The Temperament of a Breed

Australian Shepherds were developed in a time when ranches were measured in sections (square miles), not acres. Sheep outfits like the Warren Livestock Company ran 25,000 head of sheep over 284,000 acres between Casper, Wyoming, and Greeley, Colorado. Ranches today can be compared to the size of a postage stamp on a football field.

Without the sagacity of the dogs, herding large bands of sheep would have been impossible. Especially when you consider the conditions that the dogs worked under. Sheep are able to forage on land with sparse plant life too arid to support other types of livestock. They are exposed to all weather and wild life often in remote locations.

Numerous are the tales of an Aussie saving the lives of herder and the sheep from wild animals or snowstorms. Had it not been for the dog’s determination and sensibleness neither the sheep nor the herder would have survived.

When I see some individuals in the breed today, I often wonder if they would have the strength of mind to lay by a fallen herder for three days protecting him from predators like little Goody did without water or food. Or stand up against a bear attacking the flock like Wood’s Dandy did or travel for miles to get help when his master was pinned beneath a fallen horse like Ritter’s Streak did. This is the nature of the character that caused people to seek them out and form the clubs to promote, preserve and protect them above other breeds.

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  1. While reading your words, I could envision my little Sequoyah with her tiny merle butt backed up to me facing the bear. I don’t know if she would really do that, but I certainly sense that she is protective enough and smart enough that I would trust her to be the most likely of all the dogs I’ve ever owned to be the one that would.

  2. I know what you mean. my 5 yr old fm aussie is this way she has all the old time traits and features. i run her in agility and i have fallen and gotten lost in the ring. my girl would run back to me and stay by my side until i was ready to move. one day at a dash and spash outing she lost sight of me, i was in front of her and my husband behind her. some people got in her way and she went running in and out of everyone until she got back to me. i believe she would stay at my side no matter was her devotion and smarts that made me end up with 2 more aussies. i love this breed with all my heart and couldn’t see myself without one or two or three.

  3. I ponder over the “true temperament” of the founding dogs. Many breeders point to harsh temperaments that were very protective of their property. Are these one-person harsh temperaments really more likely to be like the dogs you mentioned? In point, were Goody, Streak and Dandy of the very harsh one-man dog type of temperament? I was rather taken in by this back in my younger days and had and handled many of this type of aussie; but as I got older and wiser I decided that many of them were actually wimps and basicly insecure; you had to be there to be their rock. I am much happier with my more sound-minded dogs I have around me now and altho they don’t get the opportunity in my back yard to take on a bear, I have faith that they would as well as any of my old harsh-tempered dogs. However, they are less likely to bite somebody who might walk up to an area away from their home, trying to steal something. Life is much easier with my present dogs, and they still have good herding instincts. Altho, I still have to keep an eye out for a few of them if they are out and about when even my husband and son, who do not do chores or mess with them at all–some of the dogs look cross-eyed at these “strangers”. But I can’t keep a very bitey dog around because I just can’t put up with them biting the family! Yet I talk about making great efforts thru the years to breed safer dogs for the modern world. Are we all just hippocrits? Dogs are dogs, maybe they all have a bell curve of temperaments, I’ve sure heard of unreliable goldens as well as many other breeds. And it sure makes a lot of difference how a dog turns out depending on who gets it and trains it.

  4. Im sure, like alot of us, that have been in the breed a long time, we saw alot of the typical, generic ‘founding’ dogs from our specific locales. I remember alot of the dogs from So. Calif. that would all fit our standards mental
    descriptions. I also remembeer alot of them being super protective, but much of this was brought on by the owner actually being alittle proud of the dogs reputation so alot of fearful, soft dogs became real terrors, cause they would sure enough bite, but out of fear.
    Back before the 70’s, on ranches, families didnt live where there were neighbors down the block running over all the time,or neighborhood kids running in and out all the time or right next to people on both sides. Ranchers and farmers had no problem with a dog not letting you out of your truck, unless they knew you and sometimes not even then. Plus most ranches or people living in remote areas, didnt really care if the dog was protective because it was a fear biter or because it was brillant and knew the difference between Jack the ripper and a stranded traveler, even when they were dressed alike.
    Now society has changed tremendously. Aussies are more popular than ever, but with the new modern day owners, the majority of whom have ZERO animal sense , we have alot of breeders wanting to produce an Aussie with a retriever like temperment. Meaning super friendly, to any and all, day or night, no matter the circumstances.What is so unfortunate is that alot of these ‘breeders’ think they have wonderful temperaments. They are like a big perpetual, silly puppy. What I find interesting is that the dogs themselves know the difference. I remember back in the early 90’s we were at a trial, sitting around a camp fire with alot of the top trial dogs of the day just laying around, ignoring each other, in thier owners area. A gal came up the path from the conformation ‘camp’ with her male. He was jumping around, wiggling, bowing etc. Like a big goofy golden. Atreyu, my Chulo son, was the closest to this dog and the closer the dog got, the more Atreyu reacted, first by just standing up, then puffing up, then the low growl. At this point, I told him to cut it out. I happened to look back around the area, and all the other ‘old time’ aussies, were reacting the same way. It was really obvious that they didnt know how to take this doppy, puppy acting, adult dog.
    Its a shame, because many people want this kind of Aussie and actually think that they are typical, perpetuating the atypical kind of temperament.
    It is very difficult to hit the middle, staying within the ‘bell curve’of true mental stablebility, and remaining true to the best of the real Aussie.
    Sandy C.

