Despite its name, the
Australian Shepherd is an American breed, bred to herd
Australian sheep in the United States. This breed is
characterized by its naturally bobbed tail and its vibrant red
and white coat. Related to other herding dog such as other
Sheepdogs, Collies, and some Shepherds, the Australian Shepherd
is prone to some of the same ailments. Vision problems,
epilepsy, and cancers are the
primary health concerns with this breed. Approximately 30% of
all Australian Shepherds die due to cancer or cancer related
problems. The Australian Shepherd has a lifespan of around 11 -
13 years, not uncommon for a dog of its size.
Primary Health Conditions of the Australian Shepherd
Australian Shepherds are especially prone to hearing, eye, and
vision problems, including Collie Eye Anomaly (which can be
prevented through good breeding practices) and cataracts.
Cataracts may occur at any stage of life and present themselves
as a cloudiness in the eye. Some cataracts start out and remain
small, but others grow until the animal becomes blind.
Typically both eyes are affected, though one eye may appear
cloudy months before the other one begins to show signs of the
condition. There is no cure or guaranteed prevention for canine
Various types of cancers are common with the Australian
Shepherd. While cancers used to appear in this breed in later
years, Australian Shepherds are beginning to suffer the effects
of many types of cancer earlier in their life. Some cancers,
when caught early, may be treatable. Others are terminal. The
variations in the types of cancer to which Australian Shepherds
are prone are too wide to classify without a full breed
analysis study, which has not yet been done.
Secondary Health Conditions of the Australian Shepherd
The Australian Shepherd is prone to back and hip problems,
including the very common hip
dysplasia - a painful issue of the hip joint. Dysplasia
cannot typically be prevented,
although good breeding practices can help, as will a moderated
diet and plenty of exercise.
Autoimmune diseases, including thyroid conditions and problems
with mange can occur, but these are treatable.
Epilepsy is also common in this breed and is becoming more
common over time. There is no way to know if the dog may
develop epilepsy, and the issue often begins to show itself
between the ages of one to three years. Epileptic dogs should
be removed from the breeding cycle.
Australian Shepherd Exercise and Walking Needs
This medium sized, lively dog needs a good deal of daily
exercise, including long walks or runs, and lively play.
Advanced training may be a good idea to keep this intelligent
and inquisitive dog’s mind active. Boredom and loneliness are
the main causes of destructive behavior. Meeting the Shepherd’s
needs will make the dog and its family happier.
Australian Shepherd Nutritional Needs
The Australian Shepherd should be fed a high quality diet of
high protein dog food. Because Australian Shepherds are
energetic, they generally need more calories than other breeds.
Working shepherds will naturally eat more than house pets.
The Australian Shepherd Personality
Originally bred to work livestock in the western United States,
Australian Shepherds not only have active natures but also are
highly intelligent and quick-thinking. They make excellent
watchdogs and companions, and are devoted family dogs. Owners
may find it challenging to keep one step ahead of their
Aussies, but it is essential to do so to allow them to develop
into sound dogs that are both fun and reliable. You’ll get the
best results from Australian Shepherds if you start working
with them as soon as you bring them home.
Temperament and Socialization
The driving force behind the development of the Australian
Shepherd was the need for intelligent dogs that could
out-think livestock, with the stamina to work the herd all
day. Aussies are happiest when they are given the chance to
put their brains to work at jobs of all kinds, and they
excel in obedience work, herding and canine competitions.
If they get bored they are likely to come up with things to
do on their own, and these types of activities are usually
destructive and tend to involve digging and chewing.
Aussies must also be well socialized to prevent them from
developing serious behavior problems, such as being fearful
or shy. Such a dog may become a fear-biter, a serious
difficulty that can lead to injury of humans and other
animals. You can avoid this by taking Aussies out in public
as often as possible, exposing them to as many different
people, animals, sights and sounds as you can, so that they
accept the world around them. This is vitally important
when your dog is young, but it is good to allow Aussies to
socialize no matter what their age. Never place your dog in
a potentially unsafe situation, such as near an aggressive
dog or children that may be too rough.
Australian Shepherds should begin training as soon as they
are comfortable in their new homes. Find a reputable
trainer in your area by asking your vet, groomer or friends
for recommendations and sign up for classes. Going to class
will give you the chance to teach your dog behavioral
commands, as well as help with their socialization. Most
areas have classes for dogs of all ages, from puppies to
adults. Local dog clubs are also a good source of
information regarding these classes, plus you can join a
specialized club that focuses on one type of training, such
as agility, herding or obedience. The club will help you
continue socializing your dog and you will learn how to
compete so that your dog can earn titles and awards. These
activities help Aussies work off excess energy and gives
them a mental challenge, with the added bonus of increasing
the dogs’ bonding with their owners. No matter what type of
training you choose, you’ll find that your Aussie can rise
to the challenge and do very well. Even if you don’t want
to involve your dog in a sport, all owners should keep
their Aussies socialized and teach them at least the five
basic commands: "Sit," "Stay," "Heel," "Down" and "Come,"
working first on a leash and later without one.
Make sure that your Australian Shepherd gets all the
necessary shots, wormings and any other checks your
veterinarian deems necessary. This is not only because your
Aussie will be around other dogs, but also because this
breed is prone to certain health issues, including
blindness, deafness and hip dysplasia, and dogs should be
watched for signs of these problems as they grow. Dogs that
are suspected of having these or other problems should be
taken to a veterinarian for a full examination. Aussies
also need their heavy double coats brushed at least once a
week to avoid mats and skin problems.
The best way to housebreak Australian Shepherds is the
crate training system. In this method, Aussies are placed
in crates that are large enough for them to be comfortable.
Australian Shepherds will not normally soil their sleeping
quarters, but they must be let out on a regular basis to
prevent accidents. Puppies can usually last only a few
hours without needing to relieve themselves, but older
Australian shepherds can wait all night, once they are
adapted to the schedule. As dogs learn to go outside to
relieve themselves they can be given increasing amounts of
freedom in the house.
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This information is for informational
purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the
professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your
veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or
other qualified professional with any questions you may have
regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking
professional advice due to what you may have read on our