Last Updated on July 4, 2023
The Australian Shepherd is a beautiful and brilliant dog that has gained massive popularity among dog owners all over the world.
Keep on reading to find out the origins of Australian Shepherds and exciting facts about the history and origin of this magnificent breed. You won’t believe the natural origin of the Australian Shepherd!
1. The Origin of the Australian Shepherd does NOT originate from Australia, as many would assume.
If you plan to become the owner of this fantastic dog, it would be interesting to find out that the origin of the Australian Shepherd is not as apparent as you probably think. There are many different theories about the breed’s history because it is not well documented. Believe it or not, the breed is thought to have ancestors in the Basque Region of Spain, a region at the end of the Pyrenees Mountains.
Undoubtedly, the Australian Shepherds travelled with the Spanish sheep all over the world, including such fabulous places as Australia and New Zealand. The researchers believe the Spanish Shepherd dogs mixed with Scotch and English breeds. As a result, a new breed with excellent characteristics developed. You will agree that it’s hard not to fall in love with the modern Aussie.
The dogs had outstanding herding abilities and were successfully used by Basque Shepherds. However, some researchers agree that those dogs differed significantly from the Australian Shepherds we know today. So, what were the main differences between the Spanish dogs and the Australian Shepherds of today? It’s interesting to know that.
- The Spanish dogs were smaller and leaner
- They were wire haired
- They had no white colouring
The Spanish Shepherd dog is thought to have lived in the 12th century. This strong and intelligent dog has much in common with a magnificent breed known as the Alpine Mastiff that appeared in early Roman times.
The Alpine Mastiffs were large dogs with outstanding characteristics. They were calm, friendly and gentle. At the same time, they had lethal striking abilities because these dogs were bred mainly for hunting and war. It’s worth mentioning that the Alpine Mastiffs were excellent guardians as well.
Unfortunately, the excessive crossbreeding with the other large dog breeds led to the extinction of the Alpine Mastiff in 1815. Despite this, breeders achieved their primary purpose – creating even more intelligent and robust dogs. This is how the Spanish Shepherds appeared, the dogs that contributed significantly to the development of the Australian Shepherds we are so fond of today.
The Spanish Shepherds played a vital role – they moved vast numbers of sheep from highlands to lowlands along the walks where wild animals and burglars were always ready to attack.
Considering the importance of these dogs, Alfonso the Learned, the King of Castile and Leon, decided to create a particular society to protect the dogs, shepherds and sheep. So, this organisation began operating in 1273.
The Spanish Shepherds developed characteristics that could not be found in Scottish and English dog breeds then. They had brilliant herding abilities and were successfully used for protection. Luckily, all these unique traits were passed down to the Australian Shepherds that are popular today.
2. The Australian Shepherd breed developed in the US by the end of the 19th century
The Basque Shepherds came to Australia and later emigrated to the United States of America, marking a new era in the development of the Australian Shepherd breed. Due to its exquisite personal traits and characteristics, the breed soared in popularity quickly.
The sheep population increased, particularly in New Mexico, which covered vast territories. Here, the Spanish Shepherd dog became known as the Pastor dog and New Mexican Sheepdog. The American ranchers liked this new breed because they proved to be brilliant herders and could perform various tricks.
It’s interesting to know that the Pastor’s dog had a unique way of herding the sheep. His working style differed significantly from how the Scotch and English breeds did the job. The New Mexican Sheepdog always kept his flock in a compact herd. Keeping the sheep close together was extremely important due to the severe threat posed by the raiding Indians and predators.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe how intelligent those dogs were actually. The Pastor’s dogs were slowly driving the flock over long distances allowing the sheep to graze. The dogs realised that they had to stay calm. They also avoided loud barking as well as sudden and quick movements. That’s why, when some sheep broke from the flock, the Pastor’s dog would come up and take the sheep by the ear to lead it back.
The dogs were brilliant and easy to train. They learned to understand the hand gestures the master showed. That was how the dogs communicated with the Shepherd, and they did an excellent job.
The New Mexican Sheepdog was amazingly possessive. He knew every sheep in his flock. And if another dog approached the flock without reason, he would attack that dog and even kill him.
The intelligence of the Pastor’s dog is striking. There are so many stories that prove his courage, loyalty and wisdom. The Australian Shepherds we know today have all these fantastic qualities. They are lucky enough to have such outstanding ancestors.
The dogs frequently participated in rodeos as well. They surprised the public with their ability to perform various tricks. Undoubtedly, their excellent performance attracted the attention of dog owners and made the Australian Shepherd one of the most popular pets.
3. The Australian Shepherds had multiple names
The origin of the Australian Shepherd is as exciting as the dog’s name. You were probably unaware that the Australian Shepherds had several names. The dogs were called.
- Spanish Shepherds
- New Mexican Shepherds
- Pastor Dogs
- Blue Heelers
- California Shepherds
Interestingly, Australian Shepherds are genetically predisposed to be born with short tails. About one in five Aussies are born with a naturally bobbed tail. That’s why this breed was sometimes called Bob-Tails. It’s well-known that the ranchers bred the Australian Shepherds with short tails on purpose just because it was safer for herding.
However, today this type of breeding is not recommended. The recessive gene responsible for a naturally bobbed tail is not thoroughly understood. So, this breeding may lead to some severe health problems in puppies.
4. Native Americans thought the Australian Shepherds were sacred
The Australian Shepherds are fantastic dogs with incredible eyes. Some dogs have pale blue eyes, which is why the Native American tribes called the Australian Shepherd the “ghost eye dog”. Those people considered the breed sacred because they feared the Australian Shepherds and preferred avoiding them.
The Native Americans also called these marvellous dogs Sacred spirit dogs. They believed that the copper patches over the Aussie’s eyes represented the sunset and that the white paws meant the morning light.
Australian Shepherds are well known for blue eyes; the breed can also have brown, hazel, amber, green and golden eyes. Some dogs will even have two different colours or a mix of several colours, known as marbled eyes.
5. The American Kennel Club recognised the Australian Shepherd breed
The original Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA), founded in 1957, did not create breed standards for Australian Shepherds, unlike many kennel clubs. Breed standards were finally added in 1975 to keep the breed look across all Australian Shepherds.
In 1991, the American Kennel Club first registered the breed as an official member of the Herding group. However, the ASCA refused to join the American Kennel Club. But not all Australian Shepherd breeders found that decision reasonable. As a result, those breeders established their own Australian Shepherd Club, the United States Australian Shepherd Association. The association then introduced its breed standards, becoming part of the American Kennel Club in 1993.
Today, Australian Shepherds can get certification and earn titles in obedience, agility, stocking, rally, tracking and conformation. The Australian Shepherd Club of America has more than 100 affiliate clubs all over the world. These clubs have the right to conduct the trials and show for ASCA-registered Australian Shepherds and other dog breeds.
The primary purpose and responsibility of ASCA are to maintain the breed standard. A breed standard is a description of the characteristics that an ideal example of the Aussie usually has. The breeders should stick to those standards and do their best to produce high-quality puppies.
A breed standard is a valuable tool that helps to define and preserve breed purity. It can’t be easily changed just because someone wants it. Regarding the Australian Shepherd breed, the Board of Directors can’t change the standards. The members of the club can only alter them. It’s worth mentioning that today’s breed standard was first adopted in 1977.
If you plan to become the owner of an Australian Shepherd dog shortly, it would be great to know as much information as possible about the breed first.