The Australian Shepherd — also known as the Aussie — actually traces its roots to Europe. And if that weren't surprising enough, the breed received its name in California.
The Australian Shepherd is the direct descendant of the Pyrenean Shepherd, a herding breed (which still very much exists!) favored by Basque herders in France and Spain for hundreds of years. When many Basques emigrated to Australia in the early 19th century, they wound up cross-breeding their dogs with European breeds that had become popular Down Under, including Border Collies and Collies.
More immigration followed, including a sizable contingent of Basques who made their way from Australia to California with their dogs in tow.
Ranchers in the Golden State were the ones who came up with the "Australian Shepherd" moniker. The dogs had just arrived from Australia, after all. But in truth, the breed's ancestry is entirely European. US breeders refined the breed even further, and it eventually became a fixture of the American West.
Thanks to their lively and loyal nature, Aussies can easily become a beloved household pet for experienced owners who can match their high energy. Their intelligence also allows them to learn new tricks with ease, making them fun dogs to have around.
Learn everything you need to know about this lovable breed with our in-depth guide.
How Much Does Australian Shepherd Insurance Cost?
In 2022, the average cost to insure an Australian Shepherd with ManyPets was $36 per month — slightly less than our average dog insurance premium across all breeds and ages, which was $37. This is a solid indication that Australian Shepherds are fairly healthy dogs.
Australian Shepherd Popularity
Officially recognized in 1991 by the American Kennel Club, Australian Shepherds are pretty popular in America today. The AKC ranked them the 12th most popular dog breed in the US in 2021!
Australian Shepherds also have a flair for athletics, having won numerous National Agility Championships and Frisbee Dog World Championships. It's safe to say they make incredible competition dogs.
Australian Shepherd Training
Australian Shepherds are smart dogs that pick things up quite quickly, so training is considered easy in experienced hands. However, due to their intelligence, Aussies can learn bad habits as quickly as they learn new tricks. Training success requires consistency and boundary-setting starting from puppyhood.
Australian Shepherds are a high-energy breed, so behavioral issues frequently arise when their physical and mental needs aren't met. This can result in hyperactivity and excessive barking. They can also resort to destructive behavior around the house.
Due to their herding instincts, Aussies can't help but chase anything that moves quickly. This can be an issue if you've got young children or other animals running around.
As working dogs, Australian Shepherds behave best when they're taught to obey specific instructions and to participate in stimulating activities. You can help reduce bad behavior by helping your Aussie channel their energy into work and play that they love. You can get your pup involved in athletic activities like frisbee or agility, or even involve them in heartfelt interactions with humans — say, as a volunteer therapy dog.
Australian Shepherds were bred to herd sheep, so they like to act as watchdogs, often barking at strangers who approach their home. These protective instincts can sometimes cause them to be reserved or defensive around new people.
The good news is that Aussies are easy to train thanks to their intelligence, so combating these issues shouldn’t be too difficult. Proper socialization from puppyhood will help prevent any behavioral problems before they begin.
Obedience training and teaching your Aussie new tricks will help them burn energy and keep them interested in training. This, too, can prevent destructive behavior due to boredom, lack of proper stimulation, or separation anxiety.
Australian Shepherd Gender Differences
The most significant difference between female and male Australian Shepherds is size: Males are often considerably larger with a longer, denser coat.
Gender usually impacts temperament, but how your pup is raised and trained in puppyhood will be more of a determining factor.
Female Australian Shepherds are usually more independent and laid back than their male counterparts. The only downside is that they may be less attached to their owner as a result.
Although both genders are relatively straightforward to train, females usually reach maturity quicker than males, so getting them to focus may be easier.
Female size information
Height: 18-21 inches
Weight: 40-55 pounds
Male Australian Shepherds are generally considered more eager to please and are motivated by food and praise. Although this may give the impression that they're easier to train, males have a short attention span, so they may lose interest quicker than females. Mentally stimulating games and removing distractions like other dogs or people will keep them engaged and focused during training.
Males can also be more territorial and reluctant to share their space with other dogs. However, with proper socialization, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Male Size Information
Height: 20-23 inches
Weight: 51-64 pounds
Australian Shepherd Breed Health
Australian Shepherds are generally healthy dogs. However, there are a few common conditions to be aware of.
Like all dogs in the US, Australian Shepherds are prone to contracting viral diseases like rabies, which is transmitted through direct contact with wild animals like raccoons and coyotes, as well as other dogs. Rabies can be fatal, so ensuring your pup receives the rabies vaccine — along with any other important vaccinations and boosters — will protect their health.
Healthy Australian Shepherds live for an average of 12 to 15 years.
Common Health Problems
Common Australian Shepherd health conditions include:
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia: Larger dog breeds, including Australian Shepherds, can suffer from elbow or hip dysplasia, a hereditary condition where joints develop abnormally. Symptoms can be noticeable as early as puppyhood, including limping, stiffness, or an unwillingness to exercise. Your pup may be in pain, so you'll need to visit the vet if you notice any of these symptoms. Although the condition is incurable, there are steps you can take to reduce pressure on the joints and help alleviate symptoms. These include making dietary changes to maintain a healthy weight, limiting their exercise to reduce stress on the joints, and, in some cases, administering vet-prescribed pain medications. In more severe cases, surgery may be required. These surgeries can be quite expensive, often costing as much as $3,500 or more per hip or elbow.
