Breed Guide: Australian Shepherd
Reviewed for accuracy on April 16, 2021 by JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
Table of Contents
- Introduction to Australian Shepherds
- Size of Australian Shepherds
- Characteristics of Australian Shepherds
- History of Australian Shepherds
- Australian Shepherds Standard Information
- Caring for Australian Shepherds
- Common Health Problems of Australian Shepherds
- Diet and Nutrition for Australian Shepherds
- Where to Adopt or Purchase Australian Shepherds
- Related Breeds
- Pet Insurance for Australian Shepherds
Introduction to Australian Shepherds
Australian Shepherds are intelligent and hearty dogs that love to work and enjoy the cowboy way of life. These medium-sized, athletic dogs originate from the western United States, not Australia, as their name suggests. These are wonderful dogs that were bred for livestock herding but that also make great family pets because they generally get along well with children and other dogs.
Size of Australian Shepherds
Male Australian Shepherds consistently weigh more than female Australian Shepherds. But with both genders, the greatest growth rate is between 0 to 9 months. When the dog reaches one year of age, growth tapers off significantly, and these dogs are typically done growing entirely by 16 months.
|Age||3 Months||6 Months||12 Months|
|Male Australian Shepherd||21-26 lbs.||39-50 lbs.||53-68 lbs.|
|Female Australian Shepherd||14-21 lbs.||26-40 lbs.||34-54 lbs.|
When fully grown, male Australian Shepherds stand about 28 to 32 inches tall and measure 31 to 36 inches long. Fully grown females are between 25 to 29 inches tall and have a length between 28 and 31 inches.
Characteristics of Australian Shepherds
As you get to know an Australian Shepherd’s personality, here’s what you can expect based on his or her breed characteristics.
|Breed Characteristic||Level (High, Medium, Low)|
|Affectionate with People||High|
|Good with Kids||High|
|Good with Pets||Medium|
|Need for Exercise||High|
|Able to Be Trained||High|
|Amount of Barking||High|
|Amount of Shedding||Medium|
History of Australian Shepherds
Australian Shepherds are descendants of European herder dogs near the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. These dogs’ predecessor was the Pyrenean Shepherd and used by indigenous people called the Basques to herd sheep. Many of these people relocated with their dogs to Australia in search of more wide-open lands for sheepherding in the 1800s. Ranchers in California who sought this type of herding dog mistakenly believed this breed to be native to Australia, hence the dogs’ modern name.
In the U.S., Australian Shepherds became increasingly popular after World War II because people became interested in Old Western movies, horseback riding, rodeos, and livestock shows. They became known for their hardworking attitudes, energetic nature, and easy-going temperament that lends itself well to farmers and ranchers in the Wild West. The rugged landscapes of Australia and the American West require a dog like the Australian Shepherd to work under harsh conditions and thrive when given plenty of tasks to do. In addition to herding sheep, this dog is skilled at herding cattle.
The American Kennel Club began recognizing this dog breed in the early 1990s. However, many dogs that belong to this breed are not registered with the American Kennel Club due to the nature of their lives on working ranches, so it is not entirely clear how popular this dog breed has become over the years. Australian Shepherds often serve as police dogs and family pets in addition to their continued roles on farms and ranches in America and other places around the world.
Australian Shepherds Standard Information
Purebred Australian Shepherds exhibit the following physical characteristics, which define the breed standards for this type of dog.
- Strong muzzle equal length or shorter than the back skull
- Brown, blue, or amber eyes
- Triangular, moderately-sized ears
- Top flat or slightly domed skull
- Alert and friendly expression
Neck, Topline, Body:
- Strong neck slightly arched at the crest
- Straight, strong, and level back
- Deep but not broad chest
- Straight or bobbed tail under four inches long
- Long, flat, and close-set shoulders
- Upper arm about the same length as the shoulder blade
- Straight and strong legs
- Oval and compact feet
- Thick and resilient pads
- Width equal to the width of forequarters at shoulders
- Short hocks
- Clearly defined stifles
- Oval and compact feet
- Thick and resilient pads
- Medium texture hair that’s straight or wavy
- Smooth and short hair on the head
- Moderate main and frill
- Black, red merle, blue merle, all-red with or without white marking, tan
- Not predominately white on the head
- Merles darker with age
- Easy, free, agile, and smooth strides
- Able to change direction quickly
“Australian Shepherds are easy to train for several reasons. They are loyal and automatically look to their owner for guidance. They are highly intelligent and so eager to please. They thrive on encouragement and love to continually learn, especially at more complicated skills, like agility. Early training is important since they are high-energy dogs and you’ll want to channel it in a positive way so they don’t become stressed, as lack of mental stimulation and clear guidelines can lead to behavioral issues. Since these dogs require plenty of exercise and regular mentally-focused activities, consider enrolling them in agility training or canine competitions. ” — Sarah-Anne Reed, holistic dog trainer, and owner of Pack Dynamics, LLC ®.
