The Australian Shepherd is a very popular breed in Europe, known for its gloriously luscious coat. Let's explore a little more about this beautiful dog breed below.

Origins of the Australian Shepherd

The Australian Shepherd (also called the "Aussie") is, surprisingly, not from Australia but Europe! In fact, this dog was used by shepherds in the Basque country of France and Spain as a herding dog. Some of these shepherds later immigrated to Australia with their dogs and sheep in tow. Another emigration later and they ended up on the West Coast of the United States, again with their animals. At this point, these beautifully-coated dogs were labeled Australian Shepherd dogs, being associated with the land from whence they last came.

So, with their French and Spanish origins, and journeys abroad, today Australian Shepherds are most commonly found across Europe and the United States.

Physical characteristics

The Aussie is a medium-sized breed of solid build. Males typically weigh between 25-35kg and reach up to 58cm tall. Females are usually smaller, weighing no more than 26kg and standing between 26-53cm in height. This majestic breed has almond-shaped eyes that can vary from blue to amber to brown. Some Aussies feature different coloured eyes, or even a single eye of two different colours. Both are quite common occurrences.

The tail is an intriguing one for the Australian Shepherd. While some sport a strong, fluffy tail, others sport no tail at all. There are two explanations for this. Historically, breeders docked herding dogs' tails for aesthetic purposes. Some shepherds also docked the tail for hygiene reasons. However, not all Aussies with no tail have had them cut off. In fact, the second reason for the anomaly is that 1 in 5 Aussies are naturally born with no tail. (This is not unlike the Pembroke Welsh Corgi). In the US, some breeders still dock a newborn Aussie's tail. In Europe, depending on the country, this practice has been outlawed due to cruelty reasons. Generally speaking, you're more likely to see a tail on an Australian Shepherd that lives in Europe than you are on one that lives in the US.

Aussies sport a medium-length coat that is either straight or wavy. The hairs are weather resistant but will require brushing often. The coat color of this breed is particularly impressive, almost like marble. Aussies can be a combination of black, blue merle (silver), red or red merle (pink), but they can also have patches of white and copper. It turns out that Aussies can have one of four whole-coloured coats, eight varieties of two-coloured coats or four varieties of three-coloured coats.

Health

Breeding an Australian Shepherd requires knowledge of the different colour coats and their genes. For example, breeding two merle coloured Aussies can be dangerous to the puppies. "Double merle" puppies are very likely to be deaf or blind because of the allele (a variant form of a gene) responsible for this color.

Aussies are also prone to eye problems such as cataracts, persistent pupillary membrane, Collie eye anomaly, and iris coloboma. The latter three are all inherited and will appear at birth, therefore it is recommended to have an Aussie's eyes checked regularly. Hip and back problems are also other known ailments to affect the Aussie.

Character

The Australian Shepherd is a robust working dog. Despite being highly capable with any kind of herd, shepherds have typically used them to manage their flocks of sheep. They have a high capacity for obedience and are easy to train, although this does require commitment for field work. Part of this ability to be well educated lies in the intelligence of the breed.

Aussies are energetic, fast and very sporty. They need a big backyard to let off stream and will require highly energetic activities such as canicross, agility, frisbee, or cycling (alongside you). They are also very playful and will demand plenty of attention. A 'homebody' family with no garden would be strongly advised against adopting an Aussie.

Aussies are naturally loyal, affectionate, smart and sociable. They usually get along well with other dogs, pets and children. However, they tend to get bored easily and won't like being left alone for long.

An Aussie also makes a wonderful guide, rescue, guard or detection dog. They are also used in the US in horse rodeo shows.

If you have the space, the time, the energy, and sufficient finances to manage any unexpected ailments or injuries, then an Australian Shepherd could just be the dog for you!

Do you have an Australian Shepherd? What's your experience?

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