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Black Australian Shepherd: Facts, Pictures, Origin & History

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock

black australian shepherd

Black Australian Shepherds are quite rare. However, they are technically accepted by the breed standard. According to the AKC¹Australian shepherds have four different color possibilities—one of which is black. Therefore, while purely black Australian shepherds are rare, they do exist.

Breed Overview

Height 18 – 23 inches
Weight 35 – 70 pounds
Lifespan 13 – 15 years
Colors Black, red, merle, red merle, blue merle, tricolor
Suitable for Homes with yards, families with and without kids
Temperament Friendly, loyal, affectionate, playful, intelligent, trainable

Despite the name, these dogs are not from Australia. Instead, they are one of the few true American dog breeds. To understand this mix-up, let’s take a look at the breed’s history.

Australian Shepherd Characteristics


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The Earliest Records of Black Australian Shepherds in History

These dogs first began popping in the 1500s, when herding dogs were brought to herd in North America. Anytime settlers came to the continent, they tended to bring working dogs with them. Because they were separated from the breeding pool of Europe, eventually these herding dogs began to turn into their own breed.

There is some confusion as to the exact breeds used to make the Australian Shepherd. In many cases, the Carea Leones breed is thought to have contributed to the blue eyes and merle gene. Both the Basque Shepherd dog and the Pyrenean Sheepdog likely contributed, as well.

The breed as we know it today didn’t develop fully until the 19th century. For the most part, the breed developed in California, using the dogs that were already in America and imported collies from Australia. Because many of the imports came from Australia, the dog got the name, Australian Shepherd.

black australian shepherd herding sheep
Image Credit: marketalangova, Shutterstock

How the Black Australian Shepherd Gained Popularity

After the breed developed in California, the dog slowly spread out through the United States. At this point, the black gene was likely in the breed, which meant that black Australian Shepherds were possible. However, they were just as rare then as they are now.

This breed spread rather quickly because of its fantastic herding abilities. They were able to handle cattle and other livestock with relative ease. Farmers in the west prized this canine for its ability to help around the farm. They became a bit of a staple on western ranches.

Originally, this breed was only a working breed. They were not kept as companion animals. In fact, the breed was basically unknown outside of the livestock industry.

However, the breed was used in the mid-20th century by rodeo performers, including Jay Lister (who was one of the most popular performers at the time). He trained his Australian Shepherd to perform a variety of tricks, introducing the world to the breed at the same time.

Formal Recognition of the Black Australian Shepherd

After the breed was introduced to the average person through rodeo shows, an official breed club was established to promote the breed. At this time, the black tri–Australian Shepherd was probably a normal sight. The genes we see in the breed today were likely already established.

In 1979, the breed was recognized by the United Kennel Club, which is in the UK. The American Kennel Club didn’t recognize the breed until later in the 1990s.

(For one reason or another, this is a common theme. The United Kennel Club tends to recognize American breeds before the American Kennel Club. Therefore, this isn’t a rare occurrence.) The breed was then recognized by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale.

Today, the dog is seen increasingly as a companion animal. However, they are still extremely active and intelligent, which makes them a bit of a handful.


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Top 6 Unique Facts About the Black Australian Shepherd

1. They’ve been called many different names

Because this breed sprung up naturally in the western United States, they were called many different names depending on where you were. Spanish Shepherds were a common name at the beginning, which makes sense considering that the early ancestors of this breed were likely Spanish.

Blue Heelers is another name they were commonly referred to, and you’ll still hear this name today on occasion.

2. They were popularized in rodeos.

For a long time, these dogs weren’t seen outside of ranches. They were working dogs first and foremost. However, as rodeo shows become popular, so did this dog breed. They were first used to perform tricks and herd animals used in the shows.

3. Two different eye colors are common in this breed.

It isn’t odd to see an Australian shepherd with two different eye colors. This breed is one of the few that has a huge eye color range. Therefore, there is a huge variety you may see. In fact, some dogs may have two different colors within the same eye.

4. Some have naturally short tails.

Strangely enough, many Australian Shepherds have very short tails naturally. While other dog breeds with short tails often have them bobbed after birth, this isn’t the case with Australian Shepherds. However, not all dogs carry this trait. It only exists in about 20% of Australian Shepherds.

5. It took a long time for them to become companion animals.

At first, this breed was almost exclusively seen in the livestock field. Outside of that, they were not well-known. It took a while for these dogs to become known by the general public and considered companion animals.

It wasn’t until rodeos become popular that the public was introduced to this dog. After that, some of these dogs were adopted as companion animals by those who liked the rodeo scene, and this process slowly introduced these dogs to the general public.

This breed was around for about a century before they were owned as companion animals.

6. There are four main Australian Shepherd colors.

Black Australian Shepherds aren’t the only color out there. You can also find these dogs in blue merle, red merle, and red. Furthermore, these dogs have a variety of markings, as well. Therefore, they can come in all sorts of colors and patterns.

Do Black Australian Shepherds Make a Good Pet?

This breed is extremely loyal and can make a good pet in some situations. However, they are not a breed for a casual dog owner. These dogs require a lot of work. They were bred to be working dogs, so they are extremely job-oriented and very intelligent.

While their intelligence allows them to be trained easily, it also means that they need a lot of entertainment. This breed becomes bored easily, which can lead to destructive behaviors. Furthermore, these dogs are extremely active, so they do best with an active family.

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A black Australian Shepherd is not a very common dog, in the least. Most Australian Shepherds come with some sort of markings, which prevents them from being completely black. However, completely black Australian Shepherds do exist to some extent.

Beyond their coloration, these dogs are exactly like all other Australian Shepherds. They are extremely active and built to work. Therefore, they are a bit different than most companion dogs most of us are used to. They need a lot more mental and physical stimulation to stay happy.

Featured Image Credit: marketalangova, Shutterstock

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