Are you new to the Australian Shepherd?
Great! We're glad to have you!
Be sure to visit these sites:
Australian Shepherd Club of America - the true parent organization of the breed
United States Australian Shepherd Association - the AKC recognized breed club
The ASCA Breed Standard
Aussie Rescue and Placement Helpline
Comprehensive List of Aussie Websites
Aussie Coat Colors and Color Inheritance
Field Guide to Aussie Coat Coloration
Before you make a long-term investment of time, energy, money, and emotion in an Aussie, be sure you have done your homework! Aussies are wonderful dogs for many people, but they are not without their drawbacks. Among your concerns should be temperament and a variety of health problems. Also be sure that you have considered the implications of having ANY dog. What will happen to the dog in the event of life changes? Will you adjust to the times, or will your dog be the first thing to go? If someone in your household develops allergies, are you likely to deal with the allergy problem via the doctor or the SPCA? Too many dogs are in rescue because of this. Take into consideration this humorous twist on the "in with the new baby, out with the old dog" theme:
RESCUE HELP NEEDED ASAP: Please help!!!!!!! After two long years of being on a waiting list for an agility dog, we have been notified by the breeder that, at long last, our number has come up and....WE ARE HAVING A PUPPY!!!!!
We must IMMEDIATELY get rid of our children now, because we just KNOW how time consuming our new little puppy is going to be! Since our little puppy will be arriving on Monday we MUST place the children in new homes this weekend! They are described as:
One male - white, blonde hair, blue eyes. Four years old. Excellent disposition. He doesn't bite. His name is Tommy. Temperament tested. Current on all shots. Tonsils have already been removed. Tommy eats everything, is very clean, house trained & gets along well with others. Does not run with scissors and with a little training he will do well in a new home.
One female - white, strawberry blonde hair, green eyes. Three years old. Can be surly at times. Non-biter, thumb sucker. Her name is Mary. Temperament tested but needs a little attitude adjusting occasionally. She is current on all shots, tonsils out, & is very healthy & happy (mostly). Gets along well with little boys but does not like to share toys. She is house trained & would do best in a one child household.
We really LOVE our children so much and want to do what's right for them. I hope you understand that ours is a UNIQUE situation and we have a real emergency here!! They MUST be placed by Sunday night at the latest.
Though it seems a ridiculous scenario, consider the reverse from the dog's perspective. Breeders want to know that you have considered these things before you take the plunge.
So, you want a dog that can be your best buddy? An intelligent friend who will be your equal? Well, go back to your research then, because the Aussie isn't necessarily it! Aussies require handlers who know how to establish pack order, who are kind in doing so, but firm and consistent about it. Dogs in general are pack animals, and don't understand the concept of "equals". Some dogs will just become confused and unhappy if they don't know their place in your "pack". Aussies want someone to be in charge. They don't necessarily want to be the boss, but they are more comfortable and relaxed if there is a clearly defined leader. Therefore, they will see to it that order is maintained, and if you don't establish yourself at the top of the pack, then they will take the initiative. This is probably the primary reason for behavior problems and dominance issues in novice households.
The Aussie is traditionally a dog of moderately high activity and drive. Many are, by the breed standard, reserved with strangers, and not all of them will welcome strangers into your home. Temperament of the dogs you are considering should be researched thoroughly, as this reservation, when combined with a lack of confidence, can lead to a dog who is a fear biter. Additionally, the Aussie is a dog of high intelligence. A dog with a higher level of confidence can, in the wrong hands, gain control of a household rather quickly. For these reasons, we recommend that you reconsider the Aussie if you are unwilling to commit to lots of early socialization, obedience training for your dog AND your family, and if you are unwilling to lay down the law when the need arises. Aussies in the right environment can be fantastic, loyal, biddable companions, but without the right start, or with a genetic history of hard or shy temperaments, these dogs can be nightmares.
We tell people - only partly in jest - that every Aussie has at least one screw loose. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to locate and tighten those screws, or to learn how to live with them. Regarding the breed's energy and intelligence levels, one of our beloved co-owners states: "Please understand that this is a thinking/problem-solving dog. This is a dog that WILL BE entertained – you can either participate or clean up afterwards." Being involved in a sport such as agility, rally, obedience, herding, barn hunt, etc, provides a wonderful outlet for physical and mental energy, and really can help to boost the confidence of a less secure dog.
