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Is an Australian Shepherd the right breed for me?

This is an intelligent dog with strong herding and guarding instincts that is easily trained, performing his duties with great style and enthusiasm. He is a high energy dog that was bred to work in all weather and over all terrains. In the USA the Aussie remains a working dog on the ranch and farm and his day begins at sunrise and ends at sunset. A natural ability and intelligence is needed to out think and control livestock together with stamina and agility, a good Aussie possesses all these traits. 

Unlike some other herding breeds the Aussie is able to switch off the herding instincts to become the family companion when there is no work to be done, so they can adapt well to living in a home environment. However he needs to occupy his mind and body so training and exercise are essential. I highly recommended that they are taught obedience, agility or working trials and plenty of play and exercise. By channelling their desire to please and learn you will have a happy dog that is devoted to you and the family and a pleasure to own 

Aussies today are competing in all aspects of the dog world as well as those working as guide dogs, therapy dogs, assistance dogs, search and rescue dogs, I know of two Aussies who worked at the sites after the events of September 11th in America, one was at the twin towers the other at the Pentagon, the list of capabilities of this breed is endless. 

The breed can be reserved with strangers but should never be shy or aggressive. Reserved is often mistaken for shy or wary, in reality the truly reserved Aussie is self possessed and confident, he is alert very aware of his surroundings, cautious and usually an extremely good judge of character of people, other dogs and stock. However once accepted as a friend they never forget you, it can be months between meetings but they always remember you. To help channel this type of temperament correctly requires a very intensive program of socialization during their first year, take them everywhere and introduce them to every situation and you will end up with a dog of sound mind, he will accept all you put before him, but still be devoted to you. 

Training is essential as the Aussie is quite capable of out thinking its owner; if allowed to get away with it they will soon take on the role of pack leader in the home and become a nuisance. If he is not taught what is expected he will not just get on the bed, but in it with you with a head on the pillow! In working trials they clear the six-foot scale with ease without training that could be your garden fence! Those natural traits can turn to destructive behaviours if left untrained and unused, do you want them herding children and traffic or guarding the home with such fervour that your friends cannot pass. None of this will happen providing you know what is required before you become an owner of this super breed. 

The Aussie is loyal and a great companion. If you want a dog that is attached to you like Velcro, then an Aussie is for you, he needs to be close to his family, literally at your feet every time you stop and in the car every time you open the tail gate. Human companionship is necessary for the Aussies mental well being, he is not always the best breed to kennel outside as he may call for you constantly! I have one here that is so devoted to me we have had to put a top on his six foot kennel run otherwise he is always out looking for me! I read somewhere that the Aussies favourite bible quote must be ‘Wherest thou go, shall go I’ There are many stories of the Aussies who have rescued their owners or stock, they have also been known to give their lives for their owners and families. 

The Aussie is often a grinner this can be a bit disconcerting the first time people see it! They will often talk (growl) in greeting, something else you have to understand. The Aussie is a clown, a five year old with hair! You need a sense of humour to own one. Don’t leave food around; this is dog generally with a good appetite, even if the food is where you thought it was out of reach! Vary rarely is anything out of reach of an Aussie. They love to chase the broom, herd the vacuum, attack the mop, and help you with the gardening (especially digging the hole ready for the new plant, which they dig up again and present to you later). The Aussie has a wonderful way of greeting, it doesn’t need a tail, the whole rear end wiggles from side to side, if you have been out for a while you can never be sure which bit will make contact with you first the head or the rear as it bends in half with pleasure. 

This is a breed in which every dog is an individual, with 16 different variations possible in the colour pattern alone, no one dog looks like another. With the diversity of breeding in America due to the size of the country there is a type, temperament or colour for everyone. Although not a couch potato, Aussies are all individuals and some lines are more sedate than others. There is a large diverse gene pool in the USA and it is possible to find exactly the type of temperament you are looking for in your dog. Although personally I still look for the more traditional temperament, if I had wanted a Goldie personality I would have bought a Goldie. More Aussies are being imported into this country all the time and we are now seeing some of that variation here, all must be acceptable within breed type your choice will depend on your own personal preference. 

The Aussie is generally healthy and should live 12 –16 years so as a prospective owner you are entering a long term commitment with this breed. As with many breeds there are some hereditary defects to watch out for. A moderate size dog with a moderate coat that is easy to manage and care for, he fits into many lifestyles. If you have the time and commitment the Aussie is a great companion and friend, but it is a breed you must prepare yourself for owning. 

Is the Aussie for me? Yes! Most definitely, they are wonderful dogs and have changed my life for the better during the last 20 years, but they are not for everyone. 

Angie Challenger

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