Australian Shepherds are popular family dogs because of their intelligence, loyalty, and playful nature. Whether you’re considering an Aussie, or have recently welcomed one into your home, you’ve come to the right place! Keep reading to learn more about Australian Shepherds and how to keep them happy and healthy.
Quick Facts about Australian Shepherds
Breed Size: Medium
Personality: Friendly, loyal, smart, playful, athletic
Height: 20-23 inches (adult male), 18-21 inches (adult female)
Weight: 55-60 pounds (adult male), 40-45 pounds (adult female)
Lifespan: 12-15 years on average
Energy: High; daily physical and mental stimulation needed
Coat: Medium coat length; sheds hair, especially in the spring and fall
Cost: $800 to $1,500 from a reputable breeder, with prices for champion bloodlines much higher
The exact origin of the Australian Shepherd has been a mystery in the dog world for a while. Unlike their names suggests, Australian Shepherds didn’t actually originate from Australia; some believe Aussies descended from European herding dogs, while others say they were bred in the United States for herding purposes. Regardless of their roots, Australian Shepherds ultimately got their name from an association with the Basque Shepherd that came from Australia in the 1800s.
Characteristics of Australian Shepherds
Hair and Coat
Aussies have a unique appearance, with no two looking exactly the same. While most have medium hair over their entire body, others can have a full mane around their neck, or feathery hair on their backside.
One of the most striking features of an Aussie is their coat color. It’s common to see a wide array of colors: from solid black, to multi-colored shades of red, brown, blue merle, and red merle.
Aussies are also popular show dogs, with certain traits prized above others. For example, if an Aussie is born with a standard-length tail, breeders will sometimes have it docked to the preferred length of four inches. Same goes for ears. Many opt to glue or tape down pointy ears to create those that flop downward.
The Australian Shepherd’s medium size makes them perfect for any household. Standard male Aussies grow to be 20-23 inches tall and 55-60 pounds, while females reach 18-21 inches tall and weigh between 40-45 pounds.
In recent years, “Miniature Australian Shepherds” and “Toy Australian Shepherds” have been developed through breeding, making it possible for an Aussie lover to have a smaller dog with a similar personality.
Aussies are easy-going dogs that make the perfect companion for an individual or family. They’re incredibly smart, easy to train, and go out of their way to please their owners. In fact, Aussies are often referred to as “velcro” dogs because they like to stick by their owner’s side. Expect them to follow you around everywhere you go!
While Australian Shepherds are happy-go-lucky pups, they can be protective of their pack, and therefore may act unwelcoming to strangers. The good news is that they warm up quickly with a little guidance or training.
Also keep in mind that Aussies can become anxious when left alone given their strong attachment to their family. This means they may cry or bark, and may have difficultly adapting to new environments.
Australian Shepherds are smart. Really smart. Given this, training is a necessary, but easy to accomplish task. Aussies are job-motivated and can learn obedience commands and agility tricks quickly, and their desire to please means they’ll take on whatever you’re willing to teach them!
Aussies are active dogs with seemingly endless amounts of energy to burn (which isn’t a surprise given their herding nature). Because of this, you may find yourself needing to take them on multiple walks a day, or teach them new commands to tire them out.
If your Aussie doesn’t have these outlets to release energy, they’ll find ways to do it themselves — either through destructive behavior or acting out. Having a large, fenced-in yard and/or a consistent walk schedule are absolute musts to keep them stimulated.
Unfortunately, an Aussie’s energy levels is one of the main reasons why they’re commonly surrendered to shelters. While there are plenty of benefits to owning an Aussie, make sure that they also match your activity levels. If you’d rather spend the day hanging out on the couch, you’re likely better off choosing another breed.
Given their high-energy nature, Australian Shepherds require lots of exercise. The good news is that their athleticism makes for an ideal companion for activities such as outdoor sports and agility training.
Try and give your Aussie a “job” that taps into their energy levels. Teach them to catch a frisbee or navigate an obstacle course, both of which can tire them out in a healthy way.
Australian Shepherds have medium length coats made up of two layers: an outside coat, and a waterproof undercoat. Be sure to never shave this undercoat for medical purposes, as this can impair your dog’s ability to regulate their body temperature and protect their skin. The undercoat will also typically “blow out” in the spring and fall, leading to extra shedding at these times.
For grooming, it’s recommended to follow this basic routine:
- Brush your Aussie weekly to prevent their fur from getting tangled or matted.
- Give Aussies occasional baths to remove dirt from their hair or skin that could lead to skin infections. In most cases, you can bathe them yourself without visiting a professional groomer.
- Although your Aussie won’t need a full haircut regularly, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with a professional groomer every so often for a nail trim and (slight) fur trim, especially a sanitary cut.
Australian Shepherds live relatively long lives, between 12 to 15 years. Keep this in mind when deciding whether or not you should add one to your family. Aussies are a major time commitment, and require a good deal of effort to keep them healthy over the years.
Like any purebred, Australian Shepherds are prone to certain health issues. If you’re considering getting an Aussie, make sure to research the following:
Hip dysplasia is a health issue that’s common in many large dog breeds. The condition results in a malformation of a dog’s hip socket that leads to deterioration and a loss of joint function over time.
