Australian Shepherds are one of the most instantly recognizable dog breeds in the world. With their unique eyes and their copper or merle coats, you know one when you see one.
They’re not just easily identified. They’re also a very popular breed to own, currently ranking number 16 out of 192 breeds in the American Kennel Club.
What makes this dog such a standout? Here are 13 reasons it is.
- Despite their name, these dogs originated in Europe.
- Aussies are a solid medium-sized dog.
- They are extremely loyal to their people.
- Their eyes are stunning.
- Aussies are very smart and trainable.
- They will herd anything.
- They need exercise – and lots of it.
- Australian Shepherds often have docked tails.
- They once performed at the Super Bowl.
- Brushing is essential to their coat care.
- There is a miniature version of this breed, but it’s not formally recognized by the AKC.
- They are great watchdogs when trained properly.
- They are good with cats but bad with loud noises.
Despite their name, these dogs originated in Europe.
It’s a crazy and fascinating story, but Australian Shepherds were actually first bred in Europe in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. The Basque people, who were indigenous to that area, took the “Pyrenean Shepherd” with them when they migrated to Australia.
Once in Australia, the Pyrenean Shepherd was bred with collies and other dogs in an effort to create a fantastic herding dog. When the Basques decided to migrate again, this time to California, they took the Pyrenean Shepherd with them once more. Americans fell in love with the dog and dubbed it the “Australian Shepherd” because it had come from Australia with the Basques. Even though it’s paying tribute to the wrong place of origin, the name stuck. Today they’re still called Australian Shepherds, or “Aussies” for short.
Aussies are a solid medium-sized dog.
If you’re looking for that Goldilocks of a dog that’s not too big or too small, this just might be the breed for you. Males average 20-23 inches tall and 50-65 pounds, while females average 18-21 inches tall and 40-55 pounds. It should be noted, however, that with their hair, they can look a lot bigger than they really are.
This female Australian Shepherd is seven years old and weighs 60 pounds. Her ears have the blue merle coloring that is so popular in the breed.
They are extremely loyal to their people.
Aussies crave companionship. They love their people and they are loyal to their people. When they’re left alone for long periods of time, they can become destructive because they are bored and miss their owners. Because of their extreme loyalty, they can also be very leery of strangers.
Their eyes are stunning.
Without a doubt, the first thing that you’ll notice – and the thing you’ll most remember – about the Australian Shepherd is their eyes. They can have a multitude of colors from brown to blue to green, but many are born with crystal clear blue eyes that really stand out. They can also have eyes that are each a different color, or an eye that is half one color and have another color.
There is no other breed that can match their unique eyes. Because of them, Native Americans gave the dog the nickname “Ghost Eye Dog” and came to believe the animal was sacred, all because of their clear blue eyes.
This beauty is a female with two different colored eyes, a characteristic of the breed. One of them is the famed “Ghost Eye,” that distinctly clear blue eye. On this dog, that’s accentuated even more by the solid red-brown color of her fur.
Aussies are very smart and trainable.
This is a breed that was created to work. They want to herd, and they want to do jobs. They learn fast and they’re ready to go. Learning tricks and jobs also helps keep them entertained and gives them a way to release excess energy.
They will herd anything.
This dog was literally born to herd, and they take that job very seriously. They are fantastic at herding cattle and livestock, but in the absence of work on the ranch, they will herd just about anything. That includes your children, so keep an eye on your little ones when they’re around this breed.
They need exercise – and lots of it.
Because they were born to herd and born to work, they are always looking to stretch their legs and run. They need lots of exercise and make great companions for long walks, runs, or hikes. They would also do well at a home with a fenced-in backyard where they can get out even more energy.
When they don’t get enough exercise, they become restless and bored. A bored Aussie can quickly become a destructive Aussie. Because of this need for movement, and the bad behavior (like excessive barking) that results when they are kept in a small space too long, apartment living is not the best for this breed.
Australian Shepherds often have docked tails.
Originally their tails were docked to help them be more efficient at herding. It was difficult to do their job if they were always getting tails stepped on or tumbleweeds caught up in them. Many breeders today still continue the practice despite most of the dogs not serving as herders anymore. However, you will also see Aussies with undocked tails too.
Two Australian Shepherds side by side. One has her tail docked and the other does not. The one with the docked tail had it done by the breeder when she was a newborn puppy.
They once performed at the Super Bowl.
Demonstrating this breed’s stunning ability to learn tricks, Hyper Hank, an Australian Shepherd, actually showed off his Frisbee-catching skills during the Super Bowl in 1978. He and his owner were also invited to visit President Carter in the White House.
Brushing is essential to their coat care.
Australian Shepherds actually have two coats: a waterproof top coat and a thick undercoat. Both shed. A lot. During peak shedding times (spring and fall), you’ll need to regularly brush both coats to pull out the excess hair. During off-peak shedding times, a regular brush on just the top coat will have them good to go. They don’t need baths often unless they get into a crazy muddy mess on one of their exercise excursions.
There is a miniature version of this breed, but it’s not formally recognized by the AKC.
They’re considered a size variety of the parent Australian Shepherd breed rather than their own separate category. Miniature Aussies are identical in appearance to the standard sized Australian Shepherd, but don’t expect a smaller personality to accompany the smaller body. These little dogs are just as energetic, lively, and herd-focused as their larger counterparts. They measure 14-18 inches for males, and 14 all the way up to but not including 18 inches for females.
This Miniature Australian Shepherd is four months old and weighs six pounds. It’s estimated that she will be 15 pounds when fully grown. Note the eye on the right of the picture is bi-colored; the top half is green and the bottom half is blue.
They are great watchdogs when trained properly.
Largely because of their loyalty, this breed makes great watchdogs. They’ll be highly protective of their people and bark excessively when new folks come to visit. Some can even get aggressive when “protecting” their owners, even from regular visitors.
Training them early will help to curb this behavior. This breed responds particularly well to training with treats, so find one they love and start working!
Two of the breed wait patiently for their owner to reward them with treats after they sat and stopped barking at passersby upon the owner’s command.
They are good with cats but bad with loud noises.
Because Aussies don’t have a strong drive to catch prey, they generally don’t have a problem with smaller animals like cats in the home. They may try to herd them, but will probably have just as much success as people do, even with their great herding instincts.
But for as tolerant as they are about small animals in the home, they can be very intolerant of loud noises. Many are highly sensitive to sound and may develop anxiety related to sounds like fireworks and thunderstorms.
An Australian Shepherd puppy will cost you anywhere from $1,000-$2,000. If you have the energy to match that of these beautiful dogs and the desire to train them, you may just have found the breed for you.