Australian Shepherd - Trupanion Dog Breed Guide hero imageAustralian Shepherd - Trupanion Dog Breed Guide hero imageAustralian Shepherd - Trupanion Dog Breed Guide hero image

Australian Shepherd



Australian Shepherd Breed Highlights

Two Australian Shepherd dogs standing together in the grass

  • Don’t let their name fool you — the Australian Shepherd is not native to Australia. This breed was refined in the American West during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

  • According to legends from the American Old West, Native Americans called the Australian Shepherds “ghost eye” dogs and revered them as sacred. Many Aussies have pale blue eyes (or a combination of blue and other colored eyes).

  • The Aussie is a quintessential ranch dog. After World War II, they could be seen performing tricks with cowboys and showing off their skills at rodeos. Jay Sisler was a successful dog trainer that performed with his Aussies throughout the 50s and 60s. His dogs made several appearances in Walt Disney productions and were featured on The Ed Sullivan Show.

  • An Australian Shepherd named Harley was adopted in 2017 by Vice President Mike Pence.

  • While popular throughout the mid 20th century, the Australian Shepherd wasn’t officially recognized by the American Kennel Club until 1991.

Unique Physical Features

Australian Shepherd dog standing illustration

  • Four coat color variations — the most recognizable is the Blue Merle pattern

  • Many Aussies have light blue eyes, two different colored eyes, or eyes with two colors swirled together

  • Tails can be natural, with long fur or bobbed. Some owners choose to have the tail docked

Unique Personality

Australian Shepherd illustration of dog walking

Full of joie de vivre, the Aussie loves to play as hard as they work. They put their all into the task at hand and especially enjoy team activities with their person. Incredibly smart, clever, and eager to please, the Australian Shepherd needs a job to do. From frisbee competitions to hiking companions, this breed is ready to rock. While sometimes stoic when meeting new people, once an Aussie has decided to give you the A-OK, they’ll greet you with their enthusiastic whole-body wag.

Preferred Lifestyle

Energy Level

dog energy level - high (tri-athlete)

With Kids

Icon - outline of a little boy and girl

Australian Shepherds can do well with children, but do best in a home with older children that don’t encourage inappropriate herding or nipping behavior

With Other Pets

Icon - cat and dog outline

As long as they have been socialized as a puppy and their herding behaviors are managed, Aussies can certainly enjoy the company of other pets in the home

Environment

Icon - outline of a house

This breed does best in a family that lives an active lifestyle and who can provide space to run. While adaptable to different types of home, if you live in an apartment, your Aussie will need regular runs, hikes, and other activities to burn their energy.

Average Lifespan
(Range)

12 to 15 years

Average Size
(Range)

Medium:

  • 40 - 70 pounds
  • 18 - 23 inches tall

Breed Group

Herding

Similar Breeds

  • Border Collie

  • Pyrenean Shepherd

  • Australian Cattle Dog

  • Collie

  • Shetland Sheepdog

  • Miniature American Shepherd

History of the Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherd leaping through the air in a green field

The Australian Shepherd’s history can be traced back to the Basque region of Spain and France, where Pyrenean Shepherds were the herding dog of choice by the talented herdsman of the region. These Basque shepherds emigrated to Australia in the 1800s, and their herding dogs traveled with them. It’s believed, during their time in Australia, these dogs were crossed with Collies and Border Collies. Eventually, the Basque immigrants made their way across the Pacific to the vast American West. The breed’s name is most likely due to its long journey to the United States by way of Australia.

These herding dogs became a popular choice for ranchers in the rough terrain of California and Colorado. They were unaffected by the higher altitudes of mountain ranches and were excellent working dogs with the stamina to herd all day. The Australian Shepherd breed was refined during the late 1800s and early 1900s by ranchers in the west, technically making it an American breed.


