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.




Article on the Carea Leonés:






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