movie that featured the breed.
Australian Shepherds are medium sized dogs ranging from 17 to 26 inches in height and weighing 30 to 65 lbs. It is very common for Australian Shepherds to be born with a naturally bobbed tail. Many color variations are expressed in the breed. Such as black, red, blue merle or red merle or a combination of these. The blue and red merle combinations are not derived from the ticking gene. Most notable is their eye color variations. Their eyes may be brown, amber, blue or a combination of these. Sometimes the eye itself is split and has two colors or flecks of another color this is where the term “Ghost Eye Dog” comes from. The expression of coat or eye color depends on the expression of three different alleles. There is a black, red or merle allele. Both the black and the merle allele are dominant while a red allele is recessive. It is important to know and understand how these alleles combine and are passed down when breeding Australian Shepherds. This breed is prone to deafness and blindness when they have two merle alleles. Sometimes an all-white Australian Shepherd is termed rare but the buyer is not aware of the health defects that are predominant in this color expression of this breed. There is a term called “lethal white” that refers to the high probability of an all-white Australian Shepherd ending up both deaf and blind. Although being born deaf or blind does not mean the dog will die, the term “lethal white” is borrowed from a horse term. In horses the term “lethal white” means the foal will not live long due to health concerns.
The Australian Shepherd is a high energy breed that is very intelligent and creative. They are sometimes escape artists as they see confinement as a challenge to be free. Their intelligence and agility makes it very possible for them figure out problems. They are very eager to please and do well in obedience when properly trained. It is important to keep an Australian Shepherd both physically and mentally stimulated, otherwise they will develop destructive habits to keep themselves busy.
Bred for working ranch dogs Australian Shepherds make great herding dogs. Although they are great at working cattle, they are sought after to work sheep, domestic rabbits and flocks of geese. The Australian Shepherd is up for any challenge and will adapt to any job, this is why they work so well herding animals other than cows. They make great herding dogs in high altitudes as the elevation does not affect them to the extremes that it affects other breeds. The Australian Shepherd has been used with great success to herd sheep in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
The Australian Shepherd has an average lifespan of 13 years. They are prone to several health conditions such as hip dysplasia, hereditary cataracts, blindness, deafness and progressive retinal atrophy. This breed may also have a gene mutation that makes them toxic to several different drugs used in veterinary care. There is testing available to check for the MDR1 gene mutation.
The breeding history of Australian Shepherds is not very well known. It is thought that the breed originated in Spain. The name Australian Shepherd is derived from the imported Australian sheep that they were used to herd. During the Civil War and subsequent California Gold Rush mutton and lamb became a favorite food item. The herds of sheep needed to support this demand also brought an increase in the popularity of the Australian Shepherd as they were a favorite as a sheep herding dog. The breed experienced an uptick in popularity after World War II as they were common rodeo dogs and used in performances. Disney also helped to popularize the breed by creating movies such as Run Appaloosa Run.
As of January 2010 all Australian Shepherds will require DNA testing to determine parentage and to be registered. This helps to ensure that the puppies are the offspring of who they are portrayed to be as well as ensure clean bloodlines. This DNA testing has also provided evidence to suggest that the breed did not originate in Spain, but that their ancestors were American Dogs that crossed the Bering Straight.
This is a high energy breed that has herding tendencies. They do not play well with children as it is common for them to try and herd the child. Although the play seems fun for both the child and the dog and seems harmless at first a nip will eventually occur. They require hours of both physical and mental exercise a day and are known to be escape artists. Their high energy and need for lots of open space makes them ideal pets for rural life on a farm or ranch. This breed needs to have a job and be a constant companion.
The Australian Shepherd is a very poor choice for apartment living. If left alone for too long or not exercised enough the Australian Shepherd will become bored and resort to destructive behavior to keep themselves occupied. Australian Shepherds like a variety of games and need to have variety in their life. Playing the same game or doing the same thing repeatedly becomes boring and they will find something more interesting to do. They love to learn new tricks and experience new things. This is part of why they were such great rodeo dogs.
Any color combination of the Australian Shepherd is accepted as long as any eye color or combination. Blindness and deafness is considered a disqualification. The Australian Shepherd competes in several show classes such as herding, obedience and agility.