Australian Shepherds are intelligent, athletic medium-sized herd dogs. They’re probably best known for their connection to cowboy culture in the United States, and the charismatic dogs still make regular appearances on the rodeo circuit.
Affectionately known as Aussies, these incredibly trainable dogs come in various colors, including black, blue merle, red, and red merle. While they’re best known for their herding abilities, Australian Shepherds make fantastic hunting dogs. They’re also popular therapy, search and rescue, and drug detection dogs. Australian Shepherds were even used as messengers during World War II.
Are Australian Shepherds Naturally Good Hunting Dogs?
No. They were bred to herd, not to hunt. But because they’re so smart, athletic, and energetic, with a little training, they take on the tasks required of hunting dogs like ducks to water. They enjoy romping outside and love to learn, but it still takes the average Australian Shepherd around 6 to 8 months to master all the skills needed to be helpful as a hunting dog.
Because of their size, the dogs are best suited to hunting small mammals such as rabbits. Keep in mind that herders don’t enjoy getting wet and don’t do well when retrieving ducks and other waterfowl. As Australian Shepherds aren’t natural hunters, they need extra training to develop the “soft mouth” so prized in retrievers.
They typically have a strong prey drive, but it’s tempered by their herding genes, giving them a set of characteristics that work quite well in hunting. Their strong drive to snag prey makes them great trackers, and their herding instincts encourage them to use their natural capabilities as directed.
Do Australian Shepherds Come from Australia?
No. However, they have a history connected to “the Land Down Under.” Australian Shepherds are descendants of Pyrenean Shepherds, who were herding dogs from the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain.
When herders from the Pyrenees mountains began immigrating to Australia in the 1800s, many took their faithful herding dogs along for the ride. In Australia, the dogs were crossed with Collies and Border Collies, and eventually, many owners of these mixed pups moved to California.
Ranchers in California admired the overall toughness and herding skills of the medium-sized, incredibly tough dogs, and the Australian Shepherd soon became the ranchers’ dog of choice. California ranchers began calling the dogs Australian Shepherds.
Are Australian Shepherds Good Family Dogs?
Absolutely. They typically bond deeply with their favorite humans and are known for being particularly protective of those they love. While they tend to be good with kids, their herding instinct can sometimes lead to problems with cats and other dogs, making good training a must for this breed.
They’re energetic and are happiest in homes where they get plenty of exercise. They are not the best dogs for those looking for a quiet pet that loves cuddles. Some Australian Shepherds are surrendered because their former owners couldn’t keep up with their dog’s exercise demands. However, if you’re interested in adopting a rescue dog, you’re in luck; several Australian Shepherd rescue organizations with dogs are available for adoption!
Because they’re intelligent, Australian Shepherds can easily make life difficult for inexperienced pet owners; the breed is better suited for active, experienced dog owners. As a food-motivated breed, Australian Shepherds will find a way to get their paws on anything tasty.
They’ll open cabinets and even unzip backpacks if the reward is yummy enough. While they have a medium-length thick coat, they don’t shed much and have relatively moderate grooming needs. Weekly brushing is usually sufficient to keep them looking healthy, although most need extra attention during the colder months when they shed.
They don’t have special nutritional needs, tend to live anywhere from 12 to 15 years, don’t drool or snort, and aren’t prone to excessive barking. Australian Shepherds need plenty of mental stimulation to stay content, healthy, and out of trouble.
They’re happiest when working with their favorite human or engaging in mentally stimulating activities such as training or solving food puzzles. Aussies are a bit protective, which is a characteristic that often becomes more pronounced in animals who aren’t well socialized as puppies.
Are Australian Shepherds Prone to Any Diseases?
Yes, but that’s true of most purebred dogs. Australian Shepherds are predisposed to develop hip dysplasia and tend to suffer from epilepsy and cataracts more often than most other breeds. However, they’re a healthy breed that doesn’t have many health problems or require much preventative healthcare. Yearly veterinary visits, high-quality food, and regular tooth brushing are usually enough to keep the hardy breed healthy.
If you decide to adopt an Australian Shepherd puppy, thoroughly check out the breeder you purchase your animal from and make sure to select one who has well-kept records and can provide documentation showing the dog you plan to adopt has been genetically tested for the diseases and conditions most often found in Australian Shepherds.
Australian Shepherds are some of the smartest and most energetic dogs. These medium-sized athletic beauties are generally healthy and don’t require much grooming, but they need mental stimulation and physical activity to be their best selves. While traditionally classified as herding dogs, they make lovely hunting companions because of their sharp minds, athleticism, and hearty constitutions.
Featured Image Credit: Alexandra Morrison Photo, Shutterstock