Contrary to what its name suggests, the Australian Shepherd did not originate in Australia, but rather in the United States around the time of the Gold Rush in the 1840s. These dogs were initially bred by Basque shepherds who emigrated to America from Australia, which is likely the source of their name. They are descendants from a line of Europe’s finest herders. As a working breed, these dogs were valued by cowboys for their incredible herding traits, versatility, intelligence, and high energy levels.
Australian Shepherds may be prone to conditions such as lumbosacral syndrome, degenerative myelopathy, persistent pupillary membrane, distichiasis, von Willebrand Disease, epilepsy and patent ductus arteriosus, nasal solar dermatitis, hypothyroidism, Pelger-Huet Syndrome, and hip dysplasia. They may also suffer from eye disorders including iris coloboma, Collie Eye Anomaly, cataracts, multifocal retinopathy (type 1), progressive rod-cone degeneration, and progressive retinal atrophy. Genetic testing for these and other conditions such as hyperuricosuria, intestinal cobalamin malabsorption, multidrug resistance 1 drug sensitivity, coagulation factor VII deficiency, craniomandibular osteopathy, exercise-induced collapse, neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis, and von Willebrand’s disease can assist veterinarians with diagnosis and proactive care, as well as help breeders identify affected and carrier dogs.
Australian Shepherds are known for their bright and energetic personalities. They are extremely intelligent, adaptable, and eager to please, which makes them highly trainable. They are also loyal and tend to be good-natured towards humans and other animals, but may be reserved with strangers. Being a working breed, they require regular physical exercise and mental stimulation. Without enough activity, they can become bored and develop destructive habits. While they make excellent pets for active individuals or families, they may not be the best choice for those living in apartments or unable to commit to a high level of activity.
The progenitor of the modern Aussie we know today is another herding dog breed, the Pyrenean Shepherd.
When Basque herding dogs were brought from the Pyrenees Mountains to America, California ranchers came to admire the breed and wrongly assumed that the dogs were from Australia. That is why the modern breed we know today came to be named the Australian Shepherd.