Last Updated on May 16, 2022
The Australian Shepherd is an extremely beautiful and highly intelligent dog that has gained huge popularity among dog owners all over the world.
Keep on reading to find out where Australian Shepherds come from and interesting facts about the history and origin of this magnificent breed. You won’t believe the real origin of Australian Shepherd!
1. The Australian Shepherd actually does NOT originate from Australia like many would assume.
If you are planning to become the owner of this fantastic dog, it would be interesting for you to find out that the origin of Australian Shepherd is not as obvious as you probably think. 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. There are many different theories about the history of the breed because it is not well documented.
There is no doubt about the fact that the Australian Shepherds traveled with the Spanish sheep all over the world including such fabulous places as Australia and New Zealand. The researchers believe that the Spanish Shepherd dogs mixed with Scotch and English breeds. As a result, a new breed with perfect characteristics developed. You will definitely 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. Plus, this strong and smart 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 just 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 fact, breeders managed to achieve their main purpose – create even more intelligent and strong dogs. This is how the Spanish Shepherds appeared, the dogs that contributed greatly to the development of the Australian Shepherds we are so fond of today.
The Spanish Shepherds played an extremely important role – they moved huge numbers of sheep from highlands to lowlands along the walks where wild animals and burglars were always ready to attack.
Taking into account the importance of these dogs, Alfonso the Learned, the King of Castile and Leon, made a decision to create a special society in order to protect the dogs, shepherds and sheep. So, this organisation began operating in 1273.
The Spanish Shepherds developed the characteristics that could not be found in Scottish and English dog breeds at that time. 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 so 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 on emigrated to the United Stated of America, and this marked a new era in the development of the Australian Shepherd breed. Due to its exquisite personal traits and characteristics, the breed soared in popularity within a short period of time.
The American ranchers really liked this new breed because they proved to be brilliant herders and they could also perform various tricks. The sheep population grew very rapidly, particularly in New Mexico which covered a vast territory. Here, the Spanish Shepherd dog became known as the Pastor dog and New Mexican Sheepdog.
It’s really interesting to know that the Pastor dog had a unique way of herding the sheep. His working style differed significantly from the way the Scotch and English breeds did the job. The New Mexican Sheepdog always kept his flock in a compact herd. It was extremely important to keep the sheep close together due to a serious threat posed by the raiding Indians and predators.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe how smart those dogs were indeed. The Pastor dogs were slowly driving the flock over very 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 of the sheep broke from the flock, the Pastor dog would come up and take the sheep by the ear in order to lead it back.
The dogs were highly intelligent and easy to train. They learned to understand the hand gestures the master showed. That was the way the dogs communicated with the shepherd and 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 any reason, he would attack that dog and even kill him.
The intelligence of the Pastor dog is really 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. No doubt, their excellent performance attracted the attention of the dog owners and made the Australian Shepherd one of the most popular pets.
3. The Australian Shepherds had multiple names
The origin of Australian Shepherd is as interesting and fascinating as the name of the dog. You were probably unaware of the fact that the Australian Shepherds had several names. The dogs were called
- Spanish Shepherds
- New Mexican Shepherds
- Pastor Dogs
- Blue Heelers
- California Shepherds
It’s interesting to know that the Australian Shepherds have a genetic predisposition to be born with short tails. About one in five Aussies is 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 serious 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 and that is the main reason why the Native American tribes called the Australian Shepherd the “ghost eye dog”. Those people considered the breed sacred because they were afraid of the Australian Shepherds and preferred to avoid 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 the white paws meant the morning light.
Well 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. Breeds standards were finally added in 1975 in an effort 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 known as the United States Australian Shepherd Association. The association then introduced its own breed standards and so it became a part of the American Kennel Club in 1993.
Today, the 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 shows not just for ASCA registered Australian Shepherds, but for the other dog breeds as well.
The main purpose and responsibility of ASCA is to maintain the breed standard. Obviously, 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.
Breed standard is a valuable tool that helps to define and preserve the breed purity. It can’t be easily changed just because someone wants it. When it comes to the Australian Shepherd breed, the standards can’t be changed by the Board of Directors. They can only be altered by the members of the club. It’s worth mentioning that the breed standard that exists today was first adopted in 1977.
If you are planning to become the owner of the Australian Shepherd dog in the nearest future, it would be really great for you to know as much information as possible about the breed first.