- Breed group — Herding group (American Kennel Club)
- Height — 18-23 inches
- Weight — 50-65 pounds (male) 40-55 (female)
- Coat length & texture — Dense, double-layered, and weather-proof
- Coat colors — Black, blue merle, red, and red merle are the four distinct colors recognized for a purebred Aussie. Many combinations and variations are possible, including solid, bi-colored, and tri-colored colors.
- Exercise needs — High
- Intelligence — High
- Barking — More vocal than other breeds
- Life span — 12-15 years
- Temperament — High energy, work-oriented, protective
- Hypoallergenic — No
- Origin — United States
Australian shepherd fun facts
- Aussies are not from Australia! Shepherd dogs from Spain made a stopover in Australia before arriving in the U.S., where Americans began to call them Australian shepherds. The breed we’re familiar with today originated in California.
- Aussies are the super athletes of dog sports. Australian shepherd Hyper Hank rose to fame in the 1970s for his incredible Frisbee skills. He even performed at the Super Bowl!
- Heterochromia is common. While Aussies are often known for their striking blue eyes, the breed commonly has heterochromia, a condition caused by a lack of pigment in all or part of one eye. Their two different colored eyes can come in a variety of color combinations.
Australian shepherd temperament and characteristics
Australian shepherd dogs are among the most high-energy breeds. The breed was once a sidekick to cowboys, and even modern Aussies have a drive to shepherd. Australian shepherds require a job, and when one isn’t given, they’ll find one on their own, which can result in destruction and frustration for pet parents. Aussies are highly intelligent, affectionate, loyal, and great with children. Pet owners shouldn’t be surprised to peek in the backyard and see their Aussie herding the kids.
Potential owners should know that an Australian shepherd puppy requires training from a young age to channel their high energy. Because of their instinct to protect the flock, Australian shepherds can be territorial and protective of their property and people. The breed usually gets along well with other animals, particularly those within their family. An Australian shepherd puppy should be socialized early since the breed is known to be wary of strangers. Australian shepherds may experience separation anxiety and be naturally more reserved around people outside their families, even when properly socialized.
Common Australian shepherd health problems
Australian shepherds are a generally healthy breed. There are a few health problems they are more susceptible to, and pet owners should do routine screenings and know the signs of possible issues.
Hypothyroidism. This genetic, autoimmune condition is so common that the Australian Shepherd Genetics Institute recommends screening all Aussies before age 2. The condition is treatable and can be managed well with medication. Symptoms vary, but pet parents can expect low energy, hair loss, and weight gain.
Hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia occurs when the ball and socket of the hip don’t form or fit properly and grind together, which can be painful and limit mobility. Unfortunately, hip and elbow dysplasia are more common in larger breeds like Australian shepherds and can result from genetic and environmental factors. Treatment can vary widely from weight loss to surgery.
Cataracts. A particular genetic mutation makes Aussie dogs more susceptible to cataracts, which can form in both eyes after age 2. The most common sign is cloudy eyes, and pet parents should take their dog to the vet at the first sign of cataracts. If left untreated, cataracts can develop into painful inflammation, glaucoma, or blindness. Surgery may be required.
Cancer. Aussies are prone to two types of cancer: hemangiosarcoma (HS) and lymphoma. While HS is aggressive and fatal, lymphoma is usually treatable and should appear on routine bloodwork. Routine check-ups are always the best way to catch dog cancers early, but pet owners should call their vet if they find unusual lumps or notice their pet losing weight.
Cost of caring for Australian shepherds
Adopting an Australian shepherd puppy is a time and financial commitment. The breed is considered high-maintenance due to its unlimited energy and frequent healthcare needs. An Aussie puppy can cost anywhere between $700 and $3,000, depending on the breeder. Pet parents can expect to pay around $3,000 the first year for first-year vaccines and vet appointments. Generally speaking, medium-sized dog owners should plan to spend around $2800 a year on their pets. Health conditions common to the Australian shepherd, like hip dysplasia and cataracts, should also be factored in, as surgery is often needed. With such a high-maintenance breed, consider setting up a pet savings account and insurance. Health insurance may reduce out-of-pocket expenses, especially for pet parents who sign up early.
History of the Australian shepherd
The Aussie dog has ancestors all over the map, and identifying one origin source is impossible. Several breeds of sheep dogs with similar characteristics can be traced back to Spain, eventually making their way to the western United States. There are also accounts of herding dogs with blue eyes and tri-color markings from the east coast and Great Britain, some of which descended from Collies.
Ultimately, we can trace the name Australian shepherd through the sheep. A particular type of prized sheep from Spain was sent to Germany, later taken to Australia, and finally exported to America. Wherever the sheep traveled, their furry shepherd accompanied them. Upon their arrival in America, the herding dogs became known as Australian shepherds.
Caring for your Australian shepherd
Becoming a fur mom or dad can be overwhelming. Pet parents will need to schedule their first trip to the vet and get preventative vaccinations. First-time dog owners will be thinking of how to puppy-proof their home and prepare for teething. No one likes to think about losing their new dog, but FidoAlert provides a free Fido ID and tag, so you’re prepared for the worst. Aussie pet parents will want to give their dog the best of the best, and we’ve got all the tips for you.
