Australian Shepherd Breed Guide: History, Characteristics & Care

by Aliyah Diamond
Pawlicy Advisor
Pet Care Blog
Australian Shepherd Breed Guide
Is an Aussie the right fit for you and your family? Learn more about the Australian Shepherd temperament, health profile, and more so you can make the best decision.

Australian Shepherds, also called Aussies, are smart, energetic, and loyal dogs that like spending quality time with their owners. While they make great family pets, Aussies need an active and experienced owner that will keep up with them. So could this be the right breed for you?

Keep reading to learn more about living with an Australian Shepherd.

Table of Contents

Pro Tip: Whether you’ve just bought a puppy or have an adult dog, getting Australian Shepherd insurance will make sure that your beloved four-legged friend gets the care they need at any stage of their life. Give yourself some peace of mind – there is no reason why your pet shouldn’t live a long and happy life.

Australian Shepherd breed history

Despite the name, the Australian Shepherd is a breed developed in the US to herd livestock for farmers and ranchers in the 19th century. It is believed that the breed’s ancestors include Shepherd and Collie dogs imported from Australia (hence the name).

Aussies came into the spotlight after WWll when Western movies and rodeos became very popular but despite the interest, the breed wasn’t officially recognized by the AKC until 1991.

Australian Shepherd characteristics

Physical appearance

Aussies are medium-sized dogs with solid bodies. The average weight of an Australian Shepherd dog is between 50 and 65 pounds for males and 40 to 55 pounds for females. Males reach from 20 to 23 inches in height, whereas females are between 18 and 21 inches tall.

They have a medium-length coat that can be straight or wavy, with a mane around the neck and feathering on the back of the legs. Coat color variations include:

  • Black
  • Red
  • Red Merle
  • Blue Merle

Some members of the breed have white and/or tan markings.

Temperament and personality

The Australian Shepherd temperament is playful and easy-going. These active dogs love to play with kids and generally get along well with other pets. The American Temperament Test Society (ATTS) evaluates breeds based on qualities such as friendliness, shyness, and protectiveness over their owner. Out of 702 purebreds tested, the temperament of an Australian Shepherd had an average passing rate of 82.2%, with 577 satisfying the basic test requirements.

Aussies are considered very intelligent, eager to please, and easy to train. Due to their herding instincts, they’re protective of their territory and family, which makes them good watchdogs.

Average lifespan

The average lifespan of an Australian Shepherd is from 12 to 15 years. The life expectancy can vary from dog to dog. Some purebred dogs are prone to more health issues than mixed breeds.

The lifespan is also affected by the pup’s environment. If your Aussie is treated well, provided enough exercise, given good food, and goes to the veterinarian routinely, they have a much better chance of living a long and happy life.

australian shepherd chasing ball

Australian Shepherd care tips

Training and exercise

Australian Shepherds are very intelligent and loyal, which makes them very easy to train.

Obedience training and early socialization are strongly recommended in order to properly channel the breed’s energy and help these pups grow into well-adjusted adults.

Being highly energetic, these athletic dogs require plenty of exercise. At the very least, Australian Shepherds should be allowed to run and play in a securely fenced area for one or two hours every day. They also make great companions for hikes, runs, and long walks. Aussies are happiest when they have a job to do, such as shepherding children, herding livestock, or competing in canine sports such as herding, agility trials, dock diving, and obedience.

Diet and nutrition

Australian Shepherds typically should be fed approximately 1.25 cups of dry dog food per meal, twice a day. Some members of the breed are prone to getting overweight, so be sure to keep an eye on your dog's calorie intake. Your Aussie’s exact nutritional requirements may vary based on their size, age, activity level, and food brand. You should always consult your veterinarian if you are unsure about the best food type or volume for your dog.

If you notice weight gain or have any questions concerning your Aussie’s food, feeding schedule, or exercise, be sure to contact your vet.

Grooming requirements

Australian Shepherds have a waterproof, double-layer coat that requires weekly brushing. During the shedding season (spring and fall), the brushing sessions should be more frequent (two or three times a week) to remove the excess hair.

Aussies only require occasional baths unless they get dirty when playing or working outside. As with all breeds, their nails should get a regular trim.

Living with an Australian Shepherd

Aussies are very active pups that need to be mentally and physically exercised every day. If left alone or confined, they may develop destructive behaviors. At the minimum, they should have a large yard and owners who are willing to spend time playing with them.

australian shepherd in field of grass

Common Australian Shepherd health problems

In general, the Australian Shepherd is considered to be a healthy breed, although certain health problems like epilepsy, elbow and hip dysplasia, as well as hereditary eye issues, can occur.

While rare, Aussies who inherit the merle gene, a specific gene for coat color, from both parents can be born blind and/or deaf. These dogs are usually mostly white and will require additional care, training, and attention to ensure they live a safe and happy life.

Pro Tip: As a pure breed, the Australian Shepherd is more likely to suffer from genetic health issues than a mixed breed dog. Four out of five pet owners can’t afford to pay an unexpected $5,000 veterinary bills out-of-pocket, which is where pet insurance comes in. If an unexpected illness or accident strikes, pet insurance could reimburse 70% to 100% of the vet bill, depending on your policy.

Adopting or buying an Australian Shepherd dog

If you’re looking to buy an Australian Shepherd puppy, consider visiting the Australian Shepherd Club of America website for breeder referrals, as well as a list of affiliate clubs throughout the US.

If you want to adopt an Aussie, contact a local animal shelter or rescue organization, or consider getting in touch with Second Time Around Aussie Rescue, Inc. or Aussie Rescue and Placement Helpline, Inc.

If you are interested in similar breeds, take a look at German Shepherds, Border Collies, and Old English Sheepdogs.

Key Takeaways

  • Athletic, intelligent, and loyal, the Australian Shepherd was originally bred for sheep herding. These days, members of the breed are still employed on ranches around the world but they are also beloved companion dogs.
  • These energetic dogs need lots of exercise and plenty of space, but they can happily live in city apartments as long as they are provided with plenty of outdoor space and activities.
  • Australian Shepherds have a double-layer, waterproof coat that requires brushing once or twice a week. During shedding seasons, you can help remove fur with an undercoat rake.
  • Like other dog breeds, Aussies are prone to certain health conditions, including hip dysplasia, epilepsy, and eye problems.

Aliyah Diamond

About the author

Aliyah Diamond

DVM Candidate Class of 2023 at Cornell University - Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine

Aliyah Diamond has more than ten years of experience in animal hospitals - working with dozens of species from dogs and cats, to elephants and snow leopards. Her lifelong passion for helping animals currently has her earning her doctorate of veterinary medicine at Cornell University and helping Pawlicy Advisor educate pet parents.

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