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The Australian Shepherd is a working dog that was developed in the United States in the 19th century. The Australian Shepherd dog, commonly known as an Aussie, is popular in its native California and is growing in popularity in countries across the world. Contrary to its name, the Australian Shepherd breed did not originate in Australia.
Like many working breeds, the Australian Shepherd has considerable energy and drive and usually needs a job to do. The Australian Shepherd often excels at dog sports such as frisbee and dog agility.
Australian Shepherd Appearance
The four most common colorings of Australian Shepherds are blue merle red merle, black tri(-color), black bi(-color), red bi(-color) and red tri(-color). Australian Shepherds can come in many other colorings as well, such as solid red, or solid black (called self black or self red); all can occur with or without white markings, tan (called "copper") points, or both. Dogs with tan and white along with the primary color are called tri-color. Australian Shepherd Dogs with white or copper only along with the primary color are called bi-color. It is a common myth that too much white on any Aussie is frequently accompanied by deafness and/or blindness. This is not nescessarily true, as the amount of white has very little to do with being either deaf or blind. It is entirely based on genetics. Deafness and/or blindness often occur when two merles are bred together (a double merle breeding, producing an aussie called a 'lethal white'). The amount of pigment around eyes and ears is not necessarily an indicator.
A hallmark of the Australian Shepherd breed is a short bobbed or docked tail in countries where docking is permitted. Some Australian Shepherds are born with naturally short bobbed tails, others with full long tails, and others with natural partial bobs, where the tail is midlength and appears stubby. Most Australian Shepherd breeders dock the tails when the puppies are born.
Australian Shepherd Temperament
The Australian Shepherd is unique with regard to its temperament. There are two distinct types of personality to look for depending on the lines, as well as many shades within these two types.
Generally the Australian Shepherd breed is an energetic dog that requires exercise and enjoys working, whether it is learning and practicing tricks, competing in dog agility, or any other physically and mentally involving activity. Many need to run, full out, regularly. Australian Shepherd is usually a sweet and affectionate dog who is faithful to its owners and may be good with children, although its overwhelming instinct to work may subvert its ability to function as a family dog.
Australian Shepherd Dogs with strong working instinct may show more reserved, guarding behaviors along with a tendency to chase or nip at running children or strangers if not properly trained. Its protective instinct and behaviors can be frightening to children, strangers, and small animals. Those Australian Shepherds bred for a more family-oriented temperament are more friendly and affectionate with strangers and generally more reliable around children. Because the breed was developed to serve on the ranch, a job which includes being protective of its property, it sometimes can be annoying with its inclination to bark warnings about neighborhood activity, but it is not generally an obsessively barking dog.
Australian Shepherds may often greet you with a smile, snorting, and 'butt wagging' (earning them the name "wiggle-butt"s). The Australian Shepherd has its own unique smile by showing all the teeth, and often by snorting in a fashion that resembles sneezing. Since most Australian Shepherds don't have tails, they wag their butts instead. The Aussie is intelligent, learns quickly, and loves to play. This means that a bored, neglected, unexercised Australian Shepherd will invent its own games, activities, and jobs, which to a busy owner might appear to be hyperactivity in the house (for example, an Australian Shepherd may go from being at rest to running at top speed for several 'laps' around the house before returnting to rest, all apparenty for no purpose) around fragile furnishings or involve the destruction of yard and property. Without something to amuse them, Aussies often turn destructive. Aussies also do best with plenty of human companionship: they are often called "velcro" for their strong desire to always be near their owners and for their tendency to form intense, devoted bonds with select people.
The Australian Shepherd has a reputation as a highly intelligent and versatile stock dog with a range of working styles. While improperly trained or frustrated Aussies may exhibit excessive running and barking, a good working Aussie is quick, thoughtful, and easy with its stock. The ability for the breed to adapt to the situation and think for itself makes it an excellent all-around worker. For this reason the Aussie is often chosen to work unusual livestock such as ducks (e.g., Indian Runners), geese and commercially raised rabbits.