Welcome to the BarkPost guide to dog breeds where we belly flop straight into the depths of dog breed origin, evolution, and purpose. Follow along each week as we publish new guides that highlight the strangest, most interesting, and most surprising stuff about these creatures who have been our best buds the last 30,000 years.
Intro / Overview
(All dogs are individuals, which means any single dog from any breed can be any number of ways, both good and not so good. Keep that in mind as we discuss breed generalities!)
Smart. Work-oriented. Tireless. Trainable. The Australian can be a wonderful family member and companion, as long as their intelligence and energy are constantly channeled into dog sports and activities. These pups love to romp with children and adults alike. So if your family lives an active life, an Aussie may be the perfect new pack member for you.
These highly-trainable pups find great success in all kinds of dog sports and competitions. If hiking or running are your preferred activities, you’ve come to the right place as well. While those looking only to snuggle, or to play a quick game before relegating their pup to the corner to nap should look elsewhere. But if you’re willing to accept the realities of life with an Aussie, you will be rewarded with years of faithful dedication and active companionship.
Also Known As…
Aussie. “Very much like a regular Shepherd, except they’re always saying things like ‘G’day, mate.'”
Australian Shepherds have a murky origin story involving Europe’s finest herding dog, the Pyrenean Shepherd, migrating with Spanish shepherds, first to Australia (hence, the name), and then to the Western US, where the Aussie as we know it today got its start during the Gold Rush in the 1840s.
After World War II, the breed rose in popularity along with the phenomenon of Western riding, and trotted into the public’s imagination via rodeos, horse shows, and Western movies and TV shows. They remain a part of iconic American cowboy culture.
Today, aside from being wonderful pets, Aussies continue to work as herders, but also as therapy dogs, police dogs and narcotics detectors. The breed is also known to compete in obedience trials.
The average height for the Australian Shepherd is 23 – 26 inches for females and 24 – 28 inches for males.
The average weight for the Australian Shepherd is 88 – 99 pounds for females and 99 – 110 pounds for males.
These no-nonsense pups are the perfect partner for work and sports, and do each job their given with style and enthusiasm. Active while also easy-going, Aussies are especially eager to please their humans. They are able to chill while you’re at work, but will want your attention the rest of the time, and will thrive in a home where their intelligence and energy are put to use. Due to herding mentality, they can be protective of home and family, and make good alert dogs. There is plenty of love and fun to be had with an Aussie as long as you have the time and energy to train and exercise daily.
Intelligence / Trainability
Highly trainable, intelligent, and eager to please, the Aussie holds a versatility and exuberance that is hard to beat. Top contender in obedience, agility, flyball, and herding tests, these pups are also found working as therapy dogs, search and rescue dogs, and guide dogs. Early obedience training and socialization will help guide these pups towards reaching their full and rewarding potential. But be warned, these herding dogs will push their way to dominance of the household if their humans allow them to. A firm, fair and confident hand is needed to lead these brainy, energetic pups.
Aussies are best suited for life in the country, though are perfectly happy with a large fenced yard and humans who want to include and spend time with them. If a yard is not available, a daily regimen of long walks, hikes, and/or runs can be sufficient. However, whether in an apartment or larger home, Aussies thrive on being with their families, so inclusion and attention are key.
Good For Families And Kids?
Not only bred to herd on farms and ranches, but to also be a companion and guardian of the family, an Aussie can be the perfect addition to the right pack. They love their families and can be protective or even territorial around perceived threats. In fact, early Aussies were depended on to guard the children while parents worked in the field. When raised with children, Aussies become a loving playmate to kids.
The average life expectancy for the Australian Shepherd is 10 – 12 years.
Although Aussies are a generally healthy breed, they are prone to certain health issues you should be aware of and even discuss preemptively with your veterinarian, including hip and/or elbow dysplasia, epilepsy, and deafness, as well as eye issues such as collie eye anomaly and persistent pupillary membranes.
Australian Shepherds can also suffer from food, contact, and inhalant allergies, and can be sensitive to certain drugs such as Ivermectin, commonly found in Heartworm preventatives and other anti-parasitic products, as well as to chemotherapy drugs.
Developed to manage livestock, Aussies were born to do a job, so if not working, their energy needs to be directed elsewhere. Daily exercise and mental stimulation, along with plenty of attention from their human is a must. Left alone or bored to long can lead to the dog entertaining themselves in a destructive manner. Unfortunately, many Aussies end up in rescue because their families could not give them enough exercise and mental stimulation.