Unless you’re an Ironman triathlete, you’ll probably run out of steam before your Australian shepherd does (and honestly, an Aussie might crush everyone in a triathlon). Even an Australian shepherd puppy requires high levels of activity. This breed has the highest level of exercise requirements, making it the right dog for those with an active lifestyle. This medium-sized dog is best suited for families with older kids or teenagers, although they’re not a problem for younger kids; they’ll just try to herd them. Families should consider the time required for an Australian shepherd, which demands plenty of attention, training, and activity.
Ideally, your pup will have plenty of room to run for one to two hours per day and lots of play. Australian shepherds are great hiking companions, make good use of a fenced-in yard, and are ideal dogs for a fiercely competitive game of Frisbee. This particular breed becomes very attached to their families and prefers your company (especially if it is for a run). If Australian shepherds don’t have an outlet for their energy, they’ll usually get into trouble. An active Aussie dog is a happy one!
Plan to get your Australian shepherd puppy accustomed to teeth brushing and hair brushing at a young age because they’ll be doing a lot of it! You can expect a lot of shedding, but a thorough weekly brushing cuts down on the excess. Aussie dogs have a double-layered coat, requiring two different brushes. It’s recommended to start with a slicker brush and follow up with an undercoat rake. Even though Australian shepherds are highly active and, ideally, outdoors a lot, keep baths to about once a month to prevent stripping the skin of natural oils.
Get into the habit of checking your Aussie’s ears to keep them clean and prevent infection. A lot of time outside can result in debris settling into the ears. All of that running around should keep your pup’s nails filed for a bit longer than other breeds. Still, maintain your dog’s nails so they don’t get too long and potentially snag or break.
Australian shepherds are also susceptible to snow nose, a cosmetic condition that affects the color of your pup’s snout. Aussie owners should keep nose balm on hand to prevent dryness or cracking.
Diet and nutrition
To support high levels of activity, Australian shepherds should eat high-quality food with plenty of protein, vitamins, and minerals. This breed is prone to food sensitivity which usually results in dry skin. As always, talk with your veterinarian if you notice any symptoms so they can recommend hypoallergenic food. Although Aussie dogs may require more calories than low-energy breeds, avoid overfeeding to prevent common health problems. While Australian shepherd puppies need to eat up to four times per day, an adult Aussie should typically eat twice. Ask your veterinarian about portion size for your pup, but generally speaking, Aussies can eat up to 5 cups daily, spread out over two meals.
This breed requires a lot of training, which usually means plenty of treats. Give out high-quality treats, balancing them with mealtime calories. Even though Aussies burn a lot of calories, they can be prone to obesity, which leads to other health conditions.
Training your Australian shepherd
Without a flock of sheep to herd, your Aussie dog will naturally look for something to do. Aussies are smart and willing to be trained, making it an easy job for pet parents, but they need more stimulation than your typical sit-and-stay command. They will excel when trained with a purpose or a job in mind. For that reason, this breed is better suited to seasoned pet owners, although first-time pet owners who have the time and energy needn’t shy away.
Because of their agility and athleticism, Australian shepherds are the jock of every dog park and are easily the MVP of any dog sport. Training an Aussie dog to do tricks, compete in agility challenges, or participate in a sport will come naturally, and your pup will pick it up easily.
Australian shepherd puppies should begin training around 4 months old. An untrained Aussie will be frustrated and likely frustrate their owner. Without leadership, Aussies will assume that position on their own, a dynamic that should be avoided!
Breeds similar to the Australian shepherd
Not quite sure that an Australian shepherd is right for you? Even if you are, it’s worth taking the time to research and consider other similar breeds. Here are a few to get you started:
- Australian cattle dog. The cattle and sheepdog share a lot of similarities to the Australian shepherd, although they’re unrelated. Australian cattle dogs are extremely smart and active herding dogs with short coats and pointed ears. The personalities and traits of the two are very closely linked, although they are easily distinguished in appearance.
- Border collie. Border collies are considered one the smartest breeds and share many common traits with an Australian shepherd. Great for active families, border collies thrive on plenty of exercise and stimulation from a loving pack and have a strong herding instinct.
- German shepherds. German shepherds are among the best all-around workers. Generally speaking, they are gentle and loyal to their families, intelligent, and willing to be trained.
Frequently asked questions
Do Australian shepherds shed a lot?
Yes. Due to their double coat, Australian shepherds, among other double-coated animals, shed much more than other breeds.
Are Australian shepherds shy?
Yes. This breed tends to be reserved and introverted, preferring the company of their family and often slinking away from strangers.
Do Australian shepherds have bad separation anxiety?
Yes, they are prone to separation anxiety. Australian shepherds are known to be excessively attached to their people and shouldn’t be left alone for long periods.
Are Australian shepherds good with kids?
Yes. Australian shepherds are great family dogs for kids of all ages. It’s important to note that Aussie dogs will naturally attempt to herd children and require a lot of activity. For those reasons, Aussies are best suited to older kids (but safe for smaller ones, too).
Do Australian shepherd dogs have a lot of health conditions?
While some health issues affect Australian shepherds, many problems can be avoided by a good breeder. Aussie dogs are generally healthy and able to live a long life when well cared for.