U.S. History of the Australian Shepherd Over Time

The Aussie didn’t explode onto the popular scene until after World War II when western riding and rodeos became a popular pastime. Aussies would help cowboys herd livestock at rodeos and then put on a show with tricks and performances. The dogs made appearances in mid-century western films and became an integral part of cowboy culture in America. As the breed spread beyond the west, they excelled in many different roles, working as service dogs, in search and rescue, and even drug detection jobs. Even though they are more of a newcomer to the American Kennel Club’s official breed list (recognized in 1991), they ranked as the 17th most popular dog breed in 2018.

Australian Shepherd Behavior and Training

Australian Shepherds are rockstars in training and need a committed owner who will sign up for a dog sport or provide other regular physical and mental activity. If this breed doesn’t have a job to do, they will create their own — and they often decide that herding the children or other pets is the job for them. Aussies are quite food motivated, but also respond well to toys and play when used as training rewards.

It’s important to work on nipping and herding behavior from a young age with Australian Shepherds, giving them appropriate outlets for these behaviors as puppies and redirecting them when they start to herd the wrong things.

Plays Well with Others?

  • Australian Shepherds can be reserved and cautious when first meeting new people, and need time to get comfortable. Many Aussies enjoy attention if they have been introduced to it from puppyhood in a positive way. Proper proactive exposure to new sights, sounds, people, dogs, and other animals as a young puppy is essential for their socialization skills.

  • This Aussie has natural herding instincts that can make living with younger children difficult. They will do better with older children that don’t run around or squeal, which often triggers herding and nipping behavior. However, Australian Shepherds can make fantastic family dogs if socialized with children from puppyhood and given appropriate outlets for their herding instincts. Children should always be taught how to interact with dogs respectfully and politely to help keep everyone safe. Young children and dogs should always be supervised, and it’s helpful for a dog to have their own “safe space” where they can go when they need some quiet time.

  • This breed can do well with other pets in the home, as long as their herding behavior is managed, and they have been well socialized. Introducing pets to each other should be done in small increments, always focusing on creating positive associations with each other, and rewarding calm behavior. Herding dogs can sometimes overwhelm other dogs during play, with herding and nipping. Make sure to manage playtime between an Aussie and other dogs to ensure everyone is having a good time.
Graphic - bouncing red ball image

Exercise Requirements

Australian Shepherds are long on endurance and make excellent running or hiking buddies. Provide your Aussie with at least an hour of physical exercise every day. Working different kinds of activity into exercise sessions helps to burn energy, so mix in games of fetch or frisbee with their regular walks.

While these dogs do need lots of physical activity, it’s also essential to give them time to recharge. Their herding instincts mean they’re very responsive to movement and other environmental stimuli. If they are constantly busy, they can become overstimulated, nervous, and reactive. After lots of exercise, make sure they have a quiet place to relax and recover.

Speak with your veterinarian about appropriate exercise for an Australian Shepherd puppy. Until they are full-grown (bone growth plates typically all close between 12 and 18 months of age), avoid strenuous or repetitive activities like jogging or running — as this can increase their risk of damage to the growing bone and cartilage, causing pain and future joint issues.

VETERINARIAN TIP

While a tired dog might be a good dog, puppy exercise shouldn’t be forced or “pushed” in any way. Follow your Aussie puppy’s lead in the amount of activity they can do. If they stop and sit down, it’s time for some rest and recovery. In some cases, they might try to “keep up” with an adult dog, so make sure not to let them push too far and over-exercise themselves.

Mental Enrichment Needs

Without a herd of sheep to work, an Aussie needs an outlet for their mental energy. By giving them mental enrichment, you’ll prevent boredom and the unwanted behaviors that boredom often causes. Give your Australian Shepherd interactive toys, feed them their regular meals from food puzzles, practice nose work, and incorporate lots of trick training into their daily routine. Mental enrichment will help an Aussie puppy learn good habits from a young age, and give them an appropriate outlet for instinctual behaviors like chewing, digging, or herding.

