If you’re looking for a highly intelligent canine companion for company, a new addition to your family, or for working purposes, the Australian Shepherd may just be the breed for you. This breed makes for excellent herding dogs, but they’re also sharp enough to be used for police work, score high in competitions, and even assist others as seeing-eye dogs. Read on to learn a bit more about this talented and versatile breed!
Basic Characteristics of Australian Shepherds
Australian Shepherds are an average size breed, often growing to about 20-23 inches in height for males and 18 to 21 inches for females. They have an average weight of 40-65 pounds, with females often being lighter in weight than their heavier male counterparts. They also have an average life expectancy of around 12 to 15 years, generally being quite healthy and active in most cases unless they’ve been bred from other Aussies with predisposed genetic conditions.
These herding dogs are medium-sized with beautiful, multi-color coats that require a reasonable amount of grooming on a regular basis. They are also incredibly smart and need a pet parent that can keep them busy, stimulated, happy, and working off all of that infinite energy every day.
Grooming and Varieties
You shouldn’t be too surprised to find that a dog with such a thick and beautiful coat as an Australian Shepherd is also going to be quite a shedder. Most pet parents of these gorgeous dogs insist that the shedding is absolutely nonstop and fur snow around the home, on clothing, and in the family vehicle is a year-round occurrence. For those who have allergies to pet dander, this issue is also increased due to how much fur the breed sheds, so having an Australian Shepherd in the home is highly likely to aggravate these health issues.
When it comes to standard grooming practices for Aussies, they may shed a lot, but they don’t require any unusual or highly specific grooming techniques. Additionally, they also do not need to receive any types of haircuts for any reason. Their coats fluctuate in a way that perfectly accommodates the changes in temperature in weather.
Twice a year, they will “blow their coat” in preparation to grow a new coat that’s more suitable for the cold or warm seasons of the year, and this requires no maintenance from pet parents aside from regular brushing and staying on top of vacuuming the home. Cutting their hair can cause them to struggle with regulating their body temperature, so this is best avoided besides occasional trimming around wily areas or for maintaining good hygiene and avoiding mats.
An Aussie should be brushed about twice a week on average, but they will generally need daily brushing during the time periods in which they blow their coats and shed like crazy. They will also occasionally need baths, but be sure to avoid doing so more than necessary since it can dry out their skin and cause other problems.
When searching for a new Australian shepherd to bring home, you’ll be pleased to find that this beautiful breed has a wide variety of appearances to match your preferences. Your Aussie may have wavy hair or straight, but they will certainly have a lot of fur thanks to their thick, medium-length coats. They may also have a number of different color combinations, ranging from white to black to tan, gray, copper, or even blue or red merle. Most of the time, they’ll be a combination of any of these.
Temperament of Aussies
Australian Shepherds are generally more reserved compared to other dog breeds, but this isn’t to say that they won’t enjoy spending time with you. These dogs are very smart and need a lot of stimulation, so you can expect to exercise regularly, train, and play with your Aussie. However, they simply do not have the wildly outgoing personalities found in many other dog breeds.
This breed of Shepherd is not known for being aggressive or having any behavioral issues, but socialization is still very important. Also, keep in mind that they are herding dogs, so this may occasionally impact their relationships with small children (and even grown adults) if present in the home. The most important factor in having a well-adjusted and well-behaved Aussie is ensuring you meet their training, exercise, and mental stimulation needs. A bored dog is a destructive dog, and boredom can also contribute to many behavioral problems.
Exercising Your Australian Shepherd
Being so active and mentally alert means that Australian Shepherds have a lot of energy to burn. They should receive at least one to two hours of exercise per day and not just two hours of walking (which may be sufficient for other breeds). This type of dog needs significant mental stimulation, hence having a job for them is ideal.
Having bred to be work dogs, companion Aussies and many other herding breeds struggle with behavioral issues when their stimulation needs aren’t met. You’ll need to not only provide them with walks but also with some high-energy playtime. Herding balls are a great way to give your Aussie the outlet it needs to engage in its natural herding behaviors, burn off some energy, and gain some mental stimulation.
Frisbee, tug of war, and practicing agility are also some great options for outdoor play with your Aussie. When needing to keep them busy and content, some indoor options to keep the gears turning in their spotted little heads are puzzle toys, snuffle mats and other scented-related stimulation toys, and good chew toys (ideally, ones with treats inside to reward them!).
