As you know, I’m pretty partial to the Australian Shepherd breed, thanks to Sora. I had always been drawn to working breeds, but never thought I’d have an Aussie Shepherd in my life.
Sora immediately won me over with her beautiful blue eyes, devotion to her humans, and most of all her enthusiasm for outdoor adventures. Whether we wanted to take her trail running, paddle boarding, or camping, she was eager to be our adventure buddy.
I may be biased, but to me Australian Shepherds make one of the best adventure dog breeds.
Before we dive into all the reasons Aussies are a perfect match for outdoorsy folks, let’s first learn a little about the breed.
About the Australian Shepherd Breed
Australian Shepherds are an intelligent and hard-working herding dog. Because of their intelligence, they can get into trouble at home if they do not receive the proper amount of exercise and brain work.
Fortunately, they are eager to please and easy to train.
This popular breed ranks 17 out of 191 breeds, according to the American Kennel Club.
A full grown female Australian Shepherd dog weigh between 40-55 lbs and males can weigh between 50-65 lbs.
Australian Shepherd Life Expectancy & Health Concerns
The life expectancy of the Australian Shepherd ranges from 12-15 years.
All dogs have the potential to develop certain genetic disorders, however Australian Shepherds are generally healthy dogs.
The most common health problems include:
- Eye conditions like cataracts, iris coloboma. Aussies with blue eyes or pink eyelids are more prone to conditions caused by UV rays, like pannus and sunburn.
- Hip dysplasia
- Certain forms of cancer
Typical Australian Shepherd Colors and Markings
Australian Shepherds come in a variety of beautiful coat colors and patterns, lending to their popularity.
Just two gene pairs determine the color outcome for an Australian Shepherd.
The first pair decides whether the Aussie will be black or red, while the second indicates the pattern: solid vs merle.
There is also a double merle coloration, due to poor breeding. These mostly white dogs are the result of merle-merle breeding and can cause deafness and blindness.
Those two gene pairs can create a vast variety of coat colors and patterns, though the most common combinations are:
- Red Tri
- Black Tri
- Blue Merle
- Red Merle
My personal pick is the blue merle Australian Shepherd, for obvious reasons.
What’s the Deal with the Australian Shepherd Tail?
About one in five Australian Shepherds are born with a naturally-bobbed tail. The gene that causes bob tail results in different lengths and forms for Australian Shepherds. Many are born with long, beautiful tails.
Thus, the AKC and CKC (Canada) determined that the in order to comply with breed standards, the Australian Shepherd would have a docked tail.
On the contrary, European breed clubs permit Australian Shepherds with any length and shape of tail, as docking is banned in many parts of Europe.
Breeding specifically for a bob tail has lethal results for Australian Shepherd puppies, which die in utero on account of the mutant gene. Mating two naturally-bobbed tail Aussies can also cause spina bifida and other spinal diseases.
However, breeding two Aussies with normal tails produces dogs with a normal tail. Today, several breeders in the US are opting to leave the Aussie tail in tact.
Where are Australian Shepherds from?
Contrary to what the name implies, Australian Shepherds were developed in the western United States.
During the 1800s, Basque shepherds set sail to Australia with their talented and beloved Pyrenean Shepherds in tow, in search of rich land for ranching. While in Australia, these shepherds began cross breeding their dogs with British breeds like collies and Border Collies.
Eventually, these same herders sought even greener pastures, this time in California, bringing both their flock and their dogs along. California ranchers admired the breed and assumed they had originated from Australia.
American ranchers began using Aussies on their farms, further developing the breed for performance, as opposed to appearance.
Australian Shepherd Temperament & Breed Characteristics
Like all breeds, the Australian Shepherd dog comes with a variety of traits that better suit them for some folks over others.
With the right training, shaping your Aussie into the dog of your dreams is entirely possible. Sora was reactive much of her life until we finally learned how best to work with her fears.
More Desirable Traits
- Can do well in apartments
- Generally healthy
- Easy to Train
Less Desirable Traits
- Frequent shedding
- Barking tendencies
- Weary of strangers
- Require vigorous exercise daily
- Can be hit or miss with other dogs
- Strong herding tendencies can pose a threat to children
Feeding Your Australian Shepherd
Fortunately for training purposes, Aussies love food, which lends to their trainability. Of course, this means that they can also be susceptible to obesity if treat intake is not closely monitored.
Why Australian Shepherds are the Best Adventure Dogs
Australian Shepherds were made famous in the American West for being ready to tackle the demands of rugged terrain and big mountains.
Now that you know a bit about the characteristics of the breed, it’s time to explain how some of these traits make them amazing adventure dogs.
High Exercise Needs
Where some might balk at the thought of dedicating so much time ensuring your Aussie receives their required daily amount of exercise, these active dogs are a perfect match for outdoor enthusiasts.
- Australian Shepherds do best with one to two hours of heavy exercise per day.
- They are optimal companions for endurance sports, like running, mountain biking, and hiking.
Sora and I ran the 20-mile Peterson Ridge Rumble together and she trained with me for many a marathon. I capped her at 20 miles because of her age, but I have no doubt that she could have gone farther.
