If you are wondering as to how to breed Australian Shepherds, this article provides you with all the necessary information. From the breed’s origins to its best breeding practices and Aussie litter management.
The Australian Shepherd is a popular breed that owners and families simply love. As a herding dog breed, the Aussie is a very athletic, energetic and driven type of dog,
Background of Australian Shepherd Breeding
The Australian Shepherd traditionally belongs to the West Coast of the United States of America. Breeding of Aussies, as they are popularly known, started around 1804.
While the suffix Shepherd clearly comes from its sheep herding abilities, the prefix Australian is somewhat ambiguous. Nobody really knows where or how the Australian Shepherd actually came from. Yet, we do have a few theories to try to support this nomenclature.
One theory suggests that the breed originated in Spain. This stems from the fact that the Australian Shepherd had many names before the ‘Australian’ was stuck to it.
It was called Spanish Shepherd, Mexican Shepherd, Austrian Shepherd, and even California Shepherd! So this theory takes from all its previous names and suggests that the breed was originally from Spain or Basque. The shepherds, who used to breed Australian Shepherds to herd their sheep, migrated from Spain to the West Coast, via Australia. It is probably here that this breed got its present name.
From the West Coast
Another theory suggests that the dogs originated in the West Coast itself. Indeed, Australian Shepherd breeders must have realized the potential of this indefatigable dog breed. Thus, started the commercial breeding of Australian Shepherds, who were trained and sent to ranchers in California & Colorado.
The name ‘Australian’ was probably because of the imported Australian sheep that they herded here in California.
Likeness with Australian breeds
Yet another theory surrounding the name was given owing to their resemblance to various local Australian dog breeds (e.g. Australian Cattle Dog). Some others also believe that it is because of the probable crossbreeding of a shepherd dog with an Australian breed.
Whatever be the reason behind this, the Australian Shepherd Dog became popular far and wide, not just for its cuddly, happy-dog appearance but also for its impeccable sheep herding abilities.
Popularity of Australian Shepherds
Breeding Australian Shepherds is particularly popular in Connecticut, where it is the number one and most preferred dog breed. The breed is slowly grabbing attention elsewhere in the country too.
Families that live on ranches or farms are particularly fond of this breed owing to its sheep herding abilities. The Australian Shepherd adjusts very well to higher altitudes, which makes it a favorite breed for those living in colder regions. The dog’s glossy long coat, charming playfulness, and huggable appearance make it an excellent family member.
The Australian Shepherd comes in four accepted colors:
- red, and
However, these colors aren’t always solid. The Aussie has a ‘merle‘, a genetic distinction seen. The merle gene is responsible for creating different colored patterns on the dog’s body, giving a marble-like effect on the dog’s coat.
The merle gene can also affect the overall appearance of the dog by altering the colors of their eyes. Usually, this marbling effect is present on one or all of the following body parts:
- underbelly, and
While it enhances the Aussie’s appearance, at the end of the day, the merle gene has genetic consequences also. A breeder should be well aware of how dangerous merle dogs can be and how to do pretty, not sick when breeding Australian Shepherds. The rule is simple – NEVER BREED TWO MERLE DOGS TOGETHER!
The AKC accepts Australian Shepherds that are black or grey with blue merle or cream or liver color, with red merle. Black or red Australian Shepherds generally have copper merle markings on them.
Now, if you thought that the Australian Shepherd was a cute looking dog, wait till you see the Miniature Australian Shepherd. It is generally called the Miniature American Shepherd.
The Australian Shepherd breeders in North America created the miniature Aussie, by breeding several small-sized Australian Shepherds. They are the perfect combination of rugged yet cuddly and grow up to 18 inches. Their size and appearance make them perfect for small homes and farms. They too have the charming merle, in black, blue or red, just like their standard-sized counterparts.
While they’re not as active as the standard sized Australian Shepherds, miniature Aussies do require regular exercise. When cooped indoors without activity for too long, they tend to get snappy and anxious. They are otherwise warm and very friendly.
Temperament of Australian Shepherds
Australian Shepherds are highly intelligent and trainable dogs. They are sociable and love people. They are friendly and can live with families very comfortably. Originally working dogs, helping the locals herd sheep, the Aussie is an active and enthusiastic breed that can also survive at higher altitudes.
Since they are an amalgamation of several unique characteristics, the Australian Shepherd makes for a versatile pet. It can live just as easily on a ranch as it can live in the Alps and with urban families.
As a dog that could herd cattle and survive on low oxygen levels, it is no surprise that the Australian Shepherds are a super active dog breed. Think canine Flash! They’ll always be found fidgeting around or running around but never sitting still. They are, as such, definitely not an ideal breed to bring to tiny or cluttered homes.
