With its unusual markings and piercing blue eyes, i
t's hard to ignore an Australian shepherd when it prances by you on the street. Learn more about the fluffy dog and its surprising background.
1. AUSTRALIA IS NOT THEIR NATIVE LAND.
The history of the Australian shepherd is borderline mythical, but one thing is for sure: These dogs do not hail from Australia. It’s widely accepted that these dogs most likely have roots in the Basque region of the Pyrenees Mountains. The little countryside is only about 191 square miles, meaning there wasn’t a lot of work for the local herders and their dogs. According to one version of the tale, these herders came to the United States for work in the late 1800s. Some say they made a pit stop in Australia, while others think the name comes the breed’s affiliation with Basque shepherds that came from Australia. Still, their Basque shepherds bear very little resemblance to the Australian shepherds we know today.
2. IN FACT, THEY'RE DISTINCTLY AMERICAN.
Their origins may be hazy, but the breed was perfected here in the U.S. Herders from countries all around the world made their way to the West Coast with their dogs, leading to a lot of interbreeding. Stockmen would breed these work dogs to be alert, intelligent, agile, and adaptable to different terrains. Little thought went into beauty or standard. The Scotch collie, Border collie, and English shepherd are all believed to have contributed to the Australian shepherd bloodline. Another likely culprit is the Australian koolie, a dog with remarkably similar features to the Australian shepherd, such as a merle coat and bright blue eyes.
3. THE RODEO MADE THEM STARS.
Australian shepherds enjoyed a huge boom of popularity after World War I. As waves of people headed out West, the energetic dogs found more work outside of just herding sheep. Intelligent and easily trained, the dogs were perfect for the rodeo. One particularly popular dog show was the Jay Sisler show. He and his team of trained dogs were featured in the Disney movies Run, Appaloosa, Run and Stub: The Greatest Cowdog in the West. People all over the country were enthralled with the talented pooches—Stubby, Shorty, and Queenie—as they jumped rope, ran through barrels, and performed tricks.
4. THEY’RE EYE-CATCHING.
When people think of Aussies, they normally think of their crystal blue eyes. In fact, some Native American tribes called the breed the ghost eye dog, because of their phantom-like peepers. They were said to be considered sacred and were often avoided.
5. THEIR EYES CAN BE MISMATCHED.
Not all Australian shepherds have blue eyes: they can also be green, amber, hazel or brown, or two different colors. Sometimes, the dogs will have marbled eyes, meaning each of their eyes will be a mix of two or more colors.
6. MOST OF THEM HAVE MERLE COATS.
Of the four registered colors of Aussies, the blue merle is the most recognizable. Breeders attempted to breed the other colors out of the dog, but found that dogs with the double merle gene faced a lot of health problems like blindness. Today, you can find Aussies in many different colors, although only black, red, red merle, and blue merle are accepted by the American Kennel Club.
7. THEY OFTEN HAVE NO TAILS.
When you’re doing hard work like herding, long ears and tails can get in the way. To avoid injury, many workers would dock their dogs’ ears and tails. The tail was somewhat bred out of this breed, as one in five Aussies are born with a naturally bobbed tail. Show dogs are expected to have either docked or naturally docked tails.
8. THERE’S PLENTY OF WORK FOR THEM.
Thanks to their working dog background, Aussies are well-equipped for a number of different jobs. Besides herding and performing tricks, the canines also make great search and rescue dogs, as well as therapy dogs.
9. THEY MIGHT HERD YOUR CHILDREN.
Aussies are very loving companions, but they need to stay active. Without proper stimulation, they may grow bored and restless. Left alone, their natural instincts might kick in, leading to them to start herding other things in your house. (Watch out for your children getting bunched in an orderly herd and pushed into a fenced area.)
10. THEY'RE POPULAR.
According to the AKC, this unique dog is the 18th most popular breed in the United States. That puts them ahead of Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels.
11. ONE WAS A FRISBEE SUPERSTAR
In the '70s, Australian Shepherd Hyper Hank and his owner Eldon McIntire found a lot of fame for their expert Frisbee routine. The talented disc duo won contests across the country, performed at the pre-show of Super Bowl XII, and even spent some time with the Carters at the White House. As his name suggests, the fluffy dog had a lot of energy.