Food Consumption for Your Aussie
Aussies are highly active dogs, so they need to be fed a healthy and well-balanced diet to support healthy muscles, joints, and bones. They need high-quality protein sources, a reasonable amount of fat intake, and healthy carbohydrates from nutritious vegetables and grains.
This breed runs the risk of having food sensitivities, so you’ll need to stay aware of this and discuss with your veterinarian if unusual symptoms occur after changing something in your Aussie’s diet. In general, these dogs do well with dry, raw, or even canned food that is high-quality and appropriate for their age and size. However, for those eating more wet food than dry, you’ll need to stay on top of dental care to avoid plaque and tartar buildup as well as any gum disease that may arise from having a wetter diet compared to Aussies on a dry food daily.
Common Aussie Health Problems
If acquiring your Aussie pup from a reputable breeder, it’s most likely going to be the case that they’ve taken measures to avoid breeding from bloodlines that are prone to experiencing illness and certain health conditions. However, with Australian Shepherds, there are still a few health concerns you’ll want to keep an eye out for.
Hip dysplasia is quite common in dogs, and Aussies are not exempt. This is a condition that will need to be monitored by your veterinarian to catch it early and hopefully avoid serious measures that may need to be taken regarding treatment. Most dogs that develop this condition will require medications and a modified diet.
One of the health risks associated with Australian Shepherds that can actually be tested for is collie eye anomaly (CEA). It’s found in multiple collie and shepherd breeds and is a condition that results in defects in the layers of a dog’s eyes. Luckily, genetic testing can pick up on this issue, so you’ll know what to expect if your dog goes through screening. The results show this condition is likely to develop in your canine companion’s future. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this anomaly besides simply not breeding dogs with the gene any further.
Sometimes, laser treatment may provide a bit of improvement in certain cases of retinal detachment, but for side effects such as physical abnormalities pertaining to eye size or blindness, you will simply need to accommodate your dog’s needs to the best of your abilities.
Multiple Drug Sensitivity (or MDS) is another issue you’ll need to be cautious about when adopting an Australian Shepherd. This causes a dog to be more sensitive to various chemicals and medications, which often include monthly preventative medications (such as those used to prevent fleas, ticks, and heartworms). You’ll need to address this with your veterinarian since many common, safe medications for most dogs run the risk of causing toxicity in some Aussies.
Additionally, Australian Shepherds also have a 20% chance of being naturally born with a bobbed tail. However, due to genetic concerns regarding severe health risks that come from the gene set that contributes to these dogs having such a trait, it’s warned that two bobtail Aussies should never be bred.
Fun Facts about Australian Shepherds
In spite of the name, many individuals may be surprised to learn that Australian Shepherds aren’t actually from Australia—they’re originally from Spain! They were brought to Australia and then brought to America, leading to the misnomer becoming the primary breed name.
This breed is also prone to having heterochromia, which is when they have eyes of different colors. They may have any combination of blue, green, brown, hazel, or even a mix of these colors in each eye. This helps give them an incredibly unique appearance in many cases.
Bringing Your New Australian Shepherd Home
If you can provide enough training, exercise, attention, socialization, and work for such an active and intelligent canine, an Australian Shepherd may just be the dog for you.
Always be sure to adopt from a reputable breeder to ensure the utmost physical health in your Aussie and avoid the health conditions mentioned above, such as CEA. A trustworthy breeder will ensure that their puppies won’t have these health problems, guaranteeing you’ll have a very healthy canine companion as well as far fewer vet bills for the duration of your time as a pet parent to one of these lovely herding pups. You may also want to consider checking a local rescue to provide a home for an Aussie in need, although you should prepare yourself for potential health risks since there’s no way to know the history of such a pup.
For pet parents in the Brevard County area, we here at Space Coast Pet Services are ready to help with pet sitting, walking, or even in-home visits to make your time with your brand new Aussie as easy and enjoyable as possible.
Melanie is the owner and founder of Brevard’s premier trusted in-home pet care company. With a Sociology & Criminal Justice degree from the University of Tennessee, she took her corporate security background and combined it with her lifelong passion for animals – that’s how Space Coast Pet Services was born in 2016! She is certified in Pet First Aid & CPR, insured, and proudly completed a full background check successfully. She is committed to ongoing training and education for herself and her team. To learn more, click here.
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