Australian Shepherds (Aussies)
Contrary to the name, Australian shepherds—affectionately called Aussies—were bred as herding and working dogs on the American Frontier. Since their introduction in the 1800s, the active, playful, and unfailingly loyal Aussie has become one of the country’s most popular dog breeds. Their high intelligence and eager-to-please nature means they’re quick learners, which is a great attribute for training, but also means they can be a bit of a handful for novice owners.
With a high prey drive and strong herding instinct, Aussies need an experienced owner who knows how to properly channel their energy through consistent training and exercise. These nonstop pups are happiest when they’re occupied, whether through working the land, wrangling livestock, or running the trails with their owner. Despite their ability to enjoy the outdoors for hours on end, Aussies have minimal grooming needs. If you’re looking for an active companion who’d love nothing more than to be by your side all day, the Australian shepherd might be the right dog for you.
The breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1993, and as of 2020 (based on 2019 stats), is the AKC’s 13th most popular breed.
|HEIGHT||18 to 23 inches|
|WEIGHT||40 to 65 pounds|
|LIFE SPAN||12 to 15 years|
|BREED SIZE||medium (26-60 lbs.)|
|GOOD WITH||families children dogs|
|TEMPERAMENT||friendly willful outgoing playful|
|COLORS||red, blue, black|
|PATTERNS||tricolor, bicolor, merle|
|OTHER TRAITS||easy to train, easy to groom, tendency to chew, prone to health issues, high prey drive, loves water, cold weather tolerant, hot weather tolerant, strong loyalty tendencies, good hiking companion|
In a funny twist of fate, the Australian shepherd’s origin may not really involve much of Australia at all. In fact, the American Kennel Club says the Aussies we know today are actually descendants of herding dogs from Basque sheepherders from the Pyrenees mountains of Europe who immigrated to America for work in the mid-19th century. These shepherds brought their “little blue dogs” with them to work the land in Western states like Wyoming and Colorado, where ranchers fell in love with the sturdy hard-working breed. While a few Basque sheepherders (and their dogs) may have come to the American West through Australia, some historians have noted that the naming of the breed “Australian” is a quite a stretch, since the dogs are not registered in Australia as a native breed and there is no substantial history of the dogs outside the Basque sheepherders who came to work in the American West.
Once they’d arrived in the U.S., Australian shepherds quickly became a staple of cowboy culture in the American West, becoming Hollywood regulars with notable appearances in classic Westerns like Run, Appaloosa, Run and the more modern Disney film Stub: The Greatest Cowdog in the West. They’ve taken center-stage in the rodeo culture, too.
Check out this video of famed animal trainer and rodeo performer Jay Sisler and his incredible pups Shorty, Stubby, and Queenie. Today, many Aussies still work on ranches and farms, happily herding cattle and protecting sheep.
- In the ’70s, when Frisbee culture was at its peak, competitive Frisbee catching was a popular sport. Australian shepherd Hyper Hank and his owner Eldon McIntire performed their trophy-winning frisbee routine during the Super Bowl XII pre-show, and were later invited to the White House to meet President Carter. The video above features Hyper Hank in competition against champion Frisbee catcher Ashley Whippet. You can see Hank around the 1:20 mark!
- Australian shepherds are synonymous with cowboy culture, often appearing in rodeos, Western films, and TV shows, which helped boost the breed’s popularity.
- Australian shepherds aren’t actually from Australia. The breed originated in the mountains of Europe.
- Originally bred as hard-working herders, today’s Aussies are often used as police dogs to sniff out narcotics or aid in search-and-rescue missions, and as service dogs that help individuals with a disability.
- It’s very common for Aussies to have two different colored, or even marbled, eyes.