Caring For Your Aussie
Defects of the Australian Shepherd: The Australian
Shepherd is a healthy breed compared to many but is not without hereditary
problems. Hip Dysplasia and several different eye defects are the most common
problems in the breed.
Hip Dysplasia (HD) is found in all dog breeds and is basically bad development of the hip joints. This disease is not caused by a single pair of genes, but instead is "polygenic". This means many gene pairs determine the condition and development of the hip joints. This has made the disease extremely difficult to understand and to determine the genetic inheritance involved. It has been found that the incidence of HD can be lessened by careful selection of breeding stock. Australian Shepherd breeders have been leaders in the control of the disease in this breed. HD can only be diagnosed with x-rays taken by a competent veterinarian after the dog is past it's second birthday. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) has for many years served as the diagnostic expert for this disease. X-rays submitted to the OFA are sent to three independent radiologists for a consensus opinion. OFA will not certify a dog free from HD until it is two years old. Dogs may be x-rayed for a preliminary evaluation earlier than two years, but because of the progressive nature of the disease, OFA will not certify them until two years of age.
The Aussie also can be affected by eye defects with varying degrees of hereditability. A regular veterinarian can not diagnose most eye diseases. When a dog is examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist and diagnosed free of disease the owner will receive a form. The owner can submit this form to CERF to receive a number declaring the dog free from eye defects. If CERF is not used, the owner should be able to provide a copy of the ophthalmologist forms to potential buyers.
Drug sensitivity: Aussies & other "Collie type" dogs of other breeds may possess a mutation at the MDR1 locus (mdr1-1Δ) that causes a defect in the blood-brain barrier, mediated by P-glycoprotein, an ATP-dependent drug transporter that moves a broad spectrum of substrates across several tissue borders throughout the body.
Drug sensitivity status, explanation:
- MUTANT/MUTANT: Aussies that are homozygous for the mdr1-1Δ mutation are highly sensitive to the drugs listed below and may suffer severe or even fatal neurotoxicoses when the drugs are administered at normal therapeutic doses doses (except for the monthly treatments for heartworm and fleas, which are safe). Reactions include the rapid onset of respiratory failure; respirator support may be necessary as a life saving measure.
- NORMAL/MUTANT: Aussies that are heterozygous at the MDR1 locus may still show sensitivity to the drugs listed below, suffering neurological symptoms even at normal therapeutic doses. Therefore these drugs should be administered with caution and the dog’s reaction closely monitored. Use of the drug should be terminated immediately if neurological signs are suspected or present.
- NORMAL/NORMAL: Aussies that are homozygous normal are no more sensitive to these drugs than any other dog and normal therapeutic doses can be administered.
- UNKNOWN: Only 20% of Aussies are NORMAL/NORMAL. One in three Aussies are MUTANT/MUTANT on average; the rate of homozygous mutants may be higher in families of related Aussies. Therefore, Aussies of unknown status must be treated as if they are sensitive to these drugs.
Breed Standard and Characteristics, Understanding your Aussies:
The Australian Shepherd is an intelligent, medium-sized dog of strong herding and guardian instincts. He is also a delightful and loyal companion and a great family dog. He loves to be part of the daily hustle and bustle, and enjoys riding in the vehicle just to be with his beloved master. As a farm dog, he diligently carries out his responsibilities, be they bringing in the stock or finding that stray one that got tangled in the brush. He is easy to train, easy to housebreak, and eager to please. Aussies have been used as seeing-eye dogs, as utility dogs to the physically handicapped, hearing aid dogs, police and narcotics dogs and search and rescue dogs. In the northern areas they have also been used as sled dogs. Many go with their masters as volunteers to children's homes and nursing homes to do therapy work. Truly, the Australian Shepherd is a highly versatile dog. The Aussie (as he is lovingly nicknamed) is a very active dog that needs a great deal of exercise on a daily basis to prevent him from become bored or frustrated and developing destructive habits. Because of their high energy level, combined with high intelligence, Aussies need to be given a "job" to perform, be it shepherding the children, protecting the house, herding livestock or competing in dog events. One of the most frequent reasons Aussies are turned over to rescue groups is because their owners didn't realize how much energy the breed has, and weren't willing to channel that energy through training. Aussies are also quite demanding of their owners' time and attention and want to be constantly with them, following them from room to room in the house, and going along in the car or truck on errands. They can be highly territorial and protective of their masters' possessions, which can cause serious difficulties unless controlled with proper training.
