We take our Australian Shepherd dog, Sora with us everywhere, including a two-year bicycle tour across Europe and South America. With all that time spent together, we’ve come to appreciate her in so many ways, most of all, her adaptability. She is the quintessential best adventure dog and she’s seen it all. We have hiked in the Peruvian Andes, cycled over 10,000 km across two continents, stand up paddle boarded in Bend, Oregon, spent the night in a fire tower, and cross country skied in deep snow. Name the adventure, she’s likely done it.
But this wasn’t always the case. When I adopted Sora in 2008, from Family Dogs New Life in Portland, Oregon, United States, I didn’t know what to expect. My only experience with dogs was with non-herding breeds, and it’s clear Sora has some Aussie in her linage. Though I read up on the typical Australian shepherd traits: bred to herd livestock, highly intelligent, moody temperament, excellent for dog sports, being bonded with their family, I didn’t plan on Sora becoming a velcro dog that thrived for human companionship. I have to be honest, when I saw her adoption photo, I fell in love with her blue eyes, grey and white markings (blue merle), and the mix of straight and wavy hair. Her description said she was “a little scared of new people”, athletic, an fully grown adult dog (not a miniature Australian Shepherd as she was taller than 23 inches) and was good with other dogs. I was wondering if her being scared was related to the typical Australian Shepherd temperament that I’ve heard so much about. I was in love with this blue eye dog and I couldn’t help it.
I felt adopting from Family Dogs New Life was the best option as their dogs are grouped into free roaming packs so they get early socialization in their lives as opposed to being in kennels and having to learn manners later.
As Sora settled into her life with my Rat Terrier, Maxwell and me, it was clear from the beginning that plenty of exercise and training were going to be key. Sora was so smart and teaching her basic training commands only took a few treats and positive enforcement. But left alone with her energy and smarts meant trouble. She suffered from separation anxiety and was destructive when I left. I was in over my head, I had no idea how to handle her high energy, need for physical activity, and strong herding instinct. With the help of a dog knowledgeable friend, I put together a comprehensive treat-based reinforcement training plan. After many months of training, both at home and professionally, she evolved into the ideal adventure companion. We eventually learned to take advantage of our proximity to nature living in Portland, OR and would spend weekends hiking, mountain biking, and exploring the woods. I soon knew that I found my best outdoor friend.
As we’ve traveled through South America and Europe, we are often asked the same question.
Would you adopt an Australian Shepherd, again?
Without a doubt, absolutely!
We are are very much in love this breed after our experience with Sora. They’re a perfect match for active people who love to play outside.
We think the Australian Shepherd makes the best adventure dog because they’re:
- highly intelligent
- high energy / activity level
Australian Shepherds are known for being one of the smartest breeds out there. Sora knows at least a dozen tricks and has little trouble learning new ones, even at 12 years old. Compared to other dogs we’ve had, it’s apparent that Sora has a strong appetite for learning. We have been able to teach her to “load up” into a bike trailer, “go potty” on command, to herd sheep (and squirrels), and even play reward-based puzzle games (like the Treat Ball Interactive Food Dispensing Dog Toy.
Of course, with intelligence comes responsibility. If left alone, an Australian Shepherd can become destructive as they’re easily bored when not provided a job. When I first adopted Sora, I solved her destruction issues through basic obedience training classes, agility classes (and other dog sports), and herding livestock. We started a series of regularly scheduled training classes at our local humane society. When those classes were done, I took her to an agility class and started sheep herding lessons with her. Within months, Sora went from a scared and nervous dog to one with the confidence of a well-trained working dog. Don’t skip on training your Australian Shepherd.
Sora’s intelligence enables her to pick up new tasks, routines, and activities with ease. We recently took her stand up paddle boarding for the first time and she took to the sport like a pro. Because of her willingness to learn and ease of picking up new commands, she understood exactly what we asked of her and remained calm while we paddled. On cycle tour, she learned what we wanted when she ran alongside our bikes on leash, understanding where we needed her to be so as not to knock us off balance or risk her getting caught in our wheels. Since the Australian Shepherd aims to please, particularly with exercise-based endeavors, training them to do what you need is usually a piece of cake.
Pro tip: All dogs need training. There’s no such thing as a “perfect” dog and the individual training needs vary depending on their history, genes, and socialization. The more effort put into training, the better the dog’s behavior will be, regardless of breed.
Australian Shepherds have a curious, yet playful personality. They’re loyal and want to please their humans. In fact, at home, Sora is like glue and will actually lay on our legs when we’re hanging out. When adventuring, having a dog that likes to be at your side important, especially in nature where there are loads of distractions, things to chase, and dangers like tree limbs, cliffs, and other animals.
Similarly, the Aussie never runs out of gas, so when you’re outside and not active, it’s game on. They are herding dogs and like to work. Be prepared for an Australian Shepherd to want to “tame” skateboarders, horses, or anything that moves fast. In fact, while camping along the Croatian coast, Sora developed a love for “water sheep” (jet skis) and now barks excitedly from the shore in attempt to herd them in place despite the large stretch of water separating her and the aforementioned “water sheep.”
We can run Sora all day long and she won’t get tired. We’ve run a 20-mile race with her and she still had leftover energy after we crossed the finish line.
For adventures, the Australian Shepherd is always eager to get outside and exercise. They excel in running, hiking, and pretty much any outdoor sport and are known for working in the fields and herding livestock for long periods of time without tiring. Despite the shorter legs, athleticism can be applied when describing the mini aussies as well.
