The History of Australian Shepherds

The Australian Shepherd today is a very versatile breed that excels in many areas. The original purpose of the Australian Shepherd was to be a herding dogfor shepherds. The lineage of the Australian Shepherd is not clear and there are many different theories about their origin. Some theories include that their ancestors came from the Basque region in Spain, from the lost continent of Atlantis or from the Australian wild dog, the Dingo. The theories of Atlantis and the Dingo are not thought to true.

Although, their name implies that Australian Shepherds come from Australia they did not. The most common theory is that their ancestors did not come from Australia but from the Basque region in Spain. These Basque shepherds left Spain because of lack of job opportunities and went to Australia during the 1800’s and brought their sheep dogs and shepherds. Then during the late 1800’s to early 1900’s these Basque shepherds came to the western United States. Aussies originated in the United States. Australian Shepherd got their name from dogs that are their ancestors from Basque, got off boats with Australian sheep.

Some of the Basque shepherds migrated to Mexico and those dogs became known as the New Mexican Shepherd. The New Mexican Shepherd is a larger version of the little Basque dog. Their larger size allows them to also be able to herd cattle as well as sheep. The small Basque dogs were bred with the New Mexican Shepherd and other herding breeds with strong genetics in herding and guarding. While in America, these dogs did not get much exposure until the American Gold Rush and the rising increase of the woolmarket. American ranchers and farmers were very impressed with the abilities of these dogs and they began to use them as ranch hands. Once this new breed became noticed they were used for many types of herding including turkeys, geese, ducks, cattle, sheep, goats,reindeer,and even bison. Aussies today are related to German Coolie in Australia, Welsh Bobtail and Irish Collie and certain European breeds.
An Australian Shepherd that has black tri colors
An Australian Shepherd that has blue merle colors.

Other herding breeds of the time were not easy to control because they were too excitable and too quick. The Australian Shepherd with its composed and hard working nature was the perfect choice. Aussie established itself throughout Colorado, California, Arizona and Oregon and where large ranches of livestockwere located. The breed also became popular with suburban families who wanted this highly trainable and intelligent dog as their family pet.

The Australian Shepherds kept a pretty low profile until the 1950’s when Jay Sisler introduced these dogs to the America. Jay Sisler was a rodeo contestant and a rancher from Idaho. He created a popular dog trick performance with his Australian Shepherds Shorty, Stubby and Queenie. They had performances all over the United States and Canada. The tricks featured in these shows have yet to be equaled to today due to their high level of difficulty. These dogs were so popular that they were featured in two Walt Disney Studio films, Stubb, the World’s Greatest Cowdog, and Run, Appaloosa, Run.

When the Australian Shepherd started to gain popularity, many groups and clubs started to develop to promote the breed. The first Australian Shepherd was registered with the International English Shepherd Registry, today known as the National Stock Dog Registry. In June 1957, The Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) formed in Tucson, Arizona and became the largest Australian Shepherd registry in America. The ASCA became efficient in 1971 and developed programs to encourage more activity within the club and to promote the Australian Shepherd. They created a formal show which members could gain obedience titles, tracking degrees, conformation championships.

The ASCA members thought that recognition of the Australian Shepherd by the American Kennel Club (AKC)was not wanted. Advocates who wanted AKC recognition formed the United States Australian Shepherd Association. The United States Australian Shepherd Association wanted to present the Australian Shepherd breed to the AKC so they developed breed standards so breeders would have guidelines to follow when breeding their dogs because they did not want the quality of the breed to change. They defined the size, type, physical structure, issue of character and temperament of the Australian Shepherds. This is when the first breed standard was created in 1976. The American Kennel Club recognized the Australian Shepherd as a breed on September 1, 1991. Then on January 1, 1993, the AKC accepted the Australian Shepherd into the herding group.

There are two types of Australian Shepherds, the working aussie and the confirmation aussie. The working Aussie are stock dogs who are light boned, quick and dedicated to their master. The confirmation Aussies are bigger boned and have heavier flashier coats. They are meant to make beautiful presentations in the show ring with their gorgeous colors. Their coats can be black, blue merle, red merle and red with or without white markings. Confirmation dogs are friendly and devoted to their families. When they are raised with children they become very protective of them. These dogs are also dedicated protectors of their whole family and are standoffish with strangers unless properly introduced.

The Australian Shepherd today has a very rigorous breed standard in the AKC which is used for showing dogs. They are major contenders in the herding group at the AKC shows and herding trials. The Australian Shepherd is a very versatile breed which excels at confirmation, obedience, and herding and agility competition. Not many breeds are capable of excelling at all the jobs Australian shepherds can. They are very skilled herding dogs and are great at working cattle and sheep. This breed needs a lot of stimulation and activity so it is not the breed for everyone. The breed’s easy trainability, problem solving skills, intelligence, common sense, strong work ethic and loyalty make it a great companion.

An Australian Shepherd with red tri colors
An Australian Shepherd with red merle colors