If you’ve been thinking about welcoming an Australian shepherd dog into your home, you’ve come to the right place.
In this complete guide, we’ll be discussing the Australian shepherd’s characteristics, temperament, training, lifespan, socialization, and overall health.
Contrary to popular belief, Australian shepherds are not from the Australian continent.
They originated on the ranches of the American wild west, where they served as herding dogs for ranchers and cowboys.
Due to their high energy levels, Australian shepherds need a job to do or plenty of physical exercise to prevent behavioral issues.
But, with good socialization, training, and plenty of exercise, they may be a perfect pet for your family.
What is an Australian Shepherd Dog?
Australian shepherds hail from the cattle ranches of the American West and belong to the herding group.
Generally, dogs in this group are highly intelligent, have a strong drive to herd, and are very energetic.
This breed is highly intelligent and eagerness to please.
They are trained as guide dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, as well as therapy and service dogs.
The Australian shepherd comes in four main colors: blue merle, red, red merle, and black.
Their eyes, which are perhaps their most striking feature, range in color from blue, to amber, to brown.
Australian Shepherds stand anywhere between 18 and 23 inches tall.
Typically, males weigh between 50 and 65 pounds, while females are slightly smaller, at between 40 and 55 pounds.
Some Australian Shepherd Characteristics
Due to their long history of working on farms and ranches as herding dogs, Australian shepherds are very energetic.
Unlike the tiny Pomeranian, they are definitely not suited for the typical urban high-rise.
To keep them from channeling their pent-up energy by destroying your home, Australian shepherds need at least 30 minutes of intense exercise.
This could come in the form of agility training, flyball, as a companion on your morning run, or playing frisbee in your yard.
If you want to really make your Australian shepherd dog happy, make sure they have a job to do.
This can be as simple as teaching them to put dirty laundry in the basket or working as a therapy dog at a local hospital.
Without this exercise and mental stimulation, Australian shepherds can quickly become bored.
This may lead to less productive things—like constant barking and chewing up your furniture.
And, as they were bred to herd livestock, they may try this with small children, animals, and even cars if they are bored.
Australian Shepherd Shedding
The Australian shepherd has two coats—a straight or wavy outer coat that is weather-resistant, and a soft, dense undercoat.
The outer coat keeps hot or cool air from reaching the dog’s body, while the dense undercoat traps warm air between their bodies and their environment.
The Australian shepherd dog is very prone to shedding.
In order to keep this shedding to a minimum and maintain a healthy coat and skin, brush your Australian shepherd dog at least once a week with a slicker brush and an undercoat rake.
Depending on the climate, an Australian shepherd’s undercoat can vary in thickness.
If not properly groomed and cared for, it can also become very tangled and a nightmare to brush.
As it is so dense, infrequent brushing, and the pooch’s tendency to play in grass and the outdoors, can leave the undercoat very matted.
Severely matted undercoats are a pain for both you and your dog.
Regular brushing should avoid too much matting close to the skin.
But, should larger matts occur, you may need to take your dog to a professional groomer or carefully shave off the matts yourself with a #7 or #10 blade.
While some owners do choose to shave their dog, it is typically not recommended.
This is because the double coat won’t grow back in the same way, and there is a high chance it won’t keep the dog as warm or cool.
The Australian Shepherd Temperament
Alert, intelligent, and fiercely loyal, the Australian shepherd dog’s temperament is well-suited to an active family life.
As they love to play and be with their owners, leaving your Australian shepherd alone at home for long periods of time is not a good idea.
Also, because of their intense loyalty, self-confidence, and generally territorial nature, it is crucial that your Australian shepherd is socialized early to prevent unwanted aggressiveness or fear.
Initially, the Australian shepherd can be a bit aloof when meeting strangers.
Once they feel comfortable around someone, however, they can be very protective and make excellent guard dogs.
Training the Australian Shepherd Dog
In general, Australian shepherds thrive under a firm but gentle hand.
They are very eager-to-please, highly intelligent, and will gladly perform a task until it’s done.
As with other dogs, they respond very well to positive reinforcement, clicker training.
All of the principles of good dog training—consistency, good communication, and teaching according to how dogs learn—will apply here.
Australian Shepherd Socialization
For all their good points, Australian shepherds can become suspicious and fearful if not properly socialized.
Despite the breed’s typical confidence and self-assurance, a poorly socialized dog may be reluctant to interact with strangers.
