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Honest FAQ for Australian Shepherds

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Behavioral Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

Australian Shepherd

Aussies are often turned into shelters and Rescue groups because their owners wouldn't (or couldn't) channel their high intelligence and high energy through productive outlets such as agility, herding, or advanced obedience.

What kind of temperament and personality does the Australian Shepherd have?

The most descriptive words that come to my mind regarding Australian Shepherd temperament and behavior are:

energetic, athletic, versatile, attentive, responsive, loyal

I give you my honest opinions about Australian Shepherd temperament and personality traits and characteristics – positives AND negatives – in my dog breed review, Australian Shepherd Temperament and Personality Traits (What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em).

Where did the name Australian Shepherd come from?

The Australian Shepherd, like so many herding dogs, descends from various British herding dogs. Oddly enough, he is named for his (vague) association with Basque sheepherders who came to the United States in the 1800s. Some breed experts say the Basques came here by way of Australia, hence the breed's eventual name. Other experts say that's nowt but a myth. We may never know. What we do know is that once here, the breed was enthusiastically adopted, and further developed, by ranchers in the Western US. Thus, it is quintessentially a British and American breed.

What were Australian Shepherds used for?

The Australian Shepherd herded large flocks of sheep on the wide-open plains of the American West, and guarded the rancher's camp and homestead.

What traits would help Australian Shepherds accomplish their work? That's right... high energy, endurance, athleticism, trainability, and loyalty to their owner.

How big are Australian Shepherds? Height and weight?

About 18-23 inches at the shoulder, and 40-75 pounds, which puts them in the MEDIUM category. However, the tallest and heaviest Australian Shepherds (usually from show lines) are more like LARGE dogs.

There is also a separate breed called the Miniature Australian Shepherd, which stands 14-18 inches and weighs 25-40 pounds.

What colors do Australian Shepherds come in?

The four allowed colors are black, red (light cinnamon to dark liver), blue merle, and red merle. Merle  is a lovely swirled pattern. Most Aussies also have limited tan points (like a Doberman) and white markings.

Do Australian Shepherds come in different "types"?

Yes. Australian Shepherds bred for herding/performance are usually smaller, with a more lithe, agile build, and a shorter coat. Also a higher energy level and craving for exercise.

Australian Shepherds bred for exhibition in the dog show ring are usually larger, stockier, less athletic and agile, with a more "luxurious" coat. Some of these dogs from show  lines are still very high energy, while others are more mellow.

How much exercise do Australian Shepherds need?

No surprise here! Australian Shepherds need loads of exercise and challenging things to do. Bored Aussies are likely to vent their frustration by... well, let's just say you might not have been envisioning having your house and yard... remodeled.

So... herding, agility, advanced obedience, rally, flyball, frisbee, carting, hiking, jogging, agility, tracking and scent work, Search & Rescue.... if you don't have strong interests in these canine activities, don't get this breed – or any other working breed for that matter.

Do Australian Shepherds need a fenced yard?

Yes, preferably with a high solid fence. Why a fenced yard? and best and worst fences.

Are Australian Shepherds easy to train?

It varies a lot. Some Aussies are very easy to train, even by a novice owner. Others are fairly easy to train IF you are an assertive person who can establish a healthy leader-follower relationship. Also I have encountered a few Aussies who were quite headstrong.

With so much variation, you should be cautious and selective when you're looking to acquire an Australian Shepherd. I would not buy an Aussie puppy without evaluating both parents and any siblings, and temperament-testing any Aussie puppy I was considering.

Are Australian Shepherds easy to housebreak?


Are Australian Shepherds friendly with people?

Some Australian Shepherds are outgoing with everyone, but most are loyal to their own family, and standoffish with strangers. They make excellent watchdogs, but should not be aggressive toward anyone. Some individuals, in fact, can be timid or skittish with strangers.

Are Australian Shepherds good with children?

Depends on the individual Australian Shepherd and the individual children. Some Aussies are very tolerant, while many others can be on the highstrung and overly sensitive side. These dogs could feel overwhelmed and defensive around very young children. In general, this is a better breed for older kids who are reliably respectful around dogs.

Are Australian Shepherds good with other dogs?

They're fine with other dogs in their own family. Toward strange dogs, some Australian Shepherds are friendly, some are live-and-let-live, and some are dominant and pushy, especially toward other dogs of the same sex.

Are Australian Shepherds good with cats?

That's iffy. Some Aussies are absolutely fine with the cats in their own family. Some might do a little chasing, but are easily stopped. But there are Australian Shepherds that are seriously cat-aggressive.