The Australian Shepherd comes in four acceptable colors: black, blue merle (a marbling of gray and black), red (ranging from light cinnamon to liver), and red merle (marbling of red and silver or buff). A variety of white and tan markings may appear on the face, chest, front and rear legs. The outer coat is of moderate length, with a texture that is straight to wavy and weather resistant. The undercoat is soft and dense, and the amount varies with climate. Tails are naturally bobbed or docked. Ears are moderately sized, and break forward and over, or the side as rose ears. Males weigh approximately 50 to 65 pounds, measuring from 20 to 23 inches, and females weigh about 40 to 55 pounds, measuring from 18 to 21 inches. The eyes of the Australian Shepherd are perhaps one of his most commented on features because of the variety of colors. They may be any color or combination of colors from glassy blue, amber, hazel, to all shades of brown.
While there are many theories as to the origin of the Australian Shepherd, the breed as we know it today developed exclusively in the United States. The Australian Shepherd was given its name because of their association with the Basque sheepherders who came to the United States from Australia in the 1800's. The Aussie rose rapidly in popularity with the boom of western riding after World War II, becoming known to the general public via rodeos, horse shows, movies and television. Their inherent versatility and trainability made them useful on American farms and ranches. The American stockmen continued the development of the breed, maintaining the versatility, keen intelligence, strong herding instinct and eye-catching appearance.
Why an Aussie?
Australian Shepherds are a truly versatile breed. Not only are they agile working dogs, they are also extremely intelligent animals and wonderful family companions. A very endearing quality of Aussies is their intense desire to please their owners; this makes them quick learners and loyal friends. Aussies are naturally reserved with strangers, but they should never be shy or timid. They do have strong territorial instincts and are naturally possessive and protective of their owners and home. When raised with children, Aussies love kids and quickly become a predictable and devoted family member. Aussies do not need a huge yard to run in, but they do need daily exercise and attention. They love to play ball and frisbee. It's hard to keep most of them out of water. And they make great foot warmers curled up at the end of the bed.
What is an Aussie?
[There are several theories about the origin of the Australian Shepherd, but this one is the most common.] Despite its name, the Australian Shepherd as we know it today was developed completely within the United States . In the late 1800's and early 1900's the forerunners of today's "Aussies" came to the western and north-western states as stockdogs for the Basque shepherds that accompanied the vast numbers of sheep then being imported from Australia. These hard-working, medium-sized, "little blue dogs" impressed the American ranchers and farmers, who began using them as well. Breeding was done for working ability rather than appearance, and occasionally dogs of other herding breeds were bred into the lines. However, today's Aussie still resembles the dogs that came from Europe via Australia , and great numbers of Aussies are still working stock on ranches and farms in the United States and beyond.
The Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) was formed in 1957 to promote the breed, and several clubs kept breed registries. A unified standard was adopted in 1976, and the registries combined in 1980. The National Stock Dog Registry (NSDR) keeps a separate Australian Shepherd registry. In 1992 the American Kennel Club (AKC) granted recognition to the Australian Shepherd, although ASCA did not become the affiliate parent club. The United States Australian Shepherd Association was formed to be the AKC parent breed club. AKC allowed open registration for two years before closing the registry, so now many Aussies are dual or even triple registered.
