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Australian Shepherd: Facts, Origin & History (with Pictures)

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Australian Shepherd on the field with flowers

Smart, speedy, and energetic, Australian Shepherds are rising in the ranks of popularity. From their compact size to their fluffy, adorable coats, it’s no surprise that many are looking into this dedicated working breed as a potential pet. Although they’re usually in the Top 10 or 20 most popular breeds, few people know the breed’s origins and background. Australian Shepherds, also called “Aussies,” have an interesting history that may surprise you, including their actual place of origin. Let’s dive into the history and facts of the Australian Shepherd:

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The Earliest Records of Australian Shepherds in History

Australian Shepherds have an interesting and somewhat unclear history, partly because they were only bred for working purposes. The first appearances of the Australian Shepherd go back to the 1800s, during a bustling and productive time in America. With settlers from around the world pouring into America, many people also imported livestock and herding dogs. It’s said that many of these herding dogs were Collies and Border Collies from Australia, as well as influences from the Pyrenees and European herding dogs. Eventually, Australian Shepherds started to become their own breed, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that they had any breed recognition.

blue eyed australian shepherd
Image Credit: eather Skau, Shutterstock

How Australian Shepherd Gained Popularity

Australian Shepherds started like the Alaskan Husky, bred selectively based on temperament rather than physical confirmation. Their natural working capabilities made them popular amongst ranchers in the Midwest, which helped spread their popularity throughout the decades. Around the 1950s and 60s, Aussies started becoming popular family dogs and companions. Today, they’re high in demand and have a huge following, both as working dogs and as companions.

Formal Recognition of Australian Shepherds

Although they were high in demand in the Midwest for ranching and herding livestock, the breed was almost unknown until the 1950s. The first steppingstone to recognition was the founding of the Australian Shepherd Club of America in 1957, but their history goes as far back as the 1800s. Australian Shepherds had no true confirmation to follow and were selectively bred for working purposes only as with other herding and working dogs. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the United Kingdom Kennel Club recognized them as a breed, followed by the American Kennel Club quickly after.

australian shepherd lying in the forest
Image Credit: torstensimon, Pixabay

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Top 3 Unique Facts About Australian Shepherds

  • They’re Not Technically from Australia – While there are some arguments about the earliest origins of Australian Shepherds and which breeds helped form them, they’re not from Australia. They get their name due to the herding breeds imported from Australia to the United States.
  • Some Aussies Have Naturally Short Tails – Australian Shepherds were selectively bred for work, so many ranchers chose dogs with shorter tails. While some puppies get their tails docked, some puppies may not actually need it due to genetics.
  • They’re Great Service/Utility Dogs – Aussies are highly intelligent dogs, so it’s no surprise that they can also be great service dogs and non-farm working dogs. They’re trainable dogs in the hands of a professional and can be any type of service or utility dog, from seeing-eye dogs to search and rescue.
smiling australian shepherd waling in the field
Image Credit: Daniel Albany, Pixabay

Do Australian Shepherds Make a Good Pet?

Australian Shepherds are quite friendly and happy as companions. They usually have good manners with people, but they may be a bit shy or reserved around strangers. Aussies are incredibly smart and trainable dogs that can learn a wide variety of cues, excelling in obedience and service work. They’re natural farm dogs with instinctive herding skills, easily growing accustomed to the homestead lifestyle. They’re also great for individuals and families that enjoy the outdoors, especially activities like hiking and camping.

Australian Shepherds are becoming more popular by the decade, but that doesn’t mean every environment is suitable for them. They have high levels of energy and require a good deal of exercise daily, which is essential for their mental and physical health.  Aussies have thick, shedding double coats, which need a moderate amount of grooming at least on a weekly basis. They can also be quite a challenge for first-time dog owners, regardless of their high trainability.

Pros
  • Friendly companion with good manners
  • Highly trainable and intelligent
  • Natural farm and homestead dog
  • Great for outdoors activities
Cons
  • High levels of energy/need lots of exercise
  • Moderate grooming and lots of shedding
  • Better with experienced dog owners
australian shepherd dog and female owner are walking together
Image Credit: Anna Pozzi – Zoophotos, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

Australian Shepherds are highly intelligent dogs with a long history of herding instincts, going back to the time of the Gold Rush in the United States. Aussies may not actually be from Australia, but their bloodlines go back to dogs from the land down under. While the Australian Shepherd origins are a bit unclear, their popularity as a working dog led them to breed recognition. Today, the Australian Shepherd is one of the most recognizable dog breeds and has proven to be a great companion.


Featured Image Credit: Petra Heike Laicher, Pixabay

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