Cataracts: Cataracts is a disease that causes cloudiness in the eye, impairing vision. It’s one of the most common hereditary conditions found in Australian Shepherds. However, it can also occur for reasons unrelated to genetics, like old age, diabetes, and injury. While some cataracts sufferers can be cared for by receiving a stricter routine around the home, others might see a veterinary ophthalmologist to have their cataracts removed surgically.
Epilepsy: Although any breed of dog can develop epilepsy, Australian Shepherds are more prone to inheriting it due to their genetic makeup. This neurological disease can cause seizures. Although incurable, it can often be well managed with medications that reduce the frequency and severity of episodes.
Collie Eye Anomaly: A genetic disease that affects several dog breeds including Australian Shepherds, collie eye anomaly can cause vision impairment and blindness in severe cases. It can usually be seen in puppies at around six to eight weeks. Blindness may not occur in all cases, but currently, there is no cure for collie eye anomaly. However, procedures may improve this condition to alleviate discomfort.
Cobalamin Malabsorption: Australian Shepherds can be affected by cobalamin malabsorption, also known as vitamin B12 malabsorption. Affected dogs may be unable to make enough protein to absorb adequate amounts of vitamins such as B12 in the gut. This can result in poor energy levels, weakness, and blood issues. Thankfully, this condition is treatable with regular supplementation of cobalamin.
MDR-1 Gene Mutation: Herding breeds like Australian Shepherds are prone to inheriting an MDR1-gene mutation, causing sensitivity to specific medications. The mutation causes an inactive P-glycoprotein — a protein that prevents drugs and toxins from building up in the brain. Therefore, if given drugs like ivermectin or loperamide, dogs with the mutation can display neurological symptoms like seizures, weakness, uncoordinated movement, and blindness. Your vet must be aware of your pup's condition to avoid medications that cause sensitivity.
One last tip: When purchasing an Aussie puppy, make sure you find a responsible breeder who always screens for common genetic health conditions.
“Australian Shepherds are lively and healthy dogs, but there are a few genetic conditions to watch out for,” says veterinarian Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS.
“I always discuss with Aussie owners the implications of owning a breed that may be affected by the MDR-1 gene mutation. These dogs can potentially be more sensitive to drugs in the ivermectin family. People are most familiar with the ones that come in some of today’s common parasite preventatives. We choose our drugs a bit more cautiously in these breeds, but luckily there are lots of safe options! Genetic testing is also available to determine if your pup is affected by the MDR-1 gene mutation.
“Another topic I like to talk through with Aussie owners," Dr. Ronngren adds, "is joint disease and activity levels. It’s important for owners to provide adequate levels of activity for these busy pups, but concurrently watch out for signs of pain or lameness. If they note any signs of discomfort, I like to see their pet sooner rather than later to investigate and address their concerns!”
Australian Shepherd Colors and Variants
There are two types of Australian Shepherd when it comes to size: the Standard American Shepherd and the Miniature American Shepherd. Although The American Kennel Club recognized the Standard American Shepherd in 1991, the smaller variation is technically considered a separate breed and was accepted in 2015.
The standard colors for Australian Shepherds include:
All these colors can be seen with or without white or copper/tan markings.
Australian Shepherds also have various eye colors, the standard being brown, blue, and amber. Their eyes may also be different colors and can have marbling or multiple colors within one eye.
Caring for Australian Shepherds
Australian Shepherds need a lot of attention and care, particularly when it comes to exercise. If you’re looking for a calm lap dog, this breed isn't the one for you!
Australian Shepherds are active dogs that need as much as one to two hours of exercise daily, whether that's walking, running, or playing games like fetch or frisbee (they REALLY love frisbee). Puzzles are also a great way to keep them mentally stimulated.
When they're not given the right amount of exercise, Aussies can become bored or hyperactive, resorting to excessive barking or destroying things around the home.
As herding dogs, Australian Shepherds like to chase things that move fast and enjoy running in open spaces. They can reach up to 30 mph when sprinting! Therefore, states and locations with wide open terrain are ideal for these dogs.
Although the breed is used to working in warmer climates (it was developed in California, after all), Aussies can also withstand cold temperatures thanks to their thick, double coat. However, unlike Huskies — who have adapted to live comfortably in freezing climates — Aussies can’t stay in the snow for too long.
Once the temperature dips below freezing, your Aussie may be at risk of hypothermia. So they may not be suited to the extremely icy temperatures often seen in colder states and cities.
The perfect climate for an Aussie is between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. As comfortable as they are in warmer weather, prolonged exposure to temperatures higher than 75 degrees can lead to overheating and even heat stroke — especially if they're overexercised in this weather. If you live in a hot state like Texas or Georgia, you'll need to be particularly vigilant about making sure your Aussie doesn't overheat.