In the most extreme cases, this fear and timidity can lead to aggressive behavior or fear aggression.
For owners who have to work during the day, it can be next to impossible to ensure your Australian shepherd is adequately socialized.
One of the best ways to socialize them with other dogs and humans is in a doggy daycare setting.
Australian Shepherd Health
Typically, the Australian shepherd is not prone to many health problems. However, the breed as a whole is prone to hip dysplasia.
This is a heritable condition in which the hip joint fails to develop properly.
While passed down from parent to puppy, hip dysplasia is also exacerbated by conditions such as obesity, inadequate nutrition, and irregular growth.
Australian shepherds may also be prone to a blood clotting disorder called Von Willebrand’s disease.
Dogs with this disease lack the necessary adhesive glycoprotein in their blood to help it clot properly, and may suffer excessive bleeding after trauma or medical procedures.
Australian shepherds can also suffer from thyroid disease. It is very common in this breed and can be comorbid with Von Willebrand’s disease.
The typical signs of this autoimmune disorder are unexplained weight gain, skin conditions, and a tendency to seek heat.
Australian Shepherd Life Expectancy
Typically, the Australian shepherd dog lives to between 12 and 15 years of age.
However, these figures can vary according to nutrition and other environmental factors.
Australian Shepherd Breeders
If you’re looking for a reputable breeder, you can ask your veterinarian if they know any local to your area.
When you’re looking at a potential breeder, make sure to observe both of the puppy’s parents.
In doing so, you’ll be better able to assess your potential puppy’s size and temperament.
Pay close attention to how their puppies interact with one another.
Make sure that both parents have undergone health checks and that the puppy has had the required shots.
This should avoid buying a puppy with a predisposition to genetic disorders common to Australian shepherds.
Please do not buy your Australian shepherd from a pet shop that sources their dogs from a puppy mill.
Although the price may be cheaper, these puppies may have grown up in extremely cramped and inhumane conditions.
This may lead to health and behavioral problems down the road.
Australian Shepherd Puppies
If you want to buy an Australian shepherd puppy from a reputable breeder, you can expect to spend at least $1,600 for each puppy.
Before you take the puppy home, make sure to spend a bit of time with its parents.
By observing the parents, you’ll be able to more accurately gauge your new puppy’s temperament.
All puppies should be subject to a vet check before they leave their breeders’ home.
Australian shepherd pups should also have hip, elbow, and ophthalmologist screening for some of the breed’s common health conditions.
Rescuing an Australian Shepherd Dog
To avoid the work of housebreaking and training in basic obedience skills, you could consider an Australian shepherd rescue from an animal shelter.
As with looking for reputable breeders, your veterinarian is always a good place to start here.
Additionally, the Aussie Rescue and Placement Helpline is a non-profit organization that rescues Australian shepherds and helps potential owners.
However, before you adopt a full grown Australian shepherd, consider whether you can provide the necessary mental and physical stimulation.
These shepherds were bred to work, so they need plenty of attention and exercise.
If you cannot commit to at least 30 minutes of daily intense exercise for your Aussie, you may wish to explore other breeds.
Is an Australian Shepherd a Good Family Pet?
If you have an active family who loves the outdoors and vigorous exercise, then the Australian shepherd may just be the right dog for you.
If they are properly socialized, they can make good family pets.
They make great guard and watch dogs, are incredibly loyal, intelligent, and are gentle with younger children.
But, as with all child-dog interactions, make sure to keep an eye on them at all times. Be sure that both your Australian shepherd and child understand what is expected of them.
Do you have any Australian Shepherd? Let us know all about them in the comments section below!
- The Australian Shepherd, The United States Australian Shepherd Association
- Personality and Character, Australian Shepherd Club of America
- Official Standard of the Australian Shepherd, The American Kennel Club
- Grooming, Australian Shepherds Forever
- Arnold, J, The Ideal Dog, Psychology Today, 2015
- Rettenmaier, JL, et al., PREVALENCE OF CANINE HIP DYSPLASIA IN A VETERINARY TEACHING HOSPITAL POPULATION, Veterinary Radiology & Ultrasound, 2002
- Kealy, RD, et al. Effects of limited food consumption on the incidence of hip dysplasia in growing dogs, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1992
- Greco, DS, et al., Disorders of the Thyroid Gland in Dogs, The Merck Veterinary Manual
- Thyroid Disease, Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute, 2013