Dave and I put Sora in frequent weird situations during our bicycle tour. From her trailer to trains to ferries and sitting squished at our feet in vans, Sora adjusted easily to new locations, settings, environments, and situations.
When it came to our active adventures, Sora eagerly took to new sports.
She happily hopped onto a paddle board our first time, remaining still as we paddled. A born trail runner, I took her for an 11-mile run on our first outing and she wanted more. She endured long days in the bike trailer without breaking a sweat.
Australian Shepherds are among the smartest dog breeds. As they are a working dog, they require plenty of mental stimulation. Aussies need jobs like:
- participation in dog sports, like agility
- sheep herding
- nose work
- service work
Without a job, Australian Shepherds can become bored, resulting in destructive behaviors, incessant barking, and finding their own job, like herding the kids or the cat.
Their intelligence is advantageous for those who enjoy outdoor activities because they will easily pick up new tasks, routines, and activities with ease.
On the trail, this means better trail etiquette, sticking close by off-leash as you run or bike over technical terrain, and ignoring wildlife.
Australian Shepherds are true Velcro dogs, meaning they will develop a strong bond with their humans and stick to their sides. They love to go everywhere with their people, especially on hikes or trail runs.
This generally means they won’t venture off too far out of sight from their humans.
Since Aussies generally have good health genes, endurance challenges like backpacking, ultra running, and mountain biking mean they can go longer for longer.
Sora joined us for our excursions well into her senior years. Even after three rounds of cancer at age 13, she could still run 20 miles with me.
Are you a good match for an Australian Shepherd?
One of the most frequent reasons Aussies are surrendered to shelters is because the owner didn’t realize just how much work they are. Choosing to get an Australian Shepherd is a big commitment, and they are not the right breed for everyone.
If any of the following apply to you, consider a different breed that better suits your lifestyle.
- You are a couch potato or only go for short walks. Aussies require vigorous exercise, like running, biking, and hiking. A 30-minute walk won’t suffice.
- You like your personal space. Aussies love to be at their human’s side at all times and are known to follow them from room to room.
- You don’t have the time to properly train them. Their intelligence means that they will become bored and act out if they don’t have mental stimulation. Regular training and brain games will keep them out of trouble.
- You are a pushover. This breed requires an assertive leader who isn’t afraid to offer corrections for poor behavior. Australian Shepherds are bred to control and manage stock, and if allowed, they will find a way to do the same at home.
- You don’t have a job for them to do. Aussies come from working lines and have a strong drive to perform. Ask them to fetch the paper, learn new tricks, go to agility classes, or become a therapy dog.
- You don’t have the time to socialize them. Without proper socialization with people and other dogs from a young age, this protective breed could develop undesirable traits like reactivity and aggression.
- You don’t like dog hair. Aussies shed. A lot. Plan to vacuum or sweep regularly.
Where to Find an Australian Shepherd
All right! You’ve decided that you’re a great match for the Australian Shepherd and you’re finally ready to get your best adventure buddy.
No matter whether you adopt or buy from a breeder, meet the dog first and spend as much time as possible together to determine if you are a good fit for one another.
We personally choose to adopt our dogs and are here to tell you that there are shelters filled with Australian Shepherds waiting for their furever homes.
Unfortunately, due to their popularity and beauty, many people buy Australian Shepherds without realizing how much work they are, resulting in surrender.
There are plenty of ways to search for and find your next adventure buddy if you go the adoption route:
- Set up a search on Petfinder or Adopt a Pet. You can choose the frequency of emails and they will send you updated available dogs as often as you like.
- Search for breed-specific rescues, like the Aussie Rescue & Placement Helpline
- Rescueme.org shows a map indicating how many dogs are available by state.
- Visit shelters in your local area and let them know what you’re looking for. They may be willing to contact you if the dog of your dreams comes in.
- Join breed-specific rescue groups on Facebook, like this one and this one. They post regularly with photos and updates.
- Join breed-specific Facebook groups for Australian Shepherd lovers, like this one.It’s not uncommon for someone to post about looking to adopt or needing to rehome a dog they have.
Keep in mind that if you adopt, you might be getting a project dog. If they were given up by a family, they may not be well-trained, reactive, fearful, or overly energetic.
Make sure to spend time with your potential family member and go for a walk, and ask plenty of questions to make sure that they are the right fit for you and your family.
Buy from a Breeder
If you prefer to get an Australian Shepherd puppy from a breeder, be choosy about where you go.
Look for the following characteristics to identify responsible breeders:
- Conditions where the puppies and the parents live is clean and spacious. They are not confined to cages for long periods of time.
- Provides adequate enrichment and exercise for the dogs.
- Is not constantly breeding puppies. Responsible breeders may only have one to two litters per year, with a wait list for availability.
- Allows you to meet the parents. This will give you an idea of the size and temperament you can expect.
- Knows the breed very well and can provide documentation about the health of the puppy’s parents and grandparents.
- Provides references from others who have purchased their puppies.
- Allows and encourages multiple visits to ensure good fit. Will take back the dog at any time in their life should a problem arise after purchase.
- Provides a written contract that includes a spay/neuter mandate if you don’t plan to show the dog.
- If the breeders of the dog you are considering are not willing to provide any of the information listed above, refuse to show you living conditions, or do not offer a contract, find another breeder.