LOYAL, INTELLIGENT, VERSATILE
History & Origin
An Australian Shepherd is a super-smart and dependable working dog which, despite its name, originated from the United States. It is generally believed that this breed originally came from the Basque region of the Pyrenees Mountain ranges, which form a natural border between France and Spain. However, they were called the Australian Shepherds (nicknamed Aussies) due to their association with Basque shepherds who migrated to the US from Australia in the 1800s.
Another understanding about the origin of Aussies is that during the 1840s, herding breeds like Collie and other shepherd-type dogs were imported from Australia along with shipments of sheep, and hence they got their name. The American stockmen ended up successfully creating a farm dog that was sharp, hardworking, eye-catching and always on the go.
After the Second World War, with the popularity of cowboy culture, the Aussies also managed to gain a lot of fame. A new era of cowboy movies and western culture came into limelight which made people take more interest in learning horseback riding, attending horse shows and rodeos, and watching cowboy movies. The Australian Shepherds were to be seen alongside all these activities helping farmers and cowboys, and impressing people with their athletic skills.
Even with all the popularity that this breed gained during this time, it was in 1991 that the American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the Australian Shepherds, and two years after that in 1993 accepted the Aussies into the Herding Group.
Before calling them Australian Shepherds, this breed was referred to by many names including Spanish Shepherd, California Shepherd, New Mexican Shepherd, Bob-Tail, Pastor Dog, and Blue Heeler.
PERSONALITY AND TEMPERAMENT
The Australian Shepherds are intelligent, versatile, responsible and loyal puppies that love their masters, and would even follow them from room to room inside the house. They are known to use their brains and make decisions. This breed is famous for its performance at the farms and ranches, and you might be amazed at how it takes care of the cattle and property of its owner. In case a cattle goes missing, the Aussie would go all the way to find it, untangle it in case it got stuck in some bush and bring it back.
Aussies love to be part of a family, and love to accompany their masters in their cars or trucks. They love to exercise and enjoy hustle and bustle, and therefore should be kept busy with chores and activities, indoors or outdoors. If you expect an Aussie to be a family dog, it needs to be open to socializing events to learn and adapt.
Their love for activities make them ideal for children, and they could play with children for hours with still a lot of energy to spare! Like many other breeds, a bored Australian Shepherd may start digging and causing destruction to household stuff. They may also be quite possessive about their owner’s belongings, which if not controlled, could lead to over-possessiveness.
They take their responsibilities very seriously and could be easily trained. They love protecting their home and are also used as sled dogs in the northern areas. Australian Shepherds are a wonderful hearing aid and seeing-eye dogs for the physically handicapped and work intelligently as narcotics and police dogs.
They are used to successfully carry search and rescue operations. They are often seen to accompany their owners in nursing homes, old homes and while doing other charity work. They love to help their owners as much as they can – it is their way of showing their love and support.
NUTRITION AND FEEDING
As with any other puppy, the amount of food required by an Australian Shepherd depends on certain factors like size, age, metabolism, and activity level, as well as the type of food being served. Ideally, they should be given 1.5 to 2.5 cups of good quality dry food or equivalent homemade food divided into two serving sizes, which meals two meals a day in total. As obvious as it may sound, your puppy’s food bowl should not be full all the time, however, clean fresh water should always be available.
You can find a large variety of commercial foods to choose from – dry, semi-moist or canned. Whenever you are introducing a new brand or texture of food, make sure to keep a close eye on your puppy’s behavior, energy level, skin and coat for the next few days. Aussies can develop food allergies, so if they are itchy for any reason other than fly and lice etc, it is a sign to change the brand of type of food being served to them.
Always opt for a good quality brand when choosing your Aussie’s food as it would have all the essential nutrients required for the proper development and health of your puppy. There is a simple test to check if your Aussie is getting adequate nutrition (or if he is getting over-weight). Follow these steps:
1- While in a standing position and your puppy/ dog right in front of you, look down at him and you should be able to see a waist.
2- Place your hands on his back with your fingers pointing downwards and thumbs along the spine.
3- If you feel (and not see) the ribs without having to press hard, your Australian Shepherd is eating the right amount of food and getting the perfect nutrition.
However, if you are unable to feel the ribs, it means he is gaining weight and the amount of food should be slightly reduced and exercise should be increased.
Your puppy’s meal can also be prepared at home. Make sure you know all the important nutrients your Australian Shepherd needs and how to incorporate them into his diet.
COAT AND GROOMING
Australian Shepherds have a medium height, and their body is slightly longer in width than in height. A healthy male Australian Shepherd (normally between 20 to 23 inches) may weigh around 50 – 65 pounds, whereas the female (normally between 18 to 21 inches) would weigh around 40 – 55 pounds.
