BREED SHOWCASE


THE AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD

By JIMM BURK

jimmb@precisionimages.com
Despite it's name, the Australian Shepherd as we know it today was developed completely within the United States. In the late 1800's and early 1900's the for-runners of today's "Aussies" came to the western and northwestern states as stock-dogs for the Basque shepherds that accompanied the vast numbers of sheep then being imported from Australia. These hard working, medium sized, "little blue dogs" impressed the American ranchers and farmers, who began using them as well. Breeding was done for working ability rather than appearance, and occasionally dogs of other herding breeds were bred into the lines. However, today s Aussie still resembles the dogs that came from Europe via Australia, and great numbers of Aussies are still working stock on ranches in the western states.

The Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) was formed in 1957 to promote the breed, and several clubs kept breed registries. A unified standard was adopted in 1976, and the registries combined in 1980. (National Stock Dog Registry keeps a separate Australian Shepherd registry.) ASCA has promoted the breed with conformation, stock-dog (herding), and obedience programs, and a recently formed rescue program. For more information about ASCA (and rescue) call 1-800-892-ASCA. An excellent book about the breed is "All About Aussies" by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle (Alpine Books).

In 1992 the American Kennel Club (AKC) granted recognition to the Australian Shepherd, although ASCA did not become the affiliate parent club. The United States Australian Shepherd Association was formed to be the AKC parent breed club. AKC allowed open registration for two years before closing the registry, so now many Aussies are duel or even triple registered.

Today the Australian Shepherds bred for show tend to be bigger boned and have more coat than those dogs of "working lines", but the breed is unmistakable in type. Four basic colors are acceptable: black, blue Merle, red, and red Merle. All these can have white and copper trim on the face and feet, as well as a white collar and white down the chest. Aussies should be well balanced, with strength and endurance, moderate coat length, and a bobbed tail. Preferred size for males is 20-23 inches at the withers, and for females 18-21 inches.

Aussies excel not only at herding, but also Obedience, Dog Agility, and Fly-ball, not to mention Tracking, Pet Therapy, and other dog activities, including being a companion animal. Today there have never been so many opportunities for Aussies!

Personality and Character

Those of us who love Aussies can't imagine a more perfect breed of dog. Unfortunately, the very characteristics we value in these dogs make them unsuitable for some homes and owners. Consider carefully if your lifestyle can accommodate the exuberance of a typical Aussie.

The Australian Shepherd was developed to be a moderate sized, intelligent, all-purpose stock dog of great character and endurance. Many Aussies today still do the work they were bred for, and even those that have never seen sheep or cattle usually have a strong herding instinct. This means that Aussies need fenced yards and leashes, as the temptation to herd dogs, children, and traffic can simply overwhelm them.

Being bred to work hard all day means that most Aussies are not content to be couch potatoes, although Aussies have individual characters and some are more sedate and quiet-natured than others. For the most part, however, these are high-energy dogs who need a purpose in their lives, a job as it were. Owners must be committed to give these dogs the time and attention they require through play and training, for as with any dog undirected energy can turn towards destructive behaviors such as digging and chewing. Running, jumping, and rough-housing are all a part of being a normal Aussie.

The great intelligence of these dogs, necessary to out-think and control livestock, can be detrimental when left untrained and unused. Aussies are quite capable of out-thinking their owners. Obedience training is highly recommended as a means of teaching owners how to channel the typical Aussie's innate desire to please into appropriate behaviors. Aussies learn very quickly, so be certain you are willing to keep your Aussie occupied with walks, play, and training to benefit both mind and body.

Although many Aussies are friendly with everyone, the Australian Shepherd as a breed tends to be somewhat reserved and cautious around strangers. With Aussies of this nature owners should encourage the dog to meet people but not force encounters. Aussies are often quite protective of their family and property, a desirable trait in some situations but not acceptable in others, and some dogs never accept strangers. As with all dogs, poorly socialized Aussies may become aggressive without proper training.

Aussies are generally healthy dogs, and can be expected to live up to twelve years or more, so ownership can be a lengthy commitment. Although minimal, there is some grooming required to keep the coat clean and conditioned, such as regular brushing and nail trimming. To maintain their high energy levels, typical active Aussies may eat more than other, more sedate dogs of similar size, so be prepared to feed plenty of high quality food.

However, Aussies are perfect for people wishing to own a highly trainable, versatile, super-smart dog that can work/play "till the cows come home". If you have the time and commitment for an Aussie, you won't be disappointed. These special dogs deserve special owners. Their loyalty, drive, character and whimsical sense of humor place them in a class by themselves!

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Aussie owners and breeders... tell us about your pets. E-mail rustyh@petstation.com

For more information about Australian Shepherds check out Jimm's Australian Shepherds Home Page

THANKS FOR VISITING DOG DOMAIN BREED SHOWCASE

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