The History of the AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD
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If you’ve even been to a working ranch or rodeo in the US, you’ve probably seen one of these gorgeous herding dogs. They often have a blue Merle coat but come in a wide range of coat color variations with many having brilliantly colored eyes.
The ancestor of the Australian Shepherd that we know today originated far from the country of Australia where it got its name from. The history of the Aussie goes back to the indigenous people that lived in the Pyrenees Mountains along the border of modern-day Spain and France. The native people of the region, the Basque, were master shepherds that primarily raised flocks of sheep. Their shepherd dog of choice was the stock from which the modern Australian Shepherd comes from.
In the early 1800s, the Basque set out for Australia and its large rich flatlands which made for ideal sheep pastures. Along the way, and while in Australia, other English breeds, like the Collie and Border Collie, were mixed with the Basque’s shepherd dogs. The Basque shepherds moved again in the late 1800s to early 1900s where they set out for the fertile lands and wild West of California in the United States.
Upon arriving in California with their flocks and modified shepherd dogs, the local ranchers and cowboys dubbed the dogs Australian Shepherds since that was the country they had most recently come from. It wasn’t an accurate name, but it stuck even though to this day, the Australian Shepherd is not registered in Australia as a native Australian breed. Since coming to California and being so sought for their livestock herding abilities and quick intelligence, the Aussie has been a staple of cowboy life in the US. They are still one of the most popular breeds that you'll see around rodeos and on working ranches. They’ve also been bred in standard and mini sizes though only the standard is used for livestock work, the mini version is quite popular as a trick dog since they have all the amazing qualities of their larger brethren.
The breed is known for their quick intelligence, loyalty, and swiftness which all aid in their extraordinary ability to herd everything from geese to sheep to cattle. They were accepted into the AKC herding breed group in 1993, and being such a newly registered breed and longtime working dog they are still very high-energy. They thrive in homes where they have a job to do and can get a lot of mental and physical exercise. In more recent years they've also found great success as therapy, service/guide dogs, search and rescue, and drug detectors. They are easily trained and can excel at canine agility, obedience, and trick competitions.
They have a thick double coat which keeps them insulated during both hot and cold weather so they still require a decent amount of grooming to be in the home. This is true of the smaller version as well though their coats tend to be thinner. The breed often has their tails docked or have very short crop tales naturally as a safety measure from their time as working dogs and livestock situations.
As I mentioned before, blue merle coats are common with the breed but it is a recessive gene and some irresponsible breeding has led to the rise of double merles which are completely white, but also blind and deaf. So if you’re looking into adding this incredibly energetic and capable breed into your home do your research on the breeder to make sure they are responsible. And of course, if you’re experienced and have the proper home environment, look into adopting the special needs dogs of the breed from shelters or rescue groups.
This breed does best in an active home with experienced canine leaders since all of the traits that make them great shepherds are still very much part of the breeds personality today. They frequently head their family, especially children, if the instinct isn’t redirected into something more appropriate for the home. Having a deeper understanding of the breed’s history is an excellent way for new or potential Aussie owners to ensure they have the best Aussie canine companions.
So even though the Australian Shepherd isn't actually Australian we love them for the unfaltering loyalty and stamina that resembles that of the Australian people. Their willingness to please and quick intelligence has earned them a top spot in working dog categories and makes them excellent canine companions for active people and farms. Their striking appearance and affectionate personality are hallmark traits that have made the Aussie one of most popular working and companion breeds in the US.