Caring for Australian Shepherds
Australian Shepherds are generally easy to care for compared to other dog breeds because of their relaxed attitudes, being eager to please, and low-maintenance grooming requirements. Here are some tips for how to best care for your Australian Shepherd:
Best Living Environments:
- Farms and ranches
- Wide-open spaces
- Family homes with big fenced-in yards
- Cold or hot weather
Type of Exercise:
- At least an hour or two of exercise daily
- Long walks
- Hiking on trails
- Dog parks
- Fetch and Frisbee
- Needs a job to do
- Herding livestock
- Playing with children
- Canine competitions
- Agility courses
- Early obedience training is important
- Need to channel energy to avoid being destructive in a house
- Strong bonds with family
- Very eager to please
- Address tendencies to be overprotective and territorial
- Easy to train because of high intelligence and loyalty
- Brush coat weekly
- Wire brush to remove dead hair when shedding
- Professional grooming often not necessary
- Occasional baths
- Trim nails regularly
Common Health Problems of Australian Shepherds
Like all dog breeds, Australian Shepherds are prone to certain health conditions and illnesses. Fortunately, these are generally healthy dogs that live long and happy lives.
These are some of the most common health issues that arise with Australian Shepherds:
- Hip dysplasia
Other potential health issues to be aware of your Australian Shepherd are dental disease, bacterial and viral infections (e.g., parvovirus, rabies) obesity, and parasites (e.g., heartworms, intestinal worms, fleas). These are health issues that can affect any type of dog breed.
Australian Shepherds are genetically prone to several diseases, which are listed below:
- Multi-drug resistance
- Bone and joint problems
- Bleeding tumors
- Hemolytic anemia
- Thrombocytopenia (decreased platelet count)
- Liver problems
- Kidney and bladder stones
- Autoimmune diseases
- Nasal solar dermatitis (sunburn of the nose)
- Patent ductus arteriosus (heart problem)
- Retained testicles
Because of the health conditions common in this breed, it is recommended that these dogs have their hips, eyes, and elbows checked by a vet. If health conditions affecting the hips and elbows progress, the dog may require surgery and have mobility issues that increase with age.
It’s also important for this dog breed to have yearly routine checkups and professional dental cleanings. Routine checkups are essential for detecting diseases early and keeping the dog as healthy as possible throughout their life. Yearly professional dental cleanings will slow the progression of dental disease.
The life span of an average Australian Shepherd is about 12 to 15 years.
Diet and Nutrition for Australian Shepherds
As an active breed of dog, an Australian Shepherd will need a healthy mix of protein, carbohydrates, omega fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals in their daily diet. Dry dog foods that are meant for active breeds are best for these dogs. Most adult Australian Shepherds that are one year or older eat about 2 ½ cups of dog food per day, separated into morning and evening meals. Puppies at two months and weighing about eight pounds need about ¼ cup of food three times per day, while a six-month-old Aussie needs 0.6 cups three times per day, and a nine-month-old needs 1 cup twice per day.
Stick to high-quality dog food brands. Cheap or generic brands tend to have empty filler ingredients that don’t contain the high level of nutrients Australian Shepherds need; these poor-quality ingredients can hinder digestion. Recommended brands include Royal Canin, Victor, and Iams. The daily cost of an Australian Shepherd’s food is about $1.20 to $1.40, which comes out to between $34 and $45 per month.
Where to Adopt or Purchase Australian Shepherds
You can often find Australian Shepherd dogs at animal rescue groups and shelters, especially if you are willing to get an adult dog rather than a puppy. Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet.com are resources for families looking to adopt this type of dog. You can also go to AnimalShelter.org to find a shelter in your area. AussieRescue.org is a nonprofit organization run by volunteers who love this dog breed and help people rescue and adopt Australian Shepherd dogs.
A good place to start if you want to use a breeder is the Australian Shepherd Club of America and the United States Australian Shepherd Association websites. Some of the most reputable breeders of Australian Shepherds include Pine Springs Aussies in Mineral, Virginia, Bunkhouse Aussies in Albertville, Alabama, Hatch Horses and Aussies in Snowflake, Arizona, and JnD’s Australian Shepherds in Slinger, Wisconsin.
Other recommended breeder options around the U.S. include those that are listed below:
- Aussie for Me in Santa Maria, California
- Nitania Aussies in Port Matilda, Pennsylvania
- Ranch Mott in San Tan Valley, Arizona
Australian shepherds are part of the herding group family of dogs, which also includes Border Collies and Shelties. Herding group dogs were originally classified under part of the working group by the American Kennel Club until 1983. Other herding group dogs include Australian Cattle Dogs, Bearded Collies, Belgian Laekenois, Berger Picards, and the Bouvier des Flandres.
Pet Insurance for Australian Shepherds
Because of the common health concerns among Australian Shepherds and the high costs of out-of-pocket veterinary care today, many people with this breed of dog choose to get pet insurance. Healthy Paws offers top-rated pet insurance plans with no maximum annual or lifetime payouts and a quick turnaround time with most claims processed within two days.
Although Australian Shepherds are generally healthy dogs, they are not immune to breed-specific conditions and common illnesses. Pet insurance is a great way to keep your Aussie healthy while you enjoy as many years together as possible.