10 Things You Should Know Before Owning an Australian Shepherd
They are cute, cuddly fur balls, but is an Australian Shepherd right for your family? There are many great things about Australian Shepherds, and they are popular family dogs. They are affectionate, easy to train, and they are medium size, so they are ideal for both home and apartment life.
Though you might think that an Australian Shepherd is from Australia, it is actually a breed that was created in the U.S. Aussies were originally bred to herd livestock for farmers and ranchers in the west, and there are still ranches and farms today that use these dogs to control their livestock.
There are a number of theories on what other breeds were used to make the Australian Shepherd. It is likely that you can trace these dogs back to other shepherds and collies, which were imported in the 1840s with sheep from Australia. Breeders of Aussies worked hard to enhance the herding ability of the breed, and they ultimately created the hardworking, versatile and intelligent dog we have today.
The Aussie went through a boom in popularity in the years following World War II, which also showed a new interest in horseback riding. Crowds that attended horse shows and rodeos fell in love with the dogs they saw working with the cowboys, and they wanted one of their own.
The dog was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1993, and today, it is loved by the families who bring them in. However, before you run out and get an Australian Shepherd, there are 10 things you should know:
10. Australian Shepherds Are Dominant and Controlling
One of the things that you must know about Aussies is that they like to be in control. These are dominant dogs who were bred to specifically control cattle and sheep. If there are no cattle or sheep around, they will start to herd you, your kids, other dogs, cat, or anything they can. Because of this dominant personality, owners of Aussies must establish themselves as the pack leader as soon as possible, or the dog will soon be running the household and calling the shots.
If not trained correctly, an Aussie may start to correct the behavior of other dogs or even people, and this could lead to behavior that may be seen as aggressive. Though these dogs are not often being aggressive to be mean or hurt another dog or their human, dogs often express their controlling nature with teeth. Again, they are not usually biting to hurt, they are biting to correct a behavior that they don’t like, and when they see themselves as the “top dog,” this behavior is the rule instead of the exception.
Luckily, there are things you can do with your Aussie to keep its behavior under control. For instance, you can reward the dog with praise when they show non-aggressive or non-dominant behavior. You may think that punishing the dog will stop the behavior, but instead, it only suppresses the behavior. Rewarding the dog for good behavior will extinguish the bad behavior. Distracting your Aussie when it starts to show bad behavior is also a good way to not only control any aggression, but also to show it that you are in charge.
9. Australian Shepherds Require Training…and a Lot of It
Any dog is a commitment, but if you are going to get an Aussie, you must be prepared to start training the dog on day 1. Of course, there are many sources out there that offer general dog training tips, but there are also tips that are specific to Aussies.
The first thing you should know when it comes to training your Aussie is that they require a lot of socialization as puppies. Aussies are very intelligent dogs, and he or she should have no issue picking up on basic obedience commands such as come, sit, down and stay.
It is also necessary to remain vigilant when allowing your Aussie to be off the leash. Remember, these are herding animals, so when they get off the leash, their instincts to herd will quickly come to the surface. Since this is the case with this breed, you also want to make sure that they are trained with a command that will allow them to come to you when called, no matter what.
One common theme that Aussie owners share about their dogs is that they can be destructive when they are puppies, and they love to chew. Thought they will look adorable when chewing on their toys and bones, they stop becoming cute when they start chewing on your expensive leather shoes. You can usually stop this behavior by keeping things, such as shoes, out of reach of the dog until they are trained, and redirect the dog to chew on toys when chewing on something they shouldn’t.
8. Australian Shepherd Have A Lot of Energy and Require Exercise
If you are going to get an Australian Shepherd, you have to remember that this breed was created to run and heard, and this is still part of the dog’s temperament, today. What does this mean for you? It means that you must make accommodations to meet their exercise needs.
Your new Aussie will require exercise each day, and this exercise must be rigorous. If you have a home with a large yard, you will likely find that some time throwing the ball, and watching your dog jump through the air to catch it is a great form of exercise. If the dog doesn’t get the exercise they require, you will likely notice that your dog’s demeanor will change. The dog will become bored, antsy and frustrated, and this could lead to aggressive or destructive behavior.
