The Australian Shepherd: Also known as Aussie

Origin: Western United States

Height at shoulder: 18–23 inches (46–58 cm)

Weight: 35–70 pounds (16–32 kg)

Coat: Moderate length, medium texture

Color: Black or red, solid or merle, with or without white and/or copper (tan) trim

Ears: Semi-erect

Tail: Natural bob or docked

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. They were the preferred breed during the largest part of the twentieth century. They were favored by stockmen for their stamina, and intuitiveness to handle stock in the tough, demanding conditions of working large flocks in the American west. For all practical purposes the Australian Shepherd can be considered a post World War II breed. According to foundation breeders the breed was based strongly on Basque and Spanish dogs that were brought to the United States from Spain in the 1940s and 1950s.

This occurred in the time period when 40 to 50 million head of sheep were grazed in the open ranges throughout the western half of the United States. Many of the herders that came here were shepherds in their homeland. They arrived (on a three-year visa) under contract through the Western Range Association. When they got here, they wrote home and told their brothers to join them, which they did and brought their dogs. During that time in history hundreds of Basques and their dogs were recruited in to the western sheep ranches due to the severe labor shortage created during the 1940s and 1950s.

The “little blue dogs” started gaining recognition because they started showing up throughout the west as the herders brought them in. In response, the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) was founded. By 1974, there were only 16.5 million sheep in the United States. The sheep industry continued to decline and Basque herders were no longer recruited from Spain, but the breed’s underpinning was laid. See also: Australian Shepherd History Revisited.

And although all Australian Shepherds have the same basic appearance that sets them apart from other breeds, there is a distinct difference that occurred in the development of the show bloodlines. The original foundation working dogs were built with the structure to sprint and outrun sheep and cattle. In 1977, when ASCA, the Australian Shepherd Club of America adopted the current breed standard, a different kind of Aussie began to emerge. The standard aided by the show program saw the advancement of Australian Shepherds with greater front angulations and flatter pelvic angles ideal for trotting effortlessly for long distances. The trade-off for the development of the trotting Aussie was paid for with the sacrifice of speed and agility so crucial for herding to make abrupt stops and turns at full speeds necessary to outmaneuver livestock. For more on Australian Shepherd history please visit:

To learn more about Australian Shepherds please visit:

http://www.lasrocosa.com/education.html

Or check out the book All About Aussies: Australian Shepherds from A to Z, by Jeanne-Joy Hartnagle-Taylor.

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The History of Australian Shepherds and the Spanish Shepherd Dog

 

 

The Spanish herding dogs in California and the Southwest have always been known to early fanciers and breeders. Maryland Little’s Honey Bun was considered “the Spanish type.” She was from the Graatz ranch in Colton, California with several recorded generations preceding her. Maryland based her breeding program on both Basque and Spanish dogs.

 

You might ask…what kind of dogs were the Spanish dogs? They were part of the landraces such as the Carea Leonés (Leon Shepherd Dog) developed during the centuries old, cañadas (sheep walks to and from seasonal pastures) known in Spain as the trashumancia. They worked in alongside the Spanish Mastiff who protected the flocks against wolves and other predators.  They also traveled the world with the Spanish sheep.

 

When Spain colonized America, they introduced two kinds of sheep — Churras and Merinos. Spaniards brought Churras in large numbers to provide food and fiber. The flocks not only survived in their new environment, but they flourished and multiplied. The dogs, too, were hardy individuals, toughened by exposure, and they proved to be capable of withstanding many hardships in the rough, dangerous, and uncharted lands of the Southwest.

 

The Spanish Churra (Churro) is an ancient indigenous sheep breed raised throughout the plateaus and sierras of Castile and León. This region in north-western Spain is also where the enormous flocks of Merino sheep were trailed each spring to graze in the mountains during summer since the Middle Ages. In the autumn, around October — the shepherds began their trek back to their winter pastures in the south on the plains of Estremadura and Andalusia. It is estimated that thousands of dogs accompanied them, the smaller ones for tending the flock (carea) and the larger for guarding (mastín).

 

Each massive flock or cabaña numbered around 50,000 sheep would be divided into smaller bands averaging 1,000 head. The droves of sheep were tended by shepherds and their dogs. Traditionally, two herders, four dogs and a pack-horse or mule were employed for every 1,000 sheep. The mules were used to pack salt for the sheep, cooking utensils, food for the shepherds and the dogs, and any lamb that was born during the journey and was too young to endure the hardships of migration.

 

For hundreds of years, the quick and agile Carea León has been used to tend flocks in the mountains of León and bordering provinces. However, as the immense flocks diminished with the decline of the trashumance on foot, so did large numbers of these dogs — many of them becoming a rarity including the Leon Shepherd Dog.

 

Recognizing they could be replaced or absorbed by other breeds and lost forever — a recovery program was put in place through the University of Leon in cooperation with the Leonese Canine Society. The Carea Leon is making a comeback.