It is crucial that you engage them mentally and physically at all times – whether through new tricks or games or by making them work. A distant cousin is the Border Collie (known as the smarted breed). They make for alert guard dogs too, because once they adapt to your household, they get very protective of it. If you treat them well, they will be extremely devoted and loyal to their owners and lay their lives down for the well-being of the home. Yes, they’re that good!
However, lack of exercise and training can make them very angsty. Aussie’s aren’t a barking breed – they will bark to warn, but not bark obsessively so. Basically, they cannot just lie around doing nothing. So when you keep them without activity for too long, they will show aggressive behavior like barking, chewing or gnawing at things. If you see such behavior from an Australian Shepherd, it is most likely your fault.
The Australian Shepherd associated with cattle herding and so the breed instinctively has herding reflexes. However, remember that not every shepherd dog, created for herding is an expert at it.
Even Australian Shepherds need intensive training if they have to function as working dogs. However, the reason behind choosing them for this task is that they originate from a breed that originally herded cattle. As a result, they tend to have vestigial reflexes within them.
These reflexes can be seen in the form of their natural ability to control the movement of other animals in a herd. So with a little training, you’ll see them nipping or circling around these larger herd animals, trying to direct them towards a particular direction.
The Australian Shepherd makes for an excellent companion, whether by way of guardian or playmate. As a dog breed, the Australian Shepherd is a close cousin to the Border Collie – the most intelligent breed of dogs out there. So the genetically have sound intelligence.
They are easily trainable and highly active. They will happily do certain morning chores like bringing the newspaper each morning from the gate with ease.
Their alertness and smartness make them excellent working dogs in multiple specialties: herding dogs, rescue-and-search dogs, farm dogs, and therapy dogs as well. They can even excel at detection and can do wonders for people with disabilities too.
For those who breed Australian Shepherds or have them as pets, it is important to exercise their intelligence to maximum potential. Build them mazes and games and spend time and effort training them to identify familiar sounds. Australian Shepherds tend to be good at discriminating between familiar and unfamiliar sounds.
Health Concerns While Breeding Australian Shepherds
Australian Shepherds live for an average of 12-13 years. They are not only one of the smartest but also one of the healthiest dog breeds out there.
An adult Aussie would easily weight anywhere up to 30 kilograms, growing about 2 ft. in size. While they do have certain health issues, mostly related to the merle gene that gives them their distinctive marbled coat, they are overall healthy and active dogs.
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
This is a highly painful condition that affects a lot of dog breeds, especially the larger ones. Other herding dogs like the German Shepherd also fall prey to this excruciating condition. Dysplasia can affect one or all four legs of a dog.
Hip and elbow dysplasia refers to the inability of the bone joints to fit in securely with the femur or thighbone. The pelvic joint of the hipbone is slightly slanting, which makes the legs throb with pain. Hip Dysplasia can cause more serious and lasting damage like lameness in dogs. It is the canine version of arthritis.
More often than not, this condition is caused by environmental and genetic factors. A lot of vets recommend weight loss and exercise for dogs before prescribing medicines for this condition.
Collie Eye Anomaly
The Collie Eye Anomaly directly affects the eyes, damaging the retina, sclera, and choroid. It can even cause permanent blindness or cataracts in dogs. The root cause of Collie Eye Anomaly is in the genes, which leads to improper eye development.
CEA is a highly discomforting disease to happen to a dog. Yet another health concern that largely affects shepherd dogs, CEA, as it is popularly known can have long-term effects.
To save your Aussie buddy from this severe disease, you must simply keep a lookout for the telltale signs of CEA. If you see a spot on the dog’s eyes or notice any changes in behavior like bumping into walls or missing his/her food bowl, immediately take your Australian Shepherd to the vet.
MDR1 Gene Mutation
Probably the deadliest health concern for all Collie and Australian Shepherd breeders out there – the MDR1 Gene Mutation is short for Multi-Drug Resistance Gene. This mutation affects the protein in a dog’s body.
Dogs with this mutation have an aversion to most drugs. This protein – the P-glycoprotein – is a type of fluid that is responsible for flushing drugs out of a dog’s brain. It renders it useless, causing a buildup of drug residue in the brain. Resultantly, the dog starts getting seizures and eventually may die of ataxia, the canine equivalent of a stroke.
In simpler words, MDR1 gene mutation makes the dogs allergic to certain generic drugs. They do more harm than good in a dog’s body and eventually kill them.
Breeds like Australian Shepherds have a higher susceptibility to epilepsy and seizures than most other dog breeds. Epilepsy and seizures in dogs are more or less like those that are seen in humans. The dog will as if lose control over his/her body and eventually lose consciousness, their bodies will become rigid and urinary incontinence may also be seen. Their eyes will roll up and tongues will hang out.