How much do Australian Shepherds shed?

Lots! Australian Shepherds are heavy shedders. Along with shedding great chunks of hair in the spring and fall, you'll find loose hair the rest of the year, as well.

Are Australian Shepherds hypoallergenic? Good for people with allergies?

Absolutely not.

How much grooming do Australian Shepherds need?

Depends on the length and thickness of their coat.

Aussies from working lines often have a shorter coat that's easy to care for. Just moderate brushing once a week (daily when shedding!), making sure to get out any mats under their "arms" and to keep their private parts trimmed or clipped short for sanitary toileting.

Aussies from show lines often have a long, thick coat and need considerably more brushing, combing, and trimming/clipping.

What's a good training schedule for training Australian Shepherd puppies?

Here's the puppy training schedule I use for Australian Shepherds: Puppy Training Schedule.

What behavior problems do Australian Shepherds tend to have?

I've worked with so many Australian Shepherds – partly because they're so common, and partly because they so commonly have behavior problems, most of which are caused by the frustration of being under-exercised. This breed is very often chosen for its striking colors, lovely coat, and reputation for being "smart" when it should never even have been considered by that owner. Mismatches abound with Australian Shepherds.

Most typically among Aussies I see excitability, hyper-reactivity, chasing behavior, nipping or biting, jumping, destructive chewing, and excessive barking. Sometimes pugnaciousness toward strangers or other animals; sometimes the opposite, fearfulness and phobias.

What health problems might Australian Shepherds have?

Chronic allergies that cause terrible itching and scratching. Eye diseases, loose joints that cause lameness and arthritic pain, autoimmune diseases, and epilepsy.

What breeds are similar to the Australian Shepherd?

  • English Shepherd. More stable temperament, better health, compared to the Australian Shepherd.
  • Border Collie. Quirkier, more intense, compared to the Australian Shepherd.
  • Australian Kelpie. More intense, more focused on working, compared to the Australian Shepherd.
  • Australian Cattle Dog. Much more dominant/aggressive/vocal, compared to the Australian Shepherd.

Where can I buy an Australian Shepherd puppy?

Show breeder, performance/working breeder, pet breeder? Read my article.

Where can I adopt an older Australian Shepherd?

Rescue group or humane society/shelter? Read my article.

I just got a new Australian Shepherd. Which pages should I read first?

  • Australian Shepherd Health, which includes my advice on feeding, vaccinations, and daily health care. These pages are very important, because if you start your Australian Shepherd puppy off on the wrong foot, he will probably experience health problems later on. Starting off right is essential.
  • Training Australian Shepherds, which includes my advice on respect training, housebreaking, and socialization. Again, you must start your Australian Shepherd puppy off on the right foot by teaching him what he needs to know, and you must avoid doing the wrong things with him so that he doesn't develop bad habits that will be much harder to fix later on.

Do male dogs or female dogs make better pets?

Ah, let the debate begin! Honestly, male Australian Shepherds have pros and cons, and female Australian Shepherds have pros and cons. Visit Male Dogs versus Female Dogs

There's an adorable Australian Shepherd puppy at the pet shop. The store manager assures me they only buy from responsible breeders. Could this be true?

No responsible Australian Shepherd breeder would ever place one of their Australian Shepherd puppies in a pet shop for resale. To find out more about pet shop puppies, visit Pet Shop Puppies: Buying a Puppy From a Pet Store.

How do I pick the best Australian Shepherd puppy from a litter?

You can do puppy personality tests. Visit How To Choose a Good Puppy.

What's the best dog food for Australian Shepherds?

3 Best Ways To Feed Your Dog Healthy Food.

I have to take my Australian Shepherd to the vet soon for shots. Which vaccinations does he really need?

The schedule of vaccinations that dogs really need has changed dramatically – but unfortunately most vets are not telling you this, because a good chunk of their income depends on frequent vaccinations. Please don't get any more shots for your Australian Shepherd until you've read my article on Puppy Shots and Dog Vaccinations.

What are the pros and cons of spaying and neutering my Australian Shepherd, and when should it be done?

Spaying and neutering are often recommended too early, which can lead to health problems later in life. Visit Spaying Your Female Dog or Neutering Your Male Dog for the straight scoop on the safest (and riskiest) times to spay or neuter.

I have a question about Australian Shepherds that I don't see answered on your web site.

It's probably answered in one of my free online books.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

My best-selling books – now available  FREE  on my website

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