Australian Shepherds: Working Dogs or Pets?

When people first encounter the Australian Shepherd, they are often surprised to learn that the breed is not, in fact, Australian, but a true American, having emerged from the melting pot of immigrants (and their dogs) in the American West. . The original Aussie is actually a working herding dog that developed from livestock that flooded the American West in the 19th century and continues to this day.

Dogs that were big enough to take on livestock, had strength, agility, and intelligence were highly prized, so the input of several breeds, such as the original English Collie, Pyrenean Sheepdogs, and perhaps also the Australian Coolie, led to the development of a typical American Cattle Dog that could be found on almost every ranch. This was the origin of the Australian Shepherd, a true American pioneer.

From working dog to suburban pet

However, the Aussie’s beauty caught the attention of dog lovers and Australian Shepherds were soon bred as pets for the suburban market. These show that Aussies retain their working dog temperament to some degree, but the true Aussie is a much tougher character. He is a bit like the “city dog” and the “country dog”.

Show dogs are often bred more for their appearance and therefore miss out on some of the ideal traits for a working herding dog. Aussies all but disappeared as working dogs as they were being bred for their “pet” appearance and temperament rather than their excellence as cattle dogs.

Requirements of a good working dog

There has been a resurgence of the Australian “working dog” dog and there are many Australians who make excellent herding dogs and make a handsome living. There are breeders who breed Aussies specifically as ranch dogs. A good herding dog ideally needs the following characteristics:

Strong Herding Instinct – This is primarily a genetic trait.

· A team player: the dog wants to please its owner and easily forgives any correction. The dog must be highly trainable and not stubborn.

· Confidence and high self-esteem: allowing the dog not to be too stressed by the work and also allowing him to overcome any stubborn cattle and not be intimidated by them.

Acuity: Dogs must have a high degree of interest in the cattle and not be deterred by a kick from the cow or a correction from the trainer.

· Good Coat – Excessively heavy coats are sometimes created when breeding for show – a dog needs a good coat for the weather, but not one that constantly accumulates burrs.

· Work ethic: the willingness to get on with the job and not be easily distracted. The dog must have an innate knowledge that cattle are his burdens, not his toys.

Ultimately, the Australian Shepherd is first and foremost a working dog.

However, remember that when you choose an Australian Shepherd as a pet, you have a dog whose ancestors were bred to work hard all day. Consequently, Aussies are active dogs who are happiest if they have a job to do. Herding sheep isn’t practical in the city, but give your dog the job of babysitting and he’ll never let you down.