Such disease runs in their genes and it is likely that if one parent had seizures the child too will have them. A lot of factors can cause epilepsy in an Australian Shepherd, ranging from brain tumors to poorly controlled diabetes.
To look after your Aussie, during a seizure, give them a comfy blanket and a cozy environment. Keep other dogs away from them, give them their space and turn any loud noises off.
Australian Shepherds have a genetic predisposition towards eye issues owing to their merle gene. The merle color and the associated gene alter their eyes, changing their colors. You may even see an Australian Shepherd Dog with two different colored eyes! That’s how much the merle affects eyes.
It is then pretty obvious that this genetic inclination towards eye problems will also lead to other complications for them. The Australian Shepherd is one of the few breeds that suffer greatly from cataracts and distichiasis – a disorder where the eyelashes grow abnormally long, causing obstructed vision.
Corneal dystrophy and eyelid defects are also pretty common in Australian Shepherds.
Other Health Concerns
Australian Shepherds are vulnerable to the merle gene. A litter born out of two merle parents may show signs of Double Merle – a genetic defect that may cause loss of vision and hearing in the offspring. Ironically, a double merle also causes the absence of the marbled effect, creating solid colored pups.
The Australian Shepherd is a breed that is very easy to breed and work with. They are healthy, active, intelligent and pose no problems to breeders or families.
How To Breed Australian Shepherds
There are a few issues with their genetic makeup that may cause problems in the long run. But all in all, it is a brilliant dog to breed and own, even if it is not completely flawless. As an Australian Shepherd breeder, there are certain things you must consider before starting the breeding process. Pregnancies tend to unfold smoothly.
The average litter size of healthy Australian Shepherds is between 7 and 8 puppies. As a rare occurrence, larger Aussies can even be expected to carry as many as 10 puppies in a single litter. A miniature or a toy Australian Shepherd, however, can only give birth to 2 or 3 puppies at a time.
The litter size of any dog rests on the shoulders of both parents. Australian Shepherds being highly active dogs, tend to be stronger and sturdier. A proven male dog will likely have high-quality sperm, which can fertilize more than one egg in one go, increasing the litter count.
Later on, it will depend on how healthy the mother is, to be able to develop the babies inside her and birth them without complications. Any genetic birthing canal defects in the mother might compromise the litter size.
As an Australian Shepherd breeder, it is important for you to understand the horrific implications of breeding two merle Aussies with another merle Aussie.
The Merle is a genetic occurrence in an Australian Shepherd, which is responsible for lending them their distinctive marbled color effect. However, when two merle dogs come together, there is a high chance that the resultant litter will have a double merle gene. Such pups are usually born all white and may have underdeveloped internal organs or other alarming health concerns (e.g. blind, deaf and mute).
Some Australian Shepherd breeders also tend to euthanize all white Australian Shepherd pups, causing these dogs to be a rarity now. As a breeder, it is entirely your call on what to do. No need to go to such extremes as you could simply never breed these dogs – neutering and spaying them! Furthermore, you may not find any takers for offspring of two merle Australian Shepherd dogs.
While Australian Shepherd females have rarely shown signs of birthing issues, a poor uterus or a weaker birthing canal may pose hazardous problems. The Australian Shepherd is one breed, wherein, instead of the mother, the father faces reproductive issues.
The male Australian Shepherds are known to suffer from testicular problems, meaning their testicles are either underdeveloped or non-developed. In some cases, male Aussies will have retained testicles, which can be surgically corrected. However, in some Australian Shepherds, the testicles do not descend at all. If a testicle doesn’t show up by the time the pup is four months old, there is a fair chance that they may never show up at all.
Any Australian Shepherd breeder wants to know who their clientele is and who they are breeding their dogs for.
Ideal people wanting to own an Australian Shepherd will be dog-loving families, with large gardens or bigger suburban houses where the dog can run freely. If not, urban couples and families who have a park in the vicinity are good choices too.
Most families who will want to adopt an Australian Shepherd will want them because they will make beautiful house pets. For these people, you will have to selectively choose your mating dogs.
If you are targeting to sell the puppies to shepherds or ranches, your work is cut out for you. Despite being a shepherd breed, Australian Shepherds require ample training and exercise to be able to herd cattle or serve the purposes of a working farm/ranch dog. So hire a professional trainer or put in the time and effort yourself to utilize and constructively divert the intelligence and abilities of a young Aussie.
On average, an Australian Shepherd puppy costs anywhere between $600 to $1,000. Larger and adult dogs may fetch a higher price, according to how well socialized, trained and obedient they are. Female dogs can fetch higher prices due to their breeding potential.
