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What Were Australian Shepherds Bred For? Breed History Explained

Rachel Giordano

By Rachel Giordano

Blue Merle Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherds, or “Aussies,” are herding dogs that are extremely intelligent, agile, and strong. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized this breed in 1993 and placed them into the herding group, and that’s exactly what these dogs were bred for.1 They love having a task or chore to do, and they do them well. In this article, we’ll unveil the history behind this intelligent breed, and some facts about this loving breed may surprise you.

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The Australian Shepherd Origin

 Despite the name, you may be shocked to learn that the Australian Shepherd did not originate from Australia. This breed came from Europe around the 1800s in the Basque region of Spain and France, located in the Pyrenees Mountains.

So, where did the “Australian” part come into play with the name?  It is believed that the Basque people took this breed to Australia first, then on to Europe, but the breed was developed in the Western United States in the 1800s. They became a favorite among ranchers in California, Wyoming, Colorado, and Idaho to help tend to cattle.

The Australian Shepherd’s history is not well known, but we do know they were bred for herding due to their intelligence and hardworking work ethic. These dogs’ bloodlines seem to trace back to Collies and the Border Collie from Australia, but it wasn’t until roughly the 1950s that they became recognized as their own breed in the United States.

The Breed Standard

The Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) was established in 1957 and is a non-profit corporation. One of their important roles is maintaining the breed standard, which was written in the 1970s. The breed standard is what breeders must adhere to for breeding a true Australian Shepherd.

Due to the Aussies’ intelligence, agility, and obedience, interest grew for competitions; today, there are over 212,000 Aussies entered into the ASCA’s studbook.

Red Merle Australian Shepherd
Image Credit: Eve Photography, Shutterstock

What’s the Process of Herding?

You might have seen an Australian Shepherd herding sheep or cattle, but do you know how they herd? They herd by nipping the heels of the animals they are herding to keep them together and moving in the right general direction. They also maintain an upright, confident posture rather than stalk or stare, and they’ll bark to control the herd.

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Temperament and Traits

Anyone who owns or has owned an Australian Shepherd knows how intelligent these dogs are. They are true working dogs and love to please their humans. They make wonderful companions and are loyal. They love to play Frisbee and are incredibly good at agility courses.

Not only are they herding dogs, but they also work with law enforcement, assist those with disabilities, and even aid in search and rescue efforts. They love to be with their humans, but they also love being busy and having a job, such as herding sheep, cattle, or even herding other pets in the household. They do not do well being confined or left alone for long periods, and if you have land for them to roam, they will be happy. If you do plan to add an Aussie to your family, you’ll most definitely need a large, fenced yard.

Australian Shepherd jumps in the water
Australian Shepherd jumps in the water

Grooming

Aussies have a double coat, and they do shed. Brushing should be done at least a couple of times a week to keep shedding down to a medium. Their hair can also get knotted, so brushing is a weekly commitment. They shed the most in the spring and fall.

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Is The Australian Shepherd For You?

While the Aussies’ history is not well known, we know that they make loving and loyal companions. They are highly intelligent and are easily trained. They get along with other pets in the household and are energetic and hardworking.

If you own land with cattle, the Aussie would be an excellent addition to your family. However, if you want them strictly as a companion, be aware that they may try to herd you, too! They have been known to nip the heels of children, but this behavior can be stopped if properly trained. Remember that these dogs are highly intelligent, so if you don’t want them herding you, you can stop the behavior with positive reinforcement and learn what triggers the herding.

It’s important to know that the Aussie is not trying to hurt anyone while herding; it’s simply an instinct.

australian shepherd standing on grass
Image Credit: Bärbel Bauer, Pixabay

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Conclusion

The Australian Shepherd is an energetic, intelligent breed that makes wonderful family companions. If you need them for herding, they make excellent herding and working dogs. If you love to be outdoors, your Aussie will love to be outdoors with you playing Frisbee, ball, or going for a walk. They are one of the most recognized dog breeds, and they will make an excellent addition to any family.

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Featured Image Credit: Vera Reva, Shutterstock

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