Some people learn that Aussie’s require all of this exercise and decide that this breed is not right for them. Those that do choose to go ahead with getting an Aussie find that there are a number of ways to ensure they get adequate exercise. For example, if you have kids, the dog will get exercise simply by playing with them. In addition, you will have to exercise the dog in other ways, too, such as playing frisbee with the dog, swimming, biking, hiking and running with it. You may also find that a nice, long walk with your Aussie will be enough to placate their exercise needs, and may help you stay in shape, too. These are great dogs for active people!
7. Australian Shepherds Will Get Very Attached To Their Owners
One common nickname for the Aussie breed is a “Velcro dog,” and for good reason. These dogs want to be with their owners as much as possible, and are always underfoot. Aussies always want to be where the action is, and will often choose one member of the family that they want to be with most of the time. They will often walk so close to family members that they will brush your legs as you walk, which can cause falls or tripping, especially on stairs, so if you are unsteady on your feet or have kids who may topple, keep this in mind before getting an Aussie.
You might think this is cute that your Aussie will want to be with you at all times, but there are issues with this. For instance, it can be unsafe as the dog will always be underfoot. If you do not allow your dog to be with you, they can show signs of depression, aggression or develop separation anxiety.
There are some things that you can do to stop the hyper-attachment of an Aussie. For instance, you can encourage the dog to bond with all members of the household. This will make the dog less likely to become attached with only one person. If the dog is already attached, ignoring some of their attention-seeking behavior can help, as can separating yourself from the dog. For example, use a baby gate to keep the dog in one part of the house while you go to another.
6. Australian Shepherds Can Be Protective Of Their Turf
Aussies are very protective. They can be wary of strangers and will want to protect their home and their family. As a potential owner of an Aussie, you must know that you have to put in the time and the effort to socialize them from puppyhood. If you don’t, you will find yourself with a very protective, read aggressive, adult dog. You do not want your dog to bite people or even other animals, so you must nip this in the bud.
Though an Aussie will make an excellent watch dog, you must make sure that you are taking precautions when introducing your dog to strangers, including other dogs. They can learn to accept new people and animals, but with some dogs, this can take longer than others. If you have children, the dog can become very protective of them, too, and if they notice that your children are possibly in danger, they may show aggression to the other people, even if your child is roughhousing with the neighbor boy or yelling or crying during a “play pretend” situation.
To combat this, again, you must start training the dog from a young age, and make sure that you are correcting this behavior when you notice it.
5. Australian Shepherds Shed…A Lot
There is no denying that an Aussie is fluffy and hairy, and you will love to pet and scratch your pup. However, with all of that hair, you have to know that these dogs shed, and they shed a lot! If you are opposed to brushing your dog at least two to three times a week, or you don’t want to see a lot of dog hair on your clothing, carpets and floors, an Aussie is probably a bad choice for you.
Aussies have double coats, which helps to keep them warm. These coats do not often require a lot of trimming, but they require a lot of brushing in order to remove the mats that naturally form. You also have to take care of specific areas of the dog. For instance, Aussies often get long hair around their feet, so you may have to trim around them in order to keep the dog more comfortable and for a neat look.
You will also have to take care of the ears of an Aussie. This usually requires the use of thinning shears to remove the long and thick hair from the ears. By thinning the hair, you will be able to get a blended look instead of one with any abrupt edges. Also, keep in mind that the back of the ears are prone to matting, so make sure to brush this hair regularly.
If you must trim the coat of an Aussie, you might want to consider a professional groomer due to the complexity of the double coat.
4. Australian Shepherds Have the Potential for Health Problems
Aussies are, unfortunately, not the healthiest of breeds, and there is the potential for certain health problems that are common in the breed. These include allergies, tumors, eye diseases and epilepsy.
The Australian Shepherd Club took a health survey and found that approximately 28 percent of the owners surveyed reported that their dogs had allergies, which caused skin infections and itchy skin. A further 19 percent reported cancer or tumors.
Eye diseases are also a concern in the Australian Shepherd breed, and about 18 percent of dogs will develop cataracts or coloboma of the iris. Most Aussies develop cataracts by the age of three, but they can develop as late as seven years old. These can develop to a fully blind dog. Other eye diseases found in this breed include persistent pupillary membranes, eyelash abnormalities, retinal dysplasia, collie eye anomaly and progressive retinal atrophy.
Aussies also may develop autoimmune diseases including hypothyroidism, demodectic mange and lupus. Orthopedic diseases are also common in the breed, which include hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, osteochondritis, and luxating patella. Approximately 22 percent of this breed develop hip dysplasia, which is high. Dogs that develop hip dysplasia often require surgery, and in some cases, the dog must be put to sleep.