There is not much difference between the sale price of an Aussie puppy and that of a miniature Australian Shepherd. The miniature ones can fetch anywhere between $700-$800.
You can even get better prices if your dog is trained to work in certain conditions like on a farm or in the mountains.
AKC VS ASCA
Owing to the largely vague heritage and vast branching of genetic bloodlines of Australian Shepherds, the AKC tends to be slightly prejudiced against Australian Shepherds. This is largely the belief amidst the Australian Shepherd breeders’ community.
There have been incidents of non-AKC breeders who have had trouble registering their Australian Shepherds at the prestigious American Kennel Club.
On the other hand, the ASCA, Australian Shepherd Club of America is a lot more involved with the breeding of Australian Shepherds and understanding their registrations.
The ASCA was established in 1957 and is by far, one of the largest breed-specific canine clubs in the United States of America – that should say a lot about the club’s credibility.
Australian Shepherds – FAQs
The following are some of the common questions relating to how to breed Australian Shepherd and concise answers to them.
How much exercise do Australian Shepherds need?
Australian Shepherds need a substantial amount of daily exercise and not just physical. The Aussies are highly intelligent dogs that also require a lot of mental stimuli to function and remain happy.
To be able to own an Australian Shepherd you must have the time and energy to keep up with them and give them proper attention. If not provided with the requisite exercise and attention, a cooped up Australian Shepherd may start showing aggressive behavior and start gnawing at things.
Kids are an excellent exercise for Australian Shepherds, you must make them run around with them or play fetch or create hurdles for them to pass. An hour or two of rigorous physical exercise each day is a must for Australian Shepherds. If you cannot take them to the park every day or have trouble playing with them, train them to do simple tasks around the house to keep their mind and energy occupied.
What are the grooming needs of an Australian Shepherd?
Australian Shepherds have a long glossy coat that needs frequent washing and occasional trimming.
A weekly hair brushing and grooming coupled with bathing keeps their coat shiny and silky. This should be done at least once in ten-twelve days to keep the surrounding dirt, debris and dead skin from accumulating on their skin. Going too long without baths will result in skin disorders too.
During the Aussie’s shedding season, grooming requirements double up! With their shedding fur, it is important that you keep brushing it to avoid matting and dirt. But if your dog likes getting muddy, then you have your work cut out for you. Their double coat can hide the dirt all the way inside requiring you to give your dog a nice scrubbing down every other day. Their double coat consists of thicker and tougher guard hair with a smooth silky and soft coat underneath. The neck and tail area are usually scruffy, so you’ll have to keep a two-way dog brush handy.
Are Australian Shepherds protective?
Like every other herding breed, Australian Shepherds, too, are born with the natural instinct to protect and direct. They have the ability to nip at larger herd animals’ feet and steer them towards a particular direction. They can also do the same with kids.
The best part about Australian Shepherds is that they are protective enough to make them excellent guard dogs, but they are not possessive. They do not bite or bark without reason and do not show irrational possessiveness towards their families. This is a great attribute to their personality because it makes them ideal to keep at home.
Aussies will not aim to harm but will circle around the people they are protecting to shield them from whatever they perceive as danger. Another great quality about the Aussies is that they can be trained to identify friendly people and sounds and not attack at instigation.
What should Australian Shepherds eat?
A balanced diet is good enough for Australian Shepherds who are tasked with a simple daily routine. A measured combination of carbs, proteins, and fats, as advised by your vet is recommended for your dog.
However, if your dog is overly active or is a working dog that has been allotted certain tasks in a day, you might want to reconsider their diet. For a highly active dog, who runs around all day, herds cattle, strolls on a large area vigilantly, a high protein low carb diet is the most ideal. So largely meats and grain-free kibble are recommended for Australian Shepherds.
Since they are prone to dysplasia, a diet of chicken feet is also advised to grease the joints. But check with your vet before administering or tweaking their diet in any way. And only perform gradual changes.
Why do Australian Shepherds have different colored eyes?
Dogs having different colored eyes is called Heterochromia iridium. It is also often linked to the merle gene. This gene causes them to have marbled coat eyes of different colors.
The merle is responsible for inducing different concentrations of melanin in either eye. Melanin is what gives any living thing its color. Even in humans, melanin is what tans our skin and even causes pigmentation.
Similarly, in dogs, melanin concentrations vary in both eyes. This leads to pigmentations of different colors, thus giving them two different colored eyes.
A higher concentration of melanin in a particular part of the body gives it a darker color. So, when a dog has two different eyes, one sea blue, and another liver red, the red-eye will have more melanin concentration than the blue one.