Australian Shepherds are very athletic dogs, so they'll need a diet rich in protein and fat to support their high energy levels. Vegetables and grains also provide essential nutrients. However, the amount of food they'll need will depend on daily activity, size, age, and other factors.
Building a balanced diet on your own can be difficult, so it's best to consult your vet for nutritional advice. This will ensure your pup's dietary needs are being met.
Adult Australian Shepherds need around 12 to 14 hours of sleep daily, depending on how much energy they burn during the day. And although puppies are little bundles of energy, they need 18 to 20 hours to support their growth and development.
It's common for Aussies to sleep on their backs with their legs up in the air to regulate their body temperature. This also shows they’re comfortable around you — it's the ultimate sign of trust!
“Aussies are active dogs that tend to burn a lot of energy in the day. Therefore, getting enough rest is crucial for this breed to recharge and get ready for the next day,” says Dr. Ronngren.
“A nutritionally balanced diet and committed exercise routine will also help your dog sleep, control their weight, and keep them thriving. If your Aussie is constantly running circles, it may be worth considering a sporting or working dog diet to provide the nutrients they need. Chatting with your vet or a veterinary nutritionist can help determine what’s best for your pup!”
Australian Shepherd temperament
How good are Australian Shepherds with kids?
Not only are Australian Shepherds great working dogs, but they’re also excellent family pets thanks to their fun and easy-going nature.
However, they may be better playmates for older children. Aussies have natural herding instincts, so they can sometimes try to chase small kids who are running around.
Nonetheless, with the proper training and socialization from puppyhood, a dog-child bond can be very strong. Along with training your Aussie, you must teach your children to respect boundaries and supervise them at all times to prevent any accidents.
How Affectionate Are Australian Shepherds?
Australian Shepherds are affectionate with their family members and people they trust. They tend to show they love you by sitting on you, nudging you with their nose, and rolling over to show their bellies. It's also common for them to bring you toys!
Aussies are typically cautious around strangers, so they may not be affectionate with new people.
How Territorial Are Australian Shepherds?
Australian Shepherds are naturally protective of their territory and family, often barking at strangers and other dogs during walks or when they approach their home. Training and gentle introductions with new people can help them feel comfortable.
How Friendly Are Australian Shepherds with Other Dogs?
With correct training, Australian Shepherds can get along extremely well with other dogs.
It’s common to see males being defensive over territory, so they may get along best with females. However, if they're well socialized from puppyhood, this is less likely to be an issue.
Will Australian Shepherds Tolerate Other Pets?
Australian Shepherds have an easy-going temperament and usually get along well with other pets.
However, they can sometimes attempt to herd other animals, especially those smaller than them -- a behavior that cats may not take too kindly! Aussies love to chase things, and cats usually run away when they feel threatened, so training your Aussie to refrain from this behavior will be a must.
How Much Attention Do Australian Shepherds Need?
As a breed that loves human companionship, Australian Shepherds need plenty of attention. Although they're lively dogs, they also have a sensitive side and shouldn’t be left alone for more than four hours. Therefore, they’re best suited to owners that have a lot of free time in the day or who work from home.
Australian Shepherd Coat and Grooming
The Australian Shepherd has a double coat: The top coat has medium-length hair, which is straight or wavy, and the undercoat is thick and dense.
Australian Shepherds are heavy shedders all year round due to their double coats, but this usually increases during spring when losing their thick winter coat.
How Often Do I Need to Groom an Australian Shepherd?
Due to their thick, double-layered coat, Aussies require frequent brushing at least one or two times a week to prevent matting. This should be done more frequently during spring, when shedding increases, to eliminate loose hairs.
An Australian Shepherd's coat is reasonably weather-resistant, so bathing is only necessary when they get muddy. Aussies love to be outdoors, so this could be more frequent than you think. However, remember not to bathe your pet excessively, as this could irritate the skin, doing more harm than good!
Your dog's ears will need cleaning around once a month, as a debris build-up could cause infection. Long nails can also cause pain for your pup, so it's essential to trim them regularly. These tasks can be accomplished routinely at home with dog-safe equipment, or at a dog groomer's.
Are Australian Shepherds Hypoallergenic?
No, Australian Shepherds are not hypoallergenic. They're heavy shedders, so dander in the hair can spread easily, causing a reaction in people who are allergic.
Australian Shepherd Bark Sound
Australian Shepherds have a high tendency to bark due to their herding background: They must be vocal with livestock to keep them safe and in check.
The breed is also known for having a loud bark, which could be problematic with neighbors if it's not kept under control.
Like many herding dogs, Australian Shepherds can bark a lot, especially when not given enough attention or exercise. You should only leave your dog alone for four hours at most; they can resort to excessive barking when bored or lonely.
Aussies react by barking at or chasing anything that moves fast, from cars and bikes to children and other dogs. Due to their territorial instincts, they can also bark at strangers approaching or coming toward the home. This is in their nature, so getting them to stop completely can be nearly impossible. However, the breed is intelligent and eager to please, so consistent training should help to limit barking.