Personality & Character
Those of us who love Aussies can't imagine a more perfect breed of dog. Unfortunately, the very characteristics we value in these dogs make them unsuitable for some homes and owners. Consider carefully if your lifestyle can accommodate the exuberance of a typical Aussie. The Australian Shepherd was developed to be a moderate-sized, intelligent, all-purpose stock dog of great character and endurance. Many Aussies today still do the work they were bred for, and even those that have never seen sheep or cattle usually have a strong herding instinct. This means that Aussies need fenced yards and leashes, as the temptation to herd dogs, children, and traffic can simply overwhelm them. Being bred to work hard all day means that most Aussies are not content to be couch potatoes, although Aussies have individual characters and some are more sedate and quiet-natured than others. For the most part, however, these are high-energy dogs that need a purpose in their lives, a job as it were. Owners must be committed to give these dogs the time and attention they require through play and training, for as with any dog, undirected energy can turn towards destructive behaviors, such as digging and chewing. Running, jumping, and rough-housing are all a part of being a normal Aussie. The great intelligence of these dogs, necessary to out-think and control livestock, can be detrimental when left untrained and unused. Aussies are quite capable of out-thinking their owners. Obedience training is highly recommended as a means of teaching owners how to channel the typical Aussie's innate desire to please into appropriate behaviors. Aussies learn very quickly, so be certain you are willing to keep your Aussie occupied with walks, play, and training to benefit both mind and body. Although many Aussies are friendly with everyone, the Australian Shepherd as a breed tends to be somewhat reserved and cautious around strangers. With Aussies of this nature, owners should encourage the dog to meet people but not force encounters. Aussies are often quite protective of their family and property, a desirable trait in some situations but not acceptable in others, and some dogs never accept strangers. As with all dogs, poorly socialized Aussies may become aggressive without proper training. Aussies can live anywhere from 12 years or more, so ownership can be a lengthy commitment. Although minimal, there is some grooming required to keep the coat clean and conditioned, such as regular brushing and nail trimming. To maintain their high energy levels, typical active Aussies may eat more than other, more sedate dogs of similar size, so be prepared to feed plenty of high quality food. Aussies are perfect for people wishing to own a highly-trainable, versatile, super-smart dog that can work/play "'till the cows come home." If you have the time and commitment for an Aussie, you won't be disappointed. These special dogs deserve special owners. Their loyalty, drive, character, and whimsical sense of humor place them in a class by themselves!
Do I Buy an Aussie
done your homework. You took the online 'tests' to match your personality
and lifestyle to a breed. You've read all you can find, and called every
breed organization, breeder and owner you can unearth. You have had
confirmed your suspicion that the Australian Shepherd is as near a
perfect dog as the Great Spirit and man could have created. Of course, we
devotees feel that way, but before it is too late, there is another side
to the 'perfect' breed. This side is seldom presented in glossy ads or
breeder packets, but needs to be said anyhow...before it is too late.
DON'T BUY AN AUSSIE FOR ITS LOOKS
Striking and unusual colors and markings are usually what attracts the average person to the Aussie. Looks, however, are only a small part of living with an Aussie. The true beauty of the Australian Shepherd shines outward from his character. An Aussie can be a strong guardian of your home and a dog that is not overtly social with people outside of your immediate family...is this something you will enjoy for the 14+ years of an Aussie's life? Buy an Aussie because you have researched the breed's temperament and personality, and think it is something that you could enjoy living with for a long time.