Epilepsy is also a serious health issue with Aussies, and approximately 12 percent of Aussies develop these seizures.
3. Australian Shepherds May Not Accept Other Animals in the Home
If you have been keeping up with this top 10 list, you know that this breed is a herder and a bit protective, so bringing an Aussie into a home with other animals can be difficult. Aussies like to herd other animals, and this might not go over too well, especially with cats.
If you want an Aussie, and you have other animals, you must make sure that you introduce them to each other as early as possible. This early socialization can help to boost the confidence of your dog, and help other animals because more comfortable with him or her.
When you first introduce an Aussie to other animals, make sure that you introduce them in a neutral area. This will alleviate the chances of the animal you have acting defensive to the new dog. When you bring your new Aussie into the home, you also may want to have him or her in a crate, as this can help the dog acclimate to the household, and allow the other animals to check out the new family member. Only allow the first couple of meetings to last about 10 minutes, and then separate the animals. This helps to lessen anxiety and raise confidence. When you feel that the pets are ready to meet, make sure to watch them until you are fully convinced that the pets will be OK with each other, and then decrease the supervision over time.
2. Australian Shepherds Can Be Expensive to Raise
If you buy an Aussie as a puppy, you can expect to pay, on average, about $3,500 in dog related costs in the first year. Over the lifetime of the dog, it can cost as much as $38,000 or more, depending on the product and services you choose for your dog. If your Aussie has a medical condition, for example, such as hip dysplasia, these costs can be even more. For the treatment of this, and other conditions, it could cost $2,000 or more for a single surgery. Even with no major problems in the dog’s life, the vet bills alone for checkups and shots can be more than $13,000 over the lifetime of the dog. If you are unable to pay this, you should probably not get a dog at this time.
Vet bills are expensive, but they are not the only cost associated with the dog. Food, for instance, usually ranges from $200 to $500 a year. If you want to give your dog treats, you can add almost another $100 each year to the cost of raising the dog. Aussie’s have long hair, too, which is the perfect home for fleas, and it can be around $200 to get rid of fleas every year. You also have to protect your dog against heartworm, so throw in another $50 – $100. Do you like to travel? You probably can’t take your dog with you every time, so you will have to make arrangements for dog-sitting or boarding. That can be an average of $100 – $200 a week.
1. Australian Shepherds are Loud and Tend to Bark A Lot
Finally, before running out and buying an Australian Shepherd, you should know that they tend to bark a lot, which isn’t always conducive to small spaces or shared living areas, such as apartments or condominiums.
These dogs bark to communicate, but for many Aussie owners, they find that their dogs bark excessively, which begins to get annoying and bothersome. The first step to stopping the barking behavior is to ensure that you identify the trigger of the bark, and then use correction and training to alleviate the barking.
Though there are a number of correction devices, such as shock collars, that punish the dog for barking. This aggression, however, can often backfire, and even may hurt the dog, which can lead to aggression and fear.
Positive reinforcement may also help to alleviate the barking, and it may be as simple as ignoring the dog when they bark. By ignoring the dog each time they bark, you help to condition this to use other forms of communication, such as simply being quiet. To further get this point across to the dog, you must give them praise and rewards within a couple of seconds when they become quiet. Doing this requires a lot of patience, however, and you may find your frustration with the barking getting higher and higher with each second that passes. If you can wait the dog out, however, you may find that the problems with barking are a thing of the past.
Australian Shepherds are lovely dogs, they are perfect dogs for families, and will bring more than a decade of devotion in most cases. Though these are loyal, adorable pups, there are some things that people must realize before adding an Aussie to their home. Aussies are not for every person, and they are considered to be an intermediate or advanced dog for owners to care for, so if this is your first dog, you might want to consider another breed, as you will have your hands full with an Aussie.
These dogs are hard working, intelligent, and no-nonsense, but they are also highly energetic, and you will have to keep these dogs very busy. This is not a couch potato, and you will have to make sure the dog gets exercise each and every day. If you do not do this, you can be sure that the dog will become destructive or loud, and this can cause issues within your home or even with your neighbors.
If you do choose to bring an Australian Shepherd into your home, make sure that you are buying the dog from a reputable breeder and stay away from buying them from a pet store. You may also find that there are reputable Australian Shepherd rescue groups out there, too, which may also be a good option.