Last updated on September 23, 2022
Contrary to what their name suggests, the Australian Shepherd is an American dog breed. The Western United States, particularly California, is the place where this breed originated. However, further development also took place in the states of Arizona, Idaho, Colorado, and Wyoming. History points out that the Australian Shepherd emerged around the 1840s, in the time of the American Gold Rush.
History of the Australian Shepherd
The Australian Shepherd is not a native Australian breed. The history of popular Aussie goes back to the Pyrenees Mountains, Europe. Here, the Basque people, the renowned master shepherds, used Pyrenean Sheepdog to keep their flocks in order. It is widely believed that the modern-day Australian Shepherd has the genes of these breed.
The Basques set sails for Australia in the early 1800s. Here, they found that the Australian flatland ideal for raising sheep. Alongside the people, their herding dogs traveled to the smallest continent as well. This canine is widely believed to be the stock from which the modern-day Australian Shepherds come.
The dogs brought by the Basques started crossbreeding with the breeds already present in Australia. Those were mainly English breeds, in particular, the Collie and the Border Collie. These two strains share lots of characteristics with the Aussies. So, it’s pretty obvious they share the same gene pool. However, there were plenty of different dog breeds present in Australia at that time. No one can say for sure which breeds were involved in the creation of the Australian Shepherds.
Arrival to America
The story of how the Australian Shepherd came to America, where it became improved and recognized, goes together with the the Merino sheep’s arrival in the States. Originating from Spain, where treated like royalty, the Merino sheep soon found their place all around Europe. Thanks to certain German shepherds, they also arrived at the shores of Australia. It did not take long before this sheep breed was taken the rich countries of California, Western America. With them, Australian shepherds migrated, in the search for new lands and green grass.
Their loyal furry companion, the ancestor of the modern-day Aussie, arrived with them. This, however, is one of the most popular theories about the creation of the dog we know today. Whether this theory is correct, does not matter. What matters for this story is that the ancestor of the Australian Shepherd has set foot in the Western parts of America, where its real story began.
Development of the Australian Shepherd
The Australian Shepherd, at least its version of that time, was spotted by the American cowboys in no time. The dog breeders tended to fulfill the farmer’s needs by creating a reliable herding dog. So, the modern Aussie was born. Highly intelligent, brave, hardworking, and loyal, the Aussie quickly stole the hearts of the American farmers. And since a lot of them came from Australia, the ranchers named them Australian Shepherds.
It didn’t take a lot of time for the Australian Shepherd to conquer the Western states of America. In this breed, ranchers saw everything they might need from a working dog: smart, loyal, hard-working canine that had no issues handling a flock of animals, from geese and sheep to large livestock. Further development of the Aussie continued. From California, the presence of these dogs spread throughout the entire West. The modern Australian Shepherd was further developed through crossbreeding and training.
The transition from herding dog to pet
The Australian Shepherds was popular amongst the ranchers and farmers but was pretty anonymous regarding people outside this industry. For its rise to fame, we can thank the rodeo performers who carried their dogs across the United States. In the 1950s, the Aussie was already widely renowned for the tricks they performed on rodeo shows. Thanks to its extremely high intelligence, the Aussie is relatively easy to train. Nowadays, they excel at almost every type of competition, from trick contests to obedience and agility competitions.
People soon saw the full potential of the Australian Shepherd. Its intelligence wowed everyone, so its status to a pet dog was introduced. Today, the Aussie is the 12th most popular dog breed in the United States. In recent years, these dogs have achieved great success serving as therapy dogs and support, search and rescue, or drug detection dogs. In the past few years, another version of the Aussie became extremely popular: the Miniature Australian Shepherd. Looking exactly like its larger cousin, the Mini Aussie tends to be 14-18 inches tall, against the 23 inches of the regular Aussie. When it comes to intelligence and obedience, do not let the size fool you. The Mini Australian Shepherd shares the same characteristics as the regular one, being smart, loyal, playful, and loving.
Recognition of the Australian Shepherd
As the popularity of the Australian Shepherd rose, the Australian Shepherd Club of America was formed in 1957. Its purpose was the recognition of the Aussie as a separate breed. However, it took much longer for the American Kennel Club to officially recognize the Aussie. The AKC recognized the Aussie in 1991. Two years later, in 1993, they accepted the breed in the Herding Group of Dogs. Not very long after this, the breed was recognized by the Federation Cynologigque Internationale, the world’s largest federation of kennel clubs. The name Australian Shepherd remained to this day, even though the Aussie is a purely American breed. The Australian Kennel Club has never registered the Australian Shepherd as a native Australian breed.