Learn more about Aussie character.
Though the Aussie was initially a very utilitarian dog with great hardiness and a "survival of the fittest" ideal, we have over the generations molded and sculpted them to please our eye. With greater emphasis placed upon looks than on genetic soundness, many defects have cropped up, and a good number of breeders continue to propagate this, often without knowledge until after the fact.
Eyes: There are a couple of types of cataracts found in the breed today, some causing juvenile blindness, while others are merely tiny specks that show up on examination and never cause a problem. In addition, iris colobomas can occur, though usually in merles. Many of these never interfere with vision, while pronounced colobomas may affect light-to-dark adjustment. CEA and PRA are also found in the breed, and puppies should have CERF exams between the ages of 4-8 weeks to pick up any of these abnormalities, especially since CEA can "go normal" after 8 weeks. It is also recommended for the good of the breed, that all Aussies - whether companions or breeding stock - be CERF'd by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist periodically during their lives, and results, both good and bad, forwarded to the breeder. Be sure that any pup you are considering will have it's eyes examined before leaving for home, and that sire and dam are both CERF'd clear within one year.
Epilepsy: This is a frightening disease which is popping up with greater and greater frequency in the breed. Determining the inheritance is very difficult, especially considering the number of non-genetic causes for seizures, making it difficult to tell where genetics are at fault. The best you can do is to inquire specifically about the rate of seizures in the pedigrees of both sire and dam, as well as any full or half siblings to your prospective pup.
Hips: Though not as great a concern as in many of the larger breeds, hip dysplasia still occurs with frequency in the Australian Shepherd. Be sure that the sire and dam of your prospective puppy have been OFA rated "fair" or better, as well as their parents, grandparents, and dogs laterally in the pedigree. Remember that siblings often tell more about hip health than do parents and grandparents, so ask about the hips on any full or half siblings who are mature, as well as full and half siblings of sire and dam. Few breeders will have the stats on all of the dogs in this category, but do as much research as possible. Unfortunately, hip dysplasia is a trait not easily avoided because of it's complex inheritance, and even the most diligent of breeders will have it pop up occasionally if they breed enough litters. One tool for researching health in the breed is the OFA website, where you can search for a dog by name or registration number and see not only certifications for that individual, but for others in the family who have been tested as well.
Cancer: This isn't an Aussie thing as much as it seems to be a "living being" thing. True, the rate of cancer in Aussies has increased significantly in recent years, but there has been a rise in all breeds and species, humans included. This may be due to the effects of generations of chemical use, atmospheric changes, or any number of other things. A current look at garden hoses will reveal that few, if any, are safe for drinking! most hoses carry a cancer caution. Ask about early death due to cancer in the pedigrees you're considering,and feed a healthy diet. As with humans, diet may play a significant role in the onset and progression of the disease. Within the breed, two cancers are believed to have a genetic component: lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma.
Autoimmune: It seems that diseases such as lupus and allergies are becoming more and more common within the breed. Ask about the incidence of these in the pedigree. Skin problems and early arthritis can make your dog's life miserable, and lupus at it's worst is devastating to all.
This is far from the complete list of evils to plague the breed, but will arm you with a list of questions to ask prospective breeders. Bear in mind that information on health is often kept guarded by those with the most at stake. It is often difficult for new breeders to find the holes in their pedigrees, and those who say there are no problems to be aware of generally don't have all the information.
When selecting a breeder, do bear in mind that in any breed the the number of champions produced by a kennel does necessarily not give any indication of what health or temperament you may expect. Few breedings produce entire litters of champions, and often only the top 1/3 (or fewer!) of pups from any one litter have the merit to attain prestige on their own. Too often, conformation titles are a result of the financial backing that it takes to promote a kennel, handler, or owner rather than the dogs' adherence to the breed standard. In addition, some breeders who consistently produce exquisite pups who consistently win may do so at the expense of temperament and/or health. Making breeding decisions is a game of chance, and placing bets on surface charateristics may produce gorgeous examples of the breed, but these may come with a high price. Interview any prospective breeder you consider working with, and discover what drives their breeding decisions before you make your choice.