Fun Activities the Australian Shepherd Enjoys

Australian Shepherd little puppy with red collar illustration

Australian Shepherds do well in many different activities:

  • Agility

  • Disc Dog

  • Herding / Treibball

  • Nosework / Tracking

  • Flyball

  • Rally Obedience

  • Therapy Work

  • Search and Rescue

  • Skijoring

Australian Shepherd Coat Type

The Australian Shepherd has a silky soft, waterproof double coat that grows to a medium length. Some Aussies have wavier fur than others, but most have extra thick back feather fur, resembling puffy pirate pantaloons.

Aussies are seen in four different color variations: black, red, blue merle, and red merle. All of these colors can have tan and white markings, which means you might see a tri-colored Aussie. The Australian Shepherd also might have light blue eyes. This breed is known to have a condition called heterochromia, which gives them blue eyes, hazel or brown eyes, one of each, or eyes that have two colors in each.

Shedding Level

dog shedding level - 4 of 5 piles of fur

4 out of 5 piles of fur

Grooming Requirements

  • Weekly Brushing

TRAINER TIP

Introducing an Australian Shepherd puppy to being brushed and handled at a young age will teach them to enjoy the experience and make it easy for all involved. Reward staying calm during short and sweet grooming sessions.

Australian Shepherds need regular brushing to keep tangling at bay and to distribute natural oils throughout the coat. They usually don’t need bathing unless they get especially dirty, as their coat tends to slough off dirt and any smells between baths (as long as it’s brushed). Aussies shed year-round, but you might notice an increase of shedding during seasonal “blowing of coat,” which tends to happen during spring and fall.

Best Brush for an Australian Shepherd: Pin comb, Slicker Brush, Undercoat rake

Famous Owners of the Australian Shepherd

  • Amanda Seyfried (Actress)

  • Alyssa Milano (Actress)

  • James Brolin (Actor)

  • Trace Adkins (Singer)

  • Steven Spielberg (Director)

  • Mel Gibson (Actor)

  • Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly (Actors)

  • Jay Sisler (Actor)

  • Flip Wilson (Comedian)

  • Devin O’Branagan (Author)

Famous Australian Shepherds

Bunk, the sidekick of silent-era film cowboy Jack Hoxie

Australian Shepherds in Books, Movies and TV

Barkley in Bark Ranger


Timmy in Famous 5

Non-Endorsement Statement: The social media posts displayed here do not imply any endorsement of these people or products, nor does it imply they endorse Trupanion or our product.

Common Health Conditions for the Australian Shepherd

Use the chart of Trupanion claims data below to find out what health conditions happen most frequently for Australian Shepherds. Every Australian Shepherd is unique, but understanding what health conditions are likelier to occur can help you be a more prepared pet owner.

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Here's what our
dog-loving members say about Trupanion

Trupanion member Kelly

Kelly

Groton, CT

Condition: Sarcoma

The Trupanion policy paid: $18,522.39

"My golden Kelly was young when I found a softball-sized lump on Kelly’s left hind leg. Four weeks straight of radiation, six rounds of chemo and checkups every three months, including x-rays and full blood panel were needed. Because of Trupanion, I didn’t have to address the biggest deciding factor that most people face—can I afford this? I can honestly say Kelly is alive today because of the financial support Trupanion provided."

- Lori

Trupanion member Axl

Axl

Ontario, Canada

Condition: Pneumonia, Hip Dysplasia, Lameness

The Trupanion policy paid: $2,084.01

"At two, our German shepherd Axl was diagnosed with pneumonia. Trupanion took care of all our financial concerns. At four, his hip issues led to pain medications, rehabilitation and rest, which all resulted in improved pain-free movement. I’m so grateful that we chose a plan that not only covers the cost of his treatment but also any physical therapy or rehabilitation he may need."

- Nanette K.

Trupanion member Bella

Bella

Ellijay, GA

Condition: Cushing’s disease, tumor, cruciate rupture

The Trupanion policy paid: $15,283.83

"Bella was treated for Cushing’s disease and a pituitary tumor with radiation therapy. Had we not had insurance for her, the decision for her medical care would have been more difficult, as each treatment was expensive. However, because we have Trupanion, these decisions were easier. Rather, we could focus our attention on her treatment and recovery instead of the financial impact these procedures would have on our family."

- Jason P.

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