The Australian Shepherd is a medium-sized breed of dog that was developed on the ranches in the Western United States. Despite its name, the breed was not developed in Australia, but rather in the United States, where they were seen in the West as early as the 1800s.
They have a similar look to the popular English Shepherd and Border Collie breeds. While they continue to work as stock dogs and compete in herding trials, the breed has earned recognition in other roles due to their trainability and eagerness to please and are highly regarded for their skills in obedience.
Like all working breeds, the Aussie has considerable energy and drive and usually needs a job to do. It often excels at dog sports such as dog agility, and frisbee.
The merle allele, which produces a mingled or patchwork combination of dark and light areas, is the coat pattern most commonly associated with the breed. This merle (M) is dominant, so heterozygous dogs (Mm) show the pigmentation pattern; however, when two merles are bred, the statistical risk is 25% of the offspring will end up with the two copies of the merle gene (homozygous).
These dogs usually have a mostly white coat and blue irises, and are often deaf, blind, or both. In this case, the deafness and blindness are linked to having two copies of the merle gene, which disrupts pigmentation and produces these health defects.
Some Aussies are born with naturally bobbed tails. Others have full long tails, and others with natural partial bobs, where the tail is shorter and appears stubby. Breeders have historically docked the tails when the puppies are born.
In the United States and Canada, the standard calls for a natural bob or docked tail not to exceed four inches as a defining characteristic; however, some long-tailed examples have been successfully shown and been given recognition.
The Aussie is intelligent, learns quickly, and loves to play. This means that a bored, neglected, unexercised Aussie may invent its own games, activities, and jobs, which to a busy owner might appear to be hyperactivity: for example, an Aussie may go from being at rest to running at top speed for several “laps” around the house before returning to rest.
Without something to amuse them, Aussies can become destructive. Aussies also do best with plenty of human companionship: they are often called “Velcro dogs” for their strong desire to always be near their owners and for their tendency to form intense, devoted bonds with select people.
This herding dog’s pushiness with livestock can carry over into the home and, with a timid or inexperienced owner, he may assume the dominant role in the family. The breed needs a firm and confident owner – Aussies probably aren’t a good choice if you’ve never had a dog before.