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