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Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherd in the woods
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Breed Details

  • Average Height: 18 to 23 inches (female) and 20-23 inches (male)
  • Average Weight: 40-55 pounds (female) and 50 to 65 pounds (male)
  • Coloring: Black, blue merle, red, red merle (all with or without tan points, white markings or tan points and white markings)
  • Coat Type: Medium texture, medium length, straight to wavy hair
  • Dog Breed Group: Herding Group
  • Average Lifespan: 12 to 15 years
  • Key Personality Traits:
    Determined Determined
    Energetic Energetic
    Intelligent Intelligent
    Active Active
    Hard Working Hard Working

Adrian Palmer was just a teenager when a neighbor came over with an Australian Shepherd puppy as an apology for his cattle raiding the family garden. “I knew nothing about the breed but I made it my job to learn as much as I could and, in the process, I fell in love with them,” Palmer recalls.

Palmer has owned and fostered countless Aussies since then and appreciates the breed for its intelligence, strong work ethic and devotion to its owners. In her role as medical advisor for Australian Shepherds Furever, a national breed-specific rescue group, she educates others about the benefits (and some challenges) of owning Australian Shepherds and ensures that each dog is matched with the right fur-ever family.

This hard-working dog breed is energetic and intelligent, meaning they need a family that will offer up plenty of stimulation and exercise. But if you meet an Aussie’s needs, they make the ultimate companions.

History and Origin

Side profile of Australian Shepherd

The Australian Shepherd has a bit of a misleading name. The breed actually originated in the Basque region of Europe (between France and Spain) where Shepherds depended on them to herd their flocks. When Basque settlers set sail for the green pastures of Australia, they took their trusted herding dogs along, cross-breeding the Shepherd dogs with other strong working and herding dogs, including Border Collies. 

The Basques later emigrated from Australia to California where ranchers fell in love with the herding dogs and called them Australian Shepherds. The breed was refined in the United States and “Aussies” became the favorite dogs of ranchers, riding alongside cowboys to herd livestock. They remain popular on ranches across the United States and have also become beloved pets for active families. 

The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized Australian Shepherds as part of the herding group in 1993.

Australian Shepherd Physical Characteristics

Australian Shepherd standing outside

Australian Shepherds are solid, muscular dogs. The males stand between 20 and 23 inches tall and weigh between 50 and 65 pounds. Female Australian Shepherds are smaller, tipping the scales at 40 to 55 pounds with heights between 18 and 21 inches. 

As working dogs, Australian Shepherds are expected to be outdoors in all conditions. Their waterproof coats consist of a dense undercoat and top coat with medium length, straight to wavy hair. The thickness of their coats varies depending on the climate and is designed to keep them warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  Their tails are docked or naturally bobbed. 

“Their tails were docked as a safety measure,” explains Palmer. “A docked tail keeps livestock from stepping on it and breaking it when the dogs are working.”

Based on the breed standard, their coats can be four colors: black, red, blue merle, or red merle (all with or without white and/or tan markings).

Australian Shepherd Temperament

Goofy Australian Shepherd smile

Australian Shepherds are intelligent and focused at work, making them ideal four-legged ranch hands and well-suited to working in search and rescue, drug detection, or as therapy dogs. As working dogs, their herding instincts remain strong, which could cause Australian Shepherds to try to herd anything that runs past, including small children.

“Australian Shepherds were bred to nip at the heels of livestock to get them to go where they wanted them,” Palmer explains. “They may nip at the heels of children. It’s not out of aggression, it’s just their innate behavior.”

Although Aussies can get along well with other dogs, the breed is known for having a strong prey drive and may not do well in a home with smaller animals such as cats, rabbits, chickens and ducks.

“Many dogs, especially herding and hunting dogs, will chase when something runs from them so it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to introducing dogs to other animals in the home,” says Debbi Carman, a specialist in lifesaving and care of sanctuary dogs at Best Friends Animal Society (and owner of an Aussie mix named Maya).

In the right environment, Australian Shepherds make great companions. You’ll need to provide plenty of physical and mental stimulation for them to be happy, well-adjusted pets. A long walk with lots of opportunities to sniff will help burn off some of their energy and keep their minds active, Palmer says. 

Australian Shepherds can be wary of strangers and their propensity to bark at unfamiliar people makes them good guard dogs. Carman attributes their protective instincts to a desire to control their environments.

With sufficient exercise, Aussies can do well in apartments but the neighbors may not appreciate their tendency to bark at unfamiliar people and sounds.

Australian Shepherd Care Guide

Woman training Australian Shepherd

These energetic, outgoing working dogs (with abundant double coats) have some specific needs when it comes to diet, exercise, and grooming. Brush up on all you need to know about caring for your Australian Shepherd.

Diet and Nutrition

While there is no one-size-fits-all diet for Aussies, the energetic breed should be fed a commercial dog food that is appropriate for their age/stage of development from puppy and adult to senior foods. 

Your veterinarian may also recommend a food formulated for active breeds that provides your Australian Shepherd the calories it needs to sustain a hard day of work on the ranch or a long hike on the trails.

Exercise and Activity

If you prefer watching TV and reading to hiking, biking, and swimming, an Australian Shepherd might not be the right breed for your family.

“Most Aussies would do best in an active home,” Carman says. “That being said, not all Aussies are created equal. Some may be more inclined to obsess about working [and] others would be content settling in at home and having regular runs.”

Mental stimulation is key for these working dogs. With too little stimulation, Carman warns, “It’s common to see these magnificent herding dogs develop stereotypies like spinning and pacing if they are not getting the enrichment they need to feel content and the opportunity to use their natural herding abilities.”

