Australian Shepherd

The Australian shepherd is a breed of herding dog that was developed on ranches in the Western United States. Despite its name, the breed, commonly known as an Aussie, did not originate in Australia. They acquired their name because some of the Australian sheepdogs arrived in the United States with boatloads of Australian sheep. The breed rose gradually in popularity with the boom of western riding after World War I. They became known to the general public through rodeos, horse shows, and through Disney movies made for television.

For many years, Aussies have been valued by stockmen for their inherent versatility and trainability. While they continue to work as stockdogs and compete in herding trials, the breed has earned recognition in other roles due to their trainability and eagerness to please, and are highly regarded for their skills in obedience. Like all working breeds, the Aussie has considerable energy and drive, and usually needs a job to do. It often excels at dog sports such as dog agility, flyball, and frisbee. They are also highly successful search and rescue dogs, disaster dogs, detection dogs, guide, service, and therapy dogs.

Appearance
The appearance of the Aussie is that of a medium size dog, with a moderately long, double coat, known for its natural bob or docked tail. The Aussie is an active herding breed, typically very good around other pets and familiar individuals, but may be reserved around strangers. They are a loyal, loving breed who prefer the close companionship and company of their owners. The breed is double coated and therefore has a tendency to shed year round and more so during fall and spring as they change out coats.

Size
The Australian shepherd is a medium sized breed of solid build. The ASCA standard calls for the Australian shepherd to stand between 18-23 inches at the withers, females being 18-21 inches and males measuring 20-23 inches, however, quality is not to be sacrificed in favor of size.

Color
Aussie colors are black, red (somethereimes called liver), blue merle (marbled black, white and gray), and red merle (marbled red, white and buff); each of these colors may also have copper (tan) points and/or white markings in various combination on the face, chest, and legs. A black or red dog with copper and white trim is called tricolour or tri, a black or red dog with white trim but no copper is called bicolor or bi. White, rather than pigment, on or around the ears is an indicator of increased risk for white-related deafness. Excessive white on the face and ears can place an individual dog at greater risk for sunburn and subsequent skin cancer.

The wide variation of colour combinations comes from the interaction between the a color allele, which is either black (B) dominant or red (b) recessive, and the dominant merle allele (M). Together, these provide four coat-color aspects that can appear in any combination:

Black Tri, with tan points and/or white markings on the face, collar, legs, chest, underbelly. Solid black dogs are equally desirable as ones with tan and/or white.
Red (Liver) with or without tan points and/or white markings on the face, collar, legs, chest, underbelly. Either white or tan points are required. Solid Red dogs are equally desirable as ones with tan and/or white.
Blue Merle (a mottled patchwork of gray and black) with or without tan points and/or white markings on the face, collar, legs, chest, underbelly. Neither white nor tan points are required. Solid Merle dogs are equally desirable as ones with tan and/or white.
Red Merle (a mottled patchwork of cream and liver red) with or without tan points and/or white markings on the face, collar, legs, chest, underbelly. Neither white nor tan points are required. Solid Merle dogs are equally desirable as ones with tan and/or white.

The merle allele, which produces a mingled or patchwork combination of dark and light areas, is the coat pattern most commonly associated with the breed. This merle (M) is dominant so that unaffected dogs (Mm) show the pigmentation pattern; however, when two merles are bred, there is a statistical risk that 25% of the offspring will end up with the two copies of the merle gene (homozygous). These dogs usually have a mostly white coat and blue irises, and are often deaf and/or blind. In this case, the deafness and blindness are linked to having two copies of the merle gene, which disrupts pigmentation and produces these health defects.

All black and blue merle dogs have black noses, eye rims, and lips. All red and red merle dogs have liver or brown noses, eye rims, and lips.

There is also great variety in the Aussie’s eye color. An early nickname for the breed was “ghost-eye dog”. Aussie eyes may be any shade or hue of brown, or blue; they may have two different colored eyes, or even have bicolored or “split eyes” (for example, a half-brown, half-blue eye), which appear to be linked to the merle coloration. Merled eyes occur as well, where one color is mixed in and swirled with another. Any combination of eye color is acceptable in the breed standard, so long as the eyes are healthy. In general, however, black Aussies (self, bi-color or tri-color) tend to have brown eyes, while red (self, bi-color or tri-color) Aussies tend to have amber eyes, though these Aussies may also carry the blue eyed gene.

Tail
A hallmark of the breed is bobbed or docked tail in countries where docking is permitted. Some Aussies are born with naturally short bobbed tails (NBT), others with full long tails, and others with natural partial bobs, where the tail is midlength and appears stubby. Breeders have historically docked the tails when the puppies are born. Even without a tail, the wagging movement of the hind end still occurs. In the United States and Canada the standard calls for a natural bob or docked tail not to exceed four inches as a defining characteristic, however some long tailed examples have been successfully shown and been given recognition despite having a longer tail. Any natural tail length is permitted when showing in Europe, where docking has been banned

Temperament
The breed is typically highly energetic, requiring a great deal of exercise and attention. Sometimes they can be calm and easy-going. An Australian shepherd enjoys working, whether it is learning and practicing tricks, competing in dog agility, or engaging in any other physically and mentally involving activity.

