Australian Shepherd Breed Spotlight

Contrary to what the name implies, the only thing Australian about the Australian Shepherd, or Aussie, is his name. In fact, the Aussie is as American as apple pie. Developed in the United States, the breed descended from the Pyrenean Shepherd, which was originally brought to the western United States by the Basque peoples who settled in the American Northwest in the early 1800s. These sheepdogs were then bred with the ancestors of other modern day and extinct herding dogs, including Collies, Border Collies, and Smithfield Sheepdogs. 

The confusion surrounding the Australian Shepherd’s name likely comes from the fact that the Basque did not migrate directly from Europe. Instead, some Basque peoples took a detour Down Under when political unrest or unemployment gripped their home country. When some of the Basques uprooted and moved to Australia, they took their little blue dogs along with them. In Australia, many of the farmers found that the Australian sheep were hardy and resilient against pests and disease. When the farmers left Australia for the States again, they brought their dogs along for the journey. Once on American soil, they settled in Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, and Idaho. The dogs that once herded the famously resilient sheep of Australia became erroneously known as Australian Shepherds in the U.S.

The Aussie grew in popularity after World War II, a time when Western-style riding grew in popularity among the general public. Rodeos, horse competitions, and Western TV shows and film were of interest to people in America, and the sheepherder dogs were a part of that era. At first, Australian Shepherds, like other working dogs, were simply bred for hardiness and sustainability for their flock’s particular climate and environment. This produced many different looking dogs, even though all were being bred to have that same intelligence and herding ability. However, it wasn’t long before the breeders began to focus on the look of the breed, eventually standardizing it into the hardy, ruggedly handsome type we have today.

Want to learn more about the Australian Shepherd? Click here for the full breed standard.

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