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.