Changing Character of a Breed

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.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I think what I just posted about the changing temperment in the breed relates to this question too. I did want to mention when talking about retrievers I am speaking of the way many of them are with people, not the way they relate to other dogs, as many Goldens are very dog aggressive. A gal who’s name I cant remember, contacted me several years ago and her Golden male, ended up attaching and killing their young male Aussie, in front of her 8-9 year old son. I have heard alot about dog aggression in Goldens.

    I have sold alot of puppies, over the years, as companions to people in all walks of life. The only ones that have trouble, are those that have no animal sense at all. Have no concept of being the ‘boss’, cause -they dont want to be mean to him/her-. They dont understand that being the boss does not equate to meaness, or cruelity. Alot of this comes from the animal rights extremist, and those that want to be ‘equals’ with their dogs. Their kind of thinking has permiated our society without alot of people even realizing it. These people dont understand that the dogs have not read all these new age books, and still need a pack leader. Someone must lead, and if the human isnt going to, then they will.
    I have never had someone say they did not want the dog to be protective. They (buyers) all think its a great idea to have a protective dog. But they have no understanding that they have to teach the dog when it is appropriate to be protective. And they have to have control of the dog. Far too many of them are watching Lassie re-runs !

    Sandy C.

  2. I have to agree that Aussies were required to have strong guardian instincts and general “sensibleness” in their daily jobs on ranches. That bias for action, tendency to engage in conflict head-on, independence, a savvy about stock, wildlife, terrain, people etc . . . can be a challenge for the average pet owner in suburbia. I’ve had several Aussies, ranging in temperament from the “retriever” type to the very strong-minded working girl I have today. This year old female of Hangin’ Tree lines is smallish, moderate of bone and coat, and loves to use her nose trailing and searching for human remains. She’s a quick study, a hard worker, is sensible, unflappable and is absolutely unstoppable. She’s also very wary of strangers. Despite her inherent wariness, she’s an outstanding search dog — she has to indicate her subject, but, contrary to what many SAR handlers believe, she doesn’t have to love them. She’s not even a little aggressive, so I have no qualms letting her do her job the way she needs to do it — Aussie to the core. When they say Aussies are versatile, I think that’s very true, if you are referring to their ability to do many different types of work. While they are quite elastic in temperament, I don’t think “versatile” should mean they forfeit their inherent working characteristics and become no-brainer pets that are one step up from stuffed animals. Aussies are not for everyone; if they were, we afficionados would probably notice they were losing that special something we love. I, for one, like the grit and savvy in the more traditional or old-fashioned Aussie. Even though I don’t work livestock, those characteristics easily translated to another field. I think they can do any job, as long as they see it as a job and not just silly busy-work.


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