[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 northwestern states as stock dogs 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 roughhousing 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.
In general, Aussies are healthy dogs and can be expected to live up to twelve 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!