Dogs may show reserved and cautious guarding behaviors. They are kind, loving, and devoted to those they know. They are very loyal to their owners, and are rewarding dogs if treated well. Because the breed was developed to serve on the ranch, a job which includes being protective of its property, it is inclined to bark warnings about neighborhood activity, but it is not an obsessively barking dog.

The Aussie is intelligent, learns quickly, and loves to play. This means that a bored, neglected, unexercised Aussie may invent its own games, activities, and jobs, which to a busy owner might appear to be hyperactivity: for example, an Aussie may go from being at rest to running at top speed for several ‘laps’ around the house before returning to rest. Without something to amuse them, Aussies can become destructive. Aussies also do best with plenty of human companionship: they are often called “velcro” for their strong desire to always be near their owners and for their tendency to form intense, devoted bonds with select people.

The Australian shepherd has a reputation as a highly intelligent and versatile stock dog with a range of working styles. A good working Aussie is quick, thoughtful, and easy with its stock. The ability for the breed to adapt to the situation and think for itself makes it an excellent all-around worker. For this reason the Aussie is often chosen to work unusual livestock such as ducks, geese, and commercially raised rabbits.

Australian shepherds can become extremely destructive if their energy is not directed in a positive way. These dogs require a minimum of 2–3 hours a day of play, exercise, and attention. The dogs thrive in rural, ranch like conditions, and need space to run and play in an urban setting. The Australian shepherd is a high spirited dog, that requires much attention and work. Teaching them tricks keeps them focused and happy, which also keeps their mind working. The breed also has great stamina and can live in a variety of terrain. That’s why they are a popular pick as trail dogs and working dogs.

There are several health problems that an Australian shepherd can inherit, including back, hip, and vision problems.

Mortality
Results of a 1998 internet survey with a sample size of 614 Australian shepherds indicated a median longevity of about 12.5 years, but that longevity may be declining.

The median life spans for breeds similar in size to Australian shepherds are mostly between 11 and 13 yrs, so, assuming the results of the UK study are not representative of the population there, Aussies appear to have a typical life span for a breed their size. Leading causes of death in the UK survey were cancer (32%), “combinations” (18%), and old age (14%).

Morbidity
Based on a sample of 48 still-living dogs, the most common health issues noted by owners were eye problems (red eye, epiphora, conjunctivitis, and cataracts). Dermatological and respiratory problems also ranked high.

Collie eye anomaly (CEA) and cataracts is a concern in Aussies. Other conditions of note include iris coloboma, canine hip dysplasia (CHD), Pelger-Huet syndrome, hypothyroidism, and nasal solar dermatitis. Prior to breeding, the Aussie should be checked for Hip and Elbow Dysplasia, DNA tests performed to show the dog to be free of the MDR1 mutation, cataract mutation, and CEA. Tests should also include those for thyroidism and clearances for other known eye diseases like colobomas, PRA and retinal folds.

Some Australian shepherds (as well as collies, German shepherds and many other herding dogs) are susceptible to a genetic mutation of the MDR1 gene.

Double Merle
Double merling or homozygous merle occurs when the resulting offspring of two merled parents inherit two copies of the dominant merle gene. Double merles are often mostly white and can have hearing and vision problems as a result of having two copies of the merle gene. Homozygous merles can be deaf, blind, express iris colobomas and microphthalmia. Not all homozygous merles are affected, but most are, making the breeding of two merles a very touchy subject. Breeders will either euthanize mostly white pups or in the case of poorly qualified breeders, sell them as “rare” white Aussies without disclosing the potential for health defects. A large percentage of homozygous merles sold eventually end up in rescue and shelters as the average family is ill prepared to take on a deaf and/or blind pet. However, deaf and/or blind Australian shepherds can make wonderful pets given a home prepared for their special needs. The term “lethal white” is incorrectly used when referring to Australian shepherds that are born double merle, it is actually a term referring to the Lethal white syndrome that affects horses.

Available Health Tests
Many diagnostic tests are available for concerned Aussie owners, to check the overall health of an Aussie. Also, the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) has an extensive database to track results and provide statistics for the following concerns: hips, elbows, heart, patellar luxation (knees), and thyroid (autoimmune) disease. The OFA database also includes the results for eye exams performed by a Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) veterinarian, but only if the owner of the Aussie submits the results. This database is a great resource to investigate the lineage and related health of the progenitors of some dogs, at least regarding hip ratings.

Many tests have been developed by, or are processed at, laboratories to check for the 11 health concerns that plague the Australian shepherd breed. Some of those labs are Optigen, Animal Health Trust, Endocrine Diagnostic Center, Animal Health Laboratory, Washington State University Veterinary Clinic, Vet DNA Center, and HealthGene. These labs might perform one or many of the tests that have been developed.