 

Their temperament is characteristic of the old Spanish dogs. They are reserved with strangers. They are hardy, tough and versatile working dogs with strong herding and guardian instincts. They are highly capable of handling sheep or cattle and are sought after by herdsmen. Their working style is based on the type of work needed when grazing their livestock in cultivated areas unlike when flocks and herds are pastured on mountain zones and allowed to graze freely. They keep the animals in check in the same way shepherds in other parts of Europe do as they lead their flocks out to graze. They would not be able to manage stock without them as they have throughout the ages.

 

Leon Shepherd Dogs are approximately 18 inches (48cm) to 22 inches (55cm) tall. Their coat is either solid or merle (arlequinados or “pintos”) with or without white and or tan trim (shepherds spots) and is a moderate length. The connection between the Carea Leonés and old Spanish lines is clear.

 

Picture:

http://bp2.blogger.com/_FDQrFrM765E/RwiWS7Hpa0I/AAAAAAAAAgY/RKoFOyIqzGg/s1600-h/Villamoros+07+072.jpg

 

Article on the Carea Leonés:

http://caninaleon.com/art%20carea%201.htm

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson from Louis L’Amour

In an interview, Louis L’Amour once said, “Historians follow the main line. One historian follows another one, adding maybe a detail here and there or questioning something the other fella has said. They don’t go off to the right and left and they don’t go out there in the boondocks to see what was happening.” This is what has occurred with the history of the Australian Shepherd.

Much of the breed’s written history has been compiled by dog historians, whose association with the early Australian Shepherds was no closer to the subject than a library shelf of books. The thoroughly researched “facts” for the most part are gleaned from library sources and then laced with suggestion and imaginary reasoning, “would have been,” “would soon have,” “may have,” “probably was,” “might be.” The eye witness accounts from actual owners who knew and used the breed were, in most cases, discounted for lack of published documentation.

One historian’s view that has been published over and over proposes the Basque shepherds and their sheepdogs from the Pyrénees Mountains had very little to do with the breed’s foundation stating, “It appears that the theory of Basque origin probably came about from the understandable assumption by some breeders who obtained their first dogs from Basque sheepherders, that the dogs themselves must be of Basque background, and it makes a romantic picture to envision the Basque sheepherders being followed around the world by “their little blue dogs,” but this picture, nonetheless, is erroneous.”

Another author wrote, “However, one fact many [breed] historians either do not realize or have forgotten is that many of the Basque immigrants to both Australia and North America were not shepherds in their homeland.”

The reality is that the breed’s groundwork was formed in the time period between the 1940’s to about 1970, which is documented by registration. It was created from a relatively small group of dogs including Feo, a little blue dog which was brought to the United States from Spain with a contract herder who was working for the Warren Livestock Company. Juanita Ely, one of the breed’s oldest documented breeders bought the dog. He sired a beautiful little blue female named Goody (later registered as Wood’s Blue Shadow) who is behind the pedigrees of countless Australian Shepherds today including the Dr. Heard’s Flintridge, Hartnagle’s Las Rocosa and Fletcher Wood’s foundation bloodlines.

This occurred in the time period when 40 to 50 million head of sheep were grazed in the open ranges throughout the western half of the United States. Many of the herders that came here were shepherds in their homeland. They arrived (on a three-year visa) under contract through the Western Range Association. When they got here, they wrote home and told their brothers to join them, which they did and brought their dogs. During that time in history hundreds of Basques and their dogs were recruited in to the western sheep ranches due to the severe labor shortage created during the 1940s and 1950s.

The “little blue dogs” started gaining recognition because they started showing up throughout the west as the herders brought them in. In response, the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) was founded. According to Ken Duart, an early California breeder, he acquired Lita, an early foundation bitch from a Basque shepherd who brought her directly from Spain. He said a sheepherder who had a bunch of sheep at Rolf’s Ranch in the San Miguel area had friends that came to California from the Basque sector of the French and Spanish border to work on the Nelson Ranch in the Bakersfield area. When they came to the United States, they brought two dogs with them which they were allowed to bring as tools of their trade without quarrentine. She was an attractive blue merle female (with one blue eye). She had a moderate coat and a long tail. The time was either late 1959 or early 1960.

By 1974, there were only 16.5 million sheep in the United States. The sheep industry continued to decline and Basque herders were no longer recruited from Spain, but the breed’s underpinning was laid.

In spite of the references (Douglas & Bilbao 1975 or Laxalt 1989) that insist that Basque immigrants didn’t bring dogs with them, a retiree in Aragon related that, when he went to California to herd sheep in the early 1970s, sheepherders coming from Spain brought only a few personal items; but in his father’s generation (i.e. during the period immediately after World War II), many of he immigrants brought their herding dogs with them. This fact is corroborated by numerous sources including an interview, in which a Basque immigrant and his four brothers all brought their dogs when they flew to the US in the 1940s under sheep herding contracts.

A lesson can be learned from L’Amour’s statement. Just because something is documented with lots of facts, doesn’t mean it is reliable…and so has been the case with much of the history being published on the Australian Shepherd.

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