The Australian shepherd is a breed of herding dog that was developed on ranches in the Western United States. Despite its name, the breed, commonly known as an Aussie, did not originate in Australia They acquired their name because some of the Australian sheepdogs arrived in the United States with boatloads of Australian sheep. The breed rose gradually in popularity with the boom of western riding after World War I. They became known to the general public through rodeos, horse shows, and through Disney movies made for television.
For many years, Aussies have been valued by stockmen for their inherent versatility and trainability. While they continue to work as stockdogs and compete in herding trials, the breed has earned recognition in other roles due to their trainability and eagerness to please, and are highly regarded for their skills in obedience.
Like all working breeds, the Aussie has considerable energy and drive, and usually needs a job to do. It often excels at dog sports such as dog agility, flyball, and frisbee. They are also highly successful search and rescue dogs, disaster dogs, detection dogs, guide, service, and therapy dogs. And, above all, they can be beloved family companions.
The appearance of the Aussie is that of a medium size dog, black with brown and white trim, red and white, black and white and red or blue merle. This breed of dog typically has an natural bob or docked tail.
The Aussie is a herding breed and very good around other pets, children and people. The breed displays tons of energy and it hard to wear down. They are very loving dogs, and will become part of your home fast. The breed is double coated and therefore has a tendency to shed a lot.
The Australian shepherd is a medium sized breed of solid build. The ASCA standard calls for the Australian shepherd to stand between 18-23 inches at the withers, females being 18-21 inches and males measuring 20-23 inches, however, quality is not to be sacrificed in favor of size.
Aussie colors are black, red (sometimes called liver), blue merle (marbled black, white and gray), and red merle (marbled red, white and buff); each of these colors may also have copper points and/or white markings in various combination on the face, chest, and legs. A black or red dog with copper and white trim is called tricolour or tri, a black or red dog with white trim but no copper is called bicolor or bi. White, rather than pigment, on or around the ears is an indicator of increased risk for white-related deafness. Excessive white on the face and ears can place an individual dog at greater risk for sunburn and subsequent skin cancer.
The wide variation of colour combinations comes from the interaction between the a color allele, which is either black (B) dominant or red (b) recessive, and the dominant merle allele (M). Together, these provide four coat-color aspects that can appear in any combination:
· Black Tri, with tan points and/or white markings on the face, collar, legs, chest, underbelly. Solid black dogs are equally desirable as ones with tan and/or white.
- Red (Liver) with or without tan points and/or white markings on the face, collar, legs, chest, underbelly. Either white or tan points are required. Solid Red dogs are equally desirable as ones with tan and/or white.
- Blue Merle (a mottled patchwork of gray and black) with or without tan points and/or white markings on the face, collar, legs, chest, underbelly. Neither white nor tan points are required. Solid Merle dogs are equally desirable as ones with tan and/or white.
- Red Merle (a mottled patchwork of cream and liver red) with or without tan points and/or white markings on the face, collar, legs, chest, underbelly. Neither white nor tan points are required. Solid Merle dogs are equally desirable as ones with tan and/or white.
The merle allele, which produces a mingled or patchwork combination of dark and light areas, is the coat pattern most commonly associated with the breed. This merle (M) is dominant so that unaffected dogs (Mm) show the pigmentation pattern; however, when two merles are bred, there is a statistical risk that 25% of the offspring will end up with the two copies of the merle gene (homozygous). These dogs usually have a mostly white coat and blue irises, and are often deaf and/or blind. In this case, the deafness and blindness are linked to having two copies of the merle gene, which disrupts pigmentation and produces these health defects.
The Australian shepherd's history is vague, as is the reason for its misleading name. It is believed by some the breed has Basque origins in Spain and was used there by shepherds. What is known is that it developed in western North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
An Australian shepherd from working lines; early breeders chose dogs for their abilities rather than conformation.
Breeds as we know them today did not exist before Victorian times, but local variations of the ancestors of current breeds came into America along with their owners and livestock. Included are some that are now extinct or that have merged into other breeds. These may have included some British herding dogs, as well as dogs from Germany and Spain including the Carea Leonés. For many centuries, shepherds were more interested in dogs' working abilities rather than their appearance. As a result, over time, shepherds interbred dogs that they believed would produce better workers for the given climate and landscape. In the eastern U.S., terrain and weather conditions were similar to that of Europe, however, so the existing imported breeds and their offspring worked well there.
In the American West, conditions were quite different. Spanish flocks were introduced for food and fiber which was mainly the Churra. The Spanish dogs that accompanied them to American West proved well suited for their job in the wild and dangerous territory. They were highly valued for their ability to herd and protect their charges from predators on the open range.
In the arid and semiarid areas inhabited by early Spanish settlers, temperatures reached extremes of hot and cold, and fields varied in altitude from sea level to the higher, rougher Sierra Nevada and similar mountain ranges. The ranchers in these areas often pastured livestock on remote ranges. They preferred more aggressive herding dogs that served in the capacity of herder and guardian.
With the 1849 California Gold Rush, a massive migration occurred to the west coast, and along with easterners came flocks of sheep and their eastern herding dogs; from the southwest came people and Spanish. But it was just as effective to bring sheep in by ship, and in they came, including flocks from Australia and other regions, along with shepherds and their own herding breeds. Dogs from Australia had already begun to be selected and bred for climates and terrains that were often similar to California.
It is not clear where the name "Australian" came from, although it is possible that many of the dogs coming from Australia were blue merle and the adjective "Australian" became associated with any dogs of that coat color.