Australian Shepherds are one of the most popular breeds in the world. They have been bred for centuries to do many things including guard livestock, work with children, hunt game and perform other tasks. Some of these jobs include: sheep herder, hunting dog, police dogs and even search and rescue teams. There are two main types of Aussies; purebreds (which come from a single parent) or crossbreeds (which contain several parents).
The first type of Aussie was developed during the 19th century when farmers needed a working dog to pull their ploughs and mules. Farmers wanted a breed that could pull heavy loads quickly, but not so fast they would injure themselves. The second type of Aussie was created in the early 20th century after World War II when Australia became involved in military conflicts overseas. Soldiers were required to carry out tasks such as searching buildings and villages for enemy forces. Because of this requirement, soldiers had to carry weapons and ammunition.
Many of them carried rifles which were prone to jam if kept loaded for long periods of time. To prevent this problem, some soldiers started carrying pistols instead. However, there was still the issue that the soldier’s weapon could become jammed if used continuously for extended periods of time. This led to the development of a new type of gun which was lighter than previous guns and allowed it to be fired without having a trigger finger fatigue over time. These new gun types were carried by soldiers and were often called “flash” guns. Some of the flash guns could fire up to sixteen times in just .07 seconds. They were so fast that they needed to be activated by a person’s trigger finger, and this is why working Aussies with strong trigger fingers were needed.
During the 19th century, Australia had established itself as a major trading power in the South Pacific area. English speaking people in this area wanted a dog that was not only a herding dog, but also a guard dog since protection of their boats and goods was vital to their businesses.
In 1859, a man named Thomas Hall crossed a rough-coat sheepdog with a black tri colored cattle dog. The first dogs from this mix were not entirely successful because they did not have the endurance needed to work for long periods. While these dogs were not suitable for the Australian climate, they did have qualities that would make them popular in England and the United States.
Shepherds in Australia continued to work on developing a new herding dog with stronger endurance. In 1860, a man named John Baker began breeding blue merle sheepdogs with native dogs in Victoria. He repeated this cross several times with different types of blue merle sheepdogs. The last of these breedings produced a dog very similar to the modern day blue merle collies. Unlike the early stock, these had the endurance needed for herding sheep and cattle in large areas.
In 1868, a man named David Lloyd is generally given credit for developing the modern Australian Shepherd. During this time, he bred Hall’s dogs with some of Baker’s dogs. When the dogs were first shown in Sydney, Australia in 1882, they gained immediate acclaim. Originally classified as a separate breed, it was not until 1893 that the breeders and Kennel Clubs finally agreed to call them Australian Shepherds.
Soon, the dogs were being exported to other parts of the world. These included the United States, particularly in California where the and sheep ranching are common. The Australian Shepherd was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1908.
The first Australian Shepherds were brought to the Hawaiian Islands in 1912 by H.E Melhado. They were first registered by the AKC in 1930. Unfortunately, the breed suffered a setback in 1942 when a law was passed in Hawaii that stated no dog under four pounds could come onto island. This meant that many of the Australian Shepherds, which were brought to Hawaii for their herding abilities, had to be shipped off the island to places like California.
It was not until the 1960s that extensive breeding programs began on the Hawaiian Islands. The dogs thrived and their numbers increased dramatically. In 1972, the first Hawaiian Australian Shepherds were registered with the AKC.
While the breed has only been around for less than 150 years, it’s ancestry can be traced back much further. The Australian Shepherd’s ancestors, the rough coated sheepdogs and the collies were both brought to Australia in the late 1700s by English settlers. These types of dogs had been bred for hundreds of years in Scotland and England for the purpose of herding and guarding livestock. They eventually made their way to the United States as well.
The ancestors of the Australian Shepherds were widely used on ranches in California during the Gold Rush days. During this time, many of the settlers faced financial ruin and were forced to give up their homes and properties. The owners often had no choice but to release their livestock into the wild. As a result, large numbers of cattle and sheep populated much of the state. The only ones who profited from this were the Apache Indians who stole the livestock for themselves.
