One of the interesting things about writing this blog is reading the comments from different breeders around the country. Their observations bring to light a unique perspective of the breed. Sandy Cornwell of Fairoaks mentioned that she felt the breed is becoming more like a retriever of some kind. Interestingly, I read a book several years ago profiling different breeds that compared the Aussie’s temperament to that of a Golden Retriever. That is quite a contrast from the character (strong herding and guardian instincts) described in the ASCA Breed Standard.
Tina Mistretta’s comment about Australian Shepherds fending off coyotes reflects a trait which was not considered unusual to early owners.* The late Cee Hambo from the 45 Ranch in California spoke often of how her dog, Bull (WTCH The Bull of Twin Oaks) tangled with coyotes to protect her livestock. This was the typical Aussie.
Aussies were expected to defend their master’s property from all intruders, yet gently watch over the family’s children. This type of versatility and adaptability has led them to become popular pets. As the world changes so do people’s expectations of the breed.
Breeders need to educate potential buyers that being a strong guardian doesn’t make the dog vicious any more than being an authoritative or aggressive stockdog does. However, ownership requires an added responsibility. Not everyone, especially the average pet owner, is equipped to deal with a protective Aussie. As a result, some breeders started breeding for Aussies with laidback, easygoing temperaments.
Even though the companion market has significant influence on the breed’s temperament, so does competition in venues such as the trial arena. Stockdog trials have also helped shape the character of many of the Aussies being bred for working today. It wasn’t until people started competing with the breed in Stockdog trials that you heard of someone mistaking them for Border Collies. That topic brought about ASCA’s Working Description for the breed.
Are the changes good or are they bad for the breed? Once again, I ask you to be the judge.
*It is worthy to note that herding breeds with strong guarding instincts such as Australian Shepherds that tended their flocks in the company of shepherds (humans) and are very different than LGD (Livestock Guarding Dogs) breeds that protect livestock without human companionship with low prey drive.