  5. I think people often get the wrong impression of the foundation dogs. For example, Goody who was typical of the early dogs was very pleasant to be around. She was a delightful babysitter and kind with children and young animals. She was a sensible guardian, quiet and courageous, yet highly responsive and obedient.

    Wood’s Dandy was much more outwardly protective because he had to be. He was working in situations which necessitated and fostered that type of behavior. Had he been socialized in a modern world, I have no doubt he would have been considered child safe. Though, he was calm and stable he would not have been suitable for the pet market. He was a tough dog.

    His granddaughter, Heard’s Blue Spice was an ambassador for the breed. She was lovely and very pleasant. Yet one night after office hours, a man walked in Dr. Heard’s vet clinic in Denver Colorado. The man insisted his dog needed medical attention and wanted Dr. Heard to administer medication. After examining the dog, Dr. Heard didn’t find anything wrong with her and explained she was fine and didn’t need medical care. The man, who had been drinking, became belligerent and insisted that Doc give her a shot. With inebriated reasoning, he became threatening. About that time, Blue Spice who had been waiting quietly in the back sailed over the opened Dutch door into the examining room. The man was immediately convinced that Doc was right. When Dr. Heard called her off, she responded just as quickly and sat quietly by his feet. This is the type of sagacity the breed was founded on.

    Stability is paramount and part of the character. Without the correct, sound temperament, an Aussie is not an Aussie at all. Training and socialization is important, but weeding out unstable temperaments is vital for the breed. Ultimately, breeder education is the key to the future.

  6. I love this thread. My Aussie, from working Hangin’ Tree lines, is a Search and Rescue dog. She regularly refutes the claim that SAR dogs must be inherently, indiscriminately friendly with everyone. She is absolutely devoted, affectionate and reliable with those she knows — including tolerating the “lovies” of a toddler and being dressed by a pre-schooler. Those people she doesn’t know, she ignores or avoids — unless they’re her search subject. Then she approaches to within inches and indicates in a very business-like manner — nothing friendly about it, just doing the job reliably and fearlessly. Also, once she has “found” her subject, she is protective of them — if I don’t acknowledge someone coming into the area, she will bark and growl in defense of her “find.” But she is not all that protective of me; at least so far. I think this shows the thoughtful, discriminating nature of an Australian Shepherd — able to cope with strangers even if she doesn’t like them, doing what the job requires, and protective of what she sees as “her” vulnerable charges. I agree with you that this temperament is suitable; if I wanted a mindlessly happy Golden, I’d get one. Although folks in the SAR world with labs and goldens were initially disparaging of my dog’s lack of overt friendliness, they’ve had to concede that she’s a very safe, reliable worker — the work ethic and dedication to her job overcomes her wariness. And nobody will ever steal her from my truck!

  7. My first Aussie was Ruff-N-Reddy Hunny Bear, a Jones Reddy Teddy daughter. One day, I looked out the window and saw two of my younger Aussies being chased across my yard by three chow/chow mixes. As those two were reaching the “safety” of the porch, Hunny Bear passed them going in the opposite direction, towards the three. She bit the leg of the first, knocked a second to the ground, and sent all three packing. I never saw her back down to anything, be it dog, cow, or ram. When she was less than a year old, she stood up to a Russian Wolfhound that was almost three times her size, because he was bothering her buddy, my 90 pound Golden Retriever. We never worried about how she would react around strangers, she was wary, would growl, but then could be very sociable. She never bit a single soul, but I’m sure many thought she might.

  8. Sagacity in a dog isn’t defined by the dog’s willingness to protect, but by the dog’s ability to discern when to act and how.

    Jeanne Joy, you chose the perfect word to describe a character attribute of this breed that is part of the magical combination of attributes which make up a quality Aussie.
    And here’s to it staying that way.

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