As a solution to this problem, a man named John Greer formed the California Wool Growing Association in 1853. The organization was created to protect the settlers’ livestock from Indian raids and began organizing cattle drives to send tens of thousands of head of cattle up to Oregon. These cattle drives lasted until 1865 when most of the Indians were either killed or placed on reservations.
The cattle drives were dangerous and many men lost their lives defending their livestock from the Indians. The sheepherders were more fortunate since they were often left behind when it was clear the cattle were in no danger. Some of these men chose to remain in California and began working for themselves as sheep farmers.
Many of these sheepherders chose a small dog to protect their flocks from wolves, coyotes, and other predators. This dog was most likely a Border Collie (Old Tyme) or a Smithfield, an English farm collie breed. It is believed that these types of dogs were the predecessors of the modern Australian Shepherd. These small herding dogs were preferred since they were more suited to the warmer climate and required less food to survive.
The ranching companies in California began breeding their own kennels of sheepdogs that matched their specific needs. The most popular was the L.B Brand, which was owned by the Ladd and Bush Company. In 1885, Captain Frank Jones saw a gathering of these dogs on his way to Australia. He immediately saw the value of these dogs and bought twenty of them for his own use back in Australia.
These dogs were bred to be excellent shepherds and they became the breeding stock for all the Australian Shepherds that exist today.
In the late 1800s, Australia began to experience a shortage of sheepherders since so many of them had left the country to fight in the war or had moved to America in search of better paying jobs and greater opportunities. In response to this shortage, the government began bringing over many immigrants from England, Scotland, and later, Italy and Croatia. These new citizens came with their own dogs, but many of them were impressed by the marvelous Australian Shepherds that they saw in action and soon bought some for themselves. This was the beginning of the spread of these dogs throughout Australia.
In 1916, a man by the name of Harry Whitaker came to Australia from California. He saw that these dogs were very different from those he had left behind and began breeding them with his own line of sheepdogs. These offspring became known as Blue or Hill Country Shepherds and were more suited to warmer climates since they were larger in build and covered with short hair rather than the long haired Australian Shepherds. In 1925, the Blue dogs impressed the governor of South Australia at the time and he arranged for several of them to become police dogs. After this, they were more commonly known as Australian Shepherds and the name stuck even though they were no longer related to the original Australian Sheepdog.
In 1934, an American, Wally Conron arrived in Western Australia and began working with a dog known as Midge. One day, Midge disappeared on a hunting trip and Wally went out to find her. In the meantime, another dog came into heat and mated with Toby, a male dog owned by Wally’s employer. The pups were born shortly afterwards and the lambing shed owner, Bob Williams insisted that one be given to him. This was the birth of the Australian Shepherd in its modern form.
Sources & references used in this article:
Association of an Agouti allele with fawn or sable coat color in domestic dogs by TG Berryere, JA Kerns, GS Barsh, SM Schmutz – Mammalian Genome, 2005 – Springer
Color appearance and the emergence and evolution of basic color lexicons by P Kay, L Maffi – American anthropologist, 1999 – Wiley Online Library
A missense mutation in PMEL17 is associated with the Silver coat color in the horse by E Brunberg, L Andersson, G Cothran, K Sandberg… – BMC genetics, 2006 – Springer
Genes affecting coat colour and pattern in domestic dogs: a review by SM Schmutz, TG Berryere – Animal genetics, 2007 – Wiley Online Library
An early case of color symbolism: ochre use by modern humans in Qafzeh Cave by E Hovers, S Ilani, B Vandermeersch… – Current …, 2003 – journals.uchicago.edu
The HIrisPlex system for simultaneous prediction of hair and eye colour from DNA by S Walsh, F Liu, A Wollstein, L Kovatsi, A Ralf… – Forensic Science …, 2013 – Elsevier
The connotations of English colour terms: Colour-based X-phemisms by K Allan – Journal of pragmatics, 2009 – Elsevier