About Breed Characteristics

by Nannette Newbury © 2003 AKC Breed Column

There are a variety of traits and behaviors that hallmark an Aussie as a unique breed. The most visually powerful and obvious are coat colors and markings. Each individual is unique. The Australian Shepherd can come in red tri, black tri, red merle and blue merle. All these base coat colors make each individual one of a kind. In addition the Aussie can carry just white trim, copper trim or a combination, copper and white markings. The coat color patterns can create false illusions of the structure that lies beneath. Although finite in combinations, the Aussie carries a huge degree of variety based on coat color and trim compared to a solid-colored breed such as the Weimeraner.

The Aussie is an energetic bundle of enthusiasm with the stamina and desire to work all day long. Biddability is what we call it in the breed. Although the specific origination of the breed remains cloudy, the modern day Aussie owes it heritage to the ranchers and farmers of the West. On a working ranch the Aussie was highly desirable as not only a herding dog, but also an extremely loyal guardian, a devoted babysitter, faithful companion—a jack of trades.

The working Australian Shepherd of the late 1800s and early 1900s was also adaptable which was particularly prized on a working ranch. Facing climatic, weather, and geographic hardships the courageous “little blue dog” was dependable no matter what the conditions or the work. Historic tales of the dog’s courageous acts abound. The modern day Aussie carries with them these genetic markers that combine to bring us a dog that relies on and is avidly devoted to human companionship.

Many of the traits that made the Aussie a highly a desirable ranch hand, crossover to the modern-day owner’s appreciation and regard for the breed. The Australian Shepherd is highly intelligent, attentive, and intuitive, has common sense and is capable of independent judgment with an inherent sense of right and wrong.

Versatility is another hallmark of the breed. The Aussie has yet to find a task that can’t be taken on with a keen sense of humor and enthusiasm. Aussies are used today as search and rescue dogs, compete in agility, herding, obedience events, are used a guide, service and therapy dogs. Aussies make good retrievers and have compete in hunt tests and trials. The list is endless!

The way an Aussie goes about life is particularly unique. The Australian Shepherd has a happy disposition, is affectionate and playful. The Aussie appears to sustain this puppy-like manner throughout their lifetime. Many owners have poignant stories of old dogs jumping up and wildly dashing about the house, playing with and nurturing puppies, or madly digging in the toy box for a new toy. The playfulness never wanes, even when the body fails to cooperate. They are completely comfortable playing alone and making up special games to the delight of those able to observe this playtime.

The Aussie is astoundingly communicative and literally can take your breath away with their ability to tell you exactly what is wanted. Nose bums in the back of the leg, or a cool nose slipping under your forearm and flipping your arm into the air, leaves no doubt that this dog wants your attention. While generally considered a quiet working dog, Aussies have a highly developed set of vocals they use to communicate with their canine and human partners. The noise ranges from a typical bark, a guttural reverberation, a whine and the ear splitting high-pitched yip. Owners or breeders who have multiple Aussies at home can blindly identify each dog by its unique set of vocals.

The Aussie is particularly handy and dexterous with its front feet. Aussies love climbing and jumping on things including doghouses, couches, beds, chairs, fences. Most Aussies are water dogs. The love of water can range from being consumed with playing in the water bucket to submersion in the stock water trough or forging rivers and streams.

While they are capable of creating huge wet dirty messes the Aussie is remarkably clean with strong instincts to cleaning not only themselves but also other Aussies or owners. I am often the recipient of a spontaneous toe and foot wet “massage” or the ever present ear wash not far behind.
While individualistic in appearance the Aussie is a loyal companion, enthusiastic in their outlook on life, attentive and adoring of their human counterpart. The Aussie makes a mark on all that have the unique ability to share and appreciate life with one.