A Guide to Australian Shepherds

January 10, 2019

Australian Shepherds are easygoing and playful dogs. Whether you just welcomed one into your home or are thinking about it, you’ve come to the right place. This guide to Australian Shepherds will provide all the information you need to properly train and care for your new furry friend. This guide was compiled with new dog owners in mind but we also have tips and tricks for those who are seasoned fur parents, breeders, or those who are simply new to this specific breed.

Your guide to Australian Shepherds

The Australian Shepherd is smart, work-oriented, and exuberant, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC).

The Australian Shepherd, a lean, tough ranch dog, is one of those ‘only in America’ stories: a European breed perfected in California by way of Australia. Fixtures on the rodeo circuit, they are closely associated with the cowboy life,” the AKC reported.

You can adopt an Australian Shepherd at an animal shelter or find a breeder. It’s important to look for breeders that can provide detailed health records for their puppies (and parents!) as well as genetic testing for health conditions. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and their Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) maintains a voluntary database of Australian Shepherds and their health screening results.

Australian Shepherd

Fun facts

Here are some fun facts about Australian Shepherds, according to Dogtime:

  • Australian Shepherds can be referred to as Aussies
  • They need about 30 to 60 minutes of exercise daily
  • Without the proper exercise and mental stimulation, these dogs can be destructive
  • Their coats come in various colors including merle

Physical characteristics

In terms of physical characteristics, Australian Shepherds typically have strong, balanced frames. They have slightly domed heads, medium-sized muzzles, and almond-shaped eyes that can be blue, brown, or amber. They also have triangular ears and straight, short tails, according to Dogster.

“The Australian Shepherd, the cowboy’s herding dog of choice, is a medium-sized worker with a keen, penetrating gaze in the eye,” the AKC reported. “Aussie coats offer different looks, including merle (a mottled pattern with contrasting shades of blue or red). In all ways, they’re the picture of rugged and agile movers of stock.”

Bringing your new Australian Shepherd home

Remember that when you bring your pup home, everything is new and there are a lot of scents to get used to. Try to keep your house still and fairly quiet for the first few days so your pup has time to get acquainted with his or her surroundings. You want your pup to explore and learn about your family, according to puppyintraining.com.

Did you name your dog yet? Teaching your pup his or her name should be one of the first things you do. It’s easy, just continuously refer to the pup as Brownie or Jack or whatever the name may be. What’s not so easy is training the pup. You may want to get help with this by enrolling your new Australian Shepherd in a training group or get your own trainer. This will help get your puppy going to the bathroom in the right places, keep him or her from eating your favorite shoes, stop excessive barking or whining, and much more.

“Early socialization and obedience training are both musts for the Australian Shepherd,” according to the AKC.

Nutrition

A balanced diet is vital to your dog’s growth and health, according to the ASPCA, and portion control is key.

It’s okay to give your dog commercial pet foods, just be sure to read the label and ensure that what you’re buying is based on your dog’s caloric needs.

“Barring any special needs, illness-related deficiencies, or instructions from your vet, your pet should be able to get all the nutrients he or she needs from high-quality commercial pet foods, which are specially formulated with these standards in mind,” the ASPCA reported.

You should also keep in mind that a dog’s diet should change as they grow. A puppy should have a different diet than an adult dog or senior dog, and senior dogs should have a different diet than adult dogs.     

The best thing you can do for your pup when it comes to diet is talk to your veterinarian about a meal plan.

Playtime

Australian Shepherds need between 30 and 60 minutes of exercise every day. There are so many ways to play! You can take your dog for a run or hike and play fetch, tug-of-war, or frisbee.  

“Once an Aussie leaves puppyhood behind, and his skeletal system is fully formed, he can make a great running companion,” the AKC reported. “The best course, however, is to give the Aussie a job, whether that is herding livestock, shepherding children, or competing in canine events such as obedience, herding or agility trials, or dock diving.”

Grooming

The Australian Shepherd has a lot of hair, which may make you nervous about grooming. However, all you really need to do is brush their coats on a regular basis.

“The Aussie sheds, but it’s a major event only twice a year, in the spring and fall. Frequent brushing, warm baths and thorough blow drying during that time will help keep the handfuls of hair under control. Outside of shedding season, bathe the Aussie only when he gets dirty,” according to Vetstreet.