DON'T BUY AN AUSSIE IF YOU LACK TIME TO SPEND WITH HIM
Aussies are like a very intelligent child. If you do not keep them occupied ("give them a job") they will find a job to do. What's the problem with that, you might ask? You probably won't like the job they choose. It could consist of re-doing your drip system and/or excavating to China. Aussies need human guidance on a regular basis in order to become a good companion dog or ranch hand. Aussies can fit in city homes, suburban homes, or country/farm homes, but in all cases need responsible owners that are willing to spend time and energy fulfilling the breed's high mental and physical activity needs. No matter what the lifestyle, be it an urban pet or a ranch dog, Aussies need to be properly prepared for how they are expected to act. They cannot be left to do this on their own. Socialization and training are a must if you wish to have a dog that can manage well in various situations, such as meeting new people, travelling, interacting with other dogs, and being able to adapt to the many changes that occur on a regular basis in normal human life. Socialization requires thoughtful exposures to many different environments so that the dog will become comfortable anywhere he goes. Aussies that have not been adequately socialized are often fearful in new situations, and fearful dogs are dangerous dogs. Do not skimp on the socialization. Training is also a necessity if you wish to have a long and happy relationship with your Aussie. Your darling, bouncing Australian Shepherd puppy will grow to be a very powerful adult. Even 35# Australian Shepherds can easily take a large man off their feet in a lunge on a leash. House manners and basic obedience are the bare minimum this breed needs. Basic obedience includes a SOLID recall, sit, down, stay and walking nicely on a leash. House manners include not only toilet training but also rules regarding furniture, forbidden areas, counter surfing, respect for other household creatures, walking rather than racing, begging at the table, stealing food from kids, greeting guests, resting quietly in a crate, grooming routines, when to bark and when not to. If you have acquired an Aussie as a working dog, remember that although he comes with the basic instinct to do his job, he will not know what that job is unless he is properly directed and trained. You cannot expect any working dog to magically become a ranch hand unless you have spent the time and effort to guide him into his role. If you do not train him, he will probably become, at best, "just another yard dog", or at worst, a real nuisance. An enormous reason to thoughtfully prepare your dog for how you wish him to act is his strong guardian instinct. Left unguided, this instinct can lead your Aussie to behave in ways that can get him (and you) in trouble.
DON'T BUY AN AUSSIE IF YOU ARE NOT A LEADER
Dogs do not view life as a democracy. Dog packs have clear rules, hierarchies and consequences. Pack leaders lead by posture, predictability, eye contact, and many other subtleties and nuances. Aussies are often forceful personalities that, in the absence of a strong leader, will not hesitate to step into that role. Establishing and maintaining leadership is a lifetime job that you must take seriously to maintain order in your household with an Aussie as a family member. In addition, your Aussie needs you as a strong leader to help him be relaxed and confident. Being a leader of a human household is a difficult job for an animal! Dogs that do not have clear leaders are often stressed and reactive.
DON'T BUY AN AUSSIE IF YOU ARE A 'NEAT FREAK'
Australian Shepherd are robust, athletic dogs. They get dirty. They don't know that you just mopped the floor or that the dead groundhog they just rolled in makes your house reek to high heaven. If you get stressed out if your house is less than totally sanitary, please reconsider getting a dog. Australian Shepherds shed. They are in the mid-range of the shedding scale, less than a German Shepherd or Husky but more than a Bichon. They usually "blow their coat" about twice a year, and shed undercoat continually. Their type of coat is easily managed by a good brushing twice a week or so, but you will still find lots of hair on your furniture, car upholstery, clothing and floor no matter how often you groom them.
DON'T BUY AN AUSSIE IF YOU CAN'T PROVIDE OUTDOOR
Australian Shepherd, like many dogs, enjoy the exhilaration of outdoor exercise. This can be walks, jogging, swimming, chasing balls, bike jogging. There is no one formula for how much or how often, but setting aside a daily time will keep you both fitter, build more 'quality time' into your relationship, and reduce boredom related misbehavior. If you have physical limitations, carting, weight pulling, bike jogging etc can suit you both. Keep in mind that forced exercise such as jogging and biking should only be started after the dog's growth plates have closed, usually at around 1 year of age. Prior to that, forced exercise can lead to permanent damage to bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles.
DON'T BUY AN AUSSIE IF YOU CANNOT AFFORD TO FEED AND CARE FOR ONE
First some simple premises. Dogs eat. Dogs need both preventive vet care and care for disease or accident. Medium to large dogs cost more in anesthesia, boarding, grooming, heartworm meds, neutering. Call the vet practice you think you will be using and prepare a budget. Factor in a 'fudge' factor for accidents or illnesses that fall outside preventive care and neutering. A figure of $100 per month is not unreasonable. If this is going to strain the budget this is not the time for a dog in your life. Being realistic about this point can be very difficult-but being unable to care for a dog you love is painful too.