If anything, the Australian Shepherd, might like exercise too much. If you’re planning on adopting a younger Aussie or a rescue, be prepared for their need to burn energy. This means running, fetch, and anything that gets their heart rate up for long periods of time. Today, we ensure Sora receives daily energy burning exercise for at least 45 minutes, in the form of trail running or hiking, along with her regular walks or long hikes. When she was younger and I worked long hours, I hired a professional dog runner to take her out during the day. I have been able to correlate her positive general behavior to how much regular exercise she gets.
Pro tip: When I adopted Sora, she could go for a two-hour run and still have plenty of fuel in the tank. It seemed like nothing could tire her out. She was a trail dog, period. After a series of training sessions at the Oregon Humane Society, I learned that Australian Shepherds need their minds worked as well as their bodies. With the help of a partner, I introduced doggy brain games like, hide and seek, find your toy, and taught her new obedience based tricks. She needed her mind actively exercised, not just her body. I found her behavior vastly improved and she was less destructive (I didn’t have to hide my socks anymore!) once I started tiring out her mind along with her body.
The Australian Shepherd is versatile in their ability to deal with change. For Sora, this translates to feeling comfortable in new locations, settings, environments, and situations. From her trailer to trains to ferries and sitting squished at our feet in vans, Sora has encountered a variety of strange experiences in Europe and South America and adapted comfortably. She doesn’t seem to mind whether we are sleeping in the tent or a comfortable hotel.
This has been beneficial for us when going on adventures, as we never know how things are going to turn out. We have camped in remote locations, crammed into cars to hitchhike when our bikes can’t make it up the seemingly endless hills, shared a small rustic cabin with strangers, and Sora is always able to adjust without issue. This is made our travels much easier knowing we can put Sora in a variety of situations and it will always work out.
Both blue merle and red merle Aussies have a medium length and water resistant / weather resistant coat, and generally, they’re a medium size dog. This has been beneficial with Sora as often our travels involve lots rain and/or long spells of cold. She excelled in the Bolivian altiplano where temperatures dropped well below freezing at night and somehow managed to stay relatively dry in the trailer during an Argentinian biblical rain storm. Equally, she does fairly well in the heat as her coat acts as insulation to the hot temperatures. Though, we’ve used a Ruffwear Swamp Cooling Vest when the temperatures become unbearable as it can cool her off rather quickly. It’s worth noting that Sora’s blue merle coat tends to be shorter than most other Australian Shepherds. An Australian Shepherd with a thicker coat may not do as well in the heat, but better in the cold.
If your’e into adventure and outdoor play, then an Australian Shepherd is a great breed choice. Like all dogs, they require training and mental stimulation, however, if you’re committed to putting in the time and energy, an Australian Shepherd can thrive. Their intelligence, personality, exercise, and adaptability make them candidates for best adventure dog. The Australian Shepherds were made famous in the American West for being ready to tackle the demands of rugged terrain and big mountains.
Sora tends to enjoy hiking as it allows her to smell stuff and roll in yucky dead things, but she’s not immune to wanting high energy fun like running in the woods or cross country skiing. The versatility of Sora’s physical abilities and comfort level gives us ample opportunities for endless adventure. She is always ready to please and that means getting outside and playing.
Keep in mind, like all pure bred dogs, Australian Shepherds can be prone to health problems like hip dysplasia, eye diseases (even if they have a brown eye), collie eye anomaly and other issues. Always consult a vet as needed.
In our case, Sora has battled cancer four times until 13 years old and each time it gets a little more difficult to treat. The best thing you can do to ensure a happy and healthy dog is diet and exercise. Feed your Aussie the best ingredients you can afford and make sure they get as much exercise as you can give them. While you cannot control genetic diseases, you can control their daily routine and lifestyle.
Blue Merle Australian Shepherd
Though Australian Shepherds can be black, white, and brown, many will recognize the unusual pattern of blue merle and red merle. The blue merle, which Sora was, is named so because there is an overall blue hue within their overall coloring mix of grey, black, white, and some brown.
Many blue merle dogs have bright blue eyes. There can be a number of combinations of blue in the eyes. Blue merle dog’s are more predisposed to iris coloboma. This condition is present at birth and has minimal impact to overall vision.
Another trademark of the blue merle australian shepherd is the copper points. These features are simply brown points on the face of the dog or body of the dog and give it a distinguishing feature. The Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) has a great description of the genetic make-ups of each coat of the breed.
What is a Double Merle?
A double merle is born when two merle dogs breed and the merle gene is inherited twofold. Therefore, there is a 25% change each puppy will be born as a double merle. Double merle dogs can be deaf and vision impaired and can be created regardless of breed or color of merle of the parents. Dogdogsrock.com has a fantastic write-up on the importance of educating about dangerous breeding practices with merle dogs.
More Information on the Australian Shepherd:
American Kennel Club – Australian Shepherd: Great content on the breed, traits, history, and health.
United States Australian Shepherd Association (USASA): Geared towards enthusiasts with organizational information, breed specifications, and education.
Is The Australian Shepherd The Right Breed For You? – from www.australian-shepherd-lovers.com
Obviously, we love the Australian Shepherd, but know there are other great adventure dog breeds. Do you have the best adventure dog? If so, what breed is it?