Australian Shepherds come in a variety of colors: Black, Red (liver), Blue Merle, and Red Merle. A merle is basically a set of dark patches on a light colored background. A Blue Merle Australian Shepherd is a black dog with merle patterns (which makes it look blue). Despite the color, these puppies may or may not have white markings or tan points.
Aussies are average shedders and their coat needs regular maintenance. This coat is highly water-resistant and is either straight or slight wavy, with medium to long hair on it. There is an undercoat which is normally dense for Aussies living in cold regions, but for Australian Shepherds living in sunnier climates, the undercoat is relatively less thick.
As compared to other breeds, Aussies require less grooming but they require combing at least once a week, especially when they are shedding. Before starting to brush the coat, check their skin for any possible dryness, allergy, rash or sores. Check their eyes and ears regularly. Make sure to trim your Australian Shepherd’s nails in regular intervals. The best indication to do so is when you start hearing the nail clicking on the floor.
The coat should look shiny and not dull. You can also trim the coat hair to make it look tidy. It is a good idea to trim the hair on and around the ears, between the toes and around the tail. Aussies should ideally be bathed only when they get dirty – normally few times a year.
Not everyone can manage an Australian Shepherd because this breed has immense energy. They constantly need to be doing something, and should not be left bored. Ideally, half an hour to one-hour long daily activity (such as a Frisbee game, fetch exercises or an outdoor run) should be enough for them. However, Australian Shepherds do not have an active cooling system in their bodies, so they may end up getting hot relatively quickly, especially during summers.
If you do not let an Australian Shepherd take out his energy, he may end up causing problems to your property or belongings. They are found to dig big holes in the backyard, or even jump and try to escape the fence, just to take out their energy.
The Aussie puppies, on the other hand, do not need too much exercise. In fact, till they are at least a year old, you should avoid making them run on hard/ concrete surfaces or let them jump too much. This could cause strain on their developing skeletal system, and may cause joint issues. The Aussies do not need a lot of sleep, otherwise, they will end up getting lazy and gaining weight.
The Australian Shepherd is born to herd, and even for Aussies who are raised and kept as normal pets and not as farm dogs, their desire to herd anything and everything including children, birds, other pets, etc. is very strong.
They are ideal for training, and when trained in a positive manner and given incentives such as food, play or praise, they would give a hundred percent to meet your expectations. This breed needs a good human leader, and once they sense their trainer has the authority, they would obey him at all cost. However, if you are not good at leading the puppy, he will also sense it and may end up making hard for you to lead. This is the reason why many Australian Shepherds are returned or given away because the owner fails to keep up with the energy level of this breed.
Australian Shepherd is generally a healthy breed, but like any other breed, they are prone to certain health conditions . They may also have the potential for genetic health issues, so you need to make sure to get a proper background check while buying a puppy or an adult dog. Never compromise on the reputation of the dog breeder, as your Australian Shepherd would become part of your family, and you should always purchase it from a reliable breeder.
An Australian Shepherd is prone to different types of allergies. If the allergy is due to food, certain foods are eliminated one by one from his diet until the culprit is found. There are some allergies that are caused by certain allergens found in dog shampoo, flees powder, bedding or chemicals that your dog is exposed to. In the case of inhalant allergies, airborne allergens such as dust, pollen and mildew might be the cause, and they may end up causing ear infection to your Aussie as well.
Cataract is a major concern for some Australian Shepherds, in which the lens of the eye becomes opaque, resulting in difficulty in seeing. It normally occurs in older dogs when the eyes start to have a cloudy appearance. In most of the cases, a timely surgery can help the Aussie restore his eyesight.
Deafness is also fairly common with this breed, and could be treated by medication and surgery. However, in some extreme cases, it becomes untreatable and it requires a lot of patience for living with a deaf puppy. To take care of this problem, there are many aids available in the market including vibrating collars. If your puppy has been diagnosed deaf, make sure you understand well the kind of patience and time you need to take care of your Aussie. In case you are not up for it, inform your breeder.
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia are two separate medical conditions in which the respective bones and joints of the Australian Shepherd are affected. If your find your Aussie to have difficulty moving his hips or elbow joints, contact your vet immediately, who may recommend surgery to cure it.
Other medical conditions include Epilepsy, Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD), Hypothyroidism and Detached Retina, but these conditions are not very common. You need to keep your Australian Shepherd regularly monitored by a vet, even if you don’t find any big health issue to complain about. A regular checkup will ensure a healthy life which is up to 15 years.
In short, Australian Shepherd is a reliable, loving and energetic breed. Whether you want to have a helping dog at your farm or are looking for an active pet puppy, this puppy can be ideal for you. However, if you live in a small apartment or are not a big fan of daily walks and outings, perhaps you should consider not buying an Aussie. But if you feel this is the puppy for you, the Australian Shepherd will not disappoint you.
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