DON'T BUY AN AUSSIE FOR A FIERCE PROTECTION DOG
Most well bred, properly socialized Australian Shepherd will guard their territory and protect their pack (if they feel they are part of a pack.) Managing this trait requires a skilled handler, one who can anticipate what a dog views as a threat. It can be legally problematic if you own a dog that you have intentionally trained as a protection dog. Most Aussies provide a great deterrent to potential thieves or attackers simply by alarm barking in the home or yard, and there is no need to teach them to make the threat "for real." Encouraging cross or suspicious behavior in your Aussie can result in terrible accidents with regular visitors to your home.
DON'T BUY AN AUSSIE IF YOU JUST WANT A NON-AGGRESSIVE 'DETERRENT'
The Australian Shepherd standard describes the dog as having 'strong guardian instinct.' You can rightfully expect this from even the most peaceable dog. Dogs with less socialization or weaker characters may also bite if afraid, threatened or demanded of. It is a dead wrong assumption to believe an Aussie will never bite because he is 'laid back' or 'so friendly.' If your couch potato mistakenly thinks your neighbor's son is assaulting your son with a baseball bat, or you and your spouse are fighting rather than engaging in horseplay, there may be some 'intervention.' Be aware and PREPARED.
DON'T BUY AN AUSSIE AS AN 'INVESTMENT'
Did you know that the IRS's preferred position on dog breeding is that it is a hobby? If breeding dogs was such a lucrative, money making opportunity why are they not cashing in on it? Respected dog breeders who have actually kept books for their kennel mostly show losses annually. This is because as demonstrated above, $100 a month per dog is not an unrealistic budget figure. To that figure you must add health certifications, show and advanced training expenses, traveling to these events, advertising, club dues and donations, and sometimes (as often as half the time) a dog you raised for 2 yrs at minimum $100 per month fails to make the grade as a quality breeding dog. Then you either have a pet-or must place this one for little or no compensation. This is just the beginning. The average litter size is about 7. Price tail docking and dew claw removal, or prepare yourself to do it on your own. Can you do your own vaccines and worming or will that be another vet bill? What do c-sections cost in your area? Would you know if your bitch needs one? Do you have experience hand raising orphaned or abandoned pups? Will your employer allow you time off for whelping-or 3 weeks minimum for hand rearing (feeding every 2-3 hours around the clock?) Do you know that even established breeders often have several left over pups-due to last minute cancellations, wrong sex, 12 born in the litter...? Can you raise and train as your own these 'left overs' until good homes are found? (Also apply the $100 per month per dog figure to leftovers. They eat too.) If your puppies are dumped by the buyer (who probably didn't read or believe this missive) can you retrieve them from rescue or a shelter (usually more fees) and continue your responsibility to them? Most club codes of ethics REQUIRE you do this.
DON'T BUY an Aussie...
*if your life and available time is better suited to a goldfish
*if your life is unstable in job or location
*if your children's activities and demands will put the dog's on 'hold'
*if no one is home 6-8 hrs a day, and the remaining time overbooked.
*as your first dog and you have no experience in dog ownership
*to have a different dog, lawn ornament or trophy of success
*if you find it hard to make commitments in your life
If the plain talk about the breed hasn't discouraged you, you are likely to embark on a most intense, rewarding relationship with a remarkable breed. The information provided here is the flip side of what living with an intelligent, demanding, enthusiastic dog can be like. As you set out to find your perfect Australian Shepherd, expect to be quizzed by responsible breeders about some of these issues. You will also be better prepared to notice warning flags with some litters/breeders. After reading this, you will be better prepared to represent yourself, your needs, your situation and a breeder can better select a puppy for you-guaranteeing success for all. If after reading this you still long for your own wonderful, comical Aussie companion...welcome to the fraternity!