Friendly With… (Dogs? Strangers? Cats/Other Pets?)
Australian Shepherds are generally friendly to all, though they can be reserved and cautious with strangers. These pups get along well with other dogs and pets, including cats, especially if socialized from a young age. However, an Aussie’s strong prey drive and herding instincts may not only send him after squirrels, but running to boss children, cyclists and other fast-moving objects as well. It will be up to you to set limits through training.
Coat & Grooming
Those beautiful waterproof, double layer coats require only a weekly brushing to keep an Aussie looking their best. Unless, of course, it’s shedding season, when more frequent brushing with an undercoat rake and wire brush should do the trick. Keeping your Aussie’s nails trimmed with a regular clipping, and teeth clean with 2-3 brushings a week will also go a long way to support the overall health of your pup.
Toys Australian Shepherds Would Like Best
These playful pups can get down with just about any toy, and finding which ones they love the best is part of the fun. Their super smart minds will appreciate treat-dispensing Super Chewer Toys, while games of fetch and tug-of-war can help burn some of that working-dog energy.
Check out our “What Are The Best Toys For Australian Shepherds?” post for more recommendations.
Recommended Diet Or Supplements
Feeding your Australian Shepherd (or any dog) the freshest whole food diet you can afford (trying to eliminate fillers, grains, or inflammatory proteins such as chicken), can go a long way to decrease health issues and increase longevity.
Coconut oil can also help to prevent inflammation, and can help protect the nervous system, while locally-sourced, season-appropriate honey can help with allergies.
These delicious, vet-formulated chews are made with all-natural ingredients including Omega 3, 6, 9, and Vitamin E. They are designed to support immune health, provide relief from itchy allergic skin, and promote a healthy coat. ($19.99)
Bark Hip + Joint soft chews are veterinarian-formulated in the USA with powerful ingredients like glucosamine, MSM, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid to keep your dog’s joints strong, flexible, and pain-free. ($32.99.)
Orthopedic dog beds from Bark are made with ergonomic memory foam and gel foam to cradle joints and relieve the stress on pressure points. They help ensure your best friend gets a good night’s sleep, free from body aches. Just be sure to order the XL! ($64.99.)
Notable Rescues To Find The Australian Shepherd Of Your Dreams
- Aussie Rescue & Helpline Placement, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization comprised of volunteers who are dedicated to the Australian Shepherd breed. ARHP began in 1992 with just 3 members doing private rescue. Today, ARHP has over 900 members throughout the U.S. and Canada, and rescues hundreds of Aussies each year.
- New Spirit For Aussie Rescue, Inc. is an all-volunteer non-profit 501(c)(3) organization serving Australian Shepherds and Aussie mixes in the United States and Canada. Volunteers in more than 20 States across the U.S. assist with evaluating, fostering, and rehoming Aussies in need.
- Western Australian Shepherd Rescue is a group of dedicated volunteers working to place Aussies and other herding breeds in loving, permanent homes or service careers. They are made up of a network of volunteer that rescues and fosters Aussies throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Utah, North and South Dakota, New Mexico, and Colorado and also have relationships with shelters in Texas and Oklahoma.
- Adoptable Aussies on Petfinder
Notable Instagram Australian Shepherd
Maya’s a rescued Australian Shepherd who spends her time performing incredibly athletic feats of athleticism by playing frisbee!
Kona is a 9-month-old Aussie enjoying his puppyhood on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu with his “big” sister, Zoe. While most of his time is spent on beautiful beaches (and who could blame him?), with his litter mates and/or Zoey, Kona’s smile is enough to make you forget the magnificent backdrops behind him.
Registered name: James Buchanan Barnes. This Southern California Aussie “soldier” is a decorated agility competitor, a veteran traveler, and a comrade to Harley (above). Action, adventure, and adorable moments await, should you accept your mission to follow.
***Looking for a gift to blow your Aussie’s mind? Spoil them with BarkBox! Every month BarkBox delivers 2 original toys, designed in-house, 2 full bags of all-natural treats, and a chew. Sign up here and receive a free extra toy every month. <– This deal is worth up to $120 in value if you sign up for a 12-month subscription! 🙂
Featured image via Maya_the_Aussie/Instagram