Happy New Year! Like many of you, we’re still getting used to writing 2024 on things. One of the first things on our agenda for this year is celebrating a very special dog: the Australian Shepherd. This amazing pup has his own day to shine: January 9th is Aussie Day! A local Peterborough, ON vet goes over some basic breed information about Fido in this article.
Strong, loyal, and very, very smart, the Aussie is a working dog. Fido is part of the AKC’s Herding Group, which also includes some high-performing dogs, such as the German Shepherd and Corgi. The Aussie usually weighs between 40 and 65 pounds, and can be up to 22 inches high. With good care, Fido can live about 12 to 15 years.
Fido is a working dog at heart, and has a built-in affinity for herding. In fact, he may even try to herd his humans! Aussies are incredibly smart, and often make the list of the most intelligent dogs. They are very active, and need lots of exercise and stimulation. This is not the dog for someone who wants a calm couch potato for a pet. These pups are friendly but protective, and are very driven to please their humans. Fido absolutely loves going for walks with his humans. Once he’s fully grown, he also makes a good jogging buddy.
Fido is about medium on the beauty care needs scale. You’ll need to brush your pooch about once a week to get dead hair out of his fur. (Note: Aussies have double layered coats.) However, your canine pal will shed quite heavily about twice a year. You’ll need to use a special brush, known as an undercoat rake, during those wardrobe changes. You’ll also need to brush your pet a bit more than usual during shedding season. Aussies are prone to wax buildup, so you’ll need to clean your pup’s ears. Aside from that, you’ll need to occasionally bathe your pooch, and keep up with his nail trims.
For the most part, Aussies are healthy and hardy. We do recommend hip and elbow evaluations, as well as ophthalmologist evaluations.
It is worth noting that recent studies on the canine genome divided our four-legged pals into groups. Aussie was assigned to the UK Rural Clade, which also includes the Collie, Shetland Sheepdog, and Border Collie. Many of the dogs in that group carry the MDR1 mutation, which has been linked to ivermectin sensitivity. Eye problems are also not uncommon. Ask your vet for specific advice.
In a word? Very. Fido is known for being extremely agile and athletic, and is always on the go. Because they are so active, they do best in homes with large, fenced yards. These guys also do very well in various doggy sports, such as agility, obedience, dock diving, or flyball.
Aussies are extremely smart, which makes them a great dog for many fields and jobs. Herding is of course Fido’s original career, but it’s by no means his only option. Aussies also excel in many modern fields, and may be found working as Seeing Eye dogs, hearing dogs, drug-sniffing dogs, and search and rescue dogs. Of course, they can also make great pets!
Proper training and socialization are important for all dogs, but they are particularly crucial for active, high-energy pups like the Aussie. When Aussies are rehomed, it is usually because of either a lack of exercise, a lack of training, or both. Fido gets very attached to his humans, but he can be territorial and possessive. He also can get destructive if he gets bored or lonely.
Ask your vet for specific care tips.
It’s not uncommon for breeders to name their pups after the region they originated in. There are numerous examples of this, such as the German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, and Bouvier des Flandres, who will have his own special day on the 16th. So, it just stands to reason that the Australian Shepherd is from Australia, right?
As it turns out, not so much. Fido is actually an American dog, whose first job was helping cowboys. He was particularly skilled at herding sheep, and came into his own in Western American states such as Colorado, California, and Wyoming.
The Australian Shepherd’s history, as you can probably already tell, is a bit confusing. To go back to the beginning, we have to look at the Conquistadors who came to the New World in the 1500’s. Some of those settlers were shepherds from Basque, which is a small but culturally unique region between France and Spain. They took their dogs to both Australia and the United States. They also brought sheep with them. (Fun fact: many of those sheep were Merinos, a breed whose wool was so valued that taking them out of Spain was punishable by death.
At some point, Germans crossed their own sheep with the Merino, and then took the wooly progeny to the American West. Those dogs are described as yellow, black, or tan pooches with a wolf-like appearance. It’s likely that Fido’s family tree also includes the Carea Leonés, a small, active sheepdog from Spain. There are no records of the Careas coming to the U.S., but their remarkable resemblance to the Aussie seems unlikely to be coincidental. Fast forward a few hundred years. In the U.S., the Gold Rush sparked a need for sheep. This in turn led to the arrival of imported sheepdogs, many of which were Collies. The rest, as they say, is history.
By the twentieth century, Fido was a renowned rodeo dog who wowed crowds with his herding skills and charmed them by doing tricks. In fact, rodeo star Jay Lister is credited with the Aussie’s rise to popularity in the 1900’s. He brought Fido on the rodeo circuit, where the pup’s affinity for performing tricks helped win him hearts across the country … and later, opened the doors for his popularity as a pet. He was officially recognized by the AKC in 1991.
Aussies are renowned for their stares, which are sometimes called the ‘Aussie death stare.’ This is just one of the many tactics these dogs learned to use when herding animals. It is not unusual for them to have heterochromia, or different colored eyes, which only adds to their striking appearance. Fido’s eyes may be brown, blue, hazel, amber, or green, or any combination. In fact, some Aussies have multiple colors within one eye. Many of these dogs have striking pale blue eyes. Native Americans called them “ghost eye dogs” and considered them sacred.
They can wear several pretty colors and patterns, including black, red, and merle, which is a pretty dappled or mottled pattern, and may have lighter points or tips.
Fido isn’t the quietest dog on the block. Barking was very important to his early role as a herding dog, and he hasn’t yet outgrown his tendency to vocalize.
Though Fido is very active, he still has that exuberant doggy joy we all love. Aussies can make excellent pets. They enjoy playing with kids, and usually do well with other pets.
Fido has certainly collected lots of ribbons and trophies. He’s also picked up quite a few nicknames! These pooches are also known as Spanish Shepherds), Pastor Dogs, Bob-Tails, New Mexican Shepherds, and California Shepherds.
Another interesting thing about Fido? He doesn’t always have much of a tail to wag. About one in five Aussies are born with short tails. Some have no tails at all. This isn’t a coincidence: ranchers selected the pups with this abnormality for breeding, because it was safer for the pups doing herding work.
Do you have questions about caring for an Aussie? Contact us, your local Peterborough, ON pet hospital, today!