In addition to lots of walks (or runs), look for activities that allow Aussies to exercise their minds. Carman suggests “flirt poles” which are similar to cat toys with feathers that allow dogs to chase the toy and practice cues like wait and drop it. Fetch also helps burn mental and physical energy.

Grooming and Nail Care

Thanks to their double coats, Australian Shepherds shed profusely. Palmer advises brushing these dogs every week, adding, “Their coats can get matted really fast.” 

Aussies “blow their coats” twice a year, shedding even more than usual. During these times, their coats should be brushed every 2 to 3 days to remove dead hair. Regular nail trims and occasional baths will keep Australian Shepherds looking and feeling their best.

Australian Shepherd Health Issues

Australian Shepherd running outdoors

Australian Shepherds are predisposed to several health conditions, including these disorders:

Epilepsy: The disease, which causes seizures in dogs, is quite common in Australian Shepherds due to poor breeding and over-breeding, according to the Australian Shepherd Health and Genetics Institute

“We’ve seen huge increases in epilepsy in the breed,” Palmer says.

There is no cure for epilepsy and, while medical management is possible, Palmer notes that seizures are stressful for dogs and owners. ASHI is researching a potential role of gut bacteria in disease management.

Cancer: Two kinds of cancer—lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma—are common in Australian Shepherds. Lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells, is often found in the lymph nodes and bone marrow and the most common signs include an enlarged lymph node below the jaw or behind the knee. Hemangiosarcoma is an aggressive cancer that affects the blood vessel walls. Tumors can form anywhere but are more common in the spleen and heart. The prognosis for both cancers is poor.

Autoimmune Thyroiditis: In this autoimmune disease, the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, which can lead to symptoms such as weight gain and skin problems. Although this is the most common autoimmune disease diagnosed in Australian Shepherds, ASHGI notes that it can be treated with inexpensive medication, allowing Aussies to live long, symptom-free lives.

Interesting Australian Shepherd Facts

Aussie dog lying down in the woods

We might know them as Australian Shepherds but the breed has also been called Spanish Shepherds, Blue Heelers, California Shepherds, New Mexican Shepherds and bob-tails.

Australian Shepherds often have different colored eyes. Their eyes can be a combination of brown, blue, hazel, amber, or green.

Several celebrities, including Susan Sarandon, Bruce Willis, Steven Spielberg, Alyssa Milano and Tim Robbins, have all owned Aussies. 

An Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix named Sweet Pea earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for completing the fastest 100-meter walk with a can balanced on her head. Sweet Pea crossed the finish line in 2:55 in 2009. 

Popular Australian Shepherd Mixes

Australian Shepherd Border Collie mix

Australian Shepherds are among the top 20 most popular dog breeds in the nation, according to AKC rankings, so it’s no surprise that the active, intelligent breed is often mixed with other breeds.

The most common mixed breeds include:

  • Aussie Siberian (Australian Shepherd and Husky cross)
  • Border Aussie or Aussie Collie (Australian Shepherd and Border Collie cross)
  • German Australian Shepherd (Australian Shepherd and German Shepherd cross) 
  • Australian Shepherd Corgi (Australian Shepherd and Corgi cross) 

Australian Shepherd Adoption Tips and Things to Consider

While Australian Shepherds (and Aussie mixes) do turn up in shelters, there are often numerous applications for the popular breed. Your best bet for finding an Australian Shepherd is through a breed specific rescue. 

“We get dogs ranging from puppies to seniors in rescue,” Palmer says.

Most breed-specific rescues, including Aussie Rescue and Placement Helpline, Carolina Hearts Aussie Rescue and New Spirit 4 Aussie Rescue  require an adoption application, vet references, home checks, and meet and greets with potential matches before finalizing an adoption. 

Breed-specific Australian Shepherd rescues do charge higher adoption fees than most local shelters but Palmer notes that rescues often provide extensive vetting, including spaying and neutering, before dogs are adopted.

Australian Shepherd FAQs

Aussie dog running in field

In order to know whether an Australian Shepherd is the right fit for your lifestyle, it’s important to have as much information about the breed as possible. These frequently asked questions will help you get all the details about what it’s like living with an Aussie. 

Do Australian Shepherds Shed? 

Yes, Australian Shepherds do shed. In addition to small amounts of shedding that occur all year long, Aussies blow their coats twice per year, shedding even more than usual in preparation for winter and summer.

How Big Do Australian Shepherds Get? 

Australian Shepherds are a medium-sized breed. The males are between 20 and 23 inches tall and weigh between 50 and 65 pounds. Females weigh between 40 and 55 pounds with heights between 18 and 21 inches.

How Long Do Australian Shepherds Live? 

The average lifespan of an Australian Shepherd is 12 to 15 years.

Do Australian Shepherds Have Tails? 

It depends. Some Australian Shepherds are born with tails (that are often docked when the dogs are puppies) but some are “natural bobtails,” which means they are born with short or missing tails due to genetics.

Are Australian Shepherds Good With Kids? 

Australian Shepherds are wonderful with older, respectful children but their herding instincts (and tendency to nip at the heels of those they are trying to herd) may not make them ideal for families with younger children.

Are Australian Shepherds Smart? 

Yes, this is a highly intelligent breed that requires regular and rigorous mental stimulation to satisfy their quest for novel experiences.

Pictures of Australian Shepherds

With their merle coats and bright eyes, Australian Shepherds are easy on the eyes. These pups have a distinct look, and we could stare at pictures of Australian Shepherds for hours.

If you feel the same way, browse through these photos of Aussies to see the different colorings and varieties in this dog breed.