Tests or evaluations have been developed for:
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia,
Patellar Luxation (knees),
Eyes,
Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA),
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) ,
Thyroid (Autoimmune) – Multiple labs perform this test-check OFA application for list,
Congenital Cardiac (heart),
Multi Drug Resistance Gene (MDR1),
Hereditary Cataracts (HSF4), and
Pelger Huet

Other areas that are currently not health concerns, but tests have been developed for, are:
Coat Color (red carrier/red factored) – Vet DNA Center and HealthGene process this sample,
Dilute Gene Carrier – Vet DNA Center and HealthGene process this sample

DNA testing to either certify parentage (CP) or to verify parentage (VP) for Australian shepherds is also another test that can be performed and as of January 2010 all adults producing a litter will be required to be DNA tested to allow a breeder to register a litter with the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA).

There is a list of costs, labs, applications, and samples required for the above tests at Pure Stock Aussies

History
The Australian shepherd’s history is vague, as is the reason for its misleading name. It is believed by some the breed has Basque origins in Spain and was used there by shepherds.

Breeds as we know them today did not exist before Victorian times, but local variations of the ancestors of current breeds came into America along with their owners and livestock. Included are some that are now extinct or that have merged into other breeds. These may have included some British herding dogs, as well as dogs from Germany and Spain including the Carea Leonés.

In the American West, conditions were quite different. Spanish flocks were introduced for food and fiber which was mainly the Churra. The Spanish dogs that accompanied them to American West proved well suited for their job in the wild and dangerous territory. They were highly valued for their ability to herd and protect their charges from predators on the open range.

With the 1849 California Gold Rush, a massive migration occurred to the west coast, and along with easterners came flocks of sheep and their eastern herding dogs; from the southwest came people and Spanish. But it was just as effective to bring sheep in by ship, and in they came, including flocks from Australia and other regions, along with shepherds and their own herding breeds.

Dogs from Australia had already begun to be selected and bred for climates and terrains that were often similar to California.

It is not clear where the name “Australian” came from, although it is possible that many of the dogs coming from Australia were blue merle and the adjective “Australian” became associated with any dogs of that coat color.

Recent history
Development of the breed began in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and the Pacific Northwest. The breed’s foundation bloodlines are depicted in the Australian Shepherd Genealogy Chart showing the relationship between the early families of dogs.

Selective breeding for many generations focused on aspects of the dog that enabled it to function as an effective stockdog in the American west. It had to handle severe weather; have plenty of speed, athleticism, energy, and endurance; and be intelligent, flexible, and independent, while remaining obedient. The actual foundation for the Australian shepherd was established between the 1940s and the early 1970s, when the Australian Shepherd Club of America was formed and the registry was started.

Activities
Like other herding breeds, these dogs excel at many dog sports, especially herding, dog agility, frisbee, and flyball. Herding instincts and trainability can be measured at noncompetitive instinct tests. Aussies that exhibit basic herding instincts can be trained to compete in ASCA stock dog trials or AKC herding events.

The dog has a stride in which its front and back legs cross over, making for an appearance of “on the edge” speed. The dogs instinctively use a “pounce” position to deal with cattle trying to kick them. They also have strong hips and legs, allowing for fast acceleration and high jumping, sometimes as high as 4 ft (1.3m).

An Australian shepherd named Pockets is credited as being the oldest dog to earn a title in AKC history, having earned the Rally Novice title at the age of 15 years, 5 weeks.

Miscellaneous
The Australian Shepherd Club of America ASCA was founded in 1957 to promote the breed. The National Stock Dog Registry became its official breed registry, which continued until ASCA took over in 1972.

In 1975, ASCA created a breed standard, describing exactly how an Australian shepherd should look and be constructed (its conformation to the Standard). It developed more uniformity in the breed and standardized the type.

In the United States, the American Kennel Club is the primary registry for purebred dogs. However, many Aussie breeders felt that AKC put too much emphasis on breed conformity and not enough on performance, so ASCA declined to join the AKC. Those breeders who felt that AKC membership had its advantages split off from ASCA to form their own Australian shepherd club, the United States Australian Shepherd Association, created their own breed standard, and joined the AKC in 1993. The decision about affiliation with the AKC remains controversial, as it does with many performance breeds.

The Fédération Cynologique Internationale recognized the Australian shepherd for international competition in 2007, in Group 1 Sheepdogs and Cattle Dogs as breed number 342. An Australian shepherd from Latvia competed in the Fédération Cynologique Internationale Agility World Championships in Helsinki, Finland in 2008.

In addition to the miniature Australian shepherd, the western United States are now seeing the emergence of an even smaller version, referred to as the toy Australian shepherd, with adult males tipping the scales at a mere 12 to 15 pounds (5.5 to 7 kg). The genetic consequences of breeding the standard Australian shepherd down to one-quarter size remain to be seen. Many breeders and owners of Australian shepherds consider the Mini and Toy to be separate breeds; others consider them to be downsized versions of the same breed. ASCA and AKC considers all such variants to be separate breeds.

Taken from wikipedia