The multi-colored eyes and perky ears of the Australian Shepherd are simply unmistakable. This herding dog may be called an "Australian" Shepherd, but the breed actually originated in the harsh Old West, and is therefore an American breed.
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The intelligence, loyalty, and agility of the breed all contribute to a dog that makes not only a great herder, but also a great family companion. If you are looking for a compact dog who loves a hard day's work, read on to find out more about the Australian Shepherd (often called an "Aussie").
The end result of the breed was reached through much crossing and interbreeding. In the Old West herders were more concerned with how well the dog could work, not what he looked like. When folks from the East Coast came out to settle the West they also met the Spanish settlers who lived there already, along with Australians who shipped their sheep to the new land. All of these people, and their dogs came together and the result was a huge melting pot. Some of the breeds that are thought to have been mixed to produce the Australian Shepherd include the: English Shepherd, Kelpie, Australian Cattle Dog, Bouvier des Flandres, Scottish Collie, and the Welsh Sheepdog. Of course, there are probably other varieties not mentioned, or even known that went into the creation of this great breed.
Not until the 1950's was the breed truly standardized. At this point the dog caught the attention of movie makers, largely due to the breed's intelligence and how easy they were to train. Australian Shepherds have starred in some Disney films, including Run Appaloosa Run, and Stub: The Greatest Cowdog in the West.
Color-wise, Australian Shepherds are very interesting dogs. Their coats can come in four color combinations, including: black tri or red tri, merle, fully black or fully copper, or solid color trimmed with white. The breed also carries genes for many different colored eyes, including green, hazel, brown and blue. Some dogs may even have two different colored eyes or two colors in the same eye. This trait is especially true in merle Australian Shepherds. Whatever color combination the dog ends up with, the breed is truly unique and extremely interesting to look at.
Aside from the working instinct the breed is also very loyal. An Australian Shepherd tends to latch on to one person in particular, and he looks up to that person as his leader. The breed is generally good with children, when the herding instinct can be kept under control. Aussies will also tend to be very reserved around strangers, and the family must show the dog that this person is "ok" in the home. An Australian Shepherd certainly isn't a simple dog, though he is one that can be magnificent when well trained.
Many suffer from eye problems such as cataracts, and epilepsy is also a common problem that may or may not be treatable. The breed also has certain genetic anomalies that need to be tested for prior to breeding. For example, the mutant MDR1 gene can create severe reactions to ordinary medications such as heartworm medicine. The gene removes the ability for the body to remove certain drugs and toxins from the brain, resulting in death. Other drugs that can affect the dog include diarrhea medicine and calming agents such as sedatives and anesthesia. Ask any Aussie breeder you see for results from genetic testing. Any good Australian Shepherd breeder will be willing to provide you with this information.
Also be aware that if two merle parents are bred they could produce an offspring which inherits two merle color genes. This results in a white dog with issues ranging from blindness to deafness. Please be wary of any breeder trying to sell a pure white Australian Shepherd, as the genetic defects are often inescapable.
Australian Shepherd Training
When it comes to training your Aussie they are a fantastic breed. Australian Shepherds excel at all kinds of dog sports and training activities such as flyball, agility and advanced obedience training.
Time spent training your Aussie is time well spent. You will build and strengthen a truly solid bond with your dog throughout the training process. Aussies are very willing and capable students who respond best to positive, reward based training methods such as clicker training. You certainly won't require any harsh punishments or corrections when training your Aussie.
Some specific training issues unique to the Australian Shepherd:
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Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.