Dysplasia isn’t always caught by the naked eye, which is why your Aussie should attend their annual vet visits for a thorough checkup. Symptoms will vary depending on severity, but stay on the lookout for:
- Lameness in your dog’s rear legs
- Decreased range of motion
- Bunny hopping gait
- Reduced energy or activity
When interviewing Aussie breeders, be sure to ask how they monitor their dogs’ hip conditions. Hip dysplasia is genetic, so your dog’s parents must have a clean bill of health to limit your puppy’s chance of developing it.
Many Aussies also experience a similar condition called elbow dysplasia. Depending on the severity of this condition, warning signs can become apparent as early as a few months, but sometimes won’t appear until later in life. Elbow dysplasia is another genetic condition that your breeder should monitor.
Some Australian Shepherds carry what’s called a “mutated Multi-Drug Resistance 1 gene” or MDR1. This gene protects the brain from medication and drugs, but when mutated, can allow drugs to build up to toxic levels.
If your Aussie is diagnosed with the MDR1 gene, they’ll be hypersensitive to common medications used in veterinary procedures. Testing your Aussie for this gene is crucial to ensure they’re given the proper medications.
Here’s a list of drugs that shouldn’t be used on Australian Shepherds that have yet to be tested for a mutated MDR1:
Australian Shepherds can develop several eye conditions, the most common being cataracts, retinal atrophy, and detached retinas. Depending on the situation, your Aussie might experience mild irritation and sensitivity, or even a loss of vision. The good news is that while some conditions are genetic, most can be treated by your vet if caught early. It’s important to screen your dog for these issues during each checkup!
Tumors and Cancer
Purebred dogs are sadly at risk of developing tumors or cancer with old age. In many cases, these conditions are genetic — another reason to have the full medical history of your Aussie’s parents and grandparents.
Diet and Nutrition
With an Australian Shepherd’s high-energy nature, they require a diet full of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. When opting for dry food, find a high-quality brand with an “active breed formula” to support their high activity level. If your dog is a picky eater, switch to an all-natural wet dog food made with real ingredients, or add omega fatty acid oil over the top of their dry food.
Photo courtesy of @tybertheaussie on Instagram
Average prices for an Australian Shepherd run between $800 to $1,500, but can be as low as $300 or high as $2,000+. Prices often depend on the breeder, the Aussie’s coat color, and in the case of show dogs, the specific pedigree bloodline.
Be weary of “cheap” puppies. While you might think you’re getting a great deal, these dogs can actually cost more in the long run due to potential health issues.
Just because someone is selling an Australian Shepherd puppy doesn’t make them a reputable breeder. If it’s within your budget, work with a professional breeder with a great reputation in the community. A telltale sign that a breeder cares about their puppies is a waitlist of potential owners, as well as the desire to place a puppy in a home based on temperament (not color!).
The U.S. Australian Shepherd Association breeder directory and the AKC Aussie Marketplace are great places to start your search. Note that while some breeders provide pricing, most will need to be contacted for further details.
Blue merle and red merle are two of the most sought after Australian Shepherd colors. Because of this, breeders will often charge more for puppies with these markings. If you’re indifferent about your dog’s appearance, try looking for a solid colored Aussie, as this can save you a few dollars in the process. You’ll of course get the same amazing personality either way!
Look for a puppy from a pedigree line if you plan to show your dog in competitions. The AKC Marketplace denotes breeders with dogs from an “AKC Champion Bloodline”.
The cost of an Australian Shepherd varies depending on which part of the country you live. Nowadays, you’ll have visibility into these prices via the internet. We suggest googling around or visiting websites to research reputable breeders around the country. If you’re willing to fly to get your puppy, you’ll likely be able to save some money.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I find a reputable Australian Shepherd breeder?
Look for professional breeders (hobby breeders) with a history of quality dogs, high standards for placement, and a wait list. These professionals prioritize the quality of their puppies over profit. As mentioned before, start with the U.S. Australian Shepherd Association and the AKC Aussie Marketplace, or ask other owners in your area for their recommendations. In the least, work with a breeder that provides detailed health information on their dogs, and clearly cares for their puppies.
Avoid pet shops, as their Aussies are poorly bred and can often develop health issues. We also suggest steering clear of small “backyard breeders” who breed purely to make a profit. In the majority of cases, these “breeders” don’t have the adequate certifications or health history for their dogs.
Can an Australian Shepherd live in an apartment?
Australian Shepherds are high-energy dogs that were bred to herd sheep and cattle. This means that they thrive in environments with room to run. If you live in an apartment and want to get an Aussie, make sure to commit to daily walks and other forms of physical exercise.
Are Aussies good with children?
Yes! Australian Shepherds are extremely loyal to their pack, which makes them perfect for your entire family, kids included. Be sure to teach your children proper doggy etiquette, and never leave your kids alone with your dog for safety reasons.
Do Australian Shepherds shed?
Yes. Due to their long coat and undercoat, you can expect an Australian Shepherd to shed a considerable amount. Keep this in mind if a you or a member of your household suffers from dog allergies. In the least, expect to brush your Aussie regularly and have a good vacuum and lint roller on hand.
Additional Resources to Read