While they often wear their nails down while walking outside or playing, it’s still important to check their nails to see if they need to be trimmed. It’s also vital to keep their teeth and ears clean.

Health & aging

Do you know your pup’s birthday? Never miss a celebration with your four-legged friend! And keep in mind that you’ll need to care for him or her differently as your pup ages.

The Australian Shepherd has a lifespan of about 12-15 years, according to Dogtime. Your dog is considered a senior pup after turning 8. Make sure you’ve had your pup tested with Embark so you’re armed with as much information as possible to ensure your dog is healthy and to sidestep any preventable disease that may come your way.

Embark tests for the following conditions that could affect your Australian Shepherd:

MDR-1 – This means your dog has a sensitivity to certain classes of drugs, notably the parasiticide ivermectin, as well as certain gastroprotectant and anti-cancer medications. Symptoms can range from vomiting and diarrhea to lethargy, seizures, or coma.

Recommendation from our veterinary team: Please note that the dosage of problem drugs in commercially available heartworm, flea, and tick preventatives should not cause problems in MDR1 dogs; however, notify your veterinarian of this genetic result so that you can avoid adverse reactions to other drugs or high dosages!

Hereditary Cataracts, Early-Onset Cataracts, Juvenile CataractsOne of the leading causes of blindness in dogs (and humans!), cataracts are a progressive disease of the lens that causes functional blindness but can be surgically corrected.

Recommendation from our veterinary team: Currently, the only treatment for cataracts is surgical, where the cloudy interior of the lens is removed and replaced with a clear synthetic lens material. While cataracts are typically a disease of the aged dog and can be associated with other eye diseases (these would be termed secondary cataracts), certain breeds are genetically predisposed to developing primary cataracts. In these breeds, cataracts can develop as young as weeks to months of age, and are so termed juvenile cataracts. Cataracts can cause secondary complications such as glaucoma–should your dog develop cataracts, please develop a monitoring plan with your veterinarian to keep your dog’s eyes as healthy as possible!

Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis 6This form of lysosomal storage disease can cause juvenile to adult-onset neurologic signs, depending on the affected gene. While lipofuscin is commonly observed in the tissues of aged animals, dogs with NCL show an inappropriate accumulation of lipofuscin in the cells of the retina and the brain as early as 6 months and as late as 6 years, depending on the gene affected. Common symptoms reflect central nervous system malfunction and include partial or total vision loss, behavior changes, abnormal gait, and seizures.

Recommendation from our veterinary team: Symptoms usually progress slowly over time. While gene therapy trials in the lab have proven promising, these are not currently in routine use.

What we have our eye on for the future:

Liver shunts – IntrahepaticLiver shunts are abnormal veins that “shunt” blood returning from the digestive tract and the spleen away from normal processing pathways in the liver. While this blood is full of nutrients, having picked up valuable nutrients in the small intestine and the stomach, it also carries the waste products of metabolism and other toxins. By bypassing the liver, which normally filters these wastes out of the blood, harmful toxins circulate through the body and, if they reach high enough levels, can cause serious illness. Signs of a liver shunt can include neurologic signs like head pressing or seizures, especially after a high-protein meal.  Liver shunts can often be managed with liver-supportive medications and a liver-friendly diet; in some cases, surgery can be curative. If you think your dog might have a liver shunt, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

T Cell Lymphoma – T cells lymphomas are rarer than B cell lymphomas in dogs, but they carry a more grave prognosis. Determining if a lymphoma is T cell or B cell in origin requires molecular testing; this testing is also crucial for informing treatment and prognosis.

Double merle – While merle is a common coloration of herding breeds and has been introduced into many others, double merles, which can occur when two merles are bred together, can suffer from hearing and visual deficits. As such, the breeding of two merles is heavily discouraged.

We hope that this guide helps you with your Australian Shepherd and that you remain happy together for years to come! However, we also know that the only bad part of having a pup means you have to lose them. If you are grieving and in need of a resource, click here for a relevant blog post.

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A Guide to Australian Shepherds
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For the last decade, Ashley has been honing her skills as a multimedia content creator, including working in live television for a top 10 market station. She is now the Communications Manager at Embark Vet and lives in the Boston area with her dog-like cat, Cody.