Australian Shepherds are known for their loyalty and love for humans. They have been bred to be obedient, loyal, and loving companions. A typical Australian Shepherd is a medium sized dog with a short coat that tends towards being sandy colored. Their eyes tend to be brown or hazel in coloration while their nose tends toward having a strong odor of wet earth or grass. Some breeds like the Australian Cattle Dog are considered “red” dogs while others such as the Australian Kelpie are considered “black”. There are many different types of Aussies. Some are working, some are hunting, and some are just for show. All of them share one thing in common though: they all belong to the family of the shepherd breed.
The name Australian Shepherd comes from the ancient aboriginal Australians who were nomadic hunters and gatherers who used sheepdogs as part of their pack animals. The word “Shepherd” itself means “sheepdog” in Aboriginal Australian.
Aussie is a very popular name for Australian Shepherds because it’s easy to remember and sounds similar to the word “Shepherd”. Other names include Aussie, Bogan, Biggus, Brownie, Burra and Chook.
The first settlers that came to Australia brought their working dogs with them. These were the ancestors of the modern day Australian Shepherd. The dogs were bred to herd the wild sheep that were located in large numbers across the Great Victoria Desert in the southern part of the continent. Some settled on farms next to other types of farm animals like cows, chickens, and pigs.
Others helped the settlers with tasks like guarding the property, hauling supplies, and helping with farming chores. As the years went on, different types of dogs were bred from the original herding dogs. These included the Hunter, the Drover, the Rough and Tumble, the Shepherd, the Smithfield, and the Australian Cattle Dog.
The ancestors of the modern day herding dogs were mainly located in the southern part of Australia. The only settlement where these types of dogs were not popular was in Tasmania where Dogs of English heritage were more common.
Herding dogs were popular on farms in all parts of Australia. They tended to be medium sized dogs, had great eyesight and a strong sense of smell, and were very good at keeping the farm animals together. The dogs could move the sheep, the cattle, or the pigs from one place to another without injuring or scaring them. Often the dogs would merely have to bark or growl and the animals would move.
Herding dogs were used to herd not just sheep but all types of farm animals. These included cattle, horses, pigs, and goats. They were also used to guard farms and homesteads from predators such as dingoes, foxes, and feral cats.
These dogs helped the human settlers in many ways besides herding and guarding. They could hunt down invasive pests like wild pigs, goats, and rabbits. They could also find people that were lost or hurt. The dogs were also used to pull small cartloads of supplies or even help fishermen by pulling their nets back to the shore.
As Australia developed from a collection of small settlements into a modern country, many of the old types of farm dogs went extinct. Many of these dogs were replaced by more modern technology like motor vehicles and machine herding. However, some farmers kept their old dogs even through hard times. These dogs proved to have many advantages over new technology, and in a few places, these dogs went on to become the ancestors of the modern day Australian Shepherd.
The first official record of an Australian Shepherd in the United States was in 1963. In that year an American called Wally Conron saw a dog show called the All Australian Shepherds Show of Perfection held in California. He was very impressed by the dogs he saw there and decided to bring some of these dogs to America. He wanted to see if he could improve the range and herding ability of American ranch dogs.
Wally Conron wrote to the Kennel Club in Australia asking for help. The breeders there were happy to send him some of their best dogs and within a year Conron had six Australian Shepherds, three male and three female. These were the first official Australian Shepherds in America.
In California Wally Conron started breeding these six dogs and their puppies. He wanted dogs that were good at herding livestock and also had good nature. While ranching was still a very important part of life in America, the nature of it was changing. Machines like tractors meant fewer people needed to work on farms.
Also many farm workers were moving from farms to new houses in towns and cities where they found jobs in factories. This meant there were fewer farmers, and so less need for herding dogs.
In Australia the opposite was true. The nature of life there had not changed as much and farms were still an important part of life in Australia. Because of this demand for farm dogs in Australia, Wally Conron had no trouble selling the puppies from his Australian Shepherds. As the popularity of his dogs grew he bought more imported dogs from Australia and started a kennel to breed them.
Outside Conron’s kennel the dogs became more popular. The first Australian Shepherds were brought to shows in California by buyers who had been to Australia and liked the dogs they saw there. Soon they were a popular addition to different types of dog shows all across America. They proved to be very good at these shows as they are intelligent and easy to train.
Sources & references used in this article:
Hereditary multiple ocular anomalies in Australian Shepherd dogs. by KN Gelatt, LA Veith – Veterinary Medicine and Small Animal Clinic, 1970 – cabdirect.org
Coat colour in dogs: identification of the Merlelocus in the Australian shepherd breed by B Hédan, S Corre, C Hitte, S Dréano, T Vilboux… – BMC veterinary …, 2006 – Springer
Bluetongue disease in dogs associated with contaminated vaccine. by GY Akita, M Ianconescu, NJ MacLachlan… – Veterinary …, 1994 – cabdirect.org