Nick Ridley, Animal Photography
17 Reasons Australian Shepherds Are The World's Best Dogs
It's just true.
'Posted on November 16, 2016, at 1:01 p.m.'
1. They are endlessly entertaining and devoted to their 'people'.
2. They make the cutest, squishiest little pups,
3. but they make beautiful adults, too.
4. Aussies are super athletic and energetic.
5. They're total goofballs!
6. Aussies love their humans SO much more,
7. and they also really love each other.
8. Some Aussies have two different colored eyes, which is very cool.
9. They're adorable when they're young and dorky...
10. ... and even adorable-er when they're older and just moping around.
11. Aussies are very loyal, and look at their owners like they're the best person alive.
12. Most Aussies don't love bath time, they tolerate them...
13. ... but many of them love to get wet and swim (especially with a buddy).
14. Australian Shepherds are a VERY intelligent breed,
15. and they'll be patient through your silliest hijinks.
16. Australian Shepherds make the best nap-time partners, and
17. If you love them, they'll be there for you unconditionally until the end.
Raising an Australian Shepherd:
Is this the right dog for your family?
*Adapted from Midwest Australian Shepherd Rescue Website
When considering the raising of an Aussie, it’s wise to understand general breed character and to design the rearing program with the individual dog in mind. Awareness of the general (and sometimes drastic) temperamental changes that Australian Shepherds exhibit as they mature can aid owners in training and socialization.
Based on the Australian Shepherd Club of America Breed Standard, the Australian Shepherd is…
“…intelligent…” This word accurately describes most Aussies, but what does it really mean? Aussies are intelligent and learn basic obedience commands extremely quickly, but this is only part of how Aussie intelligence works. Aussies are problem-solvers and are renowned for their ability to think independently and make decisions on their own. Aussies do not see “limits” in their environment…only opportunities. This is a necessary trait in Aussie working ability with stock and it carries over to other areas of life. Aussie owners should thoughtfully teach limits, before the Aussie takes the opportunities!
For example, fences. Other dogs see fences as insurmountable obstacle. A Lab looks at a fence and thinks, “Darn, a fence. Guess I’ll be staying in the yard.” The Aussie looks at a fence and thinks, “hmm, I can get over that” and then proceeds to try 90 different ways to do so. Aussie owners are often shocked at their dog’s ability to escape. Many Aussies die each year after they escape an enclosure that seems secure. Is this because of phenomenal jumping ability and athleticism? Partly, but the biggest reason for this often-seen trait is that the Aussie doesn’t see the fence in the same way as other breeds. If there is a problem in the way of an Aussie (such as how to get over a fence to see something interesting) the Aussie will usually quickly figure out how to solve the problem.
Another example: If an Aussie is hungry (and Aussies are usually very food-motivated, a trait that is not listed in the Breed Standard), he will look for food and find a way to get it! If this means opening a cupboard, jumping onto the counter, unzipping a backpack, unwrapping Christmas chocolates, the Aussie will find a way. Aussies see roadblocks, but do not submit to them. They figure out ways to get around! As herding dogs or obedience/sport prospect, the Aussie problem-solving capacity can be a problem with owners who use repetitive, drill-style training methods. Aussies learn quickly and enjoy a challenge. Repeated “drilling” can quickly bore or even cause an Aussie to dislike the activity. Many Aussies will try to insert something of their own into the “game” and what they insert isn’t always ideal! Keeping an Aussie motivated includes allowing them to problem-solve.
“…primarily a working dog…” The average Aussie loves to have something to do. This doesn’t mean that they are just “jocks” and need endless physical activity…far to the contrary! Aussies need mental stimulation just as much as physical. There should be a healthy balance in this area or problems can arise.
They enjoy a challenge, they love figuring things out; success in solving a problem is a reward unto itself.
Many homes provide massive amounts of physical activity but not much mental stimulation, and this can cause trouble. Aussie puppy owners who do not provide adequate mental stimulation to balance with the physical often find themselves with a dog that is extremely physically fit but mentally very restless. This translates to a dog that is able to strip the wallpaper in creative patterns all day long with gusto and great stamina due to his fantastic physical condition (and his eager-to-problem-solve brain)!
Much has been written about the Aussie as an active breed who has a high energy level. A more accurate statement would be that a bored Aussie is an active dog with a high energy level. Aussies that have adequate mental stimulation can be very satisfied with regular leash walks every day and a few free runs or active retrieval games per week.
Examples of mentally stimulating activities:
Food dissection (stuffed Kongs instead of food bowl)
Delectable but difficult-to-slaughter chew bones
Retrieval games (also physically stimulating)
Trick performance (rewarded with access to highly valued items)
Hide and Seek with owner (physical for both players!)
Agility (also physical, but primarily mental…on the woodpile, in the forest, or on formal equipment in a class environment)
Free play with other, known dogs (also physically stimulating)
Flyball (also physically stimulating)
Working livestock (also physically stimulating)
“…of strong herding … instincts…authoritative….” The ability to authoritatively boss around livestock is a trait that has been cemented in by breeders for a hundred years or more. The key word here is “boss.” Aussies like to have their world in order and know that they can have an influence on creating that order. This means that if leadership and guidance from humans is weak, the Aussie will step into the leadership role. Just because they CAN do this doesn’t mean that they SHOULD. Aussies are dogs that have various watchdog tendencies, but they NEED a good human boss to show them boundaries and provide them with the leadership they need.
Aussies need to know what is expected of them. An Aussie that thinks they are the leader within their human “pack” is usually more stressed than they should be, and can even start to “boss” the human members of the household which can lead to uncontrollable behavior and even inappropriate aggression.
Another part of the Aussie herding instinct is strong levels of prey drive (the instinctive reaction to moving objects/pursue and capture). As a high-prey-drive herding breed, Aussies are usually extremely visually sensitive. This is important to remember during the socialization process. Aussies notice things that other breeds don’t, and the socialization process should be extremely far-reaching for this reason.
“…he is an exceptional companion… versatile and easily trained…” Owners of Aussies that have experience with other breeds often comment on the train-ability of the Aussie. Train-ability has nothing at all to do with intelligence…it has to do with the breed’s willingness to take direction. Aussie train-ability is a combination of mental and physical traits. Mentally, an Aussie likes to comply and likes to take direction. Physically, in order to be a stockdog they must be tough and gritty and bounce back readily from discomfort or pain they might encounter (getting kicked by a cow, running into a fence, working in bad weather, etc).
What this means is that Aussies need to know what you want, and are usually willing to comply when they know it. If undirected they can feel a sense of anxiety and try to do things on their own, which to them is not ideal. An Aussie puppy wants and needs to be shown boundaries and feel there is a clear leader, someone whom he can look up to and take direction from.
“…reserved with strangers…” Aussies are closely attached to their family (always wanting to be in their presence) but do not tend to seek contact with strangers, or easily accept strangers as “friends.” This does not mean they are shy or aggressive, just that they are selective in their social interactions. They don’t trust others easily either and are protective of their family members, especially if they perceive newcomers as a threat.
“…aggressive, authoritative…” At a car wreck where people are injured and other people have arrived, there are A) people that step in and take charge B) people that follow A’s direction and C) people that remain bystanders. Aussies are type A. When something is happening, they take action. They don’t often back off from a challenge and their problem-solving abilities and independence cause them to try to manipulate their environment. They don’t give up easily, either.
The traits above express themselves very differently at various stages in the dog’s life:
Puppies: As youngsters, these traits are often blunt or not present at all. This is Mother Nature’s way of allowing the dog to explore his environment and learn to accept things. I call this the ‘honeymoon’ phase. This is the most important time to introduce your puppy to many different socialization opportunities.
Teenagers: During adolescence (6 months to about 18-20 months) Aussies often go through a phase in which they “try out” some of the instinctual tendencies that are cropping up as their bodies and brains mature (just as human teenagers do!). The traits mentioned above may express themselves in extreme ways during adolescence as the dog learns. This phase really requires the necessity to curb their tendency and establish yourself as the ‘pack’ leader (or the boss of the family.) Provide consistent leadership and training opportunities during this phase.
Adults: True adult personality (18-20 months onward) is often very different from the puppy and adolescent stages. This is when you settle into the rewarding long-term relationship with your Aussie!
SO, what does all of this information on the inherent Aussie personality and different life stages mean to the person wanting to raise an Australian Shepherd?
Basically, it means that the owner should be aware that these traits can appear at different ages and in different strengths. Particularly in adolescence, extreme behavior can be seen. Owners should predict potential expression of these traits, recognize preliminary signs of them, and raise the puppy right from the start with the aim of prevention of future problems.
NOW FOR SOME PRACTICAL ADVICE THAT YOU CAN USE:
Puppies should be given clear leadership and guidance from a very young age, right from the start. They should have clear boundaries and understand that the human is in control of their behavior. This does not mean harshness or strictness, rather that the human should control every aspect of the pup’s life in a way that the puppy can perceive it. Play, food, toys, and access to valued items should be carefully controlled so that the puppy clearly understands who is the ‘leader’ in the household.
Most Aussies are “easy puppies,” and far too many Aussie owners ride along with the “easy puppy stage” without considering the consequences. An Aussie that does not have a lot of practice in bowing to a human’s wishes does not easily take direction at times when direct compliance is needed. It is wise to train your puppy to be compliant, biddable and non-argumentative during the part of his life when it’s easiest…early puppyhood.
If your puppy is showing reserve with strangers and watchdog traits from a young age, be sure to recognize these traits and teach your puppy how you want him to act. Do not encourage behavior in puppies that you do not want to continue in adulthood.
If your dog is particularly sensitive to strangers, socialize more. If your puppy is particularly “watch-doggy,” exercise more control so that you will eventually be able to manage him.
Also, make sure the dog knows the house is YOURS instead of HIS. Because of the breed’s extreme intelligence, visual sensitivity, and watchdog traits, Aussie puppies should be socialized in as many different environments and situations as possible. Herding breeds in general demand fully three times the socialization of retriever breeds. Do it, do it again, then do it some more. Socialization maintenance should be continued for the lifetime of the dog, but especially in the first 2 years.
ADOLESCENCE (6mo - 2 yrs)
The adolescent period in the Australian Shepherd usually marks the beginning of watchdog traits, reserve with strangers, and authoritative behavior. Owners should be aware that during this period, these traits can be alarmingly strong. Dogs that were gregarious during puppyhood can start to avoid contact with strangers. Dogs that were never watchdogs suddenly begin to do it, and are often difficult to control while doing so. Because of the Aussie trait to move TOWARD things that are bothering them rather than backing off, this can lead to difficult situations. If the dog doesn’t want to be petted by a stranger he may threaten the person with a growl if they don’t leave him alone. People the dog perceives as “intruders” may even be greeted with aggressive displays.
Many Aussie owners suffer anxiety during the adolescent period if the dog starts showing extreme protective/watchdog behavior or extreme reserve. Be aware that the way your dog is acting during adolescence is usually NOT how the adult personality will end up…it is a stage that must be worked through. Just because it’s a stage, however, doesn’t mean you should ignore it and wait for it to “go away.” Your dog is learning the whole time. If he learns that extreme behavior is the thing that works, he will continue behaving in an extreme way.
You must control and prevent extreme behavior through management and socialization. You must never allow him to learn that this is an acceptable behavior. You must consider how people that encounter him will feel if he shows this behavior. You should keep managing and training until the behavior lessens.
Don’t despair even if little to no progress is evident. It may seem that no matter how hard you try, your dog is still over-the-top reactionary. It is NORMAL for an adolescent Australian Shepherd to show these behaviors throughout adolescence, keep plugging away! Your primary focus should be on prevention…so that the dog doesn’t learn that these behaviors work. If you use careful management and training through adolescence, the behaviors will calm down as hormones and experience turn him into an adult.
In regards to their relationship with their owners, teenage Australian Shepherds begin to push the boundaries of their world, just as human teenagers do! They can seem distracted or even outright oppositional. Sometimes it may seem they have forgotten every piece of previous training! This should be coped with by strengthening control of the dog’s environment and extra obedience practice. Do not assume that things will get better if you just wait. If you do nothing, the dog will definitely re-define his relationship with you. If you increase training and control, the dog will remain where he should be…below you in rank structure, a willing and compliant partner.
Adult Australian Shepherds that have been properly socialized and trained can usually handle nearly anything life throws at them, but in a way different than many other breeds. Reserve with strangers turns into “I am not everyone’s best friend and I won’t act that way.” Adult Aussies often ignore strangers, and are slow to change the classification from “stranger” to “friend.” Do not expect your Aussie to be the Will Rogers of dogdom, “never met a stranger…” Treasure your Aussie’s loyalty to you and your family members. Do not allow others to force unwanted affection on him. Respect his nature, and allow him his dignity.
Watchdog traits in adults are usually prominent, but a well-trained Aussie should have pretty good judgment of when it’s appropriate to be a watchdog, and should respond to his owners’ command of “Ok, that’s enough.” A good Aussie with proper temperament will probably guard the car and home with savage intensity when the owner is not there. He may even guard like this with people outside the family that he has previously been friendly with…when you are there, they are fine, when you are not, they qualify as “intruders.”
Good knowledge of basic breed characteristics can allow Australian Shepherd owners to prepare and train their dog to be the best companion possible. Ignoring these basic traits during the raising and training process almost always results in problems.
An Aussie is an intelligent working dog, with strong herding and guardian instincts, and an authoritative personality, a dog that thinks there are no limits in life and that he can manipulate his environment if he just tries hard enough. He tolerates strangers with dignity, but not necessarily effusive affection.
However, he is a dog that loves his family beyond measure!
For some, these traits might be unwelcome and disappointing. For the true Aussie